Sunday, March 31, 2013

Aztec & Apache Peaks

The path to 100 continued this weekend as I teamed up with Matt, Ben and Justin for a double peak bag in the Tonto National Forest of Central-Eastern Arizona.  We took on two prominent peaks in two completely different mountain ranges that were close enough in proximity to make reaching both peaks a reality. 

It all started at Starbucks just after 6:00am where we met and then drove East on US 60 towards Globe, AZ.  I followed the directions given to me by a member of, allowing us quicker access and supposedly an easier route to the summit of Apache Peaks (right).  It's label as "peaks" because there are four peaks at the top of this particular mountain, though only one true summit can exist.  That summit rests at 6,940ft and is the highest point in Blackjack Mountains and 36th most prominent in Arizona.  As far as the hike goes, if this was the easier route, I would not want to attempt it any other way.  Is it really that bad?  Yes!  For starters, there isn't a trail to be found so it is up to you to navigate the best way uphill.  By best I mean the one that has less rocks, thorns, bushes with low branches, and loose rocks. Then you reach a grade so steep you have to climb up scree on all fours before clawing your way though thicket for the final quarter mile.  Hiking back down wasn't much easier.  It became mentally taxing as you literally had to focus on every step.  After 6 miles we were happy to be done with peak number one and the four of us agreed we would never return!

We hit the road and drove nearly two hours North past Roosevelt Lake into yet another unique area of the state; the Sierra Ancha mountains.  Within an hour we went from low lying Sonoran desert to high pines and mountain streams resting above deep canyons that this area is famous for.  The forest service road to the trailhead (FR487) will leave you in awe by the diversity found in this very underrated state.  Traveling through this canyon, you'd guess you were in Colorado.  Anyways, our next objective was to reach the fire tower at the top of Aztec (below), which is also the highpoint of the Sierra Anchas at 7,748ft.  A much easier path (a dirt road) led us to the top, a relief from the grueling effort on Apache.  We had a chance to snap a few pictures and take in the view before descending by way of trail on Abbey's Way #151 back to my vehicle.  I couldn't resist the urge to soak my legs in the stream after the beating they took climbing two peaks and spending roughly 7 hours in the car.

The fire tower at the summit of Aztec

Boone and Ben reviving their legs in the icy stream

Apache Peaks
Blackjack Mountains
Tonto National Forest
Mileage - 5.92
Time - 3:25
AEG - 2,386ft

Aztec Peak
Sierra Ancha Mountains
Tonto National Forest
Mileage - 5
Time -1:37
AEG - 930ft

(Photo credit - Matt K & Justin F)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Verde River Runoff

Verde River Runoff Canoe Race
Camp Verde, Arizona
Mileage 10.15
Time - 2:05

I've taken a break from running high miles on the weekends after finishing the Phoenix Marathon, which opened up an opportunity to take part in such uniquely-Arizona events like the Verde River Runoff. 

The race was brought back to life by organizers from Camp Verde after the original 11-year Verde Canoe Challenge was dropped by Northern Arizona University after its final 2011 run.  Limited to 200 boaters, and split up into a number of divisions, Matt and I entered the men's competitive canoe race.  Starting at 10 a.m. on a chilly spring morning below White Bridge, Camp Verde, we took off winding our way through a stretch of the Verde that included several fast-water, narrow sections, quick turns (where we nearly capsized a couple times) and several strainers.  After 2 hours of hard paddling, Matt and I reached the finish! It was nice to rest my legs, yet still be outside for another adventure in the Southwest.

Check out the race website for more information at

Pre-race staging area at White Bridge

Paddling downstream and losing ground, fast.

Finally finished! - And taking first in our division!

(Photos courstesy of Matt Kalina)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mount Glenn - Arizona

Mount Glenn Hike
Dragoon Mountains
Sunsites, Arizona
Mileage - 6.2
Time - 5:15
AEG - 2,992ft

Mount Glenn is the highest point in the Dragoon Mountains and part of the Coronado 12 (A Coronado 12 peak is the highest mountain in each of the twelve divisions of the Coronado National Forest). Topping out at 7,550ft, Mount Glenn has almost 3,000ft of prominence and is tied for 29th on the Arizona prominent peak list. 

On paper I knew this hike was going to be tough. Having nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain in a matter of 6 miles meant we had our work cut out for us today.  Combine that with a rocky, off-trail route (filled with cacti, thorns, thick brush, loose rocks) that was completely exposed to the Arizona sun and you have yourself quite the uphill battle!  It really does require some planning, a good map and a bit of route-finding skills to reach the peak.  Oh, and let's not forget determination.  It's no wonder why the last entry on the summit register was 3 months ago! 

Ben and I gutted this one out, traveling at a pace I couldn't force myself to walk on any other occasion if I tried.  It took us almost 3 hours to hike 3 miles uphill, and coming down didn't warrant any faster speeds either.  We couldn't actually determine what was worse; going up or coming back down.  We talked and laughed about why we put ourselves through some of these hikes.  The answer is hard to explain, and I recently told one of my clients (referring to working out) that it doesn't always have to be fun to be fun.  Even when things get tough, almost miserable, in that moment there's nowhere else I would rather be.   The views are usually pretty nice too!

