Mt. Baldy Overnight Hike

Last weekend I hiked up Mt. Baldy with a group of four: my friend, Chris, my brother, Jim, and Jim’s friend, Scott, and his son, Ryan. Mt. Baldy is the second highest mountain in Arizona at an elevation of 11,424. However, the summit is within the boundaries of the White Mountain Apache Reservation and is off limits unless you have permission to access it. We did not have that permission, so we went as high as the trail would allow, where East Baldy Trail #95 connects to West Baldy Trail #94 at about 11,175 feet of elevation.

I drove up with Chris Friday night after work to the Big Lake campground. We arrived about ten o’clock at night and ended up sleeping in the SUV. Next morning, we woke early and met with the rest of our group and headed to the East Baldy Trail 95 trailhead after we left two shuttle vehicles at the West Baldy Trail 94 trailhead. There is a three mile connector trail, #96, between each trailhead that makes the whole loop approximately 17 miles, but we decided on foregoing the connector trail as it is an uneventful walk through the woods.

We started up East Baldy 95 which takes you in and out of a tree line along a pleasant green meadow and gradually inclines into thicker woods and brings you through some very impressive granite rock spires and formations that I was surprised to see in this area of Arizona. The trail winds up through these rock giants and up the mountain until you find yourself on top of a range of these boulders that stretches a good portion of the mountaintop. From up here you get a great view of the surrounding land and Big Lake without the obstruction of any trees in the way.

At this point, approximately four miles in, my brother decided he would turn back due to headaches, shortness of breath, and chest pains as he did not want to get too far in and become an emergency situation. Sad to see him go, but understandable that he should play it safe, we parted ways. Two of our party were already far ahead of us, but it didn’t take Scott and I long to catch up with them.

Once we passed through the stretch of boulders, the path was obstructed with frequent downed logs. We had to climb over and under and around them for most of the remaining trail. We caught up to Chris and Ryan and carried on. Shortly after, we came upon a meadow of tall, green grass on top of the mountain of thick woods and found pieces of a fuselage from an old military plane (Beech AT-11) that crashed there in 1943. Not far after that, we reached trail 94.

The highest point we could go without violating Reservation boundaries was the junction of 94 and 95. If you had permission from the White Mountain Apache Reservation, you could follow signs south that would take you to the true peak. However, we continued onto East Baldy 94. At that point we had hiked approximately six miles and we had plenty of daylight ahead of us. From the boulder area where we parted with Jim to this point, the elevation grade was very low, so we were able to cover more ground quickly. Since it was all downhill from that intersection on (an intense decline on the trail), we kept up with that pace, and probably could have gone faster if it weren’t for the downed trees creating obstacles.

Since we were on a mountainside for most of the descent on 94, there was no where we could have pitched a tent for the night due to lack of flat ground and so many fallen trees. And with plenty of daylight still, we kept going and eventually met with the Little Colorado. This is where the land began to even out and we started looking for a good camp spot. We eventually found one in a nice little clearing that had soft ground and good tree coverage. At that point, we had hiked about 11 miles. We pitched our tents, made dinner, and settled down for the night.

The next morning, we spotted a coyote traipsing across the hillside down the trail from us as we drank coffee and made our breakfast. Ryan and Scott packed up and headed out before me and Chris. We said our goodbyes, finished breakfast, then packed up and headed out about a half hour after them.

The rest of the hike out was relaxing and we enjoyed the scenery as we paralleled the Little Colorado for the last three miles. At the end of the trail we met up with Jim and exchanged accounts of what each of us did after we parted. We then went back to Big Lake, rented a boat, and fished for about four hours.

More accurately, I sat in a boat getting sunburned with a string floating in the water. I caught nothing, maybe a few taunting hits at my lure, Chris had a few bites, and Jim came out victorious with two fish, each about seven inches long. But it was a great way to end a great hike.

 

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Summit Arizona: Mt. Humphrey’s

On June 28th of this year, I embarked on yet another local AZ adventure. I summited the highest peak in Arizona, Mt. Humphrey’s, at an elevation of 12,637 feet. My brother, sister-in-law, and I went up and down in one day.

That’s quite the climb. To put it in perspective, Mt. McKinley in  Alaska is 20,320 feet. Mt. Rainier in Washington is 14, 411 feet. So, 12,000 plus is not so bad for this old desert.

We started early that morning, just as the sun was rising, in a nice sloped meadow with the cable gears and boxes of the ski lifts marking the base of the mountain. A couple hundred yards from the parking lot the trail breaks into the tree line and leads up the mountain with dusty, rocky switchbacks. There were approximately 100 hikers from a group of local police departments joining us that day. It was a little crowded on the trail.

Every so often there will be a break in the tree line along the path giving way to views of the Arizona landscape. The higher and higher you climb, the trees gradually thin out, and as you look out to your right, you’ll see that ski lift across from you on the other ridge. The air gets thinner, as well, obviously. At about 10, 500 I started to feel the effects. Headaches and light-headed. At 11, 400 I felt those effects more so to the point where it was an annoyance. I took Advil and ate a few trail bars and this seemed to help. I even took a few hits of oxygen from a can of Better Than Air my brother had with him. It’s a product meant for mountain climbers at higher elevations, but I felt it couldn’t hurt.

