Sunday, July 31, 2011

Humphrey's Peak, Flagstaff AZ

A few friends and I decided to skip the hiking group and organize our own hike up Humphrey's Peak on Sunday. Brian and I had both hiked this mountain before, but it was a first for Bree and Ellen.

We started at the trail head with beautiful warm sunny weather.

After hiking the connector trail through a nice field of flowers under the Snowbowl ski lifts, we reached the actual trail for Humphreys Peak.

Bree signed the log book for the group.

One of my favorite landmarks up the trail is the big field of boulders from a rock slide. It's about 1/3 of the way up and a nice place to stop for a snack. Plus it has some spectacular views. I enjoyed this spot more today than I did in June when it was cold and had spots of snow.

Finally we reached the saddle. On the way up, a few people said the wind was really strong as you tried to approach the summit. We decided we would wait for Ellen to reach the saddle before heading to the summit.

I used the waiting time to enjoy the great view.

And then I just had to break out my hula hoop.

Dark clouds started rolling across the mountains as I hooped it up.

The wind picked up and it started raining.

Brian and I hid out in the "cave" a bit of a rocky outcropping that provided a nice wind break and shelter from the rain. The "cave" only had room for two, which left Bree out in the cold rain. She didn't seem to mind, as she was trying to entice a chipmunk to visit with her.

She was successful at getting one out of hiding (the peanuts in her trail mix helped a lot with this!!)

Finally the weather cleared up, but we decided not to risk the weather by heading to the summit. Plus, Ellen wasn't at the saddle yet when we decided to start down. We ran into her shortly after we started our descent. Brian went back up to the saddle with her and Bree and I headed back down.

The 11,4oo' elevation sign is another favorite landmark of mine on this trail.

Since we were waiting for Brian and Ellen, Bree and I took our time going back down the trail. We had fun climbing on trees, hiding in holes, and just goofing around.

On the way up, we noticed this tree in the field of flowers and thought it would make a great place to take pictures. There were several people with the same idea, so we decided we would catch it on the way down.

Bree and I decided to wait for the others so we could take a group picture here. While we waited, I decided to hoop for a while. It was fun hooping up and down the trail, and trying to convince other hikers that I was hooping the entire trail (rather than a 40' section near this field).

While waiting, I was able to really enjoy all the wildflowers...

....and all the bugs on them!

Bree and I waited so long that we fell asleep!

Finally they showed up and we could take a group picture.

As we walked across the final field, there was a spectacular shot of rain in the background, with beams of light shining between the clouds.

We didn't see much wildlife on the hike, but Ellen spotted this deer near the road as we headed back into Flagstaff for dinner. While I didn't really get the chance to push my physical limits and use this as a training hike, all in all, it was still a fun hike with a great group of friends!

Additional photos can be found HERE.

Trail Stats:Distance Round Trip 10.25 miles
Trailhead Elevation 9320 feet
Elevation Gain 3313 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 5 - 6 hours

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mount Elden Loop Hike - Flagstaff AZ

I decided that I wanted to do a longer Flagstaff hike this weekend, and thought a loop around Mount Elden - the Elden to Sunset to Heart Loop - seemed to fit the bill at 9.5 miles and 2400 foot elevation change. None of my hiking friends were available, but Steve from one of my hiking groups was interested in trying this hike. Neither of us had hiked this mountain before so we met early this morning and headed to Flagstaff.

The hike started on the southwestern slope of Mount Elden, following the Elden Lookout Trail. It started with a gradual climb, but quickly became steep switchbacks, which then gave way to tall "steps" up the mountain. I was keeping a fairly decent pace until about 2/3 of the way up, and then my energy was drained (I should have eaten breakfast!!).

We finally reached the first trail junction. Do we add 0.4 miles round trip to go to the summit, or do we skip it and start the loop at the Sunset junction?

We went to the summit!

The lookout tower was closed to the public, but there was a sign on the base indicating that we were now at an elevation of 9300 feet.
After enjoying the view, taking a few pictures, and having a hearty snack, we were ready to head back down and join the Sunset Trail.
The Sunset Trail hugged the side of Mount Elden and passed through an area that was burned by wildfires in 1977. After the strenuous climb up the the summit, it was nice to get on an easy trail, with gradual ups and downs.
The area was filled with new aspen growth along with lots of wild flowers, although the trail was a bit overgrown in areas.

