Archive for the ‘General Trail advice’ Category

Mormon Lake segment of the AZT – sort of.

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

This week, my son and I – for his birthday and his idea – hiked ore than 30 miles of the Arizona trail south of Flagstaff.

(Ben’s 16.)

We went roughly 35 miles over three days from a road north of Fisher Point to the Double Springs Campground near Mormon Lake. En route, we covered parts of two hikes I have written about: Sandys Canyon (above which towers Fisher Point) and Anderson Mesa.

We started on Monday (June 3, 2013) at about 12:30 pm at the furthest point south my dear, sainted mother could coax her Toyota Prius, which turns out to be about a mile south of Log Cabin Tank. From there, we followed the dirt road until it was heading clearly west. Realizing that this was running parallel t the AZT, but only a quarter mile north of it, we mad a brief run cross country due south, and soon found our target – the AZT on the rim of Walnut Canyon.

For the record, this was as close as we came to getting lost. So there.

I should also add that we greatly benefited from the recent maintenance and upgrades the AZT has received through this section. It is well marked and in good shape.

We paused for photos at Fisher Point, and then wound down into Sandys Canyon. The cave at the base of Fisher Point has acquired a hornet nest. The east flank of the canyon has suffered recent fire damage. Now you know.

The AZT leaves Sandys Canyon to bolt south over the greater part of Anderson Mesa. This was the only serious climb on day one, and the first time we began noticing our blisters.

You know how they always stress that you need to break in your boots before hiking in them. That;s good advice for day hikes, but that’s an absolute necessity for a multi-day hike. because whatever those boots are doing to your feet – they’re gonna keep doing, and it only gets worse (and worse) (and worse).

We made camp on top of the mesa just north of Marshall Lake. At this point, our blisters were only annoying.  We found some oaks to swing ur hammocks from. I saw elk. It was a good camp. In the morning, we pushed to the Anderson Mesa trailhead by the observatory (the working part – not the tourist part) where we had cached a gallon of water. That’s where we had breakfast.

We spent the rest of the day following the AZT across the lava-studded dome that is Anderson Mesa. Past Prime and Vail lakes (the part of the hike I wrote about) and further across what I called “either a meadow crowded with trees or a wide open forest, depending on how you wish to phrase it.” In general, despite the relative openness of the terrain, you can only see a hundred yards in any direction.

By this time, the blisters were a real problem.  I am between good hiking boots. Ben’s normal boots had failed zippers. But he and my wife and I are all within a half-size of each other. So he borrowed my work boots, and I borrowed my wife’s new hiking boots, and this worked for about 8 miles, and it was tolerable for the next five, but now 14 miles in we were both dealing with multiple blister points, and getting worse.

We contained the damage with a defensive rotation. I took the work boots – which are heavy, but broken in for me, and Ben continued on in my camp sandals. In this way, we continued without developing new blisters.

At the edge of the mesa, 24 miles in, we made camp deliberately close to the Horse lake trailhead. There was some optimism that some kind motorist would give me a ride to the car (still 12 miles distant) but this never worked out. I have forsworn any angry comments about this.

The next morning, feet have covered in bandages and duct tape, we started the last leg of our journey with careful steps.

These are my insights to hiking with blisters:

  • When you feel one coming – stop and treat it right then.  It really. really does only get worse.
  • You are going to go slower and stop more often. Pain saps energy. This is not a failure – it’s just damage control.
  • The worst part is starting after stopping for a while. Accept that you’re going to go slow, and let your pace develop gradually – like a semi-truck.
  • If you think about something else, your feet will find a stride. Oh – it will still hurt. Consider though, that thinking about every step doesn’t make it hurt less, but it does make the pain that much more obvious.
  • Keep some shoes or better sandals in the car. The sooner you get out of the boots, the better off you will be.

From the knees up, this last stretch of our hike was actually the most pleasant. The AZT passes through thick pines following the old RR grade, which is cool with both shade and history. It then skirts the slope of Mormon Mountain, which is a lot fo up and down, and much less fun. Perhaps the blisters color my perception here.

We stumbled into the Mormon Mountain TH, by Dairy Springs Campground, by lunchtime. We were psyching urselves up for the last two miles, when I was able to flag down a passing ATV truck thing, and those nice ladies gave a ride the last two miles to the car.


Will update later with pics and maps.

AZ Game and Fish warns of dangerous critters

Monday, April 9th, 2012

Straight from the AZ Game and Fish newsletter:

As temperatures rise, critters become active

Rattlers, scorpions, lizards ready for spring feeding


Arizona has entered its spring warming trend, and with warmer temperatures come those slithering, crawling, burrowing, and web-making critters people often fear.


“In a 2001 Gallup poll, 51 percent of adults cited snakes as their biggest fear and spiders were fifth,” said Zen Mocarski, public information officer for the Game and Fish Region 3 office in Kingman. “But, spiders, scorpions, rattlesnakes, the Gila monster, and a variety of other critters are part of life in Arizona. As it warms up, they’ll become increasingly more visible.”


The Arizona Game and Fish Department reminds the public that people who take the time to learn and educate themselves and their children can minimize the likelihood of a dangerous encounter.