Ben is obviously excited about his first trip to the Dragoons (above left)

We followed the NE ridgeline (seen here from right to the center highpoint).

The ridgeline leading to Mount Glenn

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Saddle Mountain - Arizona

Saddle Mountain Hike
Tonopah, Arizona
Mileage - 6.75
Time - 4:00
AEG - 2,844ft

For the past couple months, Saddle Mountain has been on "reserve" as we push to check off a number of low desert peaks from the top 100 prominence list during the winter.  It's proximity to Phoenix, easy access to the interstate, and relatively short mileage should make this one a slam we thought.  Matt and I finalized our plans on Friday night around 10:00pm and less than 12 hours later we were lacing up our shoes ready to discover the challenges that lied ahead.  The route description we had available to us was spotty.  An established trailhead does not exist, and from the Eastern approach, a trail didn't exist either.  Steep, rocky terrain is always difficult to navigate, especially going uphill.  Matt's GPS also gave us an inaccurate waypoint so we had to do a little backtracking.  Once again, a wrong turn led us to another exciting discovery; bighorn sheep. This time much closer, and much larger.  Two full grown males with a huge set of horns a mere 30 yards away!  Somehow we managed not to startle them and were able to snap a few photos. 

Once we determined the correct route up the SE facing drainage, a few rock cairns were present along with a couple water bottles indicating we were on the right path.  We reached a junction where a trail was present leading up the mountain in one direction and down the North side in the other direction.  Our first thought was, "why the h*ll didn't we go up this way?"  Oh right, there's no information available for this nice, easy to follow trail.  Anyways, we pressed onward towards the top following the knife-edge route to the true peak.  If you're not fond of heights, stay clear of the 800-1,000 foot drop to the South (pictured left).

I couldn't help but notice all the evidence of big game in the area.  There was scat everywhere and even a few areas where animals have bedded down away from the elements.  All the sudden something caught my eye, six juvenile bighorns standing less than 15 yards away!  This group also appeared to be unafraid and allowed another prime photo opportunity (pictured below) before they ran down the mountain.         

I'm not quite sure why this range receives a surprisingly small amount of visitation from hikers. Based on the few entries in the summit register it looks like only a handful of groups in the springs and even less in the autumn months actually reach the peak.  Matt and I both agreed this area is worthy of becoming a wilderness area. The healthy, abundant plant life and big game population is more than enough reason to protect this desert habitat.  This mountain truly is a hidden gem in plain sight. 


Click on the picture to get a closer look.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Phoenix Marathon
Mesa, Arizona
Mileage - 26.2
Time - 2:42:34
AEG - 390ft
Pace - 6:12/mile
Place - 7th Overall

Let me start by commenting on how well this race was put together. Everything from the course and aid stations to the drop bag arrangement to individual finish chutes to the bounce house for kids, it was truly top notch. Well done Phoenix Marathon! On top of that, the weather was absolutely beautiful. Morning temperatures were in the high 40's, requiring only a light jacket at the pre-race staging area with plenty of heaters and fires to keep warm. As the sun began to peak over the mountains to the East, it was almost time to go. Runners filled the pavement leading up to the starting line completing their last minute preparations.

I rode the bus over with a friend of mine from the fitness center and his wife, both looking for a shot at Boston. My plan was to get those 10 initial hilly miles out of the way (where Brittney would be waiting to hand me a bottle) and average a sub-6:00/minute pace through the first half. Check! I also needed to take in enough calories through mile 20 to be able to finish strong. Check. For most of the race I ran with Gary Krugger from Flagstaff (Tucson Marathon winner) who provided great company until mile 18 when his pace exceeded mine, though I did manage to stay close and finish 30 seconds behind him. So once again I found myself in no mans land running all by my lonesome. At mile 20 I was passed, then regained my spot by 22 and saw a couple of front runners walking which meant I could easily land a place in the top ten. I've been after that 2:39 marathon for a while now and think a larger, more competitive race will help me in the final stages with more guys (and girls) to pace with. By mile 24-25 I realized that goal time wasn't going to happen so I decided to have a little fun with the crowd and enjoy those final miles. Oh, and my legs were spent by this time anyways, so a 6:30-6:45/mile was literally all I could manage at the end.


3:45am - 3/4 Cup Granola w/chia seeds and Almond Milk (400 Cal)
6:15am - 1 GU Vanilla Bean (100 Cal)
6:30am - Race Start
7:00am - 1 GU Tri-Berry (100 Cal)
7:45am - 1 Bottle Electrolytes - 2 Servings Vitalyte (80 Cal)
8:00am - 1 GU Sublime Line (100 Cal)
8:30am - 1 GU Vanilla Bean (100 Cal)