Training has begun

Remember when I said in my last post that I was planning a DIY hiking event? Well, it’s (still) on and I did a training hike yesterday which felt really good and I’m still feeling kind of proud of myself for doing it.

This weekend is a long weekend for me, as Monday is Columbus Day/Indigenous People’s Day (choose your preferred name), so my first thoughts were “when should I hike?” and “what should I hike?” I was suffering from indecision until late Friday night, when I decided to do a solo hike of a loop trail in South Mountain: the Pyramid–National trail–Bursera (PNB) loop. Total distance is about 11 miles/18 km and total elevation gain is almost 2500 feet/762 m.

My thought was that if I finished that hike and could walk somewhat normally the next day, I would probably be able to finish my DIY hiking event. Well, I did finish my hike yesterday and I can actually walk normally today, so I’m cautiously confident that I will be able to finish the 7 hikes in my DIY event in one day. (I’ll continue training over the next month, though….I don’t want to assume anything!)

(FYI, the statistics for the PNB loop hike are just under half of what I would complete if I successfully climb all 7 summits in my DIY challenge. I suppose one could consider my PNB loop hike a test of my current fitness. I would say that I passed.)

I really enjoyed my PNB loop hike and REALLY REALLY enjoyed the cooler temperatures! The high temperature yesterday was only 28C / 82F….I started hiking at 7:45am because I didn’t have to start my hike at some awful early hour to avoid the heat….there was a nice breeze….the ocotillos were so green because of the recent rains we’ve received….it was just a nice morning. I even brought a baby Coke with me as a “halfway point” reward. As usual, it tasted AMAZING. It’s the little things in life!

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It’s still too hot!

Happy September, my dear readers! I hope your September is cooler than mine; although the calendar indicates that it is now autumn, here in Phoenix, the average high temperature is still hovering around 105F (40C), which sadly is lower than last month.

GO.AWAY.SUMMER.

Despite the summer-in-fall temperatures, I’m managing to look ahead to winter-in-Phoenix, i.e. November, and all of the lovely opportunities to play outside ANY TIME OF THE DAY. It will be SO NICE not to wake up at some unearthly hour just to breathe fresh air and not get baked/fried by the sun.

(Can you tell I am tired of the heat?)

One opportunity to play outside is Phoenix’s annual “7 summit challenge,” which occurs in mid-November. This event challenges hikers to hike 7 different summits in the Phoenix metropolitan area in one day. If successful, hikers will have hiked about 25 miles (40 km) over the day, achieving about 5000 ft (1525 m) of elevation gain. My SAT (self-appointed trainer) and I were on holiday in Canada when registration opened up, so we missed our chance….or did we? I really wanted to do this event and thought that I may as well organize my own DIY 7 summit challenge. (Why pay good money to hurt yourself when you can do it for free?) I’m currently in the initial stages of finding other willing “hiker-victims” and mapping out logistics.

Of course, in addition to planning my actual DIY summit challenge, I have to train for it. A friend suggested hiking Camelback mountain yesterday, a very popular local hike. Hikers can use 1 of 2 trails to the top, both of which are short (each trail is about 1.25 miles long) and steep (~1700 ft gain for each trail). However, instead of hiking up one side, she said we should do Camelback “over and back,” i.e. hike up one side and down to the bottom of the other side, then back up and over to where we started. “That sounds good!” I said.

The reality:

  • Start hiking at 5:50am, i.e. before sunrise. Temperature was in the low 70s/25C, so was bearable. Not having the sun beat down on you was also nice.
  • Watch sunrise! This was pretty and (almost) made the ridiculously early start (almost) worth it.

IMG_6644

  • Become hot, sticky, and sweaty. Remain hot, sticky, and sweaty for the rest of the hike.
  • Worry about the possibility of falling and not being able to get back up due to leg cramps, fatigue, and general crankiness.
  • Cry with joy (internally) when we reached the car.

As a post-hike treat, I packed some baby Cokes into a little cooler bag. THAT WAS AMAZING. Do not underestimate the power of sugary carbonated liquid….magical.

I’m happy to report that my legs are still in working order and I’m looking forward to getting myself into better hiking shape so I can conquer the 7 summits….stay tuned. 🙂

Exercising to exorcise (memories)?

