Latest entry appears first.
January 31, Tuesday: Hidden Valley and Mormon Trail. A disappointing afternoon on South Mountain, the big range that defines the south side of Phoenix. I’d hoped to complete this trail and have 10 of Liu’s “60 Hikes” behind me for the month. I reached Hidden Valley all right but couldn’t find an exit that would lead to finishing the loop trail. Dead-ended in late afternoon, I returned to the trailhead defeated. I stupidly took this trail too lightly, didn’t study a map and paid the price of having to do it again, maybe later in the week. This is the second time in 10, I’ve screwed up. A few weeks ago I missed a sign post on the Freedom Trail and had to redo it a few days later. Got to be more efficient than this to do the “60” in 2012.
January 30, Monday: North Mountain summit. I use this trail now to stay in good cardio shape. It’s beyond me why anyone over the age of 50 continues to pound hips and legs and risk injury on Piestewa Peak. But they do and in great numbers. A 55ish neighbor, Mimi, claims to hike Piestewa three times a week. North Mountain is safer with its paved service road to the antennas on top, not as busy and wild, and offers a 30-minute steady pull that will get the heart pumping fast enough. It’s tougher today. I’m doing it on a full stomach. Lunch was less than an hour ago. I climb the short, rocky path from pavement to summit. There, my binos sweep the eastern horizon looking for Sunrise Peak, where Nebra and I hiked yesterday. It’s 25-30 miles away, and I easily find its nearby companion, Thompson Peak. Then gazing a few clicks southward, take a guess on Sunrise. I shoot a photo hoping I can blow it up enough to see for sure. I head down as a soaring raven yaks at me.
January 29, Sunday: Sunrise Mountain Trail, east Scottsdale. This is a popular single-track trail in the McDowell Mountains Preserve, 30 miles northeast of downtown Phoenix. The preserve rests just north of the Mayo Clinic and the rareified air of gated communities. From busy Shea Boulevard to the south, Sunrise Peak itself, at 3,040 feet by my GPS, mirrors the many cookie-cutter homes below, blending into the landscape. We decide to shuttle this time. Nebra parks her Prius at the Via Linda Trailhead lot, and we travel via my Civic to the Lost Dog Wash Trailhead 3 1/2 miles to the northwest. I choose the path of least resistance as usual. Hiking from the west is easiest, the east end being very steep. Both ends meet at Sunrise, 2.8 miles out from Lost Dog and 2 miles from Via Linda. With the quarter-mile detour up to the summit, the hike runs about 5.2 miles. It’s a beautiful day, sunny in the 70s, and the vegetation greens daily with many more wildflowers, particularly poppies, at the sides of the path. We find a half dozen others loitering on the summit, taking in views of this vast basin where Phoenix sets. Only the northern vista is partly shut off, that by the higher Thompson Peak with its antennas. We lunch and rest in the warm sun, then head down to the trailhead at Via Linda. I’m surprised to see so many coming up the steep way. It’s late afternoon, and I don’t see how a struggling, middle-aged Asian couple can get back down before dark. Wildflowers are more profuse on this segment. It takes us about an hour to reach Via Linda, my 9th hike of the “60” chalked up.
January 28, Saturday: Quartz Ridge Trail, Phoenix Mountains Preserve. Once in a while, quite by accident, you stumble onto a trail that is special. So was the case this afternoon when I turned onto #8B, the Ruth Hamilton Trail, which completes the southern end of this “balloon trail.” Think balloon as a loop segment attached by string to the trailhead, the string being the up-and-back portion. I didn’t like the looks of the Hamilton at first. It rises steeply up to a saddle a half mile away, meandering through dense chaparral along a deep ravine. It is a narrow, rocky path, lightly traveled and for moments you are lost in an earlier century when the urban sprawl was no more than a madman’s dream. Phoenix is for the moment out of sight, out of mind. I peer down into the ravine and thought, here I am in the vicintiy of 3 million other humans, but I am a single misstep from falling down there in the bush and no one would find me until the vultures circled. This thought occurred about the time I hear the voice of a young woman somewhere out of sight and below me. She was singing, “Thank God I’m a Country Girl.” Somehow the primitive trail and a modern C&W song struck a happy chord. I’ll probably go back many times to hike the Hamilton even though it left me gasping for breath at several points. The larger Quartz Ridge Trail marks the 8th of the “60 Hikes” I’ve done this month. And, at about 5 miles, the longest. All the desert plants are here and greening up for their desert-spring explosion of color: Burbage, creosote, brittlebush, palo verde, scattered saguaro, cholla of several kinds, hedgehog, ocotillo and even a clump of Mormon tea. All in all a great day to be out in the desert.
