Saturday, July 29, 2017

Insomniac on Camelback

Weather:  92º, sunny, humid

Time:  35 minutes

About this Hike:  I arrived to a nearly full parking lot and monsoon clouds hanging around the Valley. We may yet see a storm later today...  This morning; however, the sun was beginning to pierce through.  I was at the trailhead early due to the fifth night of insomnia.

I believe the high humidity and on-going lack of rest had a lot to do with my 35 minute time to the summit today. Still not all that bad when you factor in the need to stop and hydrate in these Sonoran summertime conditions.

There is an older lady who climbs Camelback every day. She was recently featured on Fox 10.  I saw her today as I was nearing the summit and she was beginning her decent.  I would have loved to stop for a photo opp with her (she's known to be very friendly), but she was busy giving life advice to a couple young ladies (something else she's known for).

As I neared the trailhead some heavy cloud cover moved in—where was this when I was doing my ascent?!  Upon my departure around 9:30am the crowds had died off and parking was wide open.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Piestewa and Humidity

Weather:  90º, sunny, humid

Time:  27 minutes

About this Hike:  Monsoon 2017 has been a huge tease.  Every day a storm builds in from the north/east.  Then it falls apart and/or rains everywhere but at my home in Central Phoenix. Regardless, during today's hike I felt the high humidity that these monsoon storms bring.

The trail at Piestewa was fairly uncrowded early on this Sunday morning.  There were a few other hikers and interesting characters along the way, but I largely had the trail to myself.  That's the silver lining in these higher temps and monsoon humidity.  I could have parked in the main lot no problem. However, I chose the sure option and parked on the residential streets and hoofed it into the preserve.

All around an enjoyable summertime morning hike.  


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park

Weather:  93º, sunny, breezy

Time:  4 hours

About this Hike:  I woke up early this morning to go for a hike.  I didn't want too late of a start, as I knew temps would be rising.  I was anxious about if I would be able to get a parking spot.... Sounds like a typical Saturday morning Camelback trek.  Only today I drove a bit further...up to Yarnell to be exact.

I have wanted to do the Granite Mountain Hotshot Memorial State Park for a while now.  Yarnell had a forecasted high in the low 90's, which sounded downright cool after the hot summer Phoenix has experienced.

The roads to get up to Yarnell from the Phoenix Valley are all in great condition, making this 90 mile drive a breeze.  The only thing to watch for is the final link in the journey, Highway 89 (White Spar Highway).  It is a winding mountain pass that quickly ascends some ~2000 feet or so.  It splits with southbound lanes high above the northbound lanes.  You head up northbound and there's a connector road to flip to the southbound side.  This is critical because the park and trailhead are southbound.  The junctions leading to the park are all very well signed.

I chose to stay northbound and first visit downtown Yarnell.  Not that there's much to see there, but I wanted to make a quick stop at The Shrine of St. Joseph.  Read up on this interesting religious site if you'd like to know more.

From Yarnell I simply headed back down 89 south (it runs together in town).  Despite only 15 parking spaces, 2 of which are 10-minute-only parking, I found a slot for my vehicle.  Being that this trailhead is off a busy, one-way highway, I could see people in the queue for parking becoming a real issue.  Another reason I braved summer temps.

An AZ Park Ranger greeted me and warned me about going the entire 3.5 miles.  He said if I was successful I could ring a bell at the trailhead.  I informed him that I climb Camelback in Phoenix heat, so I suspected this wouldn't be a problem, but he warned me it's steeper than Camelback....My take:  longer maybe, but not steeper.

The trail takes you ~3 miles to a lookout site.  Along the way are placards with a photo and short memoir dedicated to each of the fallen 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots.  A number of them were decorated with trinkets or the hotshot's favorite beer (PBR seemed to be a winner among this crew).

The lookout gives you a view down into the canyon Fatality Site.  Another 3/4 of a mile down some switchbacks, and you can stand at the site yourself.  A ring of cages filled with rocks (think trail cairns in Sedona) stand in a circle. These cages are actually called gabions I learned.  In the middle of the circle are 19 crosses with the name of each fallen hotshot.  Some people left notes on the gabions.  Some left tins of the hotshot's favorite dip.  Some mistook them as trash cans...  Old Glory is also flying at the Fatality Site, and a solar-powered LED light ensures she's illuminated through the night.

