Saturday, November 18, 2017

Phoenix Summit Challenge - Crowding Piestewa

Weather: 79º, sunny

Time:  25.5 minutes

About this Hike:  Due to the on-going construction, I parked in the usual residential neighborhood outside the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.  Upon arriving at the trailhead, there were signs advising that today is Phoenix Summit Challenge and apologizing for crowds—and of course—any inconvenience.

Hikers everywhere we wearing PSC t-shirts.  The gist of this event is to hit a set number of major summits around Phoenix within a limited time frame.  I guess Phoenix needs to compete with Tempe's ongoing Ironman this weekend...

Due to the PSC crowd, my feet never touched the summit. I got to the final 'staircase' and the bottleneck was so severe I just paused, enjoyed the views, and headed back down.

PSC hikers seemed a little amateur-ish/out of their element.  Some were a bit entitled and didn't observe the best trail etiquette—I imagine because they consider today their event.  A Phoenix PD chopper began to hover at one point.  "Return to the trail; you will fall!," boomed the voice over the loud speaker.  It was quite amusing.  I'm guessing some PSC hikers either got lost or felt the need to blaze a new trail.

Regardless, I enjoyed a nice hike overall. I wish we had the same heavy cloud cover of yesterday, but today was brilliant sunshine. It was warm, but not overly so.  Just like those off-kilter summers where highs seldom reached 70º when I was growing up in the northeast, so is this winter to Phoenix.  I'm fearful it's going to be warm all winter with little relief from the heat.  Here's hoping I'm wrong and this will be a winter filled with low-desert Arizona hikes.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Fall-Like on Piestewa

Weather: 76º, overcast, breezy, spotty showers

Time:  26 minutes

About this Hike:  It only has taken until November to finally see some fall-like weather in Phoenix.  I don't recall rain being in the forecast, but for a brief time on my drive up to Piestewa it was coming down pretty good.  By the time I reached the trailhead everything was dry.

The views were spectacular today.... The clouds cast shadows and made for a unique lighting effect on the mountains and buildings around the Valley.  Rain shafts could be seen coming from the surrounding clouds. 

As I was descending, showers set in.  They didn't last long, but it was cool and refreshing.  While I'd love a good downpour, I'd rather NOT be on a trail when it occurs.  Those rocks become awful slick making an already tricky hike even more dangerous. 

Four Peaks framed by rain shafts

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Much Nicer Piestewa Hike

Weather: 82º, sunny

Time:  26 minutes

About this Hike:  What an improvement over last Saturday!  A little haze on the mountains around Phoenix is not unusual.  From Uptown to Downtown and beyond, the Valley was clearly visible today. I also left my mask (respiratory, not to be confused with Halloween) home today.

Despite a full parking lot there were gaps on the trail where I was mostly alone. It was wonderful and all the things a hike should be—relaxation, challenging yourself, getting alone with your thoughts for a while.

The parking area is getting increasingly gross due to construction.  A sign with the world 'Dust' slashed out is posted on the main road.  The roadways themselves (or what's left of them) are covered in slurry mud which I can only think is being pumped in to honor that 'No Dust' sign.  The main lots are open, but I avoid driving my car thru this disgusting mess and just favor the residential streets outside the preserve.

Otherwise a great hike and big improvement over last Saturday. Now if we could only get those temps down a bit lower...

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Masked Hike - Piestewa

Weather: 78º, sunny, high pollution

Time:  26 minutes

About this Hike:  I'm not sure how I did this in 26 minutes.  I planned on giving myself a handicap of at least two minutes once I stopped the timer at the summit.

In just over six years in the Phoenix area, I've never seen air quality like today.  The local news says a dust storm from California blew into our area and lingered for two days.  Unlike the massive haboob dust walls we see in Monsoon Season, this was just two days of fine grit creating haze in the atmosphere around The Valley.  From Piestewa's summit the skyscrapers of uptown Phoenix barely pierced the haze.  Views of downtown, much less Sky Harbor Airport, were a loss.

