Agua Caliente

One of the drawbacks of spending so much time out hiking in Anza-Borrego is the long drive to get there. Recently I purchased a Luno Air Mattress for my Subaru Outback. This kit comes with two inflatable cushions that fill the rear footwells and a mattress specifically designed to fit the rear of the car. This seemed like a great solution to make overnighting a bit more comfortable. My test run was out at Agua Caliente County Park. I was meeting Greg Gerlach the next morning to go climb Stage Benchmark and rather than waking up early like I normally would, I would just camp out instead. The mattress inflated quickly and once I figured out the custom sheet I was set up in under 10 minutes. This will be nice over the summer when I hope to explore more of the eastern Sierras and points beyond.

Since I wanted to make I got everything set up while there was still light, I had some time to kill before I cooked dinner. I headed down to the trails near the ranger station and set off. The first trail I took was up to the Desert Overlook. A nice little climb for a good view of the campground. Store Benchmark stood above me, but that is for another day. Returning to a junction I wandered down to the Marsh Trail. A mortero was near the marsh, reminding us that there were those before us.

Retracing my path up from the marsh, I turned on to the Ocotillo Ridge trail. This followed a ridge to the south and back down to a trail that could take you to the store, which was closed today.

As I made my way back to the ranger station, I spotted a bobcat dart off the trail. I circled around where it fled and spotted it sitting on a rock. Nice! I left it alone and returned to my camp to prep my dinner. Sadly, the skies are overcast so no star gazing for me.

Hieroglyphic Trail

Since I was in Tempe for Arizona State University’s Family Weekend, I had limited time to get in a proper hike. I had finally hiked the “A” the day before, but on Sunday I had a bit more availability to get some trail time. I settled on doing the Hieroglyphic Trail out in the Superstition Wilderness. I had seen the signs for this trail back when I hiked Fremont Saddle. This 3-mile round trip hike was just the right length to let me get back to the hotel to shower and check out. The sunrise was spectacular, but since I was alone, I could not safely capture it on my phone. Where’s Ted when you need him!? I pulled into the parking lot and about 6 or 7 cars were already there. Both the Hieroglyphic trail and the Lost Goldmine Trail start from here.

The trail works its way toward a massive collection of petroglyphs near the mouth of the canyon. Clear signage was in place at the junction for the two trails. The trail is a typical desert trail, with some rocky sections and some dirt sections. I scrambled down one minor section just before reaching the petroglyphs. 

I carefully explored the petroglyphs carved into the surrounding rocks, watching my footing, as the rocks were slick from water flowing down the canyon. I certainly did not want to slip into that pool of stagnant water. Since I did have a timeline to stick to, I did not linger as long as I might have wanted to. I passed more and more folks heading up the trail. It was certainly a popular one, as the parking lot was almost completely full upon my return. 

Hayden Butte (aka The “A”)

While my son has attended Arizona State University for two years now, I never seemed to have to the time to hike up The “A”. On my last visit I made sure I got the quick hike in. Located next to the football stadium, it is just 3/4 miles round-trip. I opted to approach it from the west trail to the summit. This is just a paved service road to the water tanks. Once it reaches the tanks, the trail becomes a mix of concrete stairs and railroad ties almost the summit. It is a popular work-out trail for students and nearby residents.

I made my way to the top with no issues. I was surprised to see the benchmark still embedded on the summit. I made my way back down using a different route for the second half of the descent. Maybe next time, I can wake up my son and have him join me :).

Old Survey Road 97

Just around the corner from the Ramona Grasslands, is the Old Survey Road. Old Survey Road 97 was once the main thoroughfare connecting Ramona and Escondido. This trail is only opened for about 3 months out of the year by the county. You need a free permit to do this hike and only 50 hikers per day are allowed on the trail. I convinced a couple of other friends to join me on this adventure.

The trail is not too challenging, although it has some elevation gain toward the turn-around point. Unlike the last time I did this hike, we had a nice cloud cover to keep us nice and cool. We got to the trailhead just before 8 am. Once the ranger was set up, we checked in and set off down the trail. 