On my way back up and over the mountain, I ran into a group of firefighters paying tribute to their fallen comrades.  For how few vehicles were at the trailhead, I was surprised at the number of people I saw on the trails.  It was fairly desolate, but I definitely wasn't alone.

This informative and moving hike gives you a great workout and some fantastic views of Yarnell and the Weaver Mountains.  Thankfully the only wildlife I encountered were lots of little geckos running around.  The vegetation is nothing but some high-desert scrub.  In the 4 years since the hotshots perished here, the area shows only a little fire scaring.  As you go up and over the mountain, the vegetation changes to grassland.  I noted a few scrub oak near the Fatality Site.  There's no big cactus or trees, and you really are in a transitional zone (~5000 feet) as the lower deserts are giving way to the pine forests in not-so-distant Prescott (~40 miles by car).

And speaking of Prescott...my original plans for this weekend called for me to be there hiking.  My original itinerary called for stopping at Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial on the way home by taking the back way toward Wickenburg.  I'll admit, this hike was a little tiring.  I probably enjoyed it more by doing it as a day trip from Phoenix than I would have after a weekend of hiking in Prescott.

This is an out-and-back, and the downhill return didn't seem nearly as long or strenuous.  Upon reaching the trailhead, I rang that bell... Overall, such a great and moving experience.


Seating at the Fatality Site. The lookout is high above on the ridge.

The Fatality Site gabions

Monday, July 3, 2017

Pre 'Merica Hike at Echo Canyon

Weather:  97º, sunny, light breeze

Time:  35 minutes

About this Hike:  It felt a lot warmer than 97º today and the occasional breeze was a welcome respite. High pollution, heat, and humidity be damned—I have this rare pre-July 4th day off and I was going to enjoy a hike!

Honestly, my 35-minute trek to the top wasn't too bad. I did have to pause a lot to ensure I was hydrated. Like I've said before, you gotta respect the mountain. I also didn't have Powerade, Smartwater, etc. for this hike, so no electrolytes—just good ol' bottled/tap water.

I've decided that while the heat is intense, it sure beats fighting a full parking lot and crowded trails. You can condition and plan for the heat; not so much when the mountain is bumper-to-bumper traffic.  That said, you need to work up to hiking in these conditions. There are far too many stories of tourists being rescued from Echo Canyon and other Phoenix-area trails each year.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Hot Sandstone @ Echo Canyon

Weather:  92º, sunny

Time:  33 minutes

About this Hike:  Been a while since I've had a weekend where I'm able to squeeze in a timed Camelback climb.  Considering that it was fairly hot out, I guess 33 minutes wasn't terrible. I took just a few short pauses on the way up, usually for a quick drink of water.  And, those pauses primarily came in the home stretch in that final, steep area of scrambling.

Neither the trails nor the parking area were very busy this morning. It's a great conundrum—cooler temps and busy trails, or challenging heat and quieter trails?

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Los Burros Trail - Pinetop

Weather:  82º, sunny

About this Hike:  I had difficulty finding the details I wanted about Los Burros online, so I'm going to try to share them here. Hopefully this helps another aspiring Los Burros explorer.

Los Burros is an easy drive from downtown Pinetop-Lakeside, AZ.  It does require about seven miles over a dirt road. Websites say it's a gravel road which to me means hard packed gravel and oil.  Oh no...this road is dirt.  It is well-maintained, graded dirt.  I didn't encounter any major potholes or washboard sections.  However, it's dirt and your car will get filthy.  I was driving in my brand new Mazda CX-3 and was not happy. But, give the road plenty of respect, especially if you're in a car, and you'll be OK.

The Los Burros trailhead originates from a campground with the same name.  It's a peaceful respite in the woods with some preserved historical U.S. Forest Service structures onsite.  The higher elevation lends to cooler temperatures.

