Aravaipa Post-Monsoon Splash

September 3-5, 2011

We scheduled this hike with the Tucson Backpackers several months ago thinking that by now we'd be enjoying higher water and lower temperatures. Little did we know that while the monsoon of 2011 only raised the water in Aravaipa Canyon to 4.7 cfs, it included an astronomical spike on the 4th of July.

Our first clue that things had changed was the absence of trails in the first mile of the canyon. About two miles out, we encountered an unusually long and deep pool with a "quickmud" bottom. It was here that Patrick the Ranger caught up with us, and told us that there were two pools in the narrows ahead of us with chest-deep water!

Like the great blue heron that followed us in and out of the canyon, Patrick stayed about 50 yards behind us until we navigated both crossings. He helped us locate a narrow sandbar at the first pool where we crossed by hoisting our packs over our heads. Meanwhile, he recalled how he was camped at an area I call "the shelf" the night of July 4. He did not realize how high the water had risen overnight until the next morning when he saw snags lodged 10 feet above the river. The gauging station measured the flow at nearly 4000 cfs that night with some smaller spikes a few days later.

At the second pool, there was no way around except by scrambling along the rocks on the left side of the canyon. We set up a "backpack brigade" to make it easy for everyone to make their way safely down the face of the cliff.

Despite slow going and unseasonable heat — 104° in Tucson and only a little cooler in the canyon — we strolled into Horse Camp around 3:30 pm, happy for the shade of the giant cottonwood trees.

On Sunday we explored Horse Camp Canyon, but the mysterious inky black plunge pool was full of algae. Josh, Joel and Belinda continued on to Virgus Canyon while Cindy, Jeff, Patty and I settled into a pool with a small waterfall. I spent a good part of the evening alternately lying on my back in the stream or on a nicely carved boulder watching bats pour out of Horse Camp Canyon, but also did my part to reduce the volume of wine in Josh and Belinda's backpacks.

Heat lightning flickered in the distance and high winds buffeted the tent overnight. We awoke to blessedly cloudy skies and cooler temperatures and were up and out of the canyon in time for lunch at La Casita in Mammoth.