At the trail’s end, some grabbed a snack before making the climb back up. Partway up, I stopped to see how they were fairing and spotted a nice rainbow to the west. One of the primary features of this hike is passing the nesting area for a pair of Golden Eagles. Unfortunately, their nests are a fair distance away. Some folks had come to this spot with some seriously long lenses to try to capture them. One photographer shared one photo he grabbed earlier in the day. Once back at the car, we headed off to have some lunch at Mi Ranchito. 

Mount Elden

The previous day’s ascent of Bill Williams took a bit out of me. That, coupled with a slightly worse weather forecast, meant the planned hike up Kendrick peak was not going to happen. Instead, I opted to summit Mt. Elden, which is all of 10 minutes from my friend’s house.

Mt. Elden

I grabbed a biscuit from McDonald’s and ate it while I finished getting ready. If you have ever driven through Flagstaff and seen the tall mountain right in town, that is Mt. Elden. The parking lot was almost full when we got there at 7:30. 

The trail starts off fairly gently before the steep ascent to the summit. My friend’s husband decided to join me. He had hiked it years ago and wanted to try again. But about a mile in, he looks down to discover the soles of his hiking boots have separated. I dug out my duct tape to hold them together enough for him to return to the trailhead and call his wife. One of the benefits of an in-town hike with cell service! I then set off.

I was extra mindful that I was at altitude and kept a measured pace. This trail was much rockier than Bill Williams. A friend described this hike as like doing Viejas Mountain but 3x harder. I can attest that is about right. 

The trail would work its way up the steep slope, switching back and forth. Hikers would pass me returning from the summit and a couple would pass me on their ascent. I would stop from time to time to catch my breath and to take in the view.

Soon, the lookout tower and all the other towers came into view. I found a shady spot and just sat there for a while. Once I had recovered, I wandered around the summit. The views were spectacular. I could see Kendrick to the northwest and Humphrey to the north. Clouds were starting to build, so I was glad to have changed up my plans. I found both reference marks and the benchmark. 

I had made the summit in 2:30, and after about 30 minutes at the top I knew it was time to head down. Given the steep rocky nature of the trail, I did not expect to gain much time like I had on Bill Williams. I stopped a few times to chat with folks making their way up. Finally the 1/2 mile to go sign appeared and the end was in sight. It had gotten a tad warm, but a strong breeze offset that. All told I recorded this hike at 5.40 miles. It took me 5:02 to climb the 2,405 feet to the summit.

Bill Williams

With our local forests still closed, I got the ok to head out on another hiking adventure. This time I decided to head to Flagstaff to try some of their Six Pack peaks. I left San Diego at 4:30 am, in part of avoid some LA traffic, but since there were afternoon showers and thunderstorms in the forecast, I also needed to be mindful of that.

Can some tell where Bill Williams #1-#20 are?

There are four peaks in the general Flagstaff area; Humphreys, Kendrick, Mt. Elden and Bill Williams. Since Bill Williams is near the town of Williams, that was my first stop for the weekend. I pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead and set off. The trail is incredibly well marked with green blazes to guide you along. I set off a bit too fast and the elevation gently reminded me to ease up my pace. My starting elevation was 6,900’. 

The trail worked its way ever upward. Some nice collections of wildflowers would be found for much of the hike. I did have to break out the bug net as the flies were just bothersome enough. As I continued climbing, I kept an eye on the skies. A few clouds here and there but all looked good. The trees kept me from having any views of the area, but just walking under the pines and eventually some aspens made up for that.

The trail connects with a service road almost at the summit. It was here I met another hiker. We chatted a bit before heading in our respective directions. The summit is home to a variety of communication towers and a fire lookout tower. There were two service trucks and two off-road vehicles parked near the top. I chatted with the off-roaders a bit before heading to the tower.

While the tower is closed, you can climb part way up. As I sat on the stairs having a well earned snack, I was soaking in the views. I found one reference mark but that was it. Being mindful of the weather and needing to still get to Flagstaff to stay with a college friend and her husband, I set back down the trail.

It certainly was easier coming down from 9,256 feet than the climb up. Back at the car I logged the hike at 7.8 miles in 4:52, with an elevation gain of 2,371 feet.

