Cold Spring Ruins - Part III
By Matt Marine, with Scott Duecker and Steve Krohn
Click here to read Part I of the story (Hiking up Big Buck Uranium Mine Road)
Click here to read Part II of the story (Failed Ascent)
Not Beaten Down Yet
Dejected, exhausted and sore, Steve and I began to climb down the rockslide toward the old mining road some 200 feet below us. We had failed the final climb up an almost vertical rock face to reach the Cold Spring Canyon Indian Ruins located in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness area north of Globe, Arizona. Only one person in our party had been successful: Scott. We were in contact with him via FRS radios and he was descending down from the ruins on the correct trail (we had mistakenly taken the wrong rockslide up the mountain). In addition, my GPS had broken (it had been crushed against a rock during our failed ascent) and I didn't have my SPOT GPS rescue. We were heading home. Defeated.
I wasn’t looking forward to our own descent. The rockslide was steep, loose and dangerous. Our first obstacle was a five foot vertical drop over a large tree root on the steeply inclined slope. On our way up, I had to lift my dog, Cammie (otherwise known as Cat-dog), up and I wasn’t sure how we were going to negotiate this in reverse.
As I was pondering the situation, Cammie decided to jump from the root to the trail below. I held my breath as she landed. The slope was so steep she went up on her front two paws and almost fell head over tail down the hill. Luckily, her instincts kicked in and she got low, then slid five feet down the loose rocks on her front paws.
When she was done, she turned and looked up at me. The expression on her face was half terror and half puzzlement as if saying, “I didn’t know that was going to happen. I didn’t like it.”
I told her she was a good girl and climbed down after her, leaning heavily on my trekking pole. Steve followed and we began carefully making our way down the mountain. We kept in constant contact with Scott on the radio but shortly found that we could hear him easily without it.
Our rockslide and the trail he was on were converging. Almost. Steve and I stopped and allowed Scott to move along the trail until he was within about 50 feet of us. After this the trails began to diverge again. Although he was very close, we still couldn’t see each other due to the thick vegetation. Scott did a little bushwhacking and by the time he was 30 feet away, we could finally see each other.
“If you guys can make it over here,” Scott said, “the rest of the trail up to the ruins isn’t too bad.”
My heart leaped. I might make it after all! The problem was finding a way over to the trail. We were on a super steep incline covered with loose rocks, thick brush and sharp cactus. Steve, who was about 20 feet above me, began searching for a passage near the base of a vertical rock face. I saw a promising path down a little ways from where Cammie and I had stopped to talk with Scott.
We worked our way about 15 feet sideways until we came to a large tree nestled against a massive boulder. I called Scott and he fought his way to a ledge about 10 feet above me.
“Can you see any way around this tree?” I asked.
“Not unless you can climb this rock.”
I looked at the rock. Ten feet straight up. Maybe if I was a world-class rock climber. Which I wasn’t. And there wasn’t any way we could get Cammie up there.
My heart began to sink again.
"We're Going Through That?!"
“Hey!” Steve shouted from above us. “I may have found something.”
Scott disappeared from my sight as Cammie and I worked our way back to the main rockslide, where we stopped to rest.
By the sound of their voices I judged that Scott and Steve were only about 25 feet away, but I couldn’t see them. And I didn’t want to waste any energy climbing up to where they were unless I knew it was worth it. I waited and listened to their conversation.
“What about here?” Steve asked.
A few minutes went by, then Scott’s reply, “No, it leads to an impassible cliff.”
“How about here?”
“I don’t know. you'll need to get by that yucca,” Scott said. “Then you’d have to climb through that prickly pear.”
A long pause. “If you help pull me over it, I think I can make it.”
This was shortly followed by some grunting and a few choice four letter words. Then silence.
“You make it?” I called out.
“Yeah,” Steve called back. “But my shoulder’s full of prickly pear spines.”
Two were across. Only Cammie and I were left. We climbed back up the rockslide, then left the trail where Steve had found a narrow break in the foliage. The first big obstacle was getting by a large yucca plant and tree next to a rock wall. This wasn’t too bad, but then came the prickly pear.
Not particularly large or dense by Arizona standards, but it grew right up against the rock wall and there was no way around it. The only way to the other side was over it. I saw the small gap that Steve had been pulled through. And I also saw a section that grew out of the rock face that he’d had to shoulder his way against. Scott stood directly on the other side, while Steve was strategically placed a few feet behind him up on a small ledge.
I thought there was a good possibility I could make it through, but knew Cammie could not. The incline was too steep and the cactus too high for her to jump over. The only way she could make it would either be for me to carry her or to lift her over. But neither of those seemed possible. I needed Scott to help pull me up and over and I couldn’t do that while carrying Cammie. And if I gave her to Scott, he was in no position to put her any place safe.
Once again, I felt the ruins slipping away from me.
“What if you hand her to Scott,” Steve said, “and then he handed her to me? I could put her on the ledge above me and then she could climb the rest of the way to the trail herself.”
Cammie seemed to understand what was being said and began to back away from me. She doesn’t like being picked up, even though she’s gotten better about it during our recent adventures.
Before I could talk myself out of it, I agreed. “Cam-Cam, come here girl,” I called out to her.
She was five feet away from me and didn’t move any closer. I pulled out a little baggie of cat food (which is her favorite kind of treat) from my pocket. Sometimes this works like Scooby Snacks and I can get her to do things that she’d otherwise be hesitant about. Sometimes it doesn’t. Luckily, she seemed in the mood for her cat treats. Her ears pricked up and she walked up to me. I gave her a handful and scooped her up.
Before she knew what was happening, I lifter her over the cactus and handed her to Scott. With Cammie in his arms, he turned 180 degrees and placed her on Steve’s back/shoulders. Steve took a step up the rock face which gave her the opportunity to jump onto the ledge above us. The entire process took only a few seconds, but I’ll never forget the image of my dog standing on Steve’s shoulders hundreds of feet up on a canyon wall. She probably won't forget it either, or forgive me for that matter.
“You owe me an entire bag of cat treats for that!”
- Cammie, looking at me from the ledge that she'd just jumped to
I agreed, but now it was my turn. I had to go now that my dog was on the other side. I took my trekking pole and pushed some of the prickly pear out of the way. Scott held out his hands and braced his feet. I grabbed hold of his wrists and he pulled while I stepped/jumped over the cactus.
I felt the cactus spines spear into my shoulder and my leg, but didn’t care. I was through! The four of us scrambled up to the top of the ledge and over to the trail. We all took some deep breaths. That was some of the most difficult hiking any of us had ever done.
We took about five minutes to gather ourselves and pick what spines we could out of ourselves. Scott had also come in contact with the cactus as he lifted us through. The only one who didn’t have any spines in them was Cammie.
I craned my neck skyward. I was ready for the final assault up to the ruins.
We climbed up to a point where the trail leveled off and began to hook around the tall cliffs looming above us. We turned a corner and there were the ruins. Sunlight streamed from above the red and orange cliffs above us giving it an almost magical glow. Our goal was finally within our reach. After so much hard work and failed attempts, I could hardly believe it.
"I can't believe that Cammie was as calm as she was we handed her off over the cactus while we clung to branches."
Finally: The Ruins
As we came within 150 yards of the ruins, the ground fell sharply away on the low side. The width of the trail in this area was only about 1-2 feet wide. Scott pointed out that he had climbed up this section of what the directions call “The Bowl”. I was glad I’d turned around while climbing the rock face earlier.
"I can't believe I climbed up that!"
- Scott, looking down into The Bowl
The dizzying height was too much for Steve. He stopped next to a rock along the trail, sat down and said, “This is as far as I’m going.”
“But you’re so close,” I said.
“That’s okay,” he said. “I can see it from here. I don’t want to walk along that edge.”
Steve usually wasn’t bothered by heights and I think he was still freaked out from climbing down the rock face. But I didn’t care. I was going to make it. Don’t get me wrong, it was scary as hell, but it was going to take more than that to stop me. I gave Steve my radio and followed Scott to the ruins.
