Good Morning all you Hikers!
Up, Shower, Pack (although you did most of that last night in preparation for this morning), head out for coffee and breakfast. Must stop at the grocery store for the beer (for the toast on the summit). We are a little slow. I don’t want to blame that on being girls, but rather from being tired the night before. We are awake by 6 am and it still takes us a good 2 hours before we are on the road to the trail head.
The trail head parking lot is full of cars. Looks like a boy scout troup is gathering at the trail head sign. A crowded trail is good – nice to see so many people getting outside. The weather is gorgeous, sunny and yet still cool. There are rumors of showers in the evening and we hope we are not chased off the mountain by lightening.
The trail starts off in a meadow, the trees about a quarter mile away. You even pass under a ski lift. Once you hit the forest, you can forget that you are near a ski resort as the trees close in on you and the shadows hide any hint of civilization. We started timing ourselves, but my navigation tool quit on me. Boo. I have no record of milage or elevation. When Kerry and I hike, our first mile is always easy; filled with chatter and anticipation, we feel like 5 minutes have passed when its actually been about 30. So when we reach the sign in box about 20 minutes in, we think we are at the bottom of the trail. On the Way back down, that last 20 minutes to the car feels like forever. We pass some hikers, others pass us, and a few we leap frog. We make very few stops, but our pace is slow at just under 2 mph. “Pole pole”, we laugh. (see my previous post “the longest morning before a hike”).
We move out of the Aspen trees and into the evergreens, and the views peaking out between the trunks confirm we have been steadily hiking uphill. The trail is very well maintained, but not a clear path. My legs are telling me that I definitely need to work on strength. I trip over the tree roots and rocks in the path too many times, and remind myself to pick up my feet. We start to see the the ski resort through the trees; cleared ski trails and lifts. A little over 2 hours into the hike we hit the 11,400 ft sign.
The infamous 11,400 ft elevation sign is where we lost the trail on our first attempt to get to the summit, about 2 years ago. On that attempt, in early May, 5 feet of snow covered the trail. When we finally reached the 11,400 ft elevation sign, it was late in the day. We begrudginly admitted defeat and hiked/slid down the mountain. So seeing this sign, and still seeing the trail in front of us is a major milestone!
There are still sparse trees at 11, 400, but in a couple of minutes you can look up and see the first of 3 false summits. We know this, so we don’t get too excited. There are nice markers on the trail up to the summit at this point. Tall poles (with “Trail” marked on them) and a couple of bungee cords in one area. I know this trail has gained in popularity through the years, and I wonder if this is to keep people off the scree on the way to the summit. By the time you actually reach both of the false summits, you can see the next. This part of the walk is not easy, and is the reason why I give this trail an intermediate rating. While it was very slow going for us old ladies, we finally made it after a total of 3 and 1/2 hours.
Time to celebrate! We toast with a beer, take our pictures and sit for a little lunch. Soon enough the sun is covered by a big cloud and after a half hour we are ready to start back down. Although we thought that we had a late start, we pass a lot of hikers still headed toward the summit. For some reason Kerry and I always think that the way down should be a lot shorter. But we forget that old knees cannot run down scree any faster than they climbed up. And while we do hike downhill faster, we don’t hike twice as fast. It takes us about 3 hours to descend, and at the bottom we are sure that we have taken a wrong turn and we “don’t remember” that rock or tree… Let’s face it, we both love the way up and think the way down is just a necessary evil. All summits should have zip lines back down.
By the time we reach the car, we feel rain drops – perfect timing for a lovely day of hiking. Of the 50 States high points, this is my 3rd and Kerry’s 4th. Once off the mountain and showered we explored downtown Flagstaff – loads of great bars and restaurants. I definitely recommend this hike & town for a great weekend. Wish you all could come along. Next peak in the planning is Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina.