Passage 11 – Santa Catalina Mountains

April 9, 2017

Four hardy souls joined me as we attempted to head into the teeth of the Shovel Fire. Our original plan was to drive out to the end of the 2 track on top of Mt. Lemmon and park Tom’s truck at that point. Tom was busy in the Chiricahuas but was kind enough to lend us his truck and the magic USFS “Official Business” magnets. We would then head down the Mt. Lemmon trail to the Wilderness of Rocks Junction. From there we were going to spend two days and one night clearing out 1.5 dozen deadfall from the Arizona Trail. Alas, when we got to the Mt. Lemmon Ski area parking lot, there were 3 fire trucks and a locked gate. The fire trucks proceeded through the gate and locked it behind them. So it was going to have to be plan B.

Now, the Shovel fire didn’t start until sometime late Saturday and this was Sunday morning a little after 7 am so we hadn’t had much time to figure out a plan B. But experienced trail hands that we are, we adapted. The really fortunate thing was that our plans had already been pushed back a day. Originally the dates for this event were going to be Saturday 4/8 and Sunday 4/9. If we had done that, there is a very good chance that Tom’s truck would be very crispy right now since the fire appeared to be burning right where we would have parked. Tom, how’s your insurance?

Anyway, we decided that plan B would be to go to Marshall Gulch and hike in about 2 miles and then work our way back. We got to Marshall Gulch and to our pleasurable surprise, it was open. Nobody there but us. We reorganized our gear from a 2 day backpack to a one day hike and headed up the trail. It wasn’t long before we heard the drone of spotter planes overhead; at least 2 that we saw. Shortly after that came the helicopters with their bags of water sloshing below. It turned out to be a very noisy day as the choppers continued back and forth all day with the exception of a 1 hour lunch break. From some of our vantage points we could see the smoke in the distance. Probably 3+ miles from where we worked.

We did have a successful day clearing about 16 trees, several of which were quite challenging, fixing 4 drainage areas and adding one new cairn. We got the entire stretch of trail clear of deadfall. We did, however, notice that the trail was remarkably empty for a Sunday. First thing out of the gate, we met a local walking his dogs. After that we saw two through hikers, one of which was a Warrior Hiker, and nobody else. Kind of spooky, actually.

When we got back to Marshall Gulch at 3 o’clock, Tom’s truck was the only vehicle there. Not the usual mob of Sunday picnickers. Turns out that a few minutes after we started, the Sherriff had closed the road going down to the parking area. But for a couple of minutes, it could have been a complete washout.

All things considered though, it was a very successful day. Thanks to my great crew: Steve Chaffee, Scott Casterlin, Bill Hiscox and Chris Michalowski.

David Rabb