The front of the ruins consists of flat rocks mortared into a vertical crevice about 6 feet wide at the entrance. The front wall is about 15-20 feet high, but I imagine it was higher when it was inhabited. There are two wooden poles positioned in an ‘X’ shape and one placed horizontally to assist in climbing up to the doorway which is about 10 feet off the ground. These are recent additions. My guess is the original inhabitants had a ladder here.
Scott went in first to have a better look around while I rested with Cammie down below. We couldn’t go in together since I didn’t want to leave Cammie alone. After about 10 minutes Scott touched his boots on solid ground again and it was my turn.
Quick Video: Scott Climbing into the Ruins
Even at this stage of the hike, it did not get any easier. Climbing up the slippery wooden poles was demanding and I was glad to be six feet tall. I pulled myself into the doorway very delicately. The opening isn’t that wide and I didn’t want to pull too hard on thousand year old masonry.
If I remember correctly, the first floor is about 30 feet in length and looked more like a small cave than a "room". Immediately after climbing to this level, I found another set of X-shaped poles leading to the second floor. I was entranced by the floor/ceiling that was still intact after so many years. It was constructed of long wooden poles, floor planking and a thick layer of mud on top. Incredible! Actually, the main timber was replaced in the 1980s in a restoration project, but I think everything else is original.
The opening in the floor I had to climb through was even skinnier than the door and I found my hat wouldn’t even make it through without tilting it slightly. I felt as though I was entered in some strange limbo contest to climb the poles and crawl through the opening. I don’t think the people who lived here were six feet tall and weighed 200 lbs. And they were much more limber than me (probably did not have their L5-S1 vertebrea fused either).
When I climbed up to the second floor, the first thing I noticed were the flies. Lots of them. Flying and buzzing around. I ignored them and I put some weight on the floor. It sagged slightly. I took a step back.
“There’s a bunch of flies up there and the floor’s a little bit shaky,” Scott called out a few seconds too late to remind me again. “I’d stay near the edges.”
Good advice. I placed my feet where the floor felt the most sound and turned around to look out the front of the home. Scott and Cammie were below me and the canyon spread out in front of me. I didn’t look out too long because I was afraid my vertigo would kick in and I wouldn’t be able to move.
I turned around and looked inward. There was a partial wall in front of me with what looked like a loft on top. More X-shaped climbing poles leading to the loft or third floor. I took a quick peek into the room and it was probably the nicest of them all – the master suite.
I didn’t spend a lot of time here because I knew we were pressed for time to make it back and set up camp before dark, so I climbed the third set of poles to the loft. The floor was more stable here and you could walk a good distance back. There was light coming from the rear of the room and I knew what was coming (Scott had filled me in on this).
"Climbing up the rock bowl was exciting (and dangerous), but not as exciting as climbing up to the 3rd level of the ruin, walking on 1000 year old floor timbers and finding the 'surprise' outlook over the canyon around the corner. I couldn't help but think of the ingenuity that went into building this place. The way the builders made use of the crack in the rock walls to their advantage was impressive."
There were another couple of half wall room dividers and then it opened up to the canyon on the other side of the crevice. The wall dividing where I stood and the hundreds of feet that I could plummet to my death in the canyon below was about 4.5 feet tall. I could not look down from that height so I just stuck my camera over the wall and took a picture, knowing I could see the view safely when I uploaded it on my computer when I got back home. I set the camera’s timer and took a couple of selfie’s so I could prove I’d made it and climbed back down each level.
Coming down was harder than going up. I found that sliding down similar to how a fireman slides down a fire pole was the easiest for me. Once outside, I took a deep breath and grinned. After all our difficulties, I’d made it.
But there was no time to congratulate ourselves. We quickly hiked back to meet up with Steve.
We were half way done. Now, all we had to do is climb down what we’d just come up. Easier said than done.
Although not as cardio-taxing as the climb up, going down had its own challenges. Once again I found my trekking pole extremely helpful during our descent. I stayed upright on my two feet (and one pole) most of the way down, while Scott and Steve had to slide on their butts most of the way down the steeper sections. Cammie did the best of all of us though. Sometimes I would love to have four-paw-drive!