It eventually opened into a field to the Mount Elden side.
It provided great views of the mountains and lava fields to the east of Flagstaff, including Sunset Crater.
Looking back on the trail towards the towers on Mount Elden's summit.
Overlooking Flagstaff from the Sunset Trail.
We then entered a nice wooded area. After about 1.5 miles on this trail, we came to a trail head area. We weren't sure if we missed the turn to Heart Trail. An older couple was approaching, so we asked directions. We were sternly advised to reconsider our plans to make the loop, since the Heart Trail was "treacherous and should be closed to the public". The couple offered to let us hike with them and then drive us back to our car. We decided to take our chances and assured them that we would "take it slow".
About 0.2 miles later, we found the turn for the Heart Trail, which would take us 1300 feet down the east slope of Mount Elden.
Looking back at the summit of Mount Elden - you can barely see the lookout tower on the summit.
Just as we reached the Heart Trail, another hiker (coming from the opposite direction) started down the trail. We decided if he could take his life into his own hands, we could too.
The top of the trail consisted of dozens of switchbacks along the edge of the mountain. There were steep slippery areas at each turn, followed by fairly flat areas along the length of the mountain edge. (If you click on the above picture to enlarge it, you can see Steve WAY ahead of me. He very politely stopped every so often to allow me to catch up.)

The trail was covered in loose stones, making it quite easy to slip, slide and turn and ankle or knee. I went down at a painfully slow pace to prevent injury or sliding down the mountain. It wasn't as treacherous as the dire warning we received, but it did require some balance and careful foot work.

(I thought it was painfully slow, but the Forest Service indicates an average hiking time of 2.5 hours for this trail - it took us about half that time)
When we were about half way down the Heart Trail, storm clouds moved in. We could see lightning in the distance and hear thunder, and we got hit with a few rain drops.
When the red soil turned to gray (about half way down) the trail got less rocky and steep, and we could pick up the pace. That was a good thing, since it was starting to sprinkle.

We finally hit the Christmas Tree Trail, which was a nice easy trail though the woods. We picked up the pace to avoid the rain.
Towards the end of the Christmas Tree trail, this horned toad scurried across our path. We then joined Fat Man's Pass for about a half mile back to the trail head.

Our total hiking time was just under 5 hours, which included about 30 minutes for a break at the summit and a couple of stops to talk to people along the way.

After a long hike, it was time to grab a pizza and beer to celebrate our successful hike!

Elevation change: about 2400 ft gain.
Distance: 9.5 miles for the loop hike

  • From Elden Trailhead to Elden summit : 3.0 miles.
  • From Elden summit to Heart trail along the sunset trail: 1.7 miles
  • From Heart Trail to Christmas Tree trail: 2.5 miles
  • From Christmas Tree trail to Fat Man's Pass: 1.7 miles
  • From Fat Man's Pass to Elden Trailhead: 0.6 miles

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Abineau/Bear Jaw Loop - Flagstaff

On Sunday, the hiking group headed up to the San Francisco Peaks outside of Flagstaff to hike the Abineau / Bear Jaw Loop trail.
The trail starts out flat and well graded, through a field full of aspen. Shortly into the hike, you can turn left to hike on the Bear Jaw trail, or right to hike on the Abineau trail. The Abineau trail is shorter, but steeper; the Bear Jaw trail is more gradual, with a few scattered ups and down. I was thrilled when the group decided to take the Abineau trail, since I would rather go up the steep trail and come down the gradual trail.
Gaining in elevation and leaving the aspens and getting into the Douglas firs. There were lots of wildflowers along the way, including paintbrush, penstemon, columbine, and lupines.
Butterflies and bees enjoyed all of the wildflowers.
After a steep climb, we reached the end of the Abineau trail.
If you look to the north (behind me), there was a spectacular view, including the Grand Canyon. It was a little cloudy (rain in the area) so the camera didn't capture how spectacular the view really was.
At the top of Abineau trail, the "fast group" stopped to take pictures, eat a little snack, and wait for the other half of the group to catch up. I was actually in the "fast group" this time! While the others snacked, I had my own little construction project.....
My hula hoop! The others were so busy taking their pictures and eating, that they missed me assembling my hoop, and then asked how I carried the hoop all the way up with me. Too funny! Behind me is the meadow that sits at the base of Humphrey's peak, which still has a little snow.
I played with my hoop for a while until the first few members of the back half of the group showed up. Then it started to mist, so we decided to don our rain gear and move forward.
We had to go about 2 miles down an old forest road to connect to the Bear Jaw Trail. During that time, the weather turned from mist, to sprinkles, to all out rain. We also heard some scary lightning cracks and loud booms of thunder. All of us joked about the wisdom of carrying our metal hiking poles.
The rain slowed down as we entered the Bear Jaw Trail, and then stopped shortly after that.
The rest of the trail was a nice gradual descent. We finished the hike in about 3.5 hours and then enjoyed a post hike tailgate party while we waited for the rest of the group to finish. All in all, it was a beautiful hike and a fun day, even if it was cold and wet.

Trail Stats:

Distance Round Trip 7 miles

Trailhead Elevation 8510 feet

Elevation Gain 1960 feet

Accumulated Gain 2115 feet

Avg Time Round Trip 4-5 hours (it only took us 3.5 hours, including breaks)