Arizona serves as home to the most dangerous rattlesnake, spider, lizard, and scorpion in the nation. However, bites and stings aren’t as common as most might believe.


Mocarski worries most about young children who have a natural curiosity of their surroundings.


“Parents need to teach children not to pick up any type of wildlife,” he said. “Teach your kids to come and get you when they see something.”


The most commonly encountered rattlesnake in Arizona is the western diamondback, which also accounts for the most bites. And, while there is no such thing as a typical rattlesnake bite, the Mohave is accepted as the most dangerous, although the potency of its venom can vary from region-to-region.


“What’s the most dangerous rattlesnake?” Mocarski asked. “The one that bit you.”


Mocarski said accidental bites are rare and many incidents involve alcohol. However, if bitten, the rules to follow are simple.


“Remove any restrictive clothing and jewelry and get to a medical facility as quickly as possible,” he explained. “Forget what you’ve seen in movies and get treatment with anti-venom.


“Do not cut open the bite area and try to suck out the venom, don’t submerge the bite area in ice, and do not tie off the area with a tourniquet.”


While approximately 30 percent of rattlesnake bites are considered dry bites – those that do not require anti-venom treatment – a medical professional should make that determination.


In addition, do not spend time trying to capture or collect the rattlesnake. Identification is not necessary for treatment.


Understanding wildlife behavior can go a long way in avoiding bites and stings.


Rattlesnakes are cold blooded and have to work to try and maintain an ideal body temperature. During cooler times, such as evening hours, rattlesnakes will seek out a heat source such as pavement. During the heat of the day, they will seek shade.


Mocarski added that it is a myth that rattlers will always rattle before a strike.


“It’s our jobs to take certain precautions,” Mocarski said. “Keep a close eye on the sides of trails and never place your hands and feet in an area you can’t see.”


As for dogs, Mocarski said encounters with rattlesnakes can be dangerous.


“Dogs tend to be bitten around the face and neck,” he explained. “Training can help, but keeping your pet on a leash and close to your side will help avoid bites that occur as a result of a dog’s natural curiosity.”


For scorpions and spiders, Mocarski said to wear gloves when working around wood or rock piles and to shake out shoes that have been left outside. He added that open-toed shoes provide little protection.


Most scorpion stings are comparable to that of a bee. However, the sting of the bark scorpion can be more severe. Its sting can be harmful to young children, the elderly, and individuals in poor health.


“People need to remember that everyone reacts differently to venom,” Mocarski explained. “Pay attention to how your body is reacting. If someone is having trouble breathing, slurred speech, or nausea, following a bite or sting, they should probably seek medical attention.”


While all spiders are venomous, two factors must exist to be considered a threat to humans: the venom must be strong enough to do damage and their jaws must be able to break human skin. With these factors in mind, two spiders in the area are considered dangerous to humans: the brown (a relative of the brown recluse), and the black widow.


The Gila monster is the only dangerous lizard in North America. Its bite is extremely painful and can result in vomiting and convulsions. The Gila monster is also notorious for not letting go and victims have been known to show up at an emergency room with the lizard still attached.


“A Gila monster bite is not something an individual wants to experience,” Mocarski said. “The good news is that if people leave them alone, they’ll leave the people alone. I’ve never heard of an accidental Gila monster bite.”


Mocarski added that the Gila monster is protected and it is illegal to disturb, capture, or kill one. It is rarely seen, spending much of its life underground.


“All these animals are important parts of the ecosystem,” Mocarski explained. “Rattlesnakes help keep rodent populations under control while scorpions and spiders feast on a number of different types of insects.


“They’ve been here a long time. It’s our job to learn to live with them, not their job to learn to live with us.”

Pre-hike checklist

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

First, for those who may not have been able to follow the story, the Schultz fire is fully contained. You can see a couple spots on the mountain that still smoke, but those are deep within the burn zone.

Most of the eastern and central slopes of the San Francisco Peaks remain closed.

But I have a plan as soon as they open…

On that subject, as promised earlier:

Checklist for hikers

(and hiking guide authors)

Items that pertain to normal people are written normally.

(Items that pertain only to guidebook authors are in parentheses).


  1. Pick a hike. Don’t just drive somewhere and hope for inspiration.
  1. Pick the best hike feasible. Never skip a good hike for a mediocre hike thinking, “I’ll get to that other hike soon enough…” Weather/health/family/jobs sabotage hiking opportunities all the time. (If you haven’t prioritized your hike list by coolness vs accessibility, go do that now.)
  1. Do a little research. This, of course, depends on how comfortable you are with uncertainty. Some hikers like to know everything before they go (for which guidebook authors must be grateful). Some just want to know how to get to the trailhead, and let everything else be a surprise. At a minimu, though, you should know what the weather’s going to be like, and the water or fire conditions.
  1. (Learn something about the history, geology and ecology of your hike destination – so you know what to look for on the trail. Yeah, you can do a lot of that afterwords, but why work harder?)


