Quien Sabe (Who Knows) Peak


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The summit block of Quien Sabe peak (you cannot put a price on this…)

W O W… 

This is an incredible Arizona day hike

I parked at the Cave Creek TH at the Seven Springs Campground. Since it was about 5:45 when I got there and pitch dark (and also 40 degrees), I couldn’t see well enough to know that I could have parked several other places back down the road, shortening my hike. Oh well.  Extra miles and a few AEG. 

I did the standard approach. I had originally planned to just assault the Quien Sabe Peak Ridgeline from the 246 trail up what was designated as a wash on the topo map, but that looked pretty daunting. Then I changed plans to continue to go Skunk Creek Trail and intersect with the Quien Sabe Trail on the backside of the ridge. Alas, I got impatient and left that plan at a place that looked doable. I made it up to the little prairie past Peak 4545 and then to the final push to what becomes the ridgeline. After ~30 minutes, I had made the final traverse of the ridgeline and I could see what was going to be the summit. 

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The summit block is a little anti-climactic but I was very glad to have gained it. It must have been in the mid 30s at the summit and there were so many clouds, I actually was hoping to see a random flake but alas, no. 

Then I made a fateful (for my legs) decision. Go back the way I came, which was a known route, not really that steep but would take me ALL THE WAY back down the ridge, OR descend off the summit block down what was the actual wash that leads to Quien Sabe Spring. 

Let’s see the spring he said. It will be fun he said. 

It wasn’t. 

I was literally crashing and surfing down the thickest catclaw acacia that I have ever seen. My legs don’t even look like legs anymore they are so scratched, gouged, and bloody! 

Finally, I got down near the spring proper. 

It was a *&^&%&* rusty pipe. Not even a spring or any water etc. S O A B.  (Editors note: We Arizonans geek out over water and particularly flowing water…)

But, at least I was close to where I had originally hiked and back on the 246 trail. 

After that, it was pretty much all downhill from there and I was down near the Cartwright Ranch in no time. If that was a real ranch, I’d like to work there as a ranch hand. That little valley there is beautiful. 

So, all in all a GREAT hike. This was a top 5 outdoor experience for me in Arizona. For sure.


The aftermath after I was on my way back down.  It was magic.  I have to find it again.

Monuments for All


I refuse to call these folks by their titles because none of them have earned them, but yesterday Ryan Zinke, U.S. Department of the Interior… person… said that monuments would not be eliminated but some would probably have boundary changes. Back in June, myself and numerous other bloggers gave our voices to the situation. If you’d like to read the articles that we all collectively wrote, Sara Beth Davis wrote an excellent recap along with Scott Jones. Please contact your representative if you feel as we do.

Below is the post that I wrote back in June about the Monumental Day of Blogging

When my friend Scott Jones at Just Get Out More asked me to contribute for A Monumental Day of Blogging, I was initially honored but also at once deflated.  You see, frankly, in many cases, National Monuments and sometimes even National Parks, aren’t always my thing.  I get itchy in crowds.  I feel sometimes constricted.  I don’t like the noise.  I complain internally about the commercialization, the cheap plastic trinkets, and the stuffed animals in the Gift Shop that aren’t indigenous to the area.

Now, I certainly realize that there are crowded monuments, and there are monuments that may not see a visitor a day. And that’s what is great about them.  They’re like America, different but alike.  Similar yet unique.

Scott and I camped together recently, and I told him that what I like best about our Monuments, and for that matter, our public lands in general is the fact that they truly belong to all of us.  They aren’t reserves or preserves for the rich and powerful, the landed gentry, the captains of industry.

These lands belong to the economically challenged, the dirtbag hippies coasting in on a diminished tank of gas without money for their next tank. African American, Asian, all colors, all races, all creeds.  There’s something uniquely American about cramming your vehicle with as many people as it will hold and simply paying your entrance fee at the gate.  All their money is good. No portfolio stuffed with stocks and bonds matters at that gate