Soldier Pass

Soldier Pass
Red Rock Secret Mtn. Wilderness
4 Miles Roundtrip
4/10/18

Another hike I did back in April while my friend Eric was visiting from Seattle, and one I had been wanting to do for a long time. Only problem was, I didn’t know where exactly the feature was I really wanted to see on this trail. I had seen pictures of a cave? If you could call it that. A sliver of space between two rock walls, and the beginnings of an arch. Its location is not exactly widely shared within the hiking community, and for good reason, so all I knew was that it was somewhere off Soldier Pass. Just had to look for certain features.

In order to hike in the Red Rock Wilderness you need to get a pass, which we picked up at a gas station on the way through Sedona. If I remember right, it was only $5. Once you get to the trailhead, you have to park in the designated parking area, which is right behind a neighborhood. You’re not allowed to park down any of the neighborhood streets, and the small parking lot was full. We got lucky and were able to to get a space as a few hikers were leaving. Make sure to go early if you want to ensure you get a parking space. It’s a popular trailhead because it connects to other trails besides Soldier Pass.

Not far from the trailhead you arrive at Devil’s Kitchen sinkhole after the trail dips you down through some trees and back up to the sinkhole. It’s just like you’d imagine a sinkhole to look like, except it was the cool, red, sandstone of Sedona. We took a few pictures, then carried on.

Beware! Pickpockets and loose rocks!

Continue around to the left of the sinkhole to follow Soldier Pass trail. The trail takes you through more trees and brings you to Seven Sacred Pools. It’s a large, open area of red rock (go figure) and there were those Pink Jeeps you see all over Sedona parked about and their customers wandering around the area. The pools themselves were actually pretty cool. It was a cascade of these pools that had been formed by running water over the years. The first pool at the top was small, the size of a mixing bowl, and each pool after that was slightly lower down the rocks and slightly bigger. The very last hole was at the bottom in the draw and was mostly dry. I’m sure it would be a better sight after a hard rain.

Pictured: Four of the Seven Sacred Pools

From the Seven Sacred Pools, we followed the Soldier Pass trail back into the forest of Juniper, Oak, and pine as the trail brought us down into the valley between the red canyon rocks. The hike is very pleasant as it meanders through this forest and the trees provide plenty of shade. A little over a mile, the trail intersects the end of the Jeep tour doubletrack, and a little further on past that is the boundary of the wilderness area. The trail forks near the wilderness sign, but it was easy to stay on the Soldier Pass trail since the other trail was blocked off by a line of rocks and tree branches. I’ve seen that a lot on the AZT. Trail maintenance will do that at portions of the trail that are no longer to be used and to keep hikers on the new path.

Now entering the Super Secret Mountain Wilderness.

After that point, the trail gradually climbs up in elevation until you make it to Brins Mesa. The total elevation gain from start to finish is about 500 feet. Cake compared to what we had done at Flatiron two days prior. The trail brings you up out of the shade of the forest, but also into higher ground for better views. The trail gets steeper as you near the mesa and then flattens out into large steps of rock covered in what looked like a rock garden.

Looking back on the valley and towards Sedona.

We hung out there for a bit while I checked where we were supposed to go on my GPS, which was sending us back into thick forest on a very faint trail. The clear path continued up the mesa and on to Brins Mesa trail, but this had been an easy hike so far and we wanted a little more adventure and we had the time. So we took the path less travelled into the thick brush and forest.¬† I’m glad we took the detour.

“Rock garden” nearing the top of the trail.

We trudged through the brush and pointy oak leaves. This was clearly an old trail that lead us back under the cover of trees. We came to a makeshift bridge of weathered logs laid across a ditch. It looked so unstable we just walked around it and through the ditch. Shortly after that, as we were walking and talking, we heard something rustling in the brush across from us. We walked a few feet forward and then we could see them. Three Javelina milling about in a small clearing behind a ring of brush that separated us and them. One of them laid in the dirt munching on the pad of a prickly pear cactus and stared at us. We kept quiet and a healthy distance. I think they were young due to their size, so also kept an eye out for the mother too. We watched them for a moment longer then carried on.

It was difficult to get a clear picture of the Javelina.