On Saturday, my hiking trio (my SAT–self-appointed trainer–Ian, and myself) drove up to Payson to hike the Barnhardt trail. My longtime blog followers may recognize that name; it was only in January when we summitted Mazatzal Peak. Part of that hike included the Barnhardt trail, but unfortunately, we only got to experience the trail at the end of our hike, which meant a lot of what we saw looked like this:

black

My memories of Mazatzal Peak are not warm and fuzzy. They are cold, painful, and bring tears to my eyes. In an attempt to exorcise those unpleasant memories and to create new, positive ones of the Barnhardt trail, I suggested we hike the Barnhardt trail in daylight.

We started on the trail around 7:45am and the temperature was in the mid 70sF. It was still fairly humid, though, so I wasn’t feeling as cool as I would have liked. The trail is very pretty and we saw lush green vegetation all around us, due to the recent rains. We even saw some gorgeous butterflies enjoying the breeze. For the record, we did NOT see any gorgeous butterflies the last time we hiked this trail.

 

I’m not sure how far we went, as there is no summit point for the Barnhardt trail (this trail connects up with numerous other trails but does not lead up to Mazatzal Peak or any other peak), but according to Ian’s phone GPS, when we were almost at 6000 ft, the humidity was gone, leaving nothing but fantastic temperatures with a lovely breeze. Don’t forget the pretty views! I think we probably hiked about 4 to 4.5 miles when we decided to stop for a quick snack break before heading back down to the car.

 

 

Did this hike erase my previous memories of the Barnhardt trail? No, not really. While hiking, I couldn’t help compare my previous and current experiences:

  • darkness vs light;
  • cold vs warm(er);
  • painful vs pleasant;
  • lost vs not lost;
  • no Coke vs Coke;
  • no one read the hike description vs I read the hike description; and
  • angry/in despair/scared vs happy knowing that our lives were not in danger (that is not a joke).*

In any case, I enjoyed THIS hike on the Barnhardt trail and am looking forward to Phoenix’s winter and all the great hiking that awaits us!

*I suppose I still harbour some bitterness.

I felt cold yesterday!

It’s August in Phoenix, which means it’s still hot….and muggy….basically, July and August in Phoenix is like living in a desert sauna. Sure, we Phoenicians get a fantastic winter season, but our “tax” for that glorious winter weather is that “dry heat”/monsoon sauna each summer.

What do Phoenicians do to escape the summer heat? One of the most popular things to do is to drive up to Flagstaff and camp, hike, or bike. Flagstaff’s elevation is almost 7000 feet, which makes for drastically cooler temperatures compared to Phoenix. That said, yesterday, my friend Crystal and I drove to Flagstaff in order to hike the highest point in Arizona: Humphrey’s Peak. (Apparently, we were not the only ones with that idea, because we saw a lot of people on the trail). Also, I just learned today that yesterday (i.e. August 4) was the inaugural National Summit Day–what a serendipitous piece of news!

The weather was pretty much perfect: sun, no chance of thunderstorms or lightning, a brisk 46F/8C at the summit. Humphrey’s Peak stands 12633 ft/3851 m high and is actually not a difficult hike; total round-trip distance from the Arizona Snowbowl trailhead just outside Flagstaff (the easiest trail of the 2-3 different trails to the summit) is almost 10 miles and total elevation gained is 3303 ft/1006 m. The biggest variable is whether altitude sickness will hit you. Crystal and I had hiked Humphrey’s before, but it had been a few years for both of us. We were both out of hiking shape too, so we agreed to hike at a moderate pace with breaks, if necessary (of course breaks are necessary!).

I’m happy to report that we successfully summited Humphrey’s and got to enjoy being cold! No altitude sickness for us, although we did experience the expected shortness of breath and leaden legs as we neared the summit. We got to the top in 3 hrs and 50 minutes and completed the descent in 2 hours 50 minutes, i.e. going downhill was much easier and faster. One of the best things about hiking is the food afterwards and we celebrated with some Chick-fil-a and Starbucks. Yay for cold summer temperatures, good company, successful summits, and FOOD!

 

Pine trees galore

Summer in Phoenix is not a joke. It is “normal” to have temperatures of 95F (35C) by 7am. But “normal” does not mean “enjoyable.” The heat gets oppressive, which means Phoenicians have to find places to escape to, if only for a few hours. That’s what we did today–we drove up to Pine (about 1 hr 45 minutes’ drive from home) to hike the Pine Canyon Trail, with our friend, Ian. Best part of the day? Hiking in the morning without the danger of heatstroke. Second best part of the day? Drinking my can of ginger ale (I didn’t have any baby Cokes!).