  1. Get a map. Bring it with you. Your GPS does not count. (Print an extra one for your wife – so she can refer to it when she calls the emergency response team later)
  2. Organize your essential survival things. (Have these in a kit ready to go, and keep that kit in your vehicle, so your son does not plunder it).
  3. Calculate the most water you could possibly consume on the hike, and put at least twice that amount in the car.
  4. Don’t forget lunch!
  5. Make sure your GPS, flashlight and camera are charged.
  6. (Make sure your GPS has memory left.)
  7. (Make sure your flashlight actually works.)
  8. Make sure you camera has memory.
  9. (Clean the lens on the camera.)
  10. (Bring a notebook and a working pen – because bad things can happen to digital recording devices in the wild).
  11. If the hike is more than 10 miles round trip, or you know you won’t make the trailhead until after 11 am, pack extra batteries for the flashlight, and bring an extra layer of clothing. At ten miles or more, or a noon start or later, you are one wrong turn from looking for the trailhead by moonlight.
  12. Gather this stuff the night before if you can.


  1. Turn on the GPS, and let it find the satellites while you do the rest of your things.
  2. Finish your coffee. It won’t taste good when you get back.
  3. Now drink something else – don’t start the hike dehydrated.
  4. (Write down the GPS coordinates of the trailhead. Don’t just recite them into the DVR – write them down! Remember altitude.)
  5. Top off all the water containers.
  6. If there is some sort of toilet – use it. Especially if there are a lot of other cars at the trailhead. I don’t have to explain this logic – right?
  7. (Test the recording devices. Get the date and start time in the first recording, so you can use it on your blog seven months from now.)
  8. (Take a Bongo picture at the trailhead.)
  9. Lock the car.
  10. (Catch up with your companions who grew weary of your fussing and have already started the hike.)

Tonto News Round-up July 2009

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Our monthly round-up of news affecting hiking and camping in general and the Tonto NF in particular.

Fire Restrictions Have Been Lifted in the Tonto National Forest – just in time for the hottest weekend of the year. Early monsoon humidity has reduced the overall dryness of, well, everything enough to allow open fires once more in the Tonto.

“Although campfires and smoking will now be allowed throughout the forest, visitors should properly extinguish cigarettes in ashtrays, and ashes in a campfire ring should be cold enough to touch before they are left,” said Tonto NF Fire Staff Officer Clay Templin.  “Campfires should be put out by drowning with water and stirring with a shovel to ensure the fire is cold.”

Forest Supervisor Gene Blankenbaker extended special thanks to the visiting public during the fire restrictions which began May 14.  “We want to thank everyone for their patience and understanding while we had to restrict access and activities on the Tonto during this fire season.  We appreciate our visitors’ support of the restrictions.”

Heading out to the desert lakes for the 4th weekend? Well – don’t forget your Tonto Pass, because there isn’t much you can do at any of the lakes without one. Also, be aware of stepped-up enforcement of drunk boating laws.

Oh – and the Bald eagle restrictions have been lifted from most of the desert lakes. As you may recall, portions of the lakes and other desert waterways are closed to traffice throughout spring to allow the more-or-less endangered Southwest Bald Eagles to nest in peace during breeding season. They’re done now. Have at it.

Look Out for Bears! Encounters between bears and humans are becoming more common in the high country, as humans expand their range and the bears stubbornly refuse to evaporate into thin air. The chief instigator in this would be food, which, from the bears’ perspective, includes the garbage.

“We don’t have any habitats devoid of humans. They don’t exist. Bears are large, powerful and unpredictable animals. If a bear constitutes a public safety threat in one location, a change in geography is simply not going to alter or diminish the threat,”

He adds later, “We don’t have any habitats devoid of humans. They don’t exist. Bears are large, powerful and unpredictable animals. If a bear constitutes a public safety threat in one location, a change in geography is simply not going to alter or diminish the threat,”

Speaking of human/animal conflict…

The deadline for the big game hunting Super-raffle has been extended to July 12th. You can stalk and kill (or attempt to anyway) all sorts of critters from elk and buffalo to bears and mountain lions – if you have a permit. More Information here.

One last thing: Native Fish Cam.


Ben’s Hiking essentials

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009
Today's Guest Blogger


My son, Ben, has prepared a list of hiking essentials (reprinted here with his permission).



Now, for some adult guidance in correlation with the above.
By “pain pads” he means molefoam padding, which is how we got him and his bruised foot out of Cave Creek.
Obviously, a lot of those items could be assumed to be in a good first aid kit.

The line about mean old Uncle Joe came more-or-less from the Tonto guidebook camping tips. That, in turn, was adapted from a template based on Kim Lipker’s Day and Overnight Hikes in the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Add water to your list. If you’re out in the desert – add more water than you think necessary.
I have humped up hills with more water than I really needed, and I have run out of water with miles left to go and the afternoon only getting hotter. There is no question in my mind which I prefer.

These are the adult 10 essentials:
1) water
2) food
3) first aid kit ( band-aids
4) flashlight
5) jacket/rain poncho (or at least one extra layer)
6) knife or multi-tool
7) map/compass and/or GPS
8) bandana
9) sunscreen (I always forget this)

10) Spirit!

(Or, alternately, a signal device such as a mirror or a whistle).