The faint trail came to an indiscernible end. We ended up cutting through raw bush, intersecting with game trails, and following those until we saw a clearing that happened to be a an old forest road. We followed the old road northeast for a bit before we stopped underneath a shade tree for a short snack break, then carried on. It wasn’t long before the old road intersected with Brins Mesa trail and headed east. The trail took us out of the shade and along the crest of a canyon. To the north of us was another valley of Juniper and oak trees, and more red rock and canyon walls beyond that. The trail took us in a big loop and back to where the official Soldier Pass intersected with Brins Mesa, the trail we were supposed to take before we went off on our own adventure. But, it was a good thing to go off the beaten path, because if we hadn’t, we would not have seen the Javelina.

We headed south on Soldier Pass, back the way we came, after we stopped for another break underneath a shady Juniper at the peak with the flat rock garden. We chatted with a few other hikers who were coming up the path before descending back down into the valley between the canyon walls. We were determined to find the arch/cave I had seen so many pictures of, and getting to it was kind of a chore, but worth it. I’m not going to go into great detail of how to find it. It is kind of obvious when you’re out there, but I get the feeling it’s not a well known spot, and would not want to spoil it by advertising it. Sort of. Really, it’s not that hard to find.

Basically, Eric and I tried cutting across the valley at a few points from the trail to the canyon wall but didn’t get far as there was no clear path and the brush was too thick. Heading back, we eventually found the path that led up to the cave, and it just so happened to be the one we passed on the way in that we thought was a detour. That path took us up out of the tree line and to the canyon wall with the cave.

It was one of the coolest destinations I’ve seen while hiking. Well worth the work to get there. It takes some effort climbing in between the rocks to get up inside the cave, but once inside, it’s fairly easy to move around. The way the light comes in through the hole over the arch and illuminates the red rock is brilliant. I could have spent all day there.

…ladies.

I can see why the serious hikers try to keep it a secret, if that’s what they’re indeed trying to do. It’s much more enjoyable without a lot of people around. We also went on a weekday, so that helped immensely. We had the whole place to ourselves. There was an old ammo can in there with notepads where people left their mark, along with a few coupons, tampons, and condoms. You know, the necessities. Otherwise, very clean, and clearly, the hiking community is trying to keep it that way.¬† We don’t need a bunch of bros up there leaving beer cans.

We hung out there for a bit, soaking it all in, then we left. An easy walk back to the Jeep the same way we came in. Then it was a beautiful drive south on 89A through Cottonwood and Jerome to Prescott where we hit up Prescott Brewery and Superstition Meadery for victory burgers and drinks.

The Crack at Wet Beaver Creek

Another Saturday and another adventure. Someone I know suggested I hike Beaver Creek with Eko, so he could get his paws wet. I tried looking up Beaver Creek trails, and something called The Crack came up. Of course I had to seek it out. I couldn’t pass up something called The Crack at Wet Beaver Creek.

All joking aside, this was actually a pretty good hike. It was approximately 7 miles in and out via the Bell Trail #13. There is very little tree coverage to provide shade along this trail that runs parallel to Wet Beaver Creek. Eko and I got there and started hiking about 11:30, so it was a sunny and hot hike in. I wore a good hat and applied thick amounts of sunscreen before hitting the trail, but poor Eko had a hard time out there. Luckily, there are little offshoot trails that lead down to the creek along the way, where there are thick coverage of Cottonwoods and cool water.

You start out at about 3870 feet in elevation and gradually climb up. At about 2.5 miles in, you hit a steep grade and peak at about 4190 feet, then descend down to the creek bed. I found this to be a very easy hike and did it in my Keens. If you’re not much of a hiker, this might be difficult for you. The only thing I found difficult was the exposure to the Sun, and with that, I was mostly worried about Eko.

It took us about two hours to get down to the creek proper that leads to The Crack. It was slow going with Eko after having to stop for frequent water breaks. If you do this hike, bring plenty of water, especially if you have a dog. He drank the majority of our water supply. I think I sipped on about half a liter the whole time, but he easily drank two liters. That wasn’t including whatever he lapped out of the creek.