The Pine Canyon Trail starts at the aptly-named Pine Canyon trailhead, just outside of Pine, AZ. Ok, so the names aren’t the most original, but they work! Some online hike descriptions say that the distance end-to-end is 8 miles, while other descriptions say 12 miles. If one were to hike the trail “out and back,” that would have been a minimum of 16 miles, a distance none of us were ready to do today. So, we decided to hike about half of the trail, then turn around and hike back to the trailhead, for a total of 10+ miles. The trail is well-marked, easy to follow, and features a gradual (i.e. gentle) incline (at least, the first 4-5 miles we did were gentle).

It was a lovely day, with lots of pine trees, some manzanita trees, and lots of greenery due to the recent rains. Also, Pine is a lot closer to us than Flagstaff, which is the more popular escape option for Phoenicians in the summer. I can’t wait for the fall…!

 

Cold in the desert

What the heck have I done the past few months? Nothing exciting, which is why Memorial Day weekend was great! My SAT (self-appointed trainer) and I joined our friends Carl, Lifan, Steve, and Ian for our (sort of) annual mountain biking camping weekend near Prescott. I did go on a few “training” mountain bike rides in anticipation of the Memorial Day weekend trip, during which I saw a gila monster (!) and saguaro cacti in bloom:

Currently, there are fire restrictions in place all around Arizona, which means camping spots are super limited. A lot of campgrounds are closed, including most primitive camping areas. However, we decided to do the primitive camping thing at Thumb Butte, which was open (the fire pits were taped up as a visual reminder not to start campfires).

The temperature was lovely and cool, albeit windy (the highs were in the high 60sF/low 70s….a.k.a. low 20s celsius). I was actually cold and delighted in wearing my favourite puffy jacket.

puffy

Phoenix has been heating up a lot lately, i.e. we are basically back to cookie-baking temperature now, so enjoying the cooler weather in Prescott was a treat. Being outside at noon is always more fun when you’re not concerned about heatstroke.

My SAT has gotten into archery recently, and brought his bow, arrows, and practice target on the weekend to practice. Here he is, pretending to be Robin Hood:

archery

Whenever we camp with our friends, one of the highlights is making s’mores around the campfire. Sadly, that did not happen this year due to the fire restrictions. However, Lifan made some s’mores bark that was absolutely delicious! I would have included a photo of the bark, but we ate it too quickly. I am DEFINITELY making some s’mores bark for the next camping trip, even if campfires are allowed.

Trails make hiking easier.

Yesterday, we (me, my SAT–“self-appointed trainer”, and our friend Ian) joined another Meetup group on a hike up to the highest point in the western Superstition mountains: Superstition Peak 5057. Not the most creative name for a peak, but it’s definitely descriptive. As you may have guessed, the elevation at the summit is 5,057 feet. (Official statistics from hikearizona.com: 7.8 miles round-trip and 3000 feet elevation gain.) It was a lovely day with good company, beautiful views, and an actual TRAIL! Another bonus of hiking with this Meetup group vs the last one: we took a few breaks! That last point is really important because that meant I could breathe.

We started from the Hieroglyphic trailhead in Gold Canyon, so named because of the petroglyphs you will see:

(Clarification point: “hieroglyphs” refer to stylized pictures of objects that represent different words, syllables, or sounds, as found in ancient Egyptian and other writing systems. “Petroglyphs” refer to rock carvings, especially prehistoric ones. I think that the specimens we saw are actually petroglyphs because they looked more like rock carvings than a quasi-writing system, but I’m not an archeologist.)

After the canyon, we followed the trail up to the saddle. The trail is fairly steep the whole way, but the group took a few breaks to breathe, regroup, and enjoy the views. Some online hike descriptions warned potential hikers that the last mile before the saddle features a grade of almost 30%. My legs certainly felt the steepness of that section.

We finally reached the saddle and had a last break before the final push to the top. The summit was probably about 10-15 minutes away from the saddle.

Then, the summit. The views from the top are fantastic and it was lovely to soak in the landscape (and to sit down).

We took the same trail back down and boy, was that hard on my quads! In addition to descending the same steep trail we took up, we had to deal with a lot of loose rock, which made the way a bit slippery in spots. Some folks ended up with minor cactus puncture wounds from accidentally grabbing onto them whilst losing their balance. Despite those minor setbacks, it was a great day to get out in nature and meet new people.