January 26, Thursday: North Mountain Park, inner basin. Most gorgeous day of the young year. Sunny, 70s, no wind. I start out from the Visitors Center with a question. Do I go up to the summit of North Mountain or take it easy? It is a day after the torturous hike up to the top of Piestewa Peak. I’ll walk a bit and see how my body feels. Soon the answer becomes clear. Take it easy. Not only are my quads super sore. My legs are lifeless. They are as much baggage as my backpack. I extend the inner basin hike a quarter-mile by veering over to the north diversion dam. Hikers are in abundance. A jaunty little man, a senior, passes me as I retie a double-knot in one of my hiking boots. He is wearing powder-blue shorts, knee supports and a hat cocked to one side. He practically floats he is so happy to be on the trail. “It can’t get much better for me than this,” he says. It is a lesson I am learning. Old age can be one of the most happy times of your life. That is if you’ve saved and married wisely. I count 50 on the trails today: 38 hikers, 10 bikers and only two joggers. It doesn’t get much better than this for anyone.
January 25, Wednesday: Piestewa Peak, Summit Trail. See also “Sermon on the Mount,” January 26. I’m huffing and puffing up this rugged, very steep and treacherous trail trying to focus on the rock and my next step. It is hard to concentrate because of all the traffic, a steady stream of hikers, some going up to the summit, some coming down. I do not even think once of the visiting President Obama somewhere down below, or how quiet the skies have become around Sky Harbor Airport in deference to Air Force One. The Summit Trail is said to be the second most hiked trail in Arizona next to Bright Angel in the Grand Canyon. And it is as far away from a wilderness experience as a walk in the mall. Most do not care one whit about a view from the top. Dressed in chic workout gear with colorful headbands and wired from ear to I-Pod, many hustle to the top for one reason. Exercise. If they run you over, too bad. They’re on the clock. I would avoid this trail if it were not on Liu’s list of “Sixty Hikes.” Not only is it a zoo composed mostly of hikers under 30, it is a lung-buster going up and a quad-wrecker coming down. The stone steps, some two feet high and more, exhaust me. I reach finally reach the top in of this 1.2-mile trail in the disgusting time of one hour and 21 minutes, my legs so wobbly it is nearly impossible to set feet where you want them. I overhear a young hiker say he reached the summut in just over 30 minutes. Humbling for me. But the summit provides a grand view on a beautiful day, calm, 70 F. and not a cloud in sight. In the distance I see later hiking destinations. The Superstitions to the east and beyond them to that giant volcanic plug called Picketpost Mountain. To the west, historic Vulture Peak near Wickenburg. I lunch on a Subway sandwich, then head down sandwiched myself now between two slightly heavy women of about 20. We chat amiably for a while, until I ease in front for the rest of the way. I’ve decided, given the difficulty of reaching the top, to make Piestewa Peak my standard. In December, I hope to come back and try it again, a test to whether my conditioning has improved.
January 23, Monday: North Mountain Park, inner and west basins. I’m doing a 3-mile loop across the park and back. It’s an exercise day. Dark clouds are easing in from the west. Much-needed rain might come tonight. Near the west parking lot at the end of 7th Ave, two Gambel’s quail cross in front of me. I wait expecting others. Sure enough. Seven more skitter across for a covey of nine, all playing follow-the-leader down into a small ravine then up on the other side. First quail I’ve seen in weeks. Also saw a black-tailed jackrabbit, the first I’ve seen in this park.
