Dos Cabezas – Part 2

Before reading this story, please be sure to read the previous installment entitled “Dos Cabezas – Part 1” on this website.

I looked around, but no truck. Should I stick around and wait to see if she’d show up? Hmmm, what’d be the point of that, though – if she weren’t here by now, she probably wasn’t going to appear. Although we hadn’t agreed on a specific time to meet, the idea was that she’d arrive at the meeting-place early enough that she’d beat me there, no matter what. It had taken me almost 14 hours to get there, and I know she would have been there long before that – unless something bad or unforeseen had happened.

I was worried, and I had a choice to make, and neither of my options was one I looked forward to. I could stay where I was at the saddle at 7,200 feet elevation and wait for darkness to descend, hoping she’d show up. But if she didn’t, I’d be spending the night out high on the mountain with no sleeping bag. My other option was to walk over 5 miles down the road to the nearest settlement and then…….? I wasn’t sure what I’d do when I got there, as I was a hundred miles from home with no vehicle.

It didn’t take long to decide – one last look around, then I started walking down the steep road. At least it’d be warmer down below. Even though I was going downhill, I worked up a good sweat. The whole time, I was either worrying about what’d happened to my ride, or grumbling about the situation I found myself in. By the time I arrived in the village of Dos Cabezas, it was dark. Now what? I couldn’t just stand there and do nothing, so I knocked on the door of the first house I saw. There were lights on inside, but nobody answered. Reluctantly, I walked to the next place and knocked – same thing, nobody answered. Hmmm, this wasn’t going well. I did the same thing at the next couple of places, and still no answer. I was running out of doors. Finally, an old fellow answered my knock at the fifth house.

I probably looked a sight, covered in dust and sweat, wearing a pack. I told him I was in a fix, and he invited me in. After hearing my story, he was sympathetic and willing to help me out. He had a hunch. We stepped out on to his back stoop in the darkness, which faced north towards the mountains where I’d spent the day. We had an unobstructed view to the high country, even though it was dark. He had a large pair of binoculars and was gazing up, looking for something. After a few moments, he handed them to me and told me to look at a certain spot. When I did, I could see what looked like two lights continually blinking. He asked me if I thought it could be the 4-way flashers of a vehicle, maybe mine – damn, it sure looked like it could be!

I showed him on my map where I should have found my ride. He knew the mountain really well, and showed me on my map where those blinking lights actually were – 3/4 of a mile to the east of where we should have met. This kind soul then said we’d take a ride up the road in his truck to the flashing lights and see what was going on. We left right away. It only took us 30 minutes to drive the 2,700 vertical feet up to where the lights were. Sure enough, my friend was there in the parked truck – she had turned on the flashers to act as a beacon for me – if only I could have seen them from where I’d stopped on the ridge hours earlier. She was very worried, wondering if something had happened to me and why I was so overdue. When I explained to her that she was not in the spot we’d agreed upon, she felt awful for the extra work she’d caused me.

I profusely thanked the fellow who had helped me out – he wouldn’t accept any money for gas or his time, wished us luck and soon drove back down the mountain. My original plan had been to camp for the night in the truck, then continue through the rest of the range the next morning. If I hadn’t had to do that last stretch down the mountain to the village, I’d have been up for it, but I was done in. The final tally for the day was 11,000 vertical feet of uphill climbing over a distance of 27.7 miles, which still stands today as my toughest day ever. The wind had picked up and was blowing so hard it rocked the truck – it would have been a poor night’s sleep in any case. We pointed the truck downhill and drove back to Tucson.

The fact that I hadn’t finished my traverse through the rest of the Dos Cabezas Mountains haunted me. I kept looking for a chance to get back and finish, but months passed with no return. Finally, everything seemed right, and on September 21st of 1991 we returned – just over 4 months had passed. We drove up to the high pass where I had finished in the spring and my friend dropped me off. This time, we discussed exactly where she would pick me up at the end of the day. In all fairness to her, the confusion back in May had arisen from my not having explained well enough how to read the map and where to wait for me – after all, she wasn’t a climber and had never used topographic maps before.

It was a perfect blue-sky day as I set out from 7,200′ elevation at 5:38 AM. Just as I did 4 months earlier, today I would do a traverse along the height-of-land through the eastern half of the range, climbing everything along my path – or so I hoped. Crossing 6 minor bumps along the way, before I knew it I stood on the summit of Cooper Peak. At an elevation of 7,950 feet, it would be the highest point of my day. Four months earlier, peakbagger extraordinaire Mark Nichols had been here, and I signed in to his register. In fact, Mark had been here the same day I did my epic traverse through the western half of the range. It was now 6:25 AM.

My route now continued in a southeasterly direction, losing elevation as I crossed over 3 major bumps, to arrive at 7,040 feet at a saddle. Back at the beginning of the first part of this Dos Cabezas saga, I mentioned there were 4 features in this area bearing the name Dos Cabezas – the range, a peak, the village and a man-made water-hole for cattle called the Dos Cabezas Catchment. That’s where I was now. It wasn’t much to look at – a circular water tank open to the sky. A road switchbacked its way from the highway 2,000 vertical feet below, climbing up Bean Canyon and then Howard Canyon to arrive at the tank.

I moved on, climbing another 500 feet to reach my second summit of the day, namely Howard Peak, elevation 7,502 feet. The time was 7:35, and I left a register on this one because nobody else had. From here, my route turned sharply south to another bump, then east again to cross another bump to reach Point 7203. I was losing elevation all the time as I crossed 2 more bumps to arrive at a saddle at 6,562 feet. Wow, a drop of a thousand feet since Howard Peak. A few more bumps to cross, then a climb up to the top of Peak 6997 – I left another register there.

Crossing a couple more bumps, I reached a saddle at 6,355 feet. Then began a climb of over 1,200 feet. Halfway up, on a steep rocky slope interspersed with brush, I was startled by a colorful snake, one I had never seen before. I later learned it was an Arizona Mountain King Snake. At the time, I didn’t know if it was poisonous, so I looked but did not touch. Another 600 feet of climbing put me on the top of Government Peak, elevation 7,580 feet. It was now 10:50 AM, and I had been on the move for over 5 hours. Here, I left another register and took a short rest. Back in the early 90s, I was still in the habit of leaving some pretty crappy registers, many of them nothing more than a plastic 35-MM film container. I didn’t realize at the time that these wouldn’t last in the desert heat.

My route now took a major change in direction – south. Staying on the ridge, the miles passed. More bumps were crossed – I keep mentioning these only because they really added up. Eventually I arrived at a low saddle at 5,600 feet. A little farther south, and I stood on a bump at 5,900′ – this wasn’t a summit, but I wanted to stay up high. From here, a sinuous ridge-run back to the northeast over a few more bumps brought me to what would end up being my final summit of the day, Peak 5940. It was 1:30 PM – not bad, I had made pretty reasonable time. Leaving my last register, I then headed southeast over a few more major bumps and covering my last 3 miles, to walk out to the road at Apache Pass, elevation 5,110 feet.

It was only 2:35 PM, and my ride was there waiting – thank goodness for small favors. No, seriously, I was really glad to see my friend with the truck. Nine hours on foot had completed my traverse of the entire range. Not counting my unplanned descent down to the village at the end of the first half of the trip, my actual time to travel the range from end to end had been 20 1/4 hours. Today’s leg was only 5,230 vertical feet, over a distance of 19.5 miles.

Those were memorable days in the Dos Cabezas Mountains. Even today as I write this, 16 years later, I cannot travel past the range without strong feelings about my misadventures up on high. In the end, all turned out well – no climbers were hurt in the making of this tale.