Mt. Wrightson has loomed large on my list of “Want to Hike” spots ever since it appeared on my radar in 2007, the first year I came to Arizona when John and I were dating. At nearly 9500 feet, the prospect was daunting for a flatlander like me, but that was tempered by the fact that it’s a hike, not a ‘climb’, in the truest sense of the word. But, it’s fairly steep, with over 4500′ of elevation change in the five-mile uphill section, over a trail that is uneven and rocky in many spots. Still…..sitting on our patio watching the sunset every evening, I would think about making the trek.(Mt. Wrightson is the peak to the right of the palm tree – the highest peak in the area)
So, when friends Tony and David G. mentioned that they were planning an assault on Mt. Wrightson, I cautiously asked if I could join their hiking party. These two are fast and fearless hikers. Four of David G’s New York cycling friends were flying in for a week of hiking/biking, and I was intimidated to think of not being able to hold my own in such a group. But, I figured that it was now or never. Certainly, I’m not getting any younger, and I’ve got pretty good hiking legs right now. OK, let’s do it! Naturally, these guys never do anything the easy way. Instead of a 10 mile hike, up and down, Tony found a new route – adding about 3.5 additional miles to the descent. Yikes! Now we’re talking about a hike, which kept me awake with worry for a few nights.
We met early (at Starbucks, naturally) on the morning of the hike. The plan was to drop the Firetruck at the end of the Trail in Florida (Flo-REE-da) Canyon, and get into a second vehicle to head up to the Trailhead in Madera Canyon. We loaded our packs, and left a cooler of beer in the back of the truck, in anticipation of needing a cold one at the completion of the hike. (GREAT planning!)
By 9am, we hit the trail, practically running. These folks are all really quick. In an hour, we arrived at Josephine Saddle (elevation 7080′), 2.5 miles up the Old Baldy Trail. I’m practically seeing stars, and wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into. A quick rest of about five minutes, and we push on to Baldy Saddle (elevation 8070′). The wind is howling – probably blowing a steady 25-30mph. Thank goodness, we’re not always being buffeted around, but it was very unpleasant to round a corner and catch the full blast. Those of us wearing hats without straps had to put them on backwards to keep them from flying off.
I dropped back a bit on the last leg to the summit. I was huffing and puffing – trying not to seriously embarrass myself. But, all of the sudden – there’s no more Trail! The end! Yippee – I did my (internal) Happy Dance. Lunch – photos – gulp down as much water as I could manage, and fnd a spot to hunker down out of the wind.Thanks, David G. and Tony!
Foolishly, I think that the hard part is over, although I know that we’ve got about eight miles to go. Downhill – should be easy, right?
OK, from here on – the photos are misty. Perhaps it was the new application of sunscreen which I applied at the top. Did I touch the lens with greasy fingers? Or, perhaps my entire brain was moving into soft focus. Anyway, the photos suck, but it’s all I’ve got!
Once we get back to Baldy Saddle, we’re off on new territory, heading across the Crest Trail for a couple of miles.Traversing a generally downward path along a ridge, we plodded through a vast area which had been burned out by a fire several years ago. The huge blackened skeletons of enormous Ponderosa Pines loom overhead.This is a difficult section to walk – the Trail is canted sideways, putting stress on knees that are already tired from the climb upward. This is a very lightly used trail, and trees have fallen over it – forcing us to scramble over, under (the worst), or around. But, it was beautiful, in an eerie, forlorn way.Jim found a tree branch that he was attached to, and I volunteered to strap it to my backpack and carry it down to the Firetruck for him. I had the only pack with external straps and ties, so I made the offer. Seemed reasonable at the time.On and on we stepped. Keep moving, one foot in front of the other….we had a few map consultations.Brief stops were more frequent – perhaps under the guise of taking a photo. I sure didn’t want to complain.Finally, we reach Florida Saddle (elevation 7800′). I’m thinking that we’re almost home. Wrong-o! The last miles along the Florida Canyon Trail were the worst – especially the last three or four. The Trail was strewn with rocks, making footfalls on tired knees and feet more painful than anyone wanted to admit. Jim’s knee was bothering him, and he tried to alleviate the pain by side-stepping down the steepest parts. Felt bad for him, but there really isn’t anything to do except suck it up and keep moving. Conversation fell to a minimum. Was everyone else counting steps, or was it just me? I kept peering ahead, hoping to catch a glimpse of the red Silverado, with its cache of cold beer and welcoming place to sit.
Finally! It’s nearly 5:30, and we finally reach the truck. Yay!! I truly was worried that we were going to finish in the darkness, the thought of which terrified me. We pile in (David G opts to ride in the back with the gear, instead of squeezing into the back seat with three others). A quick trip to the upper trailhead to pick up the other vehicle, and we’re done.
Would I do it again! Oh yeah. I held up better than I had hoped for. Two days post-hike, and I still have ten toenails. No stiffness or soreness. Here’s what my Garmin Vivofit recorded for the day (includes the hike + whatever other movement I had before/after).Here’s Tony’s route profile from his Garmin GPS.
Happy Hiker, after a long day on the Trail.