Thursday 16 April 2020

Continuing along the Arizona Trail twenty years ago

The San Francisco Peaks

Twenty years ago on April 16 I was on the Arizona Trail approaching the San Francisco Peaks, a mountain range significant in Arizona and to me personally. Reaching 12,633 feet (3,851 m) these are the highest mountains in the state and the only ones to rise above timberline. I was doing this walk because of the first time I'd seen them.

I was on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, during a two-walk. Looking south over the Canyon I could see a distant mountain range rising above dark forests. I wondered if there was a way to walk to them. After this walk I did some research and discovered the new, barely-developed Arizona Trail, which crossed the San Francisco Peaks and the Grand Canyon. That would be my next long walk.

A week earlier the walk had changed. For thirty-two days I'd mostly been in the desert, only passing through small areas of trees on mountain tops. I was used to vast horizons, immense space, stony hills, and spiky plants. Then from the little town of Pine I climbed up to the broken cliffs of the Mogollon Rim, a 200-mile long escarpment that marks the southern edge of the huge Colorado Plateau, which covers 130,000 square miles. This plateau is mostly at an elevation between 4000 and 6000 feet and is a mix of forest and high desert grasslands, split by deep canyons. Ponderosa pines spread mile after mile after mile.

East Clear Creek

Sometimes I was walking beside streams and rivers, a new experience on this walk. There were still arid areas though and I still needed to know where water was and carry plenty. Camps were in the trees without the extensive views I had come to love. In the woods the wildlife made up for this. At one camp I was woken by a woodpecker drumming then cackling raucously as it flew off. Squirrels chased each other over the forest floor and up into the trees. Birds I couldn't recognise sang high above.

A chilly forest camp


  1. Your posts bring back the fond memories that I have of my own AZT hike 17(?) years after yours! Good way to fight COVID-19 depression while in lockdown.

    When reaching the Colorado Plateau after climbing the Mogollon Rim, it was suddenly very cold! I loved camping in these pine forests with so much wildlife around my tent. I liked to stop hiking early, pitch my tent and make short walks near my tent to look for birds, deer, elk and pronghorn antelopes that came out around sunset.

    I also remember the view of the San Francisco Peaks that you mention from Grand Canyon North Rim. It's really cool to look back at these peaks in the far distance, knowing that you skirted them and hiked the vast forest and Ranch between them and Grand Canyon.

  2. I am finding reliving trips is a good way to copd with the lockdown.

    I wanted to climb the San Francisco Peaks but there was too much snow - deep in places and scarily icy in others. I reached Fremont Saddle at 10,800 feet then descended.