Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area
Tonto National Forest
Cave Creek, Arizona
Mileage - 12.83
Time - 4:57
AEG - 2800ft
Skull Mesa - a fitting name for a formation jutting eerily out of the clouds on a cold and rainy December morning in the desert. Ben and I wandered into the mountains of Cave Creek expecting a nice and leisurely 6-mile hike to the top of Skull Mesa. The return trip was an entirely different scenario. Knowing full well we were in for some wet conditions and a number of stream crossings, I made sure we both had old shoes, moisture wicking fabrics, a hat and rain jacket. What we didn't prepare for was the storm that was about to blanket the area.
The trip started from the Spur Cross Conservation Area, then traveled through the Cave Creek watershed before connecting with the Cave Creek Trail No. 4. Our route quickly departed that trail to the right and headed uphill on the Cottonwood Trail No. 247 for approximately 3 miles to a junction that linked the final 1.2-mile ascent on Skull Mesa Trail No. 248 (pictured below). Everything was going fine until halfway up the hillside when the passing clouds turned to rain. With rain came wind, and the more it rained the colder it became. That didn't stop us from reaching the summit. A quick break for a picture providing proof of our efforts was about all the time we spent up there before quickly returning back down the mountain.
The clouds reduced our visibility to less than 50 feet and the rain pelted us in what seemed like every direction. As hard as it was coming down, staying dry wasn't an option. My focus was solely on not making mistakes. Ensuring solid footing and staying on trail were my main concerns. Then it would just be a matter of time until we reached the trailhead. A matter of 6 more miles that is...in a situation that was incredibly unpleasant. We did manage to stay calm and keep each other thinking positive. Cold, tired, a little delirious and completely soaked from head to toe, Ben and I fought strong headwinds in the final mile by running and yelling like crazy people. Looking back it was pretty fun. A good time I would never want to repeat!
A tough climb awaits - 1,100ft in 1.2 miles to the summit.
It's never a bad day in the mountains...even when you're freezing!