The trail forms a giant loop said to be ~10 miles.  I chose to hike up to the fire lookout tower which was probably around eight miles round trip.  Numbered markers dot the trees along the trail and maps are available at the trailhead.  While fairly well-signed, staying on course does get tricky in places.

Hiking up to the fire tower takes you through green, flower-filled meadows; ponderosa pine forest; and even some stands of aspen.  When I reached the summit of Lake Mountain and the fire tower, a ranger was manning it and invited me up.

He was a very interesting older gentleman who had spent many a summer in what I learned is called the Lake Mountain Lookout.  This particular ranger had gone back to school for graphic design.  His artwork and photography decorates the 7x7 interior of the tower ('the cab' as they call it).  Upon my departure, he let me pick a postcard he had designed with artwork depicting Lake Mountain Lookout. Such an amazing souvenir of this hike.

Lake Mountain wasn't my first Arizona fire tower hike, and I hope it's not my last.  These towers require me to force one foot in front of the other.  With metal mesh staircases and a ladder for the final six-foot climb, these do no favors for my fear of heights.  However, the experience you have visiting these historic U.S. Forest Service structures makes the discomfort more than worth it.

So what is Lake Mountain anyway?  Well it turns out just below the fire tower there's a large, open meadow.  This has been known to fill during heavy rains, hence the name Lake Mountain Lake.  It was a marshy grassland during my visit in early June.  I noted some bones—possibly elk—strewn about the meadow.

Overall, an awesome hike worth the hassle of getting to in the White Mountains.



Lake Mountain Lake

My poor new car!



Friday, May 26, 2017

Tour Guide on Echo...

Weather:  92º, sunny

About this Hike:  I was with some good company and chose not to do a time trial.  With warm-ish temps (although very nice for late May), I didn't want any of my visitors to croak from heat exhaustion.  No Cholla trail here though—my visitors are required to do Echo Canyon :)

The trail wasn't too crowded this Friday morning.  We saw some wildlife including several big orange lizards and a unique bird.  Maybe a roadrunner?


Routine and enjoyable late-spring hike before the real heat sets in.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Back to Piestewa

Weather:  84º, sunny

Time:  25 minutes

About this Hike:  Warmer weather may have skimmed off the weakest of Saturday hikers... While crowded, I've seen much worse at Piestewa.

Despite the heat I still posted a reputable time.  At the summit there were large wasps (possibly male velvet ants?) that seemed to like buzzing around me.  Concerned for my safety, I descended from the summit after only a short stay.

Overall a nice, uneventful hike as we quickly say goodbye to tolerable temps in The Valley.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Quick Piestewa Visit

Weather:  68º, heavy clouds, windy

Time:  24 minutes

About this Hike:  Cloudy skies, breezy conditions, and a not-too-hot air temp all spurred me to the summit quicker than my most recent hikes. Although the mountain was crowded, I managed to find moments of respite from the crowds.

Overall a quick, routine hike on a beautiful late winter day.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Presidental Piestewa

Weather:  62º, sunny

Time:  26 minutes

About this Hike:  This has been a rainy, cool weekend.  The past few years February's arrival has brought with it highs in the 90's. The fact our short Phoenix winter is hanging on in 2017 is nothing I'll complain about.

Despite some lingering clouds, this morning the sun was shining through. Lower temps were all but cancelled out by the notable higher humidity.  I believe this is the reason for a 26 minute time to the summit.

This is the first year I've had President's Day as a paid company holiday—as did the rest of the Valley, it seems.  The crowding on the mountain was bad at times today.. On the ascent there were periods of peace and respite. However, on the descent I couldn't get into a good cadence. I had other hikers constantly nipping at my heels, while less experienced hikers on their way up would stop and block the trail in front of me.  Needless to say, I was grouchy by the time this one was finished.

BUT, I had to put on a happy face... Walking back to my car I ran into one of my neighbors who happened to be searching for a parking spot to do her own hike.  She graciously drove me back to the residential area where I was parked.  I suggested she park there as well, considering the number of cars circling the main lots....

