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(May 5th - May 6th, 2008 - Flagstaff, Arizona)
Monday morning, Chuck, my Flagstaff host, dropped me off back at the hotel in Flagstaff where he picked me up the night before. He teased me, “Dave, I would be happy to drive you up to Schultz Pass and save you the hassle of the walk out of town.” “No way Chuck,” I replied, “I’ve got to walk every bit of the Arizona Trail, can’t miss a single step.” Type-A obsessive personality I guess, but there you go. I really did feel compelled to walk every step so I could hopefully some day say, “I walked the Arizona Trail” and really mean it. So he dropped me off in the hotel parking lot and took off to work while I followed city streets and sidewalks north towards the San Francisco Peaks. It wasn’t long at all before I left the concrete and stepped onto one of the numerous Flagstaff city trails.
It seemed to me that Flagstaff is Arizona’s most progressive city when it comes to supporting outdoor recreation. The city has a fantastic network of trails that are heavily used by walkers and bicyclists. The city trail network is integrated with surrounding Forest Service trails where practical, which result in miles and miles of recreational opportunities - literally on the doorsteps of Flagstaff residents. This transition from city to forest was very pleasant and easy.
By mid afternoon, I had completed the hike up Shultz Creek to the road head at Schultz Pass, about 1,000 feet above Flagstaff. At the road head, I just about jumped out of my socks when a car horn blared out behind me. Turning around, I was surprised to see two familiar faces behind the windshield: John, who services the Summit Hut for Mountain Hardwear, one of our favorite gear brands, and my brother Mitch. With a big smile John offered me a beer and observed, “Its Cinco de Mayo Dave, we thought we would come up and celebrate the occasion with you!” Quite a surprise! Mitch and John suggested that we drive back down to Flagstaff and properly finish celebrating the holiday at a local Mexican food restaurant and return the next morning to the trail head after a good night’s sleep in a hotel. What a fun evening it was.
Friends on the Trail, John (left) and Mitch (right)
Back at the trailhead next morning, I stepped onto the Weatherford Trail and started out toward the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, which encompasses nearly 20,000 acres on the San Francisco Peaks. This is one of the most scenic landscapes in the entire state and offers fantastic hiking, learn more here: http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/recreation/peaks/kachina-peaks-wild.shtml .
When they dropped me off at the road head, Mitch looked up and commented, “Looks like you might get some weather today Dave.” “I really doubt it” I confidently replied, “May is a reliably stable month as far as weather goes, in fact I haven’t worn my rain jacket once the entire trip.” None-the-less, by the time I reached the Snow Bowl late in the morning, the sky had gone dark and gray, a cold wind had sprung up, and sounds of deep thunder started booming off the high ridges above. Incredibly, light flurries of snow started to swirl as I stepped into the forest west of the ski area and began to bushwhack one of the few trail-less sections of the Arizona Trail.
Clouds and Aspens along the Weatherford Trail
It proved to be one of the best afternoons of the entire hike. The storm added a sense of beautiful drama to the situation as I moved through the deep woods among thick stands of trees and large snow patches still melting from winter. I took great advantage of game trails zigging and zagging across the mountain side. My GPS unit (http://www.summithut.com/products/etrex-vista-hcx/ ) eased the problems of navigation tremendously and made it relatively easy to make good time. While researching the trip on the web months before, Jim had come across a link with waypoints for this as yet un-established section of the Arizona Trail and he had given them to me to load onto my GPS. The route the waypoints marked worked out very well as I swung around the western flanks of Mount Humphreys in the snow storm.
The route finally broke out of the deep forest on the western flank of Mount Humphreys and by mid afternoon clouds and mist swirled around the peaks as the snow stopped and the storm began to clear. Later I began descending towards a vast field of ancient volcanic cinder cones rising out of a juniper studded plateau which stretched north towards the Grand Canyon. Slowly the San Francisco Peaks fell away behind me.
Late in the afternoon I belatedly realized I was low on water. I took a short detour to check for water at a place called Bonita Tank, but it was dry as a bone. A check of the Data Book indicated that my next water chance would come tomorrow morning at East Cedar Tank. It seemed that I had an adequate supply till then. This long, 27 mile day ended a few miles beyond a cinder cone called Missouri Bill Hill.