Monday, September 24, 2012

Big Weekend in a Big Canyon

An opportunity arose to hike the Grand Canyon this past weekend, and the timing was too perfect to pass up.  Matt had the weekend free and was going to tag along with a local hiking group.  Having no plans of my own, I asked if I could join him.  The invite was sent to Ben and Ryan and soon we had a solid foursome.  The plan went as follows:  Drive to the park Saturday morning and hike down Grandview to explore Cave of the Domes and circumnavigate Horseshoe Mesa before ascending.  Camp at Mather Campground Saturday night and hike the Miner's route (via S. Kaibab) to Phantom Ranch and back up Bright Angel on Sunday.

Arriving at the trailhead just after 9:30am and starting the hike at 10:00 put us in somewhat of a time crunch if we were to explore the mining camp, caves, and Cottonwood Canyon, then hike around Horseshoe Mesa and get out before dark.  The hike down Grandview is a steep one...and felt twice as steep ascending.  It literally drops 1,200 vertical feet the first mile!  I was very much in awe of the construction of the trail and how/why the miner's chose this route to Horseshoe Mesa, but by the looks of the canyon walls, it must have been the best option.  Down we went.  In less than an hour we were on the mesa and began the search for the caves. A few dead ends later we found it. A small entrance opened to a much larger cave and tunnels going back in different directions. We climbed around for a while and found some interesting graffiti from the late 1800's.  It was now noon and we needed to get going.  A quick back-track on the mesa to connect with the cottonwood springs trail is where we descended several hundred feet to cottonwood spring.  I remember Ben making a comment along this section of trail.  He said "This is what I think of when I think of hiking."  Taking everything into consideration (trail conditions, remoteness, etc.), I knew exactly what he meant.  This was hiking!  Even though it was hot, humid, steep and strenuous, there is something about being in the canyon that allows you to ignore the discomfort and simply take in the beauty all around you.  Maybe that's why we put ourselves through it.  The clock was ticking and daylight fading, in order to reach the trailhead by 5:00pm we had to move quick, even on the uphill.  OK, so it was all uphill from here on out.  Almost five thousand feet of climbing and thirteen hard-earned miles later we were done!  The nice part was, we had enough time to make it to the showers and set up camp before dark! 

Sunday morning I rolled out of the tent with some seriously stiff legs...and hips...and back.  That Grandview trek certainly took it's toll on my lower half!  No room for complaining, we had a longer hike lined up for today.  The original plan was to start at the South Kaibab trailhead, hike down a few miles to the notch route, and follow the miner's route to the river.  We couldn't find either one of them.  So instead, we continued along a similar route I did back in April 2011 (South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch to Bright Angel), that makes a nice U-shaped loop near the South Rim on the most popular trails in the park.  Ben was at a loss for words as this weekend was his first trip to the canyon and second hike in the park.  Descending SK is without a doubt breathtaking.  I've been down it a number of times now and it never ceases to amaze me.  Reaching the river is a whole other experience in itself, and being in the canyon is quite humbling when you get down that far.  I really like this route because you get the great views going down Kaibab, cross both bridges over the Colorado River, and hike out on the more moderate Bright Angel Trail.  It really has a lot to offer in only seventeen miles.  Ben and I had a good laugh when Matt pulled out the topo and the area we covered was only about the size of a quarter on a huge map!  I told Ben that means we'll just have to go back and cover more ground.

Matt, Boone, Ben and Ryan at the S. Kaibab Trailhead


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bear Mountain - Bear Sighting

Bear Mountain Trail
Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness
Sedona, Arizona
Mileage - 5.13
Time - 3:13
AEG - 2,273

Brittney and I drove to the Western end of Sedona to hike up the long awaited Bear Mountain.  I've had my eye on this trail for a couple years now after a co-worker of mine raved about it.  So we take off around 9:30am and approximately one half mile into our climb up the mountain we passed a solo hiker claiming to have seen a bear.  I genuinely believed him based on his behavior; excited and almost out of breath, even though he was going downhill.  He also said he took pictures.  I should have asked to see them.  At one mile, we passed an older couple claiming the same thing.  They said there was a black bear hanging out near the saddle.  That was all I needed to hear to get my heart racing and feet moving.

With an elevation gain of 2,000 feet in only 2.5 miles over rocky terrain, the climb to the summit is rough.  To be honest, I underestimated this one and Brittney paid the price. The direct sunlight made it rather uncomfortable and with the summit being exposed, we didn't take a break there at all.  I would recommend bringing plenty of water, supportive shoes or boots, and waiting until late fall or early spring to make the ascent.  The view is certainly the payoff here!  There is so much to see, it's almost overwhelming.

Bear Mountain Summit
A view of Red Rock-Secret Canyon Wilderness

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Airport Loop - Sedona

Airport Loop Hike
Sedona, Arizona
Mileage - 3.5
Time - 1:25
AEG - 463ft

I generally wouldn't write about a hike of this nature, though I'm beginning to realize not everyone enjoys spending all day exploring the most rugged backcountry peaks in the Southwest.  Such a strange concept, I know. 

