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Archives for : Arizona Hikes

Pass Mountain Loop

If you’re a local Phoenix hiker, then you’ve done the Wind Cave Trail at Usery Mountain Regional Park.  It’s a favorite, especially for kids, as it has a pretty cool rock overhang at the top.  It’s a quick 1.5 miles that attracts hikers of all levels.

Usery_Pass_Mountain

Being on the more adventurous side, Leo decided to make this a loop hike instead of an up and back.  He pre-hiked it and figured out the route that would take us past the Wind Cave Trail, summit Pass Mountain and traverse the ridge-line heading North. We would eventually catch up with the Pass Mountain Trail that led us back to the trail head.  Check out his solo trip here.

Here is a quick animated view of our route.

 

You can grab the GPS route by downloading the GPX file here.

Being at the trail head just after sunrise meant we had our choice of parking!  The only other people out seemed to be the dedicated trail runners, which was nice, as this trail can be quite congested at times.  We headed out on the Wind Cave Trail  and in a few minutes passed through a gate that put us onto US Forest Land.  The trail here is quite wide, with a very gentle uphill grade.  The trail eventually steepens, with an occasional switchback with the last .5 miles following the large band of rock that run horizontally through the mountain.

We reached the “Wind Cave” faster than I ever had…which was probably due to the fact that I usually have a few kids in tow.  We stopped for just a minute to make a game plan and take in the view as you could now see the sprawling city below.  There is a sign posted there that basically says ” Trail is not maintained, hike at your own risk”.  It’s the kind of sign that lets you know things are about to get fun!

Usery_Pass

There appeared to be many trails to choose from, which usually indicates people trying to find the best way up.  They all seemed to link up at some point and head for the summit.  A little rock scrambling was required but nothing technical.

Usery Pass Mountain

Once we hit the ridge we went South for  a 100 yards or so to the edge of the peak.  Above is our fearless leader showing of his new carbon-fiber trekking poles.  We all snapped a few pictures and sipped some water.

Usery Pass trail

We didn’t stay long before we headed for the ridge line.  We would take this route across the top of Pass Mountain with a rest at the summit, which was the half-way point.  Amazing views on both sides!

Usery_Pass_Summit

Usery-Pass-Log-Book

The trail was fairly well defined and only a few times did we have to re-route.  The trail is there, just difficult to see at times and is not maintained, just like the sign had said.  At the summit is a ammo can with a log book that peak-baggers can sign, although I would not really consider this a peak–more of a mountain top.  🙂

We continued the ridge line to the North and later began our decent.  Along the way we met a hiker coming from the opposite direction.  The great thing about this guy was that he was 86 years old and said that he hikes up here a few times a year.  We chatted with him for a bit and all hoped we’d be in that kind of shape when we reached that age.

Getting off the top was a bit sketchy.  The dirt is loose and can make for an exciting hike down.  We headed West until we hit the Pass Mountain Loop Trail.  This trail is very popular with the mountain bikers, so be alert.  We followed it South until we arrived at the trail head.

Another amazing Arizona hike completed.  Great weather, great views and great people.  Really enjoyed hiking with this group and hope to do it again soon!

Usery Pass Mountain panorama

Usery-Pass-Elevation

Usery-Pass-Elevation

 

Usery-Pass-loop

Weaver’s Needle – Superstition Mountains – Az

After the past trip into the Superstition Mountains, I’ve realized they can’t all be Type Two Fun.  This one was pretty much type one all the way.  Everything seemed to go as planned, with no crazy shifts in the weather or gear malfunctions.  I think we even remembered most everything, which is somewhat shocking.  With my pack weighing in at 32lbs for an overniter, what could I have possibly forgotten?  Because a third of my pack weight was water (that’s how we roll in the desert), it was heavy, but not the heaviest.  Rob weighed in with a 47 pounder!  Dude, we’re gonna be gone less than 24 hrs!  More on that a bit later.

We’ve hiked this route several times and usually stop at Fremont Saddle.  Once we actually climbed Weaver’s Needle and camped out on top… and nearly died.  Check out the trip report here.  But this trip is special for me because I’m taking my boy, Connor, with me.  While he has been camping many times, this will be his first backpacking trip.  I know, shame on me, I feel horrible about it, but better late than never.  With water, Connor’s pack came in at 23 lbs which is a pretty heavy pack for an 80 pound kid.