Kanaka Loop

Decided to return to the Santa Ysabel East Preserve and hiking the Kanaka Loop again. Two fellow peak-baggers had just hiked this as part of their attempt to do the Julian Hiking Challenge in a day. One of the issues they ran into was the gate to the parking area doesn’t open until about 8 am. Since it was Labor Day, I had no problem “sleeping in” before driving out to the trailhead. As I made my way onto Wyola Road, I spotted the County Park Ranger’s truck two cars ahead of me. Passing the trailhead for Volcan Mountain, there were already about 15 cars parked along the side of the road. The ranger unlocked the gate, and I followed him in. I gathered my gear, then chatted with the ranger for a bit before heading off.

The trail initially follows Santa Ysabel Creek for the first 1.5 miles. A few cows milled about chopping on the dried grasses. The trail would duck in and out of the shade from the oak trees. There were some bugs buzzing about. Initially, I ignored them, but I finally stopped and broke out the bug net. Along the way, a new throne had been created from the stump from a fallen red oak.

I crossed over the creek and began the climb up to Kanaka Flats. The trail climbs about 300 feet in just under 7/10ths of a mile, so you will get a nice workout after the relatively flat first section.

The Kanaka Loop is about 2.5 miles total. I debated if I want to go clockwise or counterclockwise. I opted to go clockwise. This meant continuing to climb a bit more to the high point on this trail. Once near the selfie spot from the Coast to Crest Challenge, I found some shade under some nearby pines and took a short break. The day was getting warm and for much of the loop, there was going to be no shade.

After the break, I set off again. I was surprised I had not seen any more cows. As I approached the western end of the loop, I saw two ranchers tending to the herd that was currently corralled. I guess that answers that question about where the cows were. I gave a friendly wave to the ranchers and continued on.

As I descended back down to the creek, I kept an ear out for the ranchers, as I knew they would be driving back out. At the creek, I spotted the bridge just to the west of where I crossed, so no need to rock hop this time.

The hike back to the car was uneventful. One runner and two e-bike riders did pass me. The day certainly was heating up, and the idea of getting in a second hike quickly was dismissed. The heat is also was stopped my friend’s attempt as well. Back at the car, a family was just about to head out and asked if I had any sunscreen, which I glad lent to them. They were hoping to still find some berries to pick. I wished them good luck and to be mindful of the heat. I popped into Don’s Market and grabbed a cold soda and headed home. All told the hike was just over 7 miles with 1,050 feet of gain. I did the lollipop in 2:37 including my break.

Petit Jean State Park

While visiting my sister in Little Rock, my wife and I drove out to Petit Jean State Park. This park is about an hour west of where we were staying. Our first stop was the Cedar Falls Overlook trail. This short trail takes you down to where you can see the falls. Unfortunately, there was no water flowing, but it was still a lovely view.

We drove down to the lodge and took a look around. From there we drove a short distance to hike the Bear Cave Trail. We did the small loop, before retreating to our air-conditioned car.  I would love to come back during some cooler weather and explore more of the park.

Mount Magazine

Might not have scored a permit for Mt. Whitney, but I was able to summit another state’s high point, Mount Magazine in Arkansas. Towering at 2,753 feet, this was a short hike from the trailhead. The entire hike was under a mile and had about 140 feet of elevation gain. The summit had rocks arranged in the shape of the state. Unfortunately, there is no view from the summit.

Rae Lakes

As my permit dates for Rae Lakes began approaching, I started watching the weather forecasts with more interest. Initially, this was to figure out what I might need to pack. But as the days became closer and closer, I became more concerned about the conditions I might find myself in. This was going to be my first multi-day solo trip, so I was trending toward being extra cautious about the journey. Initially, the forecast called for a warm start, followed by a 20% chance of thunderstorms for the rest of the trip. That is manageable, as thunderstorms are common in the latter part of the day. But each day, the forecast kept trending in the wrong direction. That 20-30% chance became 30-40%, then 40-50%. In addition, the weather service also issued a Fire Weather Warning (which was later changed to a Red Flag Warning) for late Monday afternoon through Tuesday evening. They warned of dry lightning triggering fires and the high winds creating the possibility of it becoming fast-moving. Not really the conditions that I looked forward to hiking into. As I sat in my hotel in Visalia, I reached out to some of my more experienced backpacking buddies (David & Leslie/Mike) to get their take. They all agreed that it did not look like it was going to be a fun trip. The general consensus was to go ahead, get up early as planned and drive the 2 hours to Road’s End and consult with the ranger. If I liked what I heard, continue on to the first campsite and spend the night. Then I could make the call and decide if I want to continue or simply turn back. With that, I set my alarm for 4 am, and hit the pillow.