Anyways, what makes this 3.5 mile loop around the base of the airport so unique?  You get to see the best of Sedona without much effort.  Really, it doesn't get much better than this.  Drive one mile up Airport Road, park at the trailhead and decide which direction you'd like to begin the hike.  Since we arrived in the evening, Brittney and I chose a clockwise loop that would put us on the West side at sunset.  The views are stunning, and you get to see all the famous landmarks including Oak Creek Canyon (above), Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, Thunder Mountain, and the list goes on.  This is the perfect loop for out-of-town visitors.  When you finish the hike, continue uphill to the Mesa Grill for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Mount Taylor - New Mexico

Gooseberry Springs Trail #77
Cibola National Forest
Grants, New Mexico
Mileage - 7
Time - 2:20
AEG - 2100ft

Mount Taylor is totally off the radar, in fact, I don't know anyone else that's hiked it.  I first learned about the mountain from a new ultramarathon taking place there this September (Mt Taylor 50K).  Grants seemed like the perfect place to layover on our way home from Taos, and the trailhead was only 45 minutes from the hotel.  On top of that, the trail was a mere 7 miles which meant we could reach the summit and make it back to Phoenix at a decent time. 

Driving uphill along 547 showed just how diverse the Cibola National Forest is rising out of high desert and into another dense forest of pines and aspens.  We made the turn onto FR 193 and traveled exactly 5 miles to the trailhead at 9417 feet.  A 7-mile round trip hike didn't sound like much, then we started the approach up the South side of Mount Taylor, which was no easy task.  Gaining 2000+ft in approximately 3.5 miles to the summit turned out to be a lot of work, which you can solely blame on the elevation and steady grade.

Looking back at our three days of hiking, I personally enjoyed this one the most. If Mount Baldy was the appetizer and Wheeler Peak being the main course, Mount Taylor was certainly the dessert.  The icing on the cake so to speak.  What made it so great? Take a look for yourself.  


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Wheeler Peak - New Mexico

Bull of the Woods Trail
Wheeler Peak Wilderness
Carson National Forest
Taos Ski Valley, NM
Mileage - 12.1
Time - 5:30
AEG - 4395ft

Wheeler Peak is New Mexico's tallest mountain, topping out at 13,161 feet high above the surrounding landscape and ranks 11th in the state in order of prominence. Located in the Sangre De Cristo (Blood of Christ) range, it stands guard over the southern end of the Rocky Mountains.  The Sangre de Cristo mountain range is a spectacular collection of peaks that stretches 250 miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Salida, Colorado.

Now that you have a little background on Wheeler, let's talk about our camping situation and the hike itself.  We arrived late Saturday night after covering a long stretch of highway from Springerville, AZ to Taos Ski Valley, NM where the three of us decided on a campsite in the National Forest just off of NM 150.  There are a handful of campsites offering a limited selection and no services other than pit toilets.  We opted against the closest site to the trailhead (Twining) because it was on a hillside and didn't have picnic tables.  We drove back down NM150 a few miles and set up camp at Cuchila.  Even on a holiday weekend, it wasn't a problem finding a spot.

The alarm went off at 5:30am, time to get moving.  First priority; coffee and oatmeal, then break camp and get our gear together.  The route we planned to follow took us on a steep, but gradual climb along the Bull of the Woods trail 8 miles and more than 4,000 feet of vertical gain one way to the summit. With only one stop, the three of us made short order of this trail and were standing on top of the state highpoint in just over 3 hours.  The initial ascent takes you through a dense forest, although, there's no shortage of scenery any way you look.  By the time the wilderness boundary is reached approximately 4 miles in, the trail is completely exposed as you pass above treeline at 12,000 feet. Long switchbacks continue up the hill and draw you closer to the first of two false summits. Then it appeared, and it's apparent where you're headed as the trail is clearly visible without snow present. Once we reached the peak, I realized that there was an alternate (and shorter) trail to the top, which explained the crowd of people and how they beat us up there.  Instead of back-tracking on Bull of the Woods, the Williams Lake trail would make a nice loop hike, save some time and provide a change of scenery.  A little over 12 miles later the ski village was in sight and we were back at the car and I was eager to soak my legs in the frigid mountain stream. 

This trek had everything we could have hoped for, a prominent state highpoint in a beautiful mountain range with pristine forests, mountain lakes and streams, open meadows, and a challenging climb to provide a real sense of accomplishment. It's certainly one for the record books!    

Bull of the Woods Trail

Sangre De Cristo Range looking West

Wheeler Peak Summit
Boone, Ben, & Matt at the Peak

Taos Ski Village

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Mount Baldy - Arizona

West Baldy Trail #94
Mount Baldy Wilderness
Apache-Sitgreaves NF
Springerville, Arizona
Mileage - 16.1
AEG - 2864ft
Time - 5:34

The first hike in a weekend of 3 high altitude ascents began in the White Mountains of Northern Arizona.  After driving up to the Winn Campground late Friday night; Matt, Ben and I woke to a very chilly 38-degree morning, a near 50 degree swing from Phoenix temperatures.  We broke camp early and hit the trail by 7:00am to climb the state's 6th most prominent peak at 11,421 feet above sea level.  The cold morning made our 8 mile climb through the pristine Baldy Wilderness really quite nice.  The first few miles were rather easy going and followed a crystal clear mountain stream, which I later learned is the headwaters of the Little Colorado River.  Pretty cool!  The three of us steadily climbed through meadows, pine and aspens forests, and along the nicest, softest, smoothest trails outside of Flagstaff.   Intermittent clouds and tree cover kept us cool all day long, before we knew it, we were back down and the trailhead was in sight. What a great start to a great weekend!

Mount Baldy certainly deserves the highest level of federal protection (wilderness area) as this type of forest is unique to the state of Arizona and provides a habitat for numerous species of plants, birds and big game animals.