Category Archives: Hiking

Trek Report: Humphreys Peak 2017

Humphreys Peak on the left

The latter half of life is a battle with aging and gravity. We all eventually lose the war, but I’m not ready to give up the fight. Physical fitness is a powerful tactic in that war. For me, hiking is one way to get and stay fit. Mountain climbing, and the preparation therefor, pushes me to greater levels of fitness.

Scruffy little guy

I walked this route to Arizona’s highest point two years ago. Read that report for typical details. The post today is more personal and helps me plan my next climb, if any. A goal of mine for decades has been to climb one of the 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado, like Longs Peak. At my age, 62, that’s probably too ambitious. However, per Infogalactic: “The oldest person to summit Longs Peak was Rev. William “Col. Billy” Butler, who climbed it on September 2, 1926, his 85th birthday.”

Tundra plants above the tree line

I usually label posts like this a “hike report.” But I found one definition of trek as “a trip or movement especially when involving difficulties or complex organization : an arduous journey.” That’s more accurate here than a simple “hike.”

A view from about 10,000 ft

Miscellaneous Details

Two years ago I wrote that if I ever did this hike again, I’d want to acclimate to the altitude first, by spending 4–5 days in the Flagstaff area at 7,000 feet. Family obligations precluded that this year. We came up a day early and took the ski lift up to 11,000 feet, spending about an hour there. We then spent the night in Flagstaff at Sonesta ES Suites (very nice, and less expensive than many other hotels in the area). I slept fitfully, probably because of the altitude. I wonder if Diamox would have helped me sleep better.

A fire near Kendrick Peak

I started on the trail on June 20 at 7 AM and finished at 4:30 PM, so nine and a half hours. If you read trip reports from younger or more avid hikers, six to eight hours is more typical.

I am Groot

Trailhead temperature at the start was 65°F. I was in shorts and a tee shirt the whole day. Even in the afternoon, it can be much colder on the Peak, so you have to be prepared for that. I was too warm for much of this trip, so if I do it again it may be in mid-May instead of June.

Same fire

I drank four quarts (one gallon) on the trail. I ate six orange-colored peanut butter cracker sandwiches, four ounces of leftover Sizzler steak, and dried banana and apple slices.

A view from the Saddle

The hip belt on my backpack did a great job of taking some of the weight off my shoulders. I should have used this more during my training hikes.

On the way from the Saddle to the peak

From the trailhead to the Saddle took four hours. The reverse took 2.5 hrs.

I was surprised that my walk between the Peak and the Saddle took the same amount of time whether I was ascending or descending. About an hour and 15 minutes to cover the mile.

The Peak was covered with thousands of flying gnats. They didn’t bite much so I just ignored them and got off the Peak immediately after taking pictures.

I did it!

It’s easy to lose the trail as you’re heading up at a particular switchback at approximately 11,000 feet. See the photos below for details. This is dangerous, and whoever is in charge of trail maintenance needs to fix it before catastrophe strikes. I lost the trail and searched for it for 10 minutes before finding where I lost it. I was ready to give up and head down the hill when a couple from Prescott, AZ, showed up and pointed me in the right direction. Smooth sailing from then on. Nearly everywhere the trail is easy to see.

Turn left immediately after you pass the log jutting out. From this view going up the hill, the log hides the true trail. We need a sign here. 

Yes, walk up the right side of this log!

This is the view of this log as you’re descending. Very easy to see trail.

I did this on a weekday, so there were not nearly as many folks on the trail as when I did a weekend trek two years ago. If you hike this on a summer weekend, get there early or you may not have a place to park.

There were patches of snow on the ground as low as 10,000 feet. Very unusual for this time of year.

I’m at the Saddle

At the start of the hike and even half-way into it, I put my odds of success—reaching the summit—at 50:50. It’s up to me whether I sprain an ankle or break a bone, but it’s up to God whether I get altitude sickness or have a heart attack or stroke. My biggest doubts were inadequate preparation and my patellofemoral pain (PFP) syndrome. My last training hike was on June 3, and the day after that I was resigned to calling off the trip entirely. Part of me was willing to try it, but my smarter side said it wasn’t worth possible permanent knee injury or 6–12 months of disability and rehabilitation. But by June 14 the knee was feeling much better so I decided to forge ahead. After this trek, I was  done hiking for the summer and expected the knee to be back to normal within the subsequent 3–4 weeks even without rehab or NSAIDs. But it took three months.