When I woke up. I checked the latest weather report and saw that it was looking more like 50-60% of thunderstorms and showers as well were now in the forecast. Given I had not camped in the rain, doing it for multiple days seemed like a poor option. I got to the permit station just a touch after 7 am. I spoke with Ranger Mary about the forecast and what her thoughts were. She basically asked, “How much do you like being wet?” That settled it, no loop for me this time, but I was still game for one night in the wilderness! So, I parked in the long-term lot, finished getting ready, and hit the trailhead just before 8 am. The forecast for Upper Paradise was to be in the low 80s, with a light breeze. I had hoped that my early start would let me stay ahead of the heat. I had not paid attention to the forecasted high, so I had no idea exactly what I might be racing against.

The trail is fairly flat for the first 1.9 miles until it reaches the junction of the Kings River and Bubbs Creek. Here I would take the left fork and begin ascending toward Paradise Valley. The sounds of the river were so refreshing. The views were as incredible as I had imagined. It was getting warmer as I pushed on. I had a liter of water in my interior water bladder, a liter in a side bottle, and 1 liter of Gatorade. I could feel my pace slow. At first, I thought I might be the added weight of 5 days of food, the extra clothing, and other items making it tougher. But, as I felt the sweat begin to soak my shirt, I knew that day was warmer than I had hoped for. 

At Mist Falls I took an extended break. Ate some of the oranges I brought for the first day and drank some more fluids. I decided to spend a bit of time in the shade and recharge before pressing on. Most everyone here were day-hikers. Oh, how I coveted their small light packs… I pressed on, being mindful of the temperatures. I dug out my cooling towel and wrapped it around my neck. 

I kept finding myself looking for a place to sit under some shade for a bit. I checked my position and the topography ahead of me. I gave serious consideration to throwing in the towel and bailing. I found another rest stop and refilled my side bottle with some cool water from the river (properly filtered of course). I finished my oranges but still could not think about having my proper lunch. I knew that this was not a good sign, so I tore open one of my goos and forced it down. 

As I made my way across the exposed switchbacks, I estimated the temperatures were either in the upper 80s or low 90s. This was going to take some serious effort if I was actually going to make camp. My spirits were getting crushed. I would move from shady section to shady section, pausing for a bit almost every time. Once I reached the southern end of the valley, I took another break and was able to eat my lunch. I again went to the river to filter more water, as my bladder had been completely emptied by this point. Rechecking the map, I was not too far from Middle Paradise campsite, so I pressed on. 

Passing through Lower Paradise, I could see the numerous dead trees and why this campsite is currently closed. I then spied the bear locker at Middle Paradise and said this was as far as I was going to go. I was the only one here, so picked a nice spot a bit back from the water, hoping the bugs would not be an issue. Thankfully, for most of the hike, they were not too bad.

I got some more water and then began to set up camp for the night. It was only 3:30 or so, but I just did not have the energy to hike another 2 or so miles to Upper Paradise. Eventually, 3 other hikers joined me at the site. And not soon after that, a doe strolled past us with not a care in the world. While soaking my feet in the cool water, I used my InReach to report in with my wife and give her my status.

My site had a fire ring, so I had planned for a small fire to pass the time later. I gathered some starter material and placed the pine needles in the pit. I then set off to find some downed wood that I could use. I started to smell the familiar smell of a campfire. I figured it must be from further down the trail. According to GaiaGPS, the Middle Paradise campsite was further north. I then looked over to the fire pit, and the started material had begun to smolder on its own! It seems the last users of this firepit had not properly put it out. Thankfully, I took care of it, but I was pissed. 

About 4 to 6 other hikers passed on through, pushing on toward Upper Paradise. I would say now that I had an extended break here, I probably could have pushed on. But, I was fine spending the night here. Later in the early evening, two more hikers also decided to find a spot to pitch their tents. It was one of them who spotted the bear as it passed around us. We watched it as it took a look at us. It looked to be about 2-3 years old and did not seem to have any tags or collar. Eventually, it wandered away. I certainly was going to be a bit more cautious for the evening. Since I was not needing 5 days of food I treated myself to a double dinner, being a bit more mindful of any unwanted company.