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.