Today is one of those days when everything seems to go wrong, and it’s frustrating to see my faults at the root of it all.
So here’s a throwback post to my second day of adventures in the southwest, shedding stress and sweat to reach the peak of 12,637 feet.
After a restful night in Flagstaff, I left the hostel around 5am, driving up to the Arizona Snowbowl parking lot. A brisk walk around the lot to locate the trailhead was all I needed to know that Ow.. My legs are kinda sore. Maybe I shouldn’t have hiked Camelback… Eh.. It’s not too bad…
I went back to the car and ate a bagel, watching the sun rise and color the sky. After a moment of admiration, thanksgiving, and prayer, I locked the car and headed off toward Humphrey’s Peak.
The first couple miles were a quick walk up through a grassy slope and series of steadily inclining switchbacks. The trail was easily identifiable… until it wasn’t.
Or maybe I’m just a noob.
At some point, somewhere, before I cleared the tree line, I walked off the trail and got lost. Rather than retracing my steps down, I kept going up, hoping to stumble back onto it. Shoot… where am I going…
Getting tired and freaking out a little, I used my location on Google Maps and a topographical map I pulled up on my phone. A half hour later, I found the trail. THANK YOU Google, Verizon, and God.
As the trees thinned out, I could see the surrounding mountains in the distance and got excited for the view up top. An hour later, I reached the saddle. Whoo! Almost there!
I shouldn’t have celebrated so soon. Within minutes, the clouds started rolling in as I walked through wind and mist over two false summits to finally arrive at Humphrey’s Peak.
And, well, no surprise there… No view. :(
Still thankful to have bagged Arizona’s highest, I headed back down to the saddle to avoid being whipped around by the strengthening winds. I passed a couple solo hikers, telling them about summit conditions and asking if it was any better below. I needed to stop to eat a little something and tape up a hot spot on my left foot. The winds were picking up down there as well, but it was mild enough to rest for 20 minutes. I ate, took care of my foot, and got ready for the descent.
But… Oh no. The liter of water I drank…
And without another thought, selfie, or sip of water, I blazed down the trail until I reached the portable toilets in the parking lot.
4 hours up and 1.5 hours down.
The sudden elevation change really took a toll on my hands. They felt like little balloons, ready to pop. Lovely.
I devoured a lunchables-esque snack of tuna & crackers before changing into comfy shorts and a tee. ‘Twas time to drive north, find lodging near the Grand Canyon, and have an early night. An intense day 3 & 4 were ahead.
After a quick sink-shower at the Camelback Mountain public bathroom, I blasted the A/C and drove back toward Phoenix, giving the previously mentioned security guard a quick wave and smile — must’ve been the post-work out endorphins. Ferocious growls from my stomach signaled me to stop and eat, but no time to waste! I wanted to drive through the Superstition Mountains on the Apache Trail and arrive in Sedona at least an hour before sunset.
Distracted from munchin’ on wheat thins, I drove past the Apache Junction in the wrong direction. I saw the sign in my rear view mirror, pulled a u-ey, snapped a picture, and proceeded onto the beginning of the trail’s 46 miles (managing to chew on a strip of beef jerky between my teeth).
Along the way, I pulled over into what looked like a gimmicky perversion of an old mining town, commercializing on the interests people have in the “wild west”. Still, it made for an interesting backdrop for some photos.
A little further, the pavement stopped and the trail became a rugged series of curves around the mountains, ascending and descending past scenic pull outs and reservoir lakes. Though I should’ve kept my eyes on the road at all times, I couldn’t help but look around at more saguaros than I’ve ever seen before (except maybe when I lived in Texas… but I was 3, how could I remember?)
Anyway, I anticipated some difficulty driving a sedan on rugged terrain, but I really enjoyed it; although, I was quite thankful that following the trail northward meant I’d drive hugging the mountainside, whereas those traveling south could look out their right windows to the potential of tumbling down to an imminent and prickly death. Making careful turns and crossing questionable one-lane bridges, I pulled over several times to take photos of the mountains and cacti.
And sooner than expected, I drew nearer to the end of route 88 and saw the Roosevelt Dam grow larger in sight. I parked in the designated lot and walked over to a shaded bench to scarf down a bagel and a not-so-tasty fruit squeeze packet. The dam itself was impressive, but I found the view better on the other side.
After an hour of stretching, eagle spotting, and hydrating, I went on my way to finish the first day by catching a glimpse of Sedona’s red rocks. I watched the sun set opposite of Cathedral Rock and headed to my hostel in Flagstaff, thinking, hey, what a good day.
After a 5am departure from Chicago and morning arrival in Phoenix, I felt bloated, hungry, and cranky. Ugh, and why was it so humid? Isn’t the arid southwest all about the dry heat?
I picked up my rental car and headed straight to the nearest Walmart, grabbing a bunch of non-perishable foods for the long hikes and quiet drives ahead. Along the way, I spotted the peak of what I now know as Camelback Mountain. I figured a small climb would get my body prepared for an overly-ambitious hiking week. I drove toward the mountain, not really knowing which way to go. Moments after an unpleasant encounter with a sarcastic security guard, I made it to the Echo Canyon parking lot—feeling grumpy and very judgmental about Arizonian friendliness.
A granola bar and handful of nuts later, I filled my water pack and started on the trail. The air was humid, as the clouds rolled in, and I started to wonder if I should ditch this idea and head to Flagstaff.
A couple hikers coming down the mountain chatted me up about Phoenix, Camelback, Squaw Peak, among other things, and they encouraged me to go up top regardless of the lack of view. Hey, they were really nice. I guess not everyone from the area is mean and sassy. heh. A few hundred feet up, bits of blue peeked through the clouds.
By the time I reached the top, the clouds had blown west. Though only 2,704’ above sea level, the summit offered great views over the urban neighborhoods of Phoenix. I would’ve taken more photos, but swarms of little flies kept attacking the sweaty heads of unsuspecting hikers. Not wanting to fall victim, I quickly snapped a couple pictures of the view and descended a hundred feet to an area that looked like a faux summit (to pose for my own “peak pic”).
Despite my moody arrival, things were looking up. Camelback was a great urban hike and a good way to kick off the week.
5:45am - Sat on a rock ledge, sippin’ cheap gas station coffee, as the sun slowly rose to illuminate Horseshoe Bend
And then for a moment, pushing aside my Windy City loyalty, I had the thought that I grew up in the wrong region of the United States.
Horseshoe Bend, AZ