Tundra flowers

That last mile to the Peak was not as arduous as it was two years ago. I’m not sure if that’s psychological, or attributable to better hydration, better nutrition or pacing. I consciously kept my pace slow on the way up, averaging one to one and a half miles per hour (don’t be critical; this includes breaks for hydration, food, rest, and photos). I’ll keep this slow pace next time.

Don’t be so focused on the peak that you forget to look around

Overall, I think I was in the same state of physical conditioning as I was two years ago. I had no muscular soreness the day after the hike.

I had no trouble with altitude sickness.

Flagstaff

This is the home of Northern Arizona University, a typical small college town. The main drag is Milton Road. I love visiting here. I almost took a job here until I learned that the average daily low temperature is 32°F or below for seven months out of the year. We are “horse people” and didn’t think the low temps were a good fit.

Free Hiking Tips

Obvious dangers to consider on a trek like this: dehydration, rain, sleet, hail, lightning, heat exhaustion, sun over-exposure. Bears and mountain lions don’t seem to be problems on Mt. Humphreys, although bears are certainly in the area.

A less obvious but more common danger is missteps. You always have to be on the lookout for rocks and tree roots that can trip you or sprain your ankle. Particularly treacherous are flat rock surfaces coated with gravel or dust; these can be nearly as slick as ice. In the wilderness, a bad ankle sprain, lower limb fracture, or torn knee ligament or meniscus can put your life at risk, particularly if you’re by yourself. Missteps are more likely to occur when you’re tired.

In the wilderness, keep track of your location constantly, either with a map or GPS unit or both. Yes, GPS units can malfunction and batteries die. If you’re on an established trail but suddenly find yourself off it, stop going forward immediately and try to find the trail. Don’t panic. If you get hopelessly lost, a personal transmitter could save your life. Before your trip, let someone know where you’re going, on which trails, and when you’re expected to be back in civilization. Tell them to expect your call when done. Hike with a pal when able.

Steve Parker, M.D.

 

OMG I’ve Got PFP

My daughter and I at Tom’s Thumb on June 3. She got her good looks from her mom, obviously.

I posted this here a couple weeks ago:

I’ve developed over the last month some bothersome pain in my right knee. It’s not interfered much with my actual hiking, but I pay for it over the subsequent day or two. I’m starting to think this may put the kibosh on my Humphries Peak trek next month.

The pain is mostly anterior (front part of the knee) and is most noticeable after I’ve been sitting for a while with the bent knee, then get up to walk. The pain improves greatly after walking for a minute or less. It also hurts a bit when I step up on something using my right leg. If I sit with my knee straight (in full extension), it doesn’t hurt when I get up. The joint is neither unusually warm nor swollen. Ibuprofen doesn’t seem to help it. These pain characteristics seem classic for something, but I don’t know what, yet….My twice weekly hikes always include a fair amount of elevation gain. I suspect an over-use syndrome, basically a training error. I plan to take an entire week off from hiking and Bulgarian Split Squats, and taking ibuprofen 600 mg three times a day.

The view looking south from the base of Tom’s Thumb

I did some research in the literature and think I’ve got patellofemoral pain, aka PFP or PFP Syndrome. Can’t say I’d heard of it before. Sounds more like a description than a diagnosis. Like saying someone has fever.

This guy posed for my daughter

I got most of my info on PFP from UpToDate.com, but you probably don’t have access to that. You healthcare professionals, click for a 2007 article at American Family Physician. Mayo Clinic has info for muggles. So does American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

I hope she thinks of this hike when she sees Tom’s Thumb from Hwy 101

I may have some age-related osteoarthritis in both knees, but that’s not causing this pain.