January 21, Saturday: North Mountain Summit Trail. I’m impatient, and as I huff and puff up to the summit for the second time this week, I begin to wonder, “When, if ever, will I get in shape?” I know. I’ve only been hiking steep trails now for two weeks, and yet I think I should be further along. This trail isn’t that hard. It’s steep but on pavement and only a mile or so in length. I remember from my jogging days it takes about six weeks of regular runs to get the lungs in tune. So I tell myself to relax and enjoy the day. About that time, I see an obese threesome, moving slowly upward. One of the two women is pushing a baby in a carriage. I pass them while they gather their collective breaths. I think, no way. They’ll turn back soon. But after a brief lunch on the windy, cool summit, I pass the trio again. They are plugging along, only five minutes or so from the top. It’s inspiring in one way, but deflating in the sense of my perceived cardio capability.
January 19, Thursday: Shaw Butte Trail, North Mountain Park. As I finish up this longest of the “60 Hikes” trails I’ve yet done, a sudden burst of coyote howls, yips and barks startles me. The chorus lasts 20-30 seconds and comes 50 yards away from a ravine on the inner basin below Shaw Butte. Three other enchanted hikers also stop to listen. I’m guessing one coyote made a kill, possibly of an Audubon cottontail, and relayed the message to his or her family. The message that stirred up all the excitement ends as quickly as it started. I had left the Visitors Center in mid-afternoon, traveling the loop via the “easy” counter-clockwise direction, trudging the steep, broken-asphalt service road to the Butte’s summit for a sandwich, then down to the inner basin by way of the Cloud Nine ruins. At 2,149 feet, Shaw Butte is the third highest of the “Seven Summits of Phoenix,” its rocky top commanded by steel towers with motors that destroy any idea of wilderness. Cloud Nine was an old restaurant with a grand view south to downtown Phoenix. It burned in 1964, leaving only the mortared-rock foundation and steps and a patio of concrete. A small palo brea surges from a crack in the long-neglected patio. Next to the coyote chorus, the restaurant was the highlight of this 4.2 mile hike.
January 18, Wednesday: I may have sustained my first injury, plantar fasciitis, due to the increased hiking load of late. Crossing the dining room floor about a week ago, I suddenly felt a stabbing pain on the bottom of my right heel. At first I thought I had stepped on a round object like a small marble. But I found nothing on the floor. The bad pain soon went away, yet this morning walking to the corner coffee shop I felt a slight soreness in that right heel again. I know plantar. Several years ago when I was umpiring baseball, I had a bad case. Little knots of fleshy stuff appeared above the heel on both sides. Every step was painful, particularly when I had to run. Whatever it is, it is minor right now. A nuisance. I have high arches and have begun to wrap them tightly with a cloth support. I attribute the discomfort to a changed hiking regimen. I am doing a lot more steep climbing and descent now. But I don’t plan to revert back to flat-land hiking anytime soon.
January 17, Tuesday: North Mountain, National Trail. This marks the fourth time since spring I’ve walked up the steep paved road to the North Mountain summit. But I’d never finished the rest of the 1.6-mile National Trail. I had imagined the National was a sheer plunge down the summit’s south end. Liu, by the way, says it’s not possible to reach the summit’s highest point which is blocked off by a chain-link fence surrounding the three towers. But I found, by edging along the southern part of the fence and around a corner, you can attain highest ground. From the summit, I walk south along a promontory for about 100 yards. Here, the National vanishes from sight. But looking over the side, I see a very steep and narrow trail wiggling down. But no cliff. As I start the descent, I pass a young man climbing up with a large brown dog he calls “Rosie.” “Steep, huh?” I say. He makes a hand gesture as if to say, “not too bad.” I also pass four men hiking alone, stepping steadily up, each with a water bottle and solemn expressions. All appear to be in their 50s. “Gorgeous day,” says the last one, a tall man with a flowing gray beard.
The tricky part of the trail consists of man-made stepping stones. Their canted angles and pebbly surface make then slippery and treacherous. My footing prevails and I step off the National at a ramada in the southeast corner of the park. It’s the fifth of Liu’s “Sixty” that I’ve done so far in January and my quota for the month. But who am I fooling? I’ve got to build up the hike count before the hot weather hits in mid April, early May. Today was near perfect. Sunny, mid 60s, light breeze.