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Open House at Piestewa

Weather:  68º, partly cloudy

Time:  25 minutes

About this Hike:  Not a bad time posted considering the mountain was very crowded.  Pretty typical for a Saturday morning in February.  This was a rough week filled with mass layoffs at work (I'm spared, for now) and some other unsettling job-related news.  To say I had some anger and frustration spurring me on would be an understatement...

Otherwise the hike was very uneventful.  A bottleneck always forms right as the trail gives way to the summit.  This is due to some light scrambling that's required onto the summit.  Rather than fight through this, I chose to just pivot and head back down.  

After the hike I returned to my car which was parked on one of the surrounding residential streets.  I've had my eye on a home that for sale in that neighborhood.  Imagine city views and hike-out access to the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.  While the $619k asking price may be just a bit out of my price range (by about half-a-million—plus I may be out of a job soon), I noticed an 'Open House' sign.  Right after the hike I was far from presentable compared to the suit-and-tie clad Realtor, but I invited myself in.  So anyway, peeping at an open house, and daring to dream, were definitely the highlights of this hike.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Supra Piestewa Hike

Weather:  71º, sunny

Time:  25 minutes

About this Hike:  With the WM PHX Open in town the trails were as expected:  crowded.  I didn't even bother visiting the main parking lots first; I just parked off site.

Despite the crowds I powered through and made good time to the summit. Despite low air temperatures, the sun was intense during this late-morning hike.

Upon returning to the trailhead there was a final-generation Toyota Supra and an early-2000's Acura Integra in the queue for a parking spot. While I took pictures of their ricey cars, the driver of the Supra looked expectantly at me...I realized he was hoping to nab my parking spot.  Since I was parked off-site no luck for him...

Otherwise an enjoyable, routine hike—a great opportunity to burn some calories before tonight. Word is there's a big game on TV....

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Chilly Start & Flag Runners - Piestewa

Weather:  47º, sunny

Time:  25.5 minutes

About this Hike:  A cold night in the mid-thirties led to a chilly start today.  But with clear skies and sunshine, plus my choice of wearing a thermal, I was plenty warm on this hike.

Piestewa had it's typical Saturday crowding, albeit not the worst I've ever seen.

Two guys that call themselves "Flag Runners" were at the summit. Older, yet extremely fit gentlemen, they carry Old Glory up the mountain and proudly display her.  A number of people were taking pictures with them.  I just chose to take a picture of them.  I'm wondering if these aren't the guys who were in the news recently posting flags on other mountains in Glendale and running into issues with Glendale's Parks & Rec Dept...

Otherwise an enjoyable, uneventful hike.

Flag Runners

Friday, January 13, 2017

Soilders Pass & The Seven Sacred Pools

Weather:  47º, overcast, misty

About this Hike:  I first experienced the Soilders Pass trail in September of 2016. This was during my weeklong hiatus in Red Rock Country. During that visit I made it a theme of the trip to explore the Dry Creek / West Sedona trails in depth.

Soilders Pass is a hike with early rewards. Starting off is Devil's Kitchen Sinkhole. Shortly thereafter are the Seven Sacred Pools of Sedona. In September when I visited they were filled with stagnant water and at least one had scary mutant-looking tadpoles swimming about.

Anyway, on this particular Friday parking was a nightmare. The small trailhead is in a ritzy residential neighborhood where you best not even think of parking on the street.  At the back of the trailhead is a turnaround area and a Jeep road.  I waited in this area for at least 30 minutes for a parking spot. Jeepers and ATVs were whizzing by dangerously close to my car.  Of course others were waiting too.  As the first batch of hikers came off the trail, I (politely) informed other waiters I had been there first. Surprisingly nobody gave me a hard time. As the previous hikers backed out I enacted the universal sign of a claimed parking spot—I sat their anxiously, turn signal flashing...

I hoped with all the recent rain the pools would be a little fuller/cleaner. They were better, and no tadpoles this time.  After the pools Soilers Pass gives way to red rock scenery and small arroyos. This opens up to magnificent cliffs as you start to ascend Brins Mesa.  Near the top of Brins Mesa U.S. Forest Service Rangers were trimming manzanita bushes. A misty rain was falling off and on. I didn't go far on Brins Mesa. Someday under better conditions I'd like to go further on Brins and see where it leads to.

