Friday, March 18, 2016

Looking for the Piestewa Alternate

Weather:  75°, sunny

Time:  23.5 minutes

About this hike:  This was a fairly routine Piestewa hike.  I've all but given up on Camelback.  I went Wednesday just before noon and parking was impossible.  Maybe once tourist season is over and the crowds thin out I'll try it again.  Or maybe I'll get the urge to try again next week :-)

I enjoyed fairly uncrowded Piestewa trails this morning, but then right as I reached the summit a bottleneck began.  Not feeling at all patient this morning, I turned around and headed right back down without any rest period on the summit.

On the way down I tried exploring to find the alternate summit trail and I ended up going off on a side trail.  It eventually dead ended.  I know where the alternate trail starts at the base of the mountain, so I might try hiking up that way next time...

Getting closer to the trailhead, I saw an older gentleman with a fresh injury.  He was being attended to by numerous other hikers, but there was blood everywhere.  My stomach immediately turned and I had to look away for fear of dry heaves.  I am very squeamish and wouldn't make a good paramedic!  That was a sobering reminder to be extra cautious and respect the mountain.  Thoughts and prayers are with that gentleman.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Piestewa and Traffic Cameras

Weather:  70°, sunny

Time:  22.5 minutes

About this hike:  I arose  early from a (rare) refreshing night of sleep.  Anxious to get going, I arrived at the Camelback Echo Canyon parking lot just before 8:30am.  It was full.  There is no rhyme or reason to the traffic patterns here.  It wasn't so full that rangers had put up the sign yet, so I did a lap around but had no luck.  I probably could've kept circling and nabbed a spot.  Gas prices may be the lowest in years, but I'm still not willing to waste fuel driving in circles.  To Piestewa I went!

Never mind fuel waste, this hike may have cost me dearly.  I have a perfect driving record.  Today I got caught up in a bad situation with being cutoff and simultaneously passed.  This all came to a head as I approached the intersection of 36th Street and Lincoln Drive in ticket-happy Paradise Valley.  The guy who was tromping it to pass me in the left lane was now just slightly ahead of my bumper and that's when the camera at the intersection flashed.  He earned the speeding ticket, but what if it picked me up mistakenly?  So now I'm stressed about this and will be anxiously watching the mailbox.  Oh, and doing some research on how to fight camera-issued tickets...just in case.

So maybe it was a stress-fueled adrenaline rush that spurred me to just about tying my record up Piestewa this morning.  Admittedly the ascent went by in a blur.  My mind was elsewhere (mainly replaying the speed camera incident).

I should mention that parking was pretty full at Piestewa as well, but the trail was not over-crowded.  I'm glad this hike is over and I can count my blessings...even a camera-issued ticket isn't as bad as say an injury and mountain rescue.  Speaking of, the City Parks & Rec Department put up very helpful new signs at the Piestewa trailhead.  Signs include graphics, safety tips, and maps of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.  Let's hope tourists heed the warnings on there.

P.S. - time to stop deferring investing in a dash cam!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Super-Blooms and Superstitious Hike

Weather:  85°, overcast

Time:  1 hour 18 minutes

About this hike:  I have always wondered how long it would take me to reach the top of Superstition Mountain via the Siphon Draw trail while hiking solo.  Every other time I've hiked this trail it's been with company.  Not that company's a bad thing...afterall, it's a 35 mile drive, $7 entry fee, and minimum 4-6 hour commitment to do this hike.

I made this big commitment on a whim this morning; it just seemed like the perfect day for it.  Plus the desert wildflowers are in full bloom right now.

So 1 hour and 18 minutes is what it takes me solo to reach the part of the trail where you then go right to the Flatiron Rim.  The final obstacle on this trail is a vertical rock wall that has been known to freak me out in the past.  The tried-and-true palo verde tree that everyone uses as a handhold is still hanging in there after all these years, although today as I was going up a helpful blue climbing rope was tied around it.  Weird thing is that by the time I began my descent the rope had vanished...

Instead of heading to the Flatiron I decided to try to make my way to what's considered the true summit of Superstition Mountain.  A true summit is hard to define because Superstition is more like a small range of hoodoos.  Regardless, me and a hiking buddy reached the summit several years ago, so I knew it was there.

The summit is not a fun nor easy hike.  More than a few times I asked myself why I was doing this.  It involves bushwhacking, carefully sidestepping aloe veras and cacti, and climbing thru tight rock crevices.  Only making it a bit easier was a group of middle-aged men whose leader knew the trail well.  I opted to follow them.

All this summit hassle was so I could sign the nylon flag that I saw perched up there last time.  Brave hikers were known to autograph it, but last time I had no writing instrument.  Today I had a Sharpie, but there was no longer a flag.  Signing a dead aloe vera stalk crossed my mind, but that may be considered defacing State/National Forest land.  I'm not that type of person...

A lunch break was originally scheduled for the summit, but a strange uneasiness came over me.  Maybe it's the sheer remoteness of this mountain and a feeling of dread if anything should happen... Regardless, I've had this come over me before hiking at Superstition.  It's an urgent feeling to get off the mountain.  I opted to get off the summit and eat lunch on the Flatiron.  The wind was bad on the rim and it made for an unpleasant lunch.

With that, I began my descent.  Once thru Siphon Draw the fields of colorful wildflowers were dazzling.  All this was set against a perfectly lit backdrop of the Goldfield Mountains and Four Peaks.  The Downtown Phoenix skyline loomed painfully small in the hazy distance.

So I'll be honest...I had a lot of time to reflect.  It's been a year since I last did this hike, and I could easily go another year before doing it again.  Superstition Mountain is so beautiful in the spring, but this hike will kick your you-know-what.  It's treacherous and grueling, and as I get older I'm wondering if such risk is necessary.  I have so many other hikes in our beautiful State of Arizona on my bucket list that maybe it's high time I start checking some of these off.  Regardless, I'm sure I'll be back at Superstition before too long.