January 16, Monday: North Mountain Park, inner basin. It’s MLK Day, and the trails are busier than usual. I count 48 on the 2-mile trek: 38 hikers, 5 bikers, 5 joggers.
January 15, Sunday: The Freedom Trail . . . again. This time, hiking with Nebra, I get it right. I see the exact point where on Friday I had gone wrong, taking a right up a trail marked “VOAZ” instead of a left on the 302, or the Freedom. It’s clearly marked. Must’ve had my head down, thinking of something or not thinking at all. A good way to get into trouble on the trail. The 302 rises steeply on switchbacks to a saddle with two memorial benches. The Ben Avery bench is on the right. I remember Ben from my early days at the Republic. He was an outdoor writer then, a short, tanned, leathery-skinned man who showed up out of the blue to hand in his weekly column on a couple of type-written sheets of paper. I think he was retired by then but had a special deal with the paper to write columns. Ben got swept up in a transition period of the sports department and was soon gone. He was a noted conservationist and a shooting range was named in his honor near I-17 and Carefree Highway. He died in 1996. From the saddle we eventually switchback down amid drops of rain onto a contour trail on the west side of Piestewa Peak. From there, it is easy to see the trail Phil Randolph led me down on Friday after I’d gotten lost a mile or so farther west. There, on the side of a hill, was the “miner’s cabin” he’d pointed out. The old mine shaft I’d passed was on the other side. The worst part of the Freedom Trail, walking it counter-clockwise anyway, is coming up to the saddle on the Summit Trail. Very steep, and the same trail I’d traversed two says before. This time, gasping for air, I stop five times rather than six. The rocky trail down is little better and yet I see many young legs bounding from boulder to boulder with ease, passing us, some, my god, jogging up. Just before sunset we reach the parking lot, having done the 3.7-mile Freedom Trail as “Sixty Hikes” directed. A victory of sorts.
January 14, Saturday: Shadow Mountain summit. Atop this small craggy peak in northern Phoenix, someone has written on rock the unsaintly, “What if God smoked cannibas?” The graffiti is written on a gray rock slanted almost directly at a mega church to the southwest. I try to conjure up who wrote this. Obviously it was a young person, probably male and perhaps a member of the church’s congreation, someone who is questioning for the first time the existence of God. Amusing to my off-beat mind.
Although at 1,928 feet Shadow is the smallest of Phoenix’s “seven summits,” a grand vista opens up in all directions. It is not included in Liu’s “60 Hikes” but should be. I would replace the more rugged Lookout Mountain with this alpine-topped peak any day. It is a pretty park coming in from the north, dotted with mostly bursage, palo brea and creosote. The trail rises gently up along a gully, contours around Shadow’s north flank, then up steep rock where hands are occassionaly needed . If today is an indication, the park allows for some solitude. I counted only three others in almost two hours, all teen-agers.
January 13, Friday: Freedom Trail, Phoenix Mountains Park. When are you lost but not lost? At one point, I could see the “51” freeway just ahead and knew a view of Lincoln Drive was just over the next hill. And I knew I was southwest of the landmark Piestewa Peak. The trouble was way back there I had veered off onto other trails and now didn’t know how to get back to my car in time to escape darkness. This was supposed to be an easy 3.8 mile trek but it was turning into a marathon. Darkness was less than an hour away and I hadn’t seen a soul in a long time. It was then I lucked in to Phil Randolph traveling in the opposite direction with his friendly dog, Eddie. Randolph, retired and a former president of Glendale College, lives in a nearby development of nice homes snuggled up into the park. “You’re a long way from where you want to be,” he said. He knelt down on the trail and, using a stick, drew a map in the dirt, showing me a “short” way back. He used small rocks for mountains. I could see in the distance a ridge leading up to the Piestewa summit trail. Once there, no problem. But rather than continue his planned hike, he insisted on turning around and walking me up over a steep saddle and down into a serene valley. Despite a repaired ACL, Randolph looked in great shape and moved easily. At the junction of two trails, we shook hands and said good-bye. “Maybe we’ll meet up again out here,” he said. The trail up the from the southwest side is very steep and I paused several times to catch my breath. I passed only a single hiker, a man and his dog, coming down. “Have a great time up there tonight,” he said, thinking I was going to climb to Piestewa’s summit. It was well past sunset when I reached the saddle on the Summit Trail. For a moment a bad thought entered my mind, that I would venture on up to the top of Piestewa. But good sense intervened. It was dark and the trail is filled with large steps and big rocks. About 6:45, more than an hour after the sun went down, I staggered in to the parking lot at last, tripping on unseen rocks. I had been on the trail for four hours and covered roughly eight miles. And still I hadn’t completed the Freedom Trail, one of the “Sixty Hikes.” Another time. There was a bonus. The accidental meeting with Phil Randolph hit home. I should not be so cynical of what my fellow Americans are all about, that many of us, as disparate as we are, have a basic commonality and a sense of kinship that can run deep.