My PFP was caused by over-use. Too much hiking with elevation gain and  accelerating my program too rapidly. Also, prior experience taught me that using trekking poles helped take strain off my knees, and I have not been using them.

The newest resident at the Parker Compound. He’s eight weeks old.

I took a week off from hiking while taking ibuprofen 600 mg three times a day, when I could remember it. The combo helped, probably the rest more than the NSAID. Then I did two six-mile walks on the flat without much trouble. On June 3, I hiked Tom’s Thumb trail with my trekking poles, 4 miles round trip, and only had mild discomfort. Most importantly, I learned that I get relief from icing down the knee for 30-45 minutes after I get home.

I’m disappointed I can’t climb Thompson Peak in preparation for Humphries Peak. It would probably kill my chance to summit Humphries (right now I put those odds at 50:50).

Steve Parker, M.D.

 

 

Hike Report: Romero Canyon Trail to Romero Pools (near Tucson, Arizona)

One of a string of pools

This was a 4.5 mile round-trip on the Romero Canyon Trail to see the Romero Pools, which are about 2.2 miles from the trailhead. I was fortunate to have my daughter with me. Her house is a 30-minute drive from the trailhead. Elevation gain, if memory serves, was 800 or 900 feet.

This is rugged and wild land. I’m sure there are bears and mountain lions here.

There were not many people on the trail when we did this on May 14. At the pools per se were 10-14 folks, including a couple topless women.

My hiking buddy

This trail is difficult due to the rocky footing and steepness. It was a good workout. We never came close to losing the trail, and we never had to scramble over large boulders.

View from first part of the trail

Trail-side flower

My beautiful daughter

I saw about five pools clustered together but there are probably more

Uh Oh: My Knee Hurts

I’ve developed over the last month some bothersome pain in my right knee. It’s not interfered much with my actual hiking, but I pay for it over the subsequent day or two. I’m starting to think this may put the kibosh on my Humphries Peak trek next month.

The pain is mostly anterior (front part of the knee) and is most noticeable after I’ve been sitting for a while with the bent knee, then get up to walk. The pain improves greatly after walking for a minute or less. It also hurts bit when I step up on something using my right leg. If I sit with my knee straight (in full extension), it doesn’t hurt when I get up. The joint is neither unusually warm nor swollen. Ibuprofen doesn’t seem to help it. These pain characteristics seem classic for something, but I don’t know what, yet. Possibilities include degenerative joint disease, chondromalacia patellae, patellar tendonitis, or an internal derangement such as a torn cartilage or meniscus. My twice weekly hikes always include a fair amount of elevation gain. I suspect an over-use syndrome, basically a training error. I plan to take an entire week off from hiking and Bulgarian Split Squats, and taking ibuprofen 600 mg three times a day.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Hike Report: The Lookout in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

 

Looking south from The Lookout, you see Thompson Peak in the center. The highest point in the McDowell range is McDowell Peak on the right, about 10 feet higher than Thompson Peak.

This hike is essentially the same as to Tom’s Thumb trail, but instead of taking the short spur going north to the Thumb, you go a tenth of a mile further and take the half mile spur to The Lookout. This last half mile is easy, and rewarded by  excellent view to the south and east.

A prickly pear cactus blossom

My original goal had been to continue walking past this spur, to the west, until I reached a bizarre mountain spring. Bizarre because you’d never expect it in this desert. But after a quarter or half mile, it was getting hot and no one else was on the narrow trail, which was steep and quite rocky. I didn’t know exactly how far it was to the spring. I could see myself getting injured or over-heated, and decided it just wasn’t worth it. I think I’d rather die than call in a rescue party. So I turned around and headed back to The Lookout spur.

Banana yucca

Total distance for this trip was about 6 miles and it took three hours. Loaded with a 10-lb dumbbell and plenty of water, my backpack weighed about 20 lb.

From The Lookout: Phoenix and Scottdale in the distance

I’m impressed with how many young women I see on this trail, either alone or in small groups. I’m glad they feel safe doing it.

Eastern view from The Lookout: Four Peaks on the horizon

I was delighted to see three people on horseback on the trail, too.

