I. Need. Shade.

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.

Kendrick Peak Trailhead
Kendrick Peak, Flagstaff AZ / Round Trip: 9.2 mi / Elevation Gain: 2,718 ft

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.

Kendrick Peak HikeThe 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. Kendrick Peak HikeBut 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.

Kendrick Peak Hike
San Francisco Peaks (Humphreys, Agassiz, Fremont, Aubineau, Rees, and Doyle)

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.]

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Kendrick Peak Hike
My first glimpse of impending conquest!

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.

Kendrick Peak Hike
U.S. Forest Service Lookout Tower

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.

Happy Trails!
Dee 

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“Oh Hi… Mr Freakishly Large Black Bear!”

 

We need to get the heck out of here!

So, what should one say when confronted by a 600 lb black bear? I can’t say for sure, but “Oh, hi” doesn’t really seem to fit the bill. At least not for most people. But then, I’m not like most people… I’m a Bear Whisperer!

Do I have your attention? Great!

Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop, Flagstaff AZ

First Lesson Learned… Sometimes finding the trailhead can be harder than the actual hike. 

Before taking on this hike I read an article about the Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop trail which, in its directions on how to get there, listed a forest road that apparently does not exist. After a futile search and a bit more investigation,  we finally learned that the correct road is Forest Road 151, off highway 180. Which I am listing here so you don’t have to suffer needlessly, as we did, in trying to locate this awesome trail.

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This loop can be hiked in either direction, and we ( Kscrazy1 and Clutch) chose to start at Bear Jaw Trail and come down the Abineau side. It’s a 6.8 mile loop, with an elevation gain of 1800 ft. A word of warning, about halfway up Bear Jaw the trail gets fairly steep and is a bit of a grunt to climb, but the reward of being led to groves of tall Aspen trees quickly makes the sweat well worth it. It also provides the perfect place to rest, drink some water, and sit in awe of your surroundings.

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Second Lesson Learned… “DO NOT FEED THE BEARS”

When we reached the top of Bear Jaw trail (which ends on the rather wide and flat Waterline Road) Clutch and I were hungry and decided to sit by a rock in the shade just a few feet from the trailhead to have our lunch. As I ate my sandwich I began throwing large chunks of my bread roll into the woods behind me. I didn’t feel like eating all that bread, so why not leave a treat for a hungry critter? il_570xN.362581243_51kj(Did I just break a cardinal rule?) Eventually I turned my head to see where my bread was landing, and instead of finding bread I found a very large bear standing no more than 20 feet away, watching me intently. Our eyes met and I gave him a bit of a calm, “Oh, hi”. This calmness in me was rather odd, considering I’m the type of girl to scream bloody murder when a moth flies into my car. I reached for my camera just as Clutch turned his head to see what “hiker” I was so sweetly greeting. When to his surprise the “hiker” turned out to be a huge bear, he immediately stood up and said “We need to get the heck out of here!”. Apparently Clutch was more in his right mind than I was. As we both stood, the huge Cinnamon colored bear turned and bolted down the trail we had just climbed up (pictured on left). The thunderous sound this (obviously 600+ lb) bear made as he high-tailed it away from us was akin to a bulldozer knocking over trees!

Third Lesson Learned… NEVER, NEVER, NEVER RUN FROM A BEAR!

I started walking down the road, as directed by Clutch, while he went back to get our gear we left in the shade. I turned around just in time to see a SECOND, even LARGER, bear charging toward Clutch. He started running toward me, yelling as he turned his head to look at the bear gaining on him. At this moment, I calmly said, “Stop running”. Now, you are probably thinking I suddenly remembered what I had Yup-Don-t-Poke-The-Bear-You-Cant-Run-From-It-Play-Dead-Chuck-Norris-Would-Just-Bitch-Slap-That-450x420read in some survival book, as to what one should do when confronted by a bear; i.e. ‘don’t run or you will be chased’, etc. And you might assume I had Clutch’s best interest at heart. But you would be wrong on both accounts. Honestly, I just didn’t want him bringing the charging bear in my direction! So far, I would say that my reaction in this crisis has been far from stellar. Thankfully, the second bear made a sudden, sharp detour off Clutch’s trail and barreled down the same path as the other bear.

As the dust settled, Clutch and I looked at each other without a word. Then we slowly retrieved our gear and continued down the path toward the Abineau trailhead at Waterline Road. My first words since the ” stop running” comment were, “I can’t believe you didn’t let me get a picture of that bear!” (The picture above is the closest I could find to what we encountered.)  Clutch looked at me incredulously and said, “I saved your life, you’re welcome”.

Oh, and for the record, the stories you hear about idiots approaching bears to get a good picture? When their dead bodies are found holding their cameras with the last picture recorded being a close up of a bear, everyone assumes the idiot approached the bear; now I am living proof that sometimes a bear approaches you. So no more judging!

The steep climb down Abineau trail greeted us with lovely views and snow covered trails. We noted an abundance of fallen trees across the trail and wondered if, perhaps they were the victim of spring winds causing micro-bursts to whip across the mountain side again and again. As we climbed over and around trees we talked of nothing else but the bears. We laughed at my abnormally calm greeting to the bear. I am here to say I did not feel threatened at all. IF I had been alone, I’m pretty sure I would have tried to get a selfie hugging that bear. Whether that reaction was shock, stupidity, or it just so happens I have no fear of bears, it is still a little baffling. But after analyzing the encounter for a few days I have come to this conclusion:

I am a Bear Whisperer.

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USGS MAP, LOCATION & ACCESS, ELEVATION, AND GPS INFORMATION