Midnight burn - Tucson Local Media: Sports

Midnight burn

Oro Valley Hiking Club wraps up summer moonlight hikes with a late-night whopper

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Posted: Tuesday, September 16, 2008 11:00 pm

If hikers wed sole against trail to merit stunning views, then darkness obscures more than panoramas, but also most enthusiasts’ reason to lace their boots.

For the Oro Valley Hiking Club, Saturday’s full moon reclaimed the incentive, casting the desert in shades of blue velvet as they capped their summer moonlight hiking series with a 9-mile round-trip trek to Wasson Peak, in the Tucson Mountains.

Hand-held flashlight beams danced across Saguaro National Park’s trailhead asphalt, just off El Camino del Cerro.

Ten hikers cinched and tugged straps, during that oft-awkward moment of adjustments, before stepping out.

Oro Valley recreation director Lynanne Dellerman and series organizer Charles Mattingly, deep in their eighth year of hiking together, led the pack past Sweetwater Trail’s gates, at 7:30 p.m.

A compact and nimble triathlete who “destroys herself” regularly — sporting the knee bands to prove it — Dellerman, 45, looked the consummate REI poster child, wearing muted trail colors, an LED headlamp and an ever-present smile.

Oro Valley’s first-ever hire for her position, Dellerman started the hiking club knowing it was something she could contribute immediately.

“Basically, it was my passion, and it was easy,” Dellerman said. “But being the hiking guide, I’ve gone through lots and lots of black-and-blue toenails.”

The only black-and-blue displayed Saturday was the landscape, its horizon almost inseparable from an indigo canopy overhead.

The evening’s goal bore the name of J. A. Wasson, a key figure in the formation of Arizona’s public school system and the Tucson Citizen’s first editor. Ranking 106th among Arizona’s peaks at 4,686 feet, Wasson’s summit lags far below Humphreys Peak’s 12,633-foot crest, the state’s tallest.

But Wasson Peak was still lofty enough to scratch four of the hikers, after two hours of trail time and their early wrong turn down a wash.

Oro Valley resident Sally Forzano, a 52-year-old yoga instructor who “loves” humbling the mixed-martial artists who come to her studio seeking flexibility, was among those who split.

“I try to explain to (my students), if they can balance their energy, they can last three times longer than their opponent,” Forzano said.

When Forzano’s previously injured meniscus flared — and merged with visions of bath salts and merlot stocked at home, she figured her zest couldn’t topple the peak, over an hour away.

The goodbyes from Foranzo’s group echoed loudly off rock faces, and a once-lazy breeze grew more industrious with altitude, adding ghostly suffixes to each spoken word.

Such is the effect of darkness, which demotes vision to the lower ranks. Hiking club members say sounds and smells mark much of the moonlight hiking series’ memories.

But after decades of working in aerospace mechanics, 62-year-old Mattingly claimed tone-deafness up ahead, as he strolled within mortal reach of a stunning, yet lethal, 30-inch Mohave Green rattlesnake.

“I can’t believe you didn’t hear that thing,” Dellerman told Mattingly. “That’s bizarro.”

After a reluctant photo op, the snake slithered off the trail and coiled under a yucca.

Wary hikers passed, with urgency. One individual marked the spot for the return leg, using a rock to weight down a white washcloth — as if in surrender to nature.

The remainder of the night’s wildlife could fit into Dellerman’s hands. Errant tarantulas scampered harmlessly across the trail, despite her best efforts to corral them.

Though the air grew cool, no steady climbs greeted the hikers, as they ascended Wasson Peak’s southwestern edge via a series of dips and rises.

Switchbacks wound sideways along the trail’s last mile, toward a goal that beckoned with ever-improving views of the city, against a backdrop of Saguaro silhouettes and inky crevasses.

The eldest of the bunch, 68-year-old Joe Myers of Oro Valley, stretched his distance from the group’s tail, assuring he’d catch up.

“If we don’t hear from you or see your light way back there, we know it’s time to stop,” Mattingly offered.

Like most hikes, a couple false summits offered, then dashed, hopes of rest.

But come 10:30 p.m., three hours after setting out, the group hit summit and traded snacks.

Ten minutes later, Myers joined in gazing at the city’s lights.

“Well. So this is the peak,” he said simply, finishing off a water bottle.

At such hours on Saturday nights, empathy for civilization often emanates from loud watering holes, stitched with noisy collegiate passersby.

Instead, six hikers enjoyed trail mix, and an overhead window-shopping of golden, electric strands that marked the sundry affairs of lower altitudes.

Moonlight hikes prove popular, Dellerman said. Around 70 enthusiasts “mobbed” the Oro Valley Hiking Club for an evening at Catalina State Park, during the series’ kickoff on National Trails Day in June.

But after 20 minutes on Wasson Peak, the club fell into the silent parade that marks descents, a zen lockstep of boots crunching on loose rocks.

A late morning of sleeping in awaited all but one hiker, and their seared calves.

Sheila Kirt, a full-time veterinarian and part-time hiking guide who moved to Arizona for the trails, had her own morning group to lead, just four hours after the group reached the trailhead, at 1:30 a.m.

Some might call her outdoor dedication manic. Kirt wondered why anyone wouldn’t understand.

“I just love to hike,” Kirt said. “It’s all I want to do in life.”

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