Quick Video: Inside the Cold Spring Ruins
"As we scrambled up to the ruin and made the controlled slide back down to the old road, I kept thinking "this is supposed to be the 'easy hike'?? - it didn't make me very confident that we would make it to the Devil's Chasm!"
Quick Video: Down the Rockslide
Down, Down, Down
We followed the trail down to the old mining road. It was here that we found the half-collapsed cairn and arrow pointing up the “trail”. I wish I’d taken a picture to document what it looked like and spent some time rebuilding them, but I was so tired that I didn’t even think about it. We just kept trudging toward the vehicles.
Our next obstacle was the 25 foot spring/mud/cow pie spot we had crossed on our way up. Once again, I offered Cammie some cat treats, picked her up and carried her across the mud. This time, however, I didn't do as well as the first time (probably because I was so tired). You can see in the video below how I slipped off a few of the stones/branches near the end.
"Cammie got through without getting muddy. I did not."
When we passed the petroglyph rock we found we could see additional petroglyphs now that they weren’t in the direct sunlight (as you can see from the first picture, this made a huge difference). The sun was beginning to get low and we still had to find a camping spot (not easily done in such rugged terrain), set up camp and cook dinner. We rested for less than a minute and I took a sip of water. Oh, crap, the water was gone. I wasn't too scared though because I knew Scott and Steve had a little left if I needed it. Still it wasn't a comforting feeling. This was the first (and hopefully last) time I’ve run out of water on a hike.
Hiking down the last half of the road was extremely difficult for me. Both of my feet had huge blisters on them. This wasn’t due to the length of the hike, but rather the steep angles they had been in as I side-stepped up and down the mountainside. Walking among the “baby heads” was tricky with tired ankles and feet. All of us were mistepping and twisting ankles (though not enough to sprain them) every hundred feet or so.
The sight of our vehicles was glorious because I knew I had an ice-cold bottle of Gatoraide waiting for me. First, though, I gave Cammie some cold water and let her rest on her blanket on the Jeep’s back seat. She was tired too. Then I chugged the Gatoraide.
By not making it to the ruins, Steve had earned cooking duty, but we all pitched in as everyone was dead tired. This was supposed to be the easy hike. Tomorrow we were going to be trying to make it to the Devil's Chasm Ruins. I didn't hold much hope for me reaching them since they were supposed to be much more difficult than what we'd already done and I was completely exhausted.
But, who knows. I didn't think I was going to make it to these ruins either.
Short Video: Through the Mud
A few things we learned while on this trip:
- Take the right trail. This would have made the climb to the ruins a lot easier!
- Don't turn off your GPS even if it's display is cracked.
- Be prepared.
- Bring lots of cat treats!
Note: This is a difficult and dangerous trail. Make sure you are comfortable with heights and are physcially capable of climbing up the steep rockslides required for this hike. Bring safety gear. Don't do this alone. This is not an "official" trail. Route finding can be diffiicult. I would suggest a good GPS. Please do not deface the ruins. Take only pictures, leave only footprints. And, above all else, enjoy the ruins and their history!
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Full Size and Additional Pictures From the Trip
Steve and Cammie starting the long climb down
What we had to cross to get to Scott and the right trail which led to the ruins
Climbing up the wooden poles into the ruins. Not as easy as it looks.
About 100 yards from the ruins
What a front door!
Looking up from the first floor to the second. I was really impressed with the wood and mud ceiling/floor
Looking up to the third floor or loft
Looking out the other side of the crevice
Scott looking down from the second level
Scott's view of Steve and I from on top of "The Bowl", circled in red. Yep, he climbed UP that.
Cat-dog and I "relaxing" while Scott toured the ruins
The view out of the front of the ruins from the second level
Looking down at Scott and Cat-dog looking up at me from the second level
Out the opposite side of the crevice on the third level
Looking down from the third level. I couldn't look down, this was taken by putting my camera over the side and taking the picture
Selfie on the third level looking out the opposite side of the crevice
Selfie looking back in from the window out the third level
Looking down from the third floor at the level needed to climb up
My crushed GPS
Have you been on this adventure? What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here.
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