I’ll be the first to admit that I am a Grade A Wimp when it comes to heat. And by heat, I mean anything above 80 degrees. Actually, I’m being quite generous, because I really prefer mid-70’s. Now, I know what you’re thinking… I’m going to be in a lot of trouble on the Colorado Trail if I don’t start training in warmer temps. Well, consider this hike my first.
Not that it’s my first time on the trail. It’s my third, to be exact. But it is my first during a state-wide heatwave. A true heatwave. Not just my personal version of a heatwave. I’m talking record-breaking temps. So, what do we decide to do with our day? Hike Kendrick Peak. Late morning of all things; 10am, 89 degrees and rising. What were we thinking??
Before you start hating this trail as much as I did at that moment, I should tell you that Kendrick Peak actually rocks. It’s one of the highest of a dozen or so mountains within the San Francisco Volcanic Field in Northern Arizona. That not only makes for a challenging hike, but the views at this elevation are spectacular (one of which is Mt Humphreys, the featured image for this post and the highest point in Arizona) and that makes it an even cooler (figuratively speaking) place to hike!
Interesting fact: Kendrick Peak is technically not a mountain at all. It’s what is called a lava dome. It was formed approximately 2.7 to 1.4 million years ago (depending on your source) as a result of a series of volcanic eruptions in the region; as are all of the mountains within the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
The trail starts out in the Ponderosa Pines, but it quickly climbs out of the trees and begins a series of switchbacks across the face of the mountain. Due to significant fire damage, as well as the steep grade of the switchbacks, there is very little in the way of overhead vegetation. In fact, except for a spattering of shade under trees here and there (patches too small to provide relief while moving, but perfect for a brief pause to cool down as needed), the first 4 miles of the trek is almost entirely exposed to the sun. To be fair, this is only an issue in the summer. And during heatwaves. The lack of shade is actually a godsend during the majority of the year, and makes the trail passable even during the winter months. But as we learned earlier, I am a heat wimp, so all I can think about is how hot I am right now, and not how truly great this trail is during the rest of the year. As I feel my strength ebb and flow with the patches of shade, I begin to understand how a person could literally fall off the side of a mountain as the heat inside and outside their body rises. Though I’ve not yet reached the point of fearing spontaneous combustion, or toppling over the edge, I do feel slightly light-headed and my pit stops in the intermittent shade are becoming increasingly more frequent. As I begrudgingly place one foot in front of the other, refusing to concede defeat, I quickly realize that I’m not the only one struggling, as I begin passing others huddled in the tiny spaces under the occasional tree.
Just as I feel my strength begin to wane, I round the final switchback and find my oasis… the half-mile home stretch to the Forest Service Tower at the summit. The forested and shaded home stretch!
Such a welcome sight! A stark contrast to the past 4 miles of trail.
[Side note: The below cabin is actually the original lookout cabin built in 1911 that was used for many years before the current tower was built. This cabin is still in good condition and can actually be used in case of inclement weather, or maybe even to spend a night in emergency situations. Inside you’ll find a bed, a table, and a journal to leave your thoughts for fellow hikers; all courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service.]
This segment of the trail is my favorite. And not just for the obvious reasons, though relief from the sun and heat is reason enough, but because it’s so incredibly beautiful and varied. It’s almost as if I’ve secretly and suddenly been transported to another trail on another mountain; full of birds and other critters, and an abundance of vegetation and trees. Just being here has revived my strength and lightened my spirit.
After visiting the tower, reuniting with my hubby (who I sent on ahead of me in a fit of heat-induced frustration), a light lunch, and a brief rest, we headed back down the trail. Together.
There are varying reports as to the round trip length of this trail, however, we’ve used a GPS tracker during our climb on two separate occasions, and both times we’ve registered 9.2 miles round trip.
This trail is rated as challenging: due to significant elevation gain, lack of any water source, and the effects of fire damage.
Remember, Arizona is HOT. Even Flagstaff at times. So bring plenty of food and water, wear a hat, and start earlier or later in the day to avoid the full strength of the sun. And whatever else you do, avoid hiking this trail during a heatwave.
Click below for:
usgs map, location & access, Elevation, and gps information