At the Y where the trail branches off to Weir Trail, I tried taking Eko down one of the offshoot trails down to the creek. One could definitely get down to the creek this way, but not Eko. There was a ledge I was able to scramble down approximately six feet high. I tried to grab him so I could lower him down, but he wasn’t having any of that. So I climbed back up and we walked back to Bell Trail. Once we got back to the Y, I saw a deer on the hillside near the trail, a little White Tail. It was gray and scrawny. Probably a fawn. Eko didn’t see it, but was walking in its direction and scared it away. I was able to snap a few pictures.

The deer is right above the center post.

Once we got to the creek bed the trail circled down and around this large, flat slab of red sandstone high over the edge of the creek. We followed the path around it to a sandy patch where there was smooth access to the water. Eko stood at the edge and drank. It was clean and clear and I only saw algae in a few places and kept him from drinking there. I walked out into the water and it felt pretty much amazing on my hot, dusty feet. Once he saw I could walk out in the water, he followed, and from then on was good with going in and out of the water.

There were so many people down there, and all along the trail. On the way in I passed countless amounts of people who were on their way out. Where we stopped and were walking around in the cold creek wasn’t The Crack, so I asked one of the many people I kept seeing coming from down the creek. She told me a little further up was The Crack and that’s where all the people were jumping from the rocks. Where she pointed was up the creek, past large river rocks and a thick patch of Cottonwoods. I could see a few people in brightly colored swim shorts through the trees.

I took pictures, ate trail mix, and drank water before we moved down to The Crack. There was a dry path on the other side of the large, flat slab of stone, but the drop down was too high for Eko. So we took the wet path around the slab through the creek. The water level came up just above my knees at its deepest. Eko had to get a little more wet than he wanted because the water came up to his neck. For a Lab, he really doesn’t like water. Luckily for him, it was just a short walk through the water. We then walked over and around the large river rocks and through the Cottonwoods to The Crack.

 

Through the creek, around the rock, and through the trees, the Wet Beaver Crack you will see.

The Crack is a deep swimming hole surrounded by sheer red cliffs and shelves of overhanging rocks where people were jumping off into the cold water. There was a younger couple there with a German Shepherd puppy. I asked if it was ok if Eko met him, and they were cool with it. Eko sniffed at him for a little bit, then got bored and walked out into the water.

 

The Crack

We hung out at The Crack for a bit. I took pictures and Eko wandered around to all of the people getting attention. To get to the top of the shelves where people were jumping from, you had to climb up these tall rock steps. I got up the first one and it was angled enough that Eko could scramble up to me. But the second one was too high for him to climb so I lifted him up there. After that he was ok to climb the rest of the way.

Once up there, you can walk around to the other side of “the crack”, the narrow point in the creek between the walls. There were even more people on that side. They had folding chairs and were laying out on beach towels and had a radio playing. Way too much fun for my liking. I want solitude as much as possible. Plus, all these strangers are now in my scenic pictures.

A view of The Crack from the other side.

After exploring for a little bit up there I decided to get back so I could get some food. Eko and I climbed down, I retrieved our stuff at the bottom, and we headed out. The hike out was pretty much uneventful. Saw a lot of big groups of college aged kids going in as we were leaving. Eko would get ahead of me and start following other groups of people who were ahead of us. Then he’d stop and look back and come back to me. He did that a few times.

Eko following some strangers.

A little less than a mile from the parking lot, we took a detour down one of the little trails leading to the creek. I’m glad we did because it was awesome. The water was clean and clear and flowing over these long, flat, red rocks that stretched across the width of the creek. It was beautiful. They cascaded down over three stages. Eko was walking through the water, following along with me as we explored and took pictures. There were a few deep spots he wasn’t expecting and fell in up to his neck. He didn’t like that very much.

After that, we got back onto Trail 13 and made it back to the car. We were about 15 minutes away from Sedona so I looked up a place where I could get a burger and a beer and that was also dog friendly. I ended up going to Spoke and Wheel, which is in the same upscale complex as Oak Creek Brewery. Eko and I had dinner on the patio there, where, again, he was very popular and the other patrons wanted to come say hi to him. I had the cheeseburger and a Lumberyard Hefeweizen, and got just a plain burger patty for Eko. Then we headed home.

Overall, it was a pretty good hike. Not very difficult, but still a good stretch to get exercise and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Poor Eko slept the whole way home, and all through the night, he was so tired. His paws are a little beat up and he’s limping a bit, but I’m glad I took him. He’s a good hiking buddy.

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.

 

Gallery

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.