Our crew started out at the Peralta Trail TH about mid afternoon.  Goal was to make it to the Pinion camp site before dark, as we did not have the GPS coordinates but had a general idea of its location.  Other than the weather being a bit on the warm side, the hike up the valley was beautiful, and we made only the occasional stop in the shade.  Because it was so hot, we constantly reminded each other to keep drinking.  We started out pretty late in the day, so we only passed a few people coming down the trail. 

We stopped for a break at the cave that looks over the valley from where we’d come.  Refueled with some quick snacks, we topped out at Fremont Saddle shortly after.  I love the view of the needle from there as it looks so rugged and extreme.  After a few minutes of taking in the desert views, we set off.  We always seem to have difficulties finding the trail down.  Take the trail to the west and expect to quickly switchback to the east.  The trail is well defined once you are on it.  After about 30 minutes of easy downhill hiking, we rolled into Pinion camp.

The sun hadn’t quite set and we all picked out the perfect spots for our respective tents.  Some spots were more perfect than others.  I try to get as level as possible and furthest away from known snorers.  We succeeded, and with such an amazing view of Weaver’s Needle in the back ground, there was little to complain about. 

Pinion camp seemed to have about 5-6 decent spots for small tents with one main fire-ring and 1 or 2 smaller ones.   We gathered a few sticks for a small fire to gather around during dinner.  Being in the desert at a popular spot, the firewood pickings were slim as expected.  Now, apparently my good friend Rob is not into lightweight backpacking, in fact just the opposite.  This guy actually brought a 5 lbs DuraFlame log!!!  Who brings fake wood camping?!?!?!  Not just camping but backpacking!  We had a good laugh and gave him a hard time, but truth be told, it made for a nice fire that lasted well into the night.  Thanks, Rob!  Just don’t tell anyone. 

Why does dinner taste so good around a campfire?  I don’t think it’s actually the food, as I have never craved freeze-dried cardboard loaded with sodium when at home.  But for some reason after a good hike and sitting next to a campfire with good company, it’s the best thing ever!  We all had Mountain House freeze-dried meals that are super light, but require water, and water is heavy.  I boiled water for everyone with my JetBoil. 

I love that little stove.  It boils 2 cups of water in about 2 minutes and is so easy to set up, clean up and pack up.  It worked great except that the igniter broke, and I had to light it with my lighter.  I guess it’s time to put REI to the test on their return policy.  I had the Mac and Cheese and gave Connor the chicken and mashed potatoes (my favorite).  Apparently it was pretty good, as we scraped the bags clean even though there were two servings.  Dessert was suppose to be Double Chocolate Cheesecake but ended up like pudding, which was good enough for us as we polished it off as well.

Sitting around the campfire after a good meal is one of my favorite things in the whole world.  The moon was pretty brigh,t and you could actually see the outline of the needle and the surrounding rock formations.  We reminisced about other trips we’d done and chatted about future ones.  I was able to scare Rob with the ol’ growling water bottle trick.  The funny thing was, we had just told the story 10 minutes before about scaring Leo when hiking through the Bear Tooths.  Good times!

We retreated to our tents around 10:30 and went to bed.  Connor slept like a rock, as I expected he would after the hike with a heavy pack and now a full belly.  I wish I could sleep like that.  Unfortunately, I’m still struggling with my Big Agnes sleeping bag, and I tend to sweat on top and freeze on the bottom. The temperature only dropped into the mid 50’s, really nice actually.  Other than that, the night was quiet until morning when I was awaken by something eating grass and running around my tent.  Pretty sure it was a rabbit or two, and it was time to get up and get going anyway.

After a breakfast of instant oatmeal and Mountain House “Breakfast Skillet” (good stuff), we packed up and headed out.  We stopped for a quick break and a few photos at Fremont Saddle.  There were a lot people there compared to the afternoon before.  The trip down was very fas,t and we made good time even with the streams of people on the trail.  It was amazing how you could wake up feeling like you were out in the middle of nowhere and within 1 hour be surrounded by 30 people.

We made it back to the trailhead (a bit faster than I expected) and signed our group out at the log book.  I remember thinking that this was one of the smoothest trips I had been on.  Definitely not a Type Two Fun trip, but a fun one just the same.  Heck, we even had a fake fire!  These are the kinds of trips that blur into oblivion after time because nothing crazy happened to set it apart.  The one thing that I will remember from this trip is being with my son on his first backpack trip.  He did great and I am so proud of him and look forward to many more adventures in the future.