January 9, Monday: North Mountain Park. I walk the inner basin trying to shake the soreness from the arduous trail at Pinnacle Peak. The outside of my hips are sore, my calves tight. I make the loop quickly, seldom stopping. A thoughtful hike it isn’t. Do it and get back to the parking lot.
January 8, Sunday: Pinnacle Peak Park. Hiking up from the Jomax Trail Connector at the west end of the Pinnacle Peak trail, my lungs are bursting, my legs starting to wobble. It is like doing wind sprints on level ground. I do 3 or 4 short switchbacks, and I stop to get my wind back. My standard of a very steep trail is 1,000 feet elevation gain per mile. For this segment of .42 miles, you rise 362 feet. My math tells me that’s equal to 860 feet per mile. Very close to very steep. The 3.5-mile out-and-back trail skirts Pinnacle Peak and another mountain on the north side, making for a cool hike in the winter shadows. Nebra and I have plenty of company. There are too many other hikers to count, but a ranger tells us this is a “light day.” Thanksgiving, he says, is the busiest day with as many as 1,900 huffing an puffing along. Twenty years ago, this part of northeast Scottsdale was almost desolate, a place known mostly for the Pinnacle Peak Patio, a casual steakhouse where ties were scissored in half and hung on the walls. Today the park is surrounded on all sides by golf courses and some of the most pricey homes in Arizona. Pinnacle Peak itself, a 3,171-foot spire of granite boulders, is a well-known climbing spot set aside from normal hikers. The trail provides some nice vistas and circular benches at Grandview and Owl’s Rest. Back at the trailhead, I jot down some wildlife sightings posted on a bulletin board. A mule deer, Nov. 25, at the #28 marker, at 1250 military time. On Dec. 8, a bobcat, near #13, 0840. Four javelina and 5 coyotes also make the list. But today we saw nothing but two-legged creatures. I like my trails a little less crowded. But now I’ve completed three of the “60 Hikes” in the first week of the new year. A good start and, I hope, a great finish.
January 7, Saturday: Lookout Mountain. The good thing about Lookout’s summit is that there are no ugly metal towers on top. The bad thing is that the half-mile trail is steep and rocky over an elevation gain of 500 feet. At one point just above the saddle, I’m on all fours, crawling over a rock face. A young woman is stalled, sitting on a boulder. She is going down and is scared she will fall. “Going up was easier,” she says. On the 2,054 foot summit, a light westerly breeze is refreshing. Two teenage girls are seated on a ledge, casually talking about their friends, legs dangling over the side. From here I look southwest about two miles to North Mountain Park where I usually hike and then beyond into the smog that is backed up against South Mountain and to the west the White Tanks. Lookout offers a grand view in every direction. I would stay longer but I want to do the 2-miles plus Circumference Trail before dark. Coming down, I pull to the side to let three large families of Hispanics going up, more than two dozen in number counting several children under the age of 5. I doubt they will be able to negotiate the rock ledge above the saddle. The up-and-down Circumference Trail is uninspiring, passing near upscale residences on the east. It is sunset when I arrive back at the little still-full parking lot at the end of 16th Street south of Bell Road. Another of Liu’s “60 Hikes” down the drain.