Today is my first day home after nearly a week hiking in the Arizona High Country.  I should be unpacking and doing other after-vacation tasks.  But a cool front had blown in, and I selfishly wanted to take advantage of the temps. 

I donned a respiratory mask and made the hike up Piestewa.  Other hikers shot curious and judgmental stares.  This made water breaks a challenge, hence why I planned to give myself a generous a handicap.  When I arrived near the summit and stopped the S Health timer, I couldn't believe I was only at 26 minutes.  Imagine if this had been a normal day and my nose and mouth weren't covered...

I never actually touched the summit but stopped at the final push where you have to scramble a bit onto the summit.  I was done with this hike—Disgusted by air quality.  Disgusted with the fact I had bruised my forearm on a rock facing.  Disgusted with a mom who was carrying her coughing child while he spewed germs all over other hikers (or was sickened by the air). 

Upon descent, I met a friendly guy from Oregon.  He saw my mask, but he totally got it....  We talked about the poor air quality, and how this bad of air isn't normal, even for Phoenix.   

This is one hike I regret going on.  Upon return to my car, I was grateful to have survived this dusty, smoggy Saturday.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Kachina Trail & Flagstaff Fall Color

Weather: 70º, sunny

About this Hike:  This hike was partially inspired by a segment I saw on 3TV in Phoenix.  Their drone crew had caught some majestic photos of the amber and yellow aspen tree tops around Flagstaff as the area approaches fall-color peak.

Being as I'm traveling with a drone operator, I thought a fall foliage day in Flag might be the perfect day trip from our base in Sedona.

Kachina Trail is accessed via Arizona Snow Bowl.  From US-180 it's a fun drive up the ~7 mile winding mountain pass. The large parking area is well-signed pointing hikers to both Kachina and Humphrey's trailheads.  Of course in the winter this is AZ skier's heaven.

As we approached Snow Bowl, I became nervous like a skier in January staring at bare ground. Stands of aspen stood bare, as if a fall wind storm had stripped their foliage.  Throughout the hike this was the theme:  Bare stands of aspen alternated with rich yellow (and occasional red) beauties.  In the end I was satisfied, having gotten the fill of fall color I drove so far to enjoy.

Kachina Trail takes hikers through thick spruce and aspen forest, opening into meadows occasionally.  Old volcanic boulders shroud the landscape.  There are some side trails that can easily throw you off.  We discovered this the hard way after enjoying phenomenal views from atop some dark granite cliffs.  No big deal though, and soon we were back on the correct path.

Per the trailhead map, Kachina eventually intersects with Weatherford Trail. It appeared this would give us good views of the just-under 12K Fremont Peak.  I suspect at some point we joined Weatherford, because we hiked much farther than Kachina's stated 2.5-mile distance. We did see a lot of Fremont Peak, whose peak is distinctly above timberline.  Signage along these trails is not the best, surprising for heavily hiked U.S. Forest Service pathways.

Warm temps began to give way to high-country coolness as the sun was sinking low.  We decided to turn back.  As often is the case, the hike out was a lot shorter than the hike in.  A drive down a mountain pass, and it was on to Flagstaff for some much-deserved after-hike brews.

A meadow of aspens

Monday, October 16, 2017

Water, Water Everywhere – Wet Beaver Creek

Weather: 85º, sunny

About this Hike:  It's too hot for October! So a hike to a swimming hole seemed like a good idea. 

After a week in Sedona, driving south on 179 back to I-17, the landscape quickly changes from beautiful Red Rock Country to high-desert wasteland–a reminder I'm heading back to Phoenix.  Today's the first day of my vacation in Sedona, and going down 179 S is a dismal reminder that my vacation will end in a few days.  However, the Bell Trail lies just southeast of I-17.  It's decent paved Forest Service Road the whole way there.  Needless to say I wasn't expecting much from this area.  Was I ever wrong.  This hike on relatively flat, graded trail runs parallel to the lush riparian environment around Wet Beaver Creek.  Even though we've been in a post-monsoon dry/hot spell, the waters of this creek were flowing strong. 