Despite the parking wait time and somewhat soggy conditions, this hike was totally worth it. Soilders Pass is a great winter-day (or any time!) hike in West Sedona.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cold Nordic Center

Weather:  29º, windy, overcast, cold. Some light flurries

About this Hike:  I love snowshoeing the Flagstaff Nordic Center (FNC). In past years I've experienced a range of conditions from so warm that we're trying to snowshoe on the waning white stuff, to fresh powder transforming the ponderosa forest into a winter wonderland.

FNC Adventure 2017 was sort of a mix between the two above-mentioned conditions.  It was the coldest, gloomiest day I've ever snowshoed here. There was a biting wind. While I warmed up once I got going, I was also grateful to be bundled up and have hand warmers. However, Flagstaff had been warm in the days leading up to today.  In fact, downtown Flag had no snow, just bare ground.  On the drive up US 180 I began to get very nervous we were wasting a trip, despite checking the daily trail conditions and the webcam prior to leaving Sedona.

It wasn't until right before the FNC (~8000 feet) that the ground began to snow a solid base of white.
All trails branch from the FNC Lodge, and at this starting point the snow was icy and crusty.  In fact, these were the conditions on most of the lower trails, although the trails were well groomed as usual by FNC staff.  As we ascended on Lava Trail (several hundred feet of elevation gain) the snow became significantly deeper and turned to powder. It was snowshoe heaven up there. A light, misty snow began to fall and the ponderosas were covered in white. Heavy clouds masked the usual spectacular views of Humphrey's and the San Francisco Peaks.

I love the FNC. I feel safe snowshoeing there. With ample parking, a lodge, international Nordic symbols decorating the trees, cell reception, and well-mapped trails, it's convenient.  However, I've covered most every snowshoe trail in that place. The ponderosas and aspens, while magnificent, are repetitive scenery.  I'd like to branch out and snowshoe (not to mention hike in the summertime) in the White Mountains next.  Or perhaps I need to learn to cross-country ski...there's still a lot of FNC I haven't seen from the ski trails...

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Bear Mountain - A Not-So-Secret Part of West Sedona

Weather:  52º, clouds

About this Hike:  I'm an avid Sedona hiker, and I made exploring the Dry Creek Basin trails in West Sedona a priority last fall when I spent a week up there.  However, I somehow missed Bear Mountain, this in spite of climbing Bear's little sister Doe Mountain.  The two even share a (paid parking) trailhead.

To get to Bear Mountain you cross the street and walk through a trail on high desert grassland.  Once your ascent begins it's a strenuous but worthwhile climb to the top.  Hiking guides state it's a 2.4 mile hike with 1800 feet of elevation gain.  I seriously challenge the 2.4 mile distance; I think it's more.

Red rock canyon walls give way to white strata as you approach the summit.  There are at least two false summits, and when the main summit comes into view it appears far off—disheartening at times. However, it ends up not being as far away as initial appearances may suggest.

You've reached the main summit when you reach a 'Trail End' sign. The summit is relatively flat, and the terrain is filled with scrubby pines. There is a curious rock pile with a lot of red rocks up there too.  I wonder how it got there; doesn't seem natural.

We got off the mountain and back to the grassland portion right at sunset—cutting it way too close by my standards.  A sunset through the grasslands would've been beautiful; however, despite the clouds the sunset tonight was lackluster.  Bear Mountain is a tough but rewarding hike.  I hope to be back.

Monday, January 2, 2017

First Hike of 2017 - Piestewa

Weather:  58º, partly cloudy

Time:  26 minutes

About this Hike:  It was a busy New Year's holiday at Piestewa Peak.  Despite this, I found moments of solidarity on the otherwise crowded trail.

This past weekend's rain cleared out the air and the mountain views were spectacular today.  Puddles adorned the trail in spots.

I posted a good time to the summit, beating last Tuesday's time by one minute.  Overall this was an enjoyable, routine hike.