The only thing that made my symptoms subside was when we reached a resting point at the Saddle of the peak (elev. 11, 800) and I ate two sandwiches and drank a bottle of Vitamin Water Revive, which is rich in potassium. We rested at the Saddle for a bit, taking pictures and enjoying the view. Then it was back to the trail.

We climbed over a few boulders as we rounded the peak of the Saddle and it opened up to a trail that ran along the peaks of the three false summits the rest of the way to the true summit. Not much of an elevation gain from that point, but the distance and terrain will test you. The trail was loose shale for long stretches at this part. I had to catch myself a few times after some misplaced steps and the rock gave way from under me. Eventually, we made it.

It took us approximately seven hours to reach the top, and we spent maybe 15 minutes up there. For whatever reason, there were an unbareable amount of flies. It was to the point we couldn’t open our mouths if we stood still longer than 10 seconds. Our only relief were the few strong breezes that came our way. Other than that, the view was wonderful. It was sunny and clear and warm. Not at all what I was expecting, which was strong winds and a bit cold.

The descent was long and a little painful, but we made it down around 5 or 6pm. The overall hike took us longer than it should have, but we stopped frequently along the way to take pictures and rest. And on the way down, my brother was having knee problems. But for those of you who are in good shape and focused, you could probably make it up and down in about 5-6 hours. Just a guess.

Overall, I’m glad I did this. It felt like a good accomplishment.

On a side note, I included some pictures of the Riordan Mansion in Flagstaff, AZ, a house over a hundred years old with very surprisingly modern and energy efficient amenities. The day after the hike, the three of us took a tour of the historical site and found it to be an interesting and informative history of Arizona. If you ever get the chance, I would suggest visiting the location.

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Sandy’s Canyon and Walnut Canyon Hike

One of the great things about being back in Arizona are all of the wonderful outdoor activities it has to offer, and I can stay dry while doing them.

About three miles south of Flagstaff, down Lake Mary Road, is the Sandy’s Canyon trailhead at the back of Canyon Vista Campgrounds that leads to the Arizona Trail and into Walnut Canyon. If you look on a map, the campground exit is just north of Upper Lake Mary. So, when driving south down Lake Mary Rd and you hit Lake Mary, you’ve gone too far. It’s approximately a two-hour and twenty-five minute drive, give or take.

My good friend, Chris, and my trusty companion, Mr. Eko, left for this trailhead from Phoenix very early in the morning so as to hike while it was still cool. Any physical activity in Arizona past 10am is surely a miserable experience. Our only saving grace past the 10am point was that we were near Flagstaff, a higher, cooler elevation, which made this god-awful heat bearable.

This was definitely just a day hike. We only packed light snacks and some extra water (other than the Camelbacks) for the dog. It was nothing vigorous. No steep inclines. Just a well-traveled trail to follow, flat through the canyon. And the best part, the whole reason we picked this trail, is that it was rated as an off-leash trail. Mr. Eko could run freely and explore to his big, friendly heart’s content.

He had a few run-ins with a couple of dogs on the trail, and stood his ground and barked at an old couple, but that’s just because he’s been overly defensive since he was taken from the only family and home he’s ever known, and I’m the only one left he really knows. So when he came into contact with an old couple who immediately backed away from him and held up their staffs in defense, naturally, he barked at them. Or, he smelled death on them. Because they were old. The point is, it’s an off-leash trail and people would not be bringing their dogs out there if they were not safe.

The trail starts at the top of these canyons. If you continue straight you will go to a cliff face that is popular with rock climbers. If you veer left, you will follow the crest of the canyon for a few hundred feet that offers a beautiful view of what looks like a boulder graveyard. The trail then leads down into the canyon.

A little over a mile from the bottom, there is a fork in the trails and a large cave (or rock overhang) at the base of a canyon wall. From here, the trail left continues on with the Arizona Trail that leads back to Flagstaff. The trail that leads right goes deeper into Walnut Canyon where the canyons are narrower and the brush thicker.

About a half mile into the Walnut Canyon trail from that point at the cave, there is another cave that can be easily missed if you’re not paying attention. From eye level, there’s a lot of brush covering the entrance to this other cave, but there’s a worn trail leading up to it. This cave is much narrower and deeper. Not to worry. It was completely safe. It’s about 100 yards in length and there is room to stand. There are only a couple of points where we had to take off our packs and crawl on our hands and knees to get through. It was also very dark. Luckily, Chris had a flashlight. Mr. Eko got through with no problems. The exit to the cave is very small and it is almost as if there are steps leading out. You will end up on the same trail. It’s just a cool way to get off the beaten path.

We followed the Walnut Canyon trail for another mile before we decided to turn around. If we had kept following it, we would have ended up at the Walnut Canyon National Monument. And after seeing some of the photos, I wish we had kept going. That will have to be for next time.

After our dehydrating hike, we drove into old Flagstaff for a bite to eat. We found a little place called NiMarco’s Pizza, and it was great, because they allowed dogs to sit out on the patio with their owners. Read my Yelp review HERE!