Desert super-blooms as Four Peaks looms in the distance

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Relaxing Morning at Echo Canyon

Weather:  69°, sunny

Time:  29 minutes

About this hike:  I got an early start this morning, and as a result the Echo Canyon lot was fairly open for parking upon arrival.  This also meant less crowds on the trail.  Overall it was a nice hike, and the 29-minute time was a little disappointing.  I'm used to 28 minutes at this point, but I did stop for a few quick Powerade breaks.

At the summit I found a nice quiet area near the northwestern edge of the mountain.  I enjoyed sitting and reflecting for a few minutes before beginning the journey down to the trailhead.

By my departure at just before 10:00am, the parking area was a zoo.  Once again I found myself boxed in the parking space while drivers of unparked cars hovered close by, quick to activate their turn signal to "claim" a spot that they thought was opening up.  A park ranger manning the guard shack put up the "Lot Full" sign and quickly dropped the entrance gate.  It pays to arrive early this time of year.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Piestewa Pick-Me-Up

Weather:  59°, sunny

Time:  23 minutes

About this hike:  I can't say my Tuesday has been off to the greatest start. I figured a little exercise, sunshine, cooler temps, and fresh air might fix that.

The haziness is not as bad over the Valley today, despite not getting any of that forecasted rain yesterday. The cooler temps are always welcome.

All things considered Piestewa Peak wasn't too crowded today. Parking in the main lot was easy. At the summit I even spent some time relaxing and admiring the views—something I haven't done much of lately.

An eyeless squirrel came close to me and I went for my phone to snap a picture. Just as what's happened so many other times when I try to take animal photos, a giggly child came running along and scared it away. Probably for the better; that thing was mutant looking.

Otherwise a nice, enjoyable pick-me-up hike today.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Good to be Back at Camelback

Weather:  59°, sunny

Time:  28 minutes

About this hike:  The title says it all...After over a week's hiatus, I returned to trampling the camel's back.  I got an early start this morning, but the parking area was still pretty full at 8:40am when I arrived.  That said, a parking spot wasn't impossible to come by.

While the mountain was crowded today, I never encountered any bottlenecks.  Even at the railings I was able to forge ahead with ease.  On the descent there were even periods of fairly open, peaceful trails.

The views today were obscured by some of the worst haze I've ever seen.  Superstition Mountain to the east and White Tanks to the west were pretty much invisible.  It wasn't brown and dirty like smog, and it wrapped around the entire Valley.  I'm guessing this is tied to the cold front moving through?

Speaking of cold front, today's cooler weather is a welcome change from the record-breaking highs of February.  Not that I mind 80's and sun, but I also like to savor the Valley's short winter.  Here's hoping a little rain squeaks out of this weather system before the day's over.

At the time of my departure the parking lot was a very different scene.  The "Lot Full" sign was up, yet cars continued to stream in.  It was actually difficult to back out of my parking space.  I was like, "Seriously people, if one of you will just let me out you can have a prime parking space!"

Friday, March 4, 2016

Piestewa to the Rescue (again!)

Weather:  71°, sunny

Time:  Not taken

About this hike:  If I had a mulligan on today, I probably would not have gone hiking this morning.  My intent was to hike Camelback.  Northbound traffic on 44th Street was horrendous.  Typically the Echo Canyon lot fills up by 10:00am on a weekday, and I got there right around 9:00am.

Myself and many other disappointed drivers went around the circle at Echo Canyon and McDonald.  Some chose to head down McDonald (likely intending to pull a u-turn and try again) while others (like myself) headed back to Tatum.

But today was no ordinary day where the lot is just full.  No, a new sign blocked the entrance.  It read "Rescue in progress, parking area closed."

I headed to my secret location because during these mountain rescues foot traffic is still permitted in.  I was blocked again today by big gates (darn it—they're finally on to me!).  For the second time this week I headed west on Lincoln to Piestewa Peak.  So there you have it—an entire week with no Camelback hike.

I wouldn't describe Piestewa as crowded so much as there were frustrating bottlenecks at times.  Despite not officially recording my time to the summit, it was in the average 23-24 minute range.  I passed an older, overweight guy on the way up carrying 25 pound dumbbells on each shoulder.  While admirable that he wants to push himself, what if one of these things fell off, and fell on another hiker's foot?

So that was my excitement for today.  Not sure it was worth driving all over Paradise Valley, but just the same I'm grateful for the chance to get out and hike.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Relaxing Piestewa Climb

Weather:  70°, sunny

Time:  Not taken

About this hike:  Piestewa wasn't too crowded today and I even managed to score a good parking spot. This made for a relaxing, enjoyable, and uneventful hike.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Camelback Became Piestewa Today

Weather:  76°, sunny, a little breeze

Time:  Not taken

About this hike:  Today was supposed to be a Camelback hike.  Unfortunately I got a late start this morning and by my 10:00am arrival the Echo Canyon parking lot was overloaded.  Cars were in the queue waiting for a spot to open up—seriously, on a Tuesday morning!?

I sneaked down to my secret location where closed gates greeted me.  Not one for circling the area, I did the unthinkable and gave up (on Camelback anyway).  I pointed my car west on Lincoln Dr. and headed to Piestewa Peak where on-street parking is abundant (and legal in most neighborhoods!).

Piestewa wasn't nearly as crowded this morning and I enjoyed a nice hike.  It was warmer than I would've liked, this due to my now super-late start and a potentially record-breaking forecast high of 89° today.

While I didn't officially keep my time this morning, it's safe to say I reached the summit in my usual 23-24 minute time frame.