January 6, Friday: Papago Park. Did a modified figure 8 of the No. 5 Double Butte Loop Trail, my first of Liu’s “60 Hikes.” By taking off on an easterly tangent not far from the amphitheater, I hiked down a half mile to the corner of McDowell and Galvin Parkway to see the “tree of desert life” monumment and its seven stacked-stone monoliths. Built only two decades ago, 1990-1992, the art project is all but hidden from the busy roads by palo verde, creosote and other desert plants. I’ll write more about it in a separate blog. The side trip added about a mile’s distance to the trail, and I ended up walking, by pedometer calculation, 3.7 miles in toto. Stopping at the Eliot Ramada to remove a rock from my shoe, a middle-age woman walks in right behind me. She is so enamored with the beautiful weather that I take her for a winter visitor. “No,” she says, “my husband and I moved out here 34 years ago.” It never ceases to amaze me why women feel so vulnerable that they have to bring up their “husbands” in the first few words with a man they don’t know. She is over-weight and about 10-15 years younger than I. As I leave wishing her a “good one,” she further distances herself by a patronizing, age-related remark: “You take care of yourself, Hon.” She says that even though, looking at us, you would say I was in far better physical condition. Oh, well. One of my pet peeves.
January 5, Thursday: Papago Park. Sitting down along a gully in late afternoon, I pretend I am a pillar. I hardly move a muscle. I am waiting for wildlife to happen, binocculars in hand. In recent hikes I have seen not even a starling. Suddenly movement. A small brownish bird skitters into bushes. Others follow. Soon there are a dozen or more skittering across open ground on the other side of the gully, more nervous than quail, moving southward in a loose group. I am lucky enough to see one in sunlight for a second. Rufous head, black and white markings around the eye. Chipping Sparrows? I’m not sure. Later I find a higher spot and set up my camera and tripod hoping to catch the downtown Phoenix skyline to the west. A couple high above me, sitting atop a crooked and holey butte of red sandstone, Bad Teeth I call it, also waits for the sun to go down. I shoot a few photos, then head back to the parking lot in the dark. I am slightly startled to see my shadow from a waxing gibbous moon. A sweet scent rises in the air. I enjoy the sensation of dropping down into cool gullies. At the trailhead again, I burst out of the darkness into the light of a ramada, startling a young Hispanic girl and an adult who is lying on the cement table. That burst out of darkness somehow gives me a sense of power.
January 4, Wednesday: North Mountain Park. Once I reached the second turn on the Summit Trail to North Mountain, I shot a photo of Lookout Mountain to the northeast and turned back to the Visitors Center. When I was younger, I would have pressed on to the top whether I wanted to. I would have had to prove I was no sissy, that I could get to the top even with an ankle sprain. Youth is mostly about ego and insecurity. That’s what I like about being older. I’m fairly sure of who I am. I have nothing I want to prove to anyone. I am not out to impress the universe like the young guy who came up the trail with his shirt off, exposing his abs to the many young women coming down. I am dressed in my usual ugly stuff. A frayed blue shirt, blue jeans, an old L.L. Bean cap and a backpack. I’m in my own world when hiking. I like it like that.
January 3, Tuesday: I borrowed from the main library a 2009 edition of Liu’s “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles” of Phoenix. I’ve hiked many of the trails the book describes, but it offers me a list and a goal. I want to see how many, if not all, of those 60 I can do this year. The online catalog shows “60 Hikes” a popular book. There are 27 copies in the system with 15 currently checked out.
January 2, Monday: North Mountain Park. An infrequent hike with Nebra. We traversed the entire inner basin, a distance of just more than three miles. Another beautiful day. Temps in 70s and no haze. Trails were busy. Saw no birds or other wildlife. Hoped for a hoot from “Owl Butte” but only silence came. Tried out my new backpack, an Osprey Manta 30. It has a “camel,” a hydration pack which I didn’t use. I need to adjust a strap or two but it should work fine. I’ll try carrying water next time. Santa failed to bring Charles Liu’s “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles” of Phoenix, and it was not shelved at Barnes & Noble. I’ll try the library when it reopens tomorrow.