Way in the distance is the Fountain Hills, AZ, fountain. It explodes up 300 feet every hour on the hour for 10 minutes.

Did you know that exercise isn’t an effective way to lose fat weight? 90% of weight loss comes from altering your diet. Try one of my diets, like the Advanced Mediterranean Diet.

Steve Parker MD, Advanced Mediterranean Diet

Two diet books in one

Hike Report: Sunrise Trail In Scottsdale, Arizona

…with a side trip to Andrews-Kinsey trail.

This is what 50% of the trail looked like from the trailhead to the peak. Is there a rattler in the shade of that rock?

As you might remember, I’m training to summit Humphreys Peak in June. So I’ve been hiking twice weekly, mostly on Pinnacle Peak Trail and Tom’s Thumb Trail. My longest trek thus far has been seven miles. I plan to walk some longer distances and/or carry more weigh in my backpack in the coming weeks. Lately I’ve added a 10-lb dumbbell to my pack.

Yes, this is the trail. From the trailhead to the peak, 10% of it looked like this. You need good footwear for this.

Yesterday I started at the Sunrise Trailhead, made it to Sunrise Peak in about an hour, then walked over to the Andrews-Kinsey trail and followed for about a mile before turning around and heading back to the car. Total trip was about six miles over three hours. I carried the 10-lb dumbbell in my backpack, plus water.

3/4 of the way to the peak, looking down at the trailhead near houses.

Sunrise Trailhead to the peak is a difficult trail by most standards. Steep, rocky, unrelenting. You gain about 1,1000 feet of elevation. My pace was only 1.8 miles per hour. Approaches from Ringtail Trailhead and 136th Street Trailhead are quite likely less steep, but more miles to the peak.

A view of Scottsdale from Sunrise Peak

The Andrews-Kinsey trail was relatively flat, mostly gravel, and had good views. Didn’t see another soul on it.

From the pictures, you can tell there’s not much shade on this hike. What you cannot see is that the mountains themselves will provide shade for this entire trip if hiked in the late afternoon.

Looking north from Sunrise Peak. These are the McDowell Mountains. Note the trails.

I saw a snake on this trip, just got a brief glimpse of it a foot and a half from me and he was truckin’. It was about 1.5 inches thick, and I’m guessing four feet long. Didn’t look like a rattlesnake. Maybe a bull snake.

I was on the trail at 0740 hrs and was glad to be done three hours later when the temperature was in the upper 80s Farenheit.

I last did this trail in 2013. I didn’t put it in that trip report, but I remember it being particularly grueling, having started at Ringtail trailhead and going to Sunrise trailhead then back to our starting point, a total of 10 miles and 2,000+ vertical feet of elevation.

Tom’s Thumb Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

 

The thumb is sticking up on the horizon on the far left

The thumb is sticking up on the horizon on the far left

You might recall I hope to climb to the summit of Arizona’s highest mountain in June. So I’m in training.

First time I've seen a backhoe doing trail repair

First time I’ve seen a backhoe doing trail repair

I started this hike at the Tom’s Thumb Trailhead at the north end of the preserve. I made it to the base of the landmark then turned around and came back the same way. Total trip length is between 4 and 4.5 miles and I figure a 1000 feet of vertical elevation gain. The footing is mostly gravel/dirt. Lots of folks were hiking it with less sturdy shoes than mine. It took me 1 hour and 50 minutes round-trip.

At the base of Tom's Thumb, overlooking Scottsdale and the Valley of the Sun

At the base of Tom’s Thumb, overlooking Scottsdale and the Valley of the Sun far in the distance

On the way down I was wishing I’d brought my trekking poles to take some of the strain off my knees.

Click for trail details.

The thumb up close and personal

The thumb up close and personal

The View From Pinnacle Peak, Looking Southeast

Taken with my new iPhone-7 Plus

Taken with my new iPhone-7 Plus

This was only my third training hike (in prep for Humphreys Peak) and I was pleasantly surprised to feel a positive training effect already. Or maybe I was just high on the beautiful day and setting.

Steve Parker, M.D.