It was my goal to reach the Wet Beaver Crack Swimming Hole (awful name, I know).  After over an hour hike and some side-trail detours down to the creek, we came to a junction.  Go left to stay on Bell Trail.  Go right to take the Weir Trail.  There's a map posted at the junction, and it looked to me like Weir crossed the creek.  We reached a shaded oasis area with red rock cliffs and even a small waterfall.  There's a USGS monitoring station there, and the small dam creates a bit of a luge.  I sat on the smooth red sandstone and dipped my hot feet in the icy water.  I thought that maybe this was the Beaver Crack Swimming Hole, but my instincts told me it was not. 

Upon returning to the junction, I studied the map more carefully.  It did in fact appear Bell Trail crossed the creek up ahead.  Another hiker came by and I confirmed with him that Beaver Crack was still ahead.  At this point the trail does require a semi-steep climb high above the creek.  It eventually drops down to the swimming hole.  The red rock cliffs and black edges of the Mogollon Rim grew more and more stunning.

Once at the swimming hole I realized why 'crack' is in the name.  There is a fissure in the red sandstone-encompassed pool that is almost Lake Powell-esque.  There were other hikers sunbathing and enjoying the swimming hole.  I regretted not having a swimsuit on.

An even deeper regret?  I slightly underestimated the mileage and time on this hike.  With all the side detours, this took approximately 2.5 hours to hike in.  Water was running low for both myself and my hiking mate.  As a seasoned hiker this failure of planning hurt my pride, but I asked some generous hikers if they could spare a bottle of water.  They kindly obliged.  I was humbled.

The hike back out to the trailhead parking lot took just over an hour.  Next time, I'm planning to bring a lot more water.  And my swimsuit so I can get in the water.

Beaver Crack

Quiet oasis near the USGS site on Weir Trail

Like Fossil Creek....

Saturday, October 14, 2017

(Not) a Twisted Ankle at Camelback

Weather: 78º, sunny

Time: 30 minutes

About this Hike:  Echo Canyon parking was full this morning.  I got into the lot, circled, and decided to leave.  As I headed out the park rangers had just closed the gate.  I was headed to Piestewa.  But first, I thought to check my secret spot.  Last time, they had put gates up at this secret parking garage.  Today the gates weren't just open...they were gone!  Nervously, I parked at my secret spot and made the 10-minute trek back to the trailhead.  Plenty of parking spots were now open.  Seems it always goes this way....

I seriously question the time I posted this morning.  My S-Health app that I use for tracking workouts was acting up.  One of the settings flipped itself and the phone was talking to me all through my hike.  "Workout paused," followed by, "Workout resumed" accompanied me all the way up the mountain.  I know I had turned this setting off once before... It's embarassing when you're on the trail and your phone starts to speak.  I wanted to pitch my ancient Galaxy S5 off the mountain a few times (insurance claim and a new phone!?).

So anyway, when I reached the summit my phone actually said 29 minutes and change.  I don't believe it.  Usually I round down for a handicap (slow hikers, bottlenecks, etc.).  This time I rounded up.  If nothing else, I'm an honorary 30 & Under Club member....

Tomorrow I'm supposed to leave for my annual fall trip to Sedona.  The year 2017 has been fraught with challenges, sickness, injury, and disappointment—Both in my life and on a national scale (just watch the news:  shootings, mass fires, hurricanes).  So my vacation is already in jeopardy due to some difficult people who were supposed to accompany me.  And I thought to myself this morning, "If ever there's a day where I could get injured doing a big hike like C-Back, today's it..." 

I grazed the knobby bone on my right ankle against a rock.  Literally a light graze.  But it tore the thin skin in that area and cause some minor swelling.  Guys are huge wimps when it comes to injury/illness, and I'm far from an exception to this.  I'm walking on it fine, and the pain is intermittent now.  Hopefully this is just a scrape and I'll be posting on here about numerous Sedona hikes that I have planned for next week....