Semi-Apocalyptical Burnt Out Mountain Hike

Flagstaff Travel Blog

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Burned tree

The next day, I woke up at 6AM, after a surprisingly restful night of sleep by the traintrack-side hostel. I decided I had time to hike Mt. Elden, just north of Flagstaff.

A unpaved road off Highway 89/Route 66 leads to the Little Elden Springs trailhead. The trail leads through a pretty golden meadow beneath the mountain, dotted with ponderosa pine, white bark birch and happy, Christmas-y douglas fir. The birds sang, and the soft morning light flitted through the trees and reflected on the tall flaxen grass. It was like fricken Bambi or something.

About a mile in, the trail intersects with the Little Bear Trail, which winds its way through the forest and up the mountain. Wide, swinging switchbacks lead through the trees, past several overlooks where you can see all the way to the desert.

those are trees in the background
Gray squirrels with bushy white tails dart along the path. 3.5 miles later, the Little Bear Trail intersects the Sunset Trail at in the middle of a mountaintop meadow. From there, I took the Sunset Trail up the mountain ridge to the East face of the mountain, where the Sunset trail intersected with the Heart Trail.

For the longest time, it was just me, alone with the mountain. Halfway up, I encountered 2 extreme looking ladies that were literally powerwalking up the mountain with their dog, and then some mountain bikers on the more-often used sunset trail. Other than that, the trails were completely desolate. It was especially desolate on the Heart trail.

The east slope is completely different from the verdant, evergreen forested north side I had climbed. The entire slope was destroyed by the Radio Fire of 1977, or so says the Coconino National Forest website.

Mountaintop meadow
This made the mountain look both strikingly beautiful and achingly desolate all at once. Barren, twisted dead trees rose from the steep slope, stretching jaggedly into the blue sky. It was a foreign, alien, almost apocalyptic scene, as if I were descending from the mountains after the nuclear holocaust, negotiating my way down to search for survivors. No one could be seen or heard anywhere around -- just me slowly picking my way down the side of a burnt out mountain.

The lack of foliage meant I could see all the way down the mountain --- down the red, plunging slope dotted with dead trees that rose high in the foreground and like tiny pins in the distance. The path was steep and gravely, impossible to navigate with any speed, and seemed to threaten to dissapear around the next corner. I was constantly looking down into the distance and thinking, how the hell is this path getting down there?

It had been cold in the chilly mountain morning, but now the sun beat down relentlessly.

east slope
When I finally got down the mountain, I was out of water and I had twisted my ankle twice on the steep and gravely trail down. I'm convinced only those who are part mountain goat can come down that trail with ease.

The last part of the hike was generally flat, along a sandy path that wound its way around the mountain back to the north side. I was so tired and parched at this point, it felt like forever, like one of those movies where some british guy stumbles through the desert while licking his canteen for its last drops of moisture.

I encountered a grizzled looking hippie dude with an external frame backpack going the opposite direction. He looked kinda like Jesus. He looked at me and said "It's not far".  You is wise, hippie Jebus, you is wise!

I think I could have started hallucinating at any point there.

Anyway, I got back to the parking lot in one shape.

east slope
I can't really figure out how long the hike actually was -- one website says 12.1 miles, another says 6.3, the Cococino national forest map makes it look about 8-10, but in any case it took about 4 hours and 45 minutes with smoker's lungs and mild hallucinations.

Happy trails!

thenewextrememimi says:
Aw, man. Grizzled is one of my favorite words. It's up there with "extremosity". Mostly because it reminds me of that SNL skit -- you know, the Grizzled Old Man Contest. Damn that was funny.
Posted on: Nov 29, 2007
jteddyb says:
Y'know, I'm starting to think you're overly fond of the word "grizzled." Is there a synonym in the thesaurus?
Posted on: Nov 29, 2007
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Burned tree
Burned tree
those are trees in the background
those are trees in the background
Mountaintop meadow
Mountaintop meadow
east slope
east slope
east slope
east slope
east slope
east slope
weird burned tree
weird burned tree
north slope
north slope
tree
tree
east slope
east slope
top ridge
top ridge
east slope
east slope
top ridge
top ridge
east slope
east slope
animal tracks
animal tracks
north slope
north slope
north slope
north slope
north slope
north slope
top, looking out over east slope
top, looking out over east slope
meadow beneath the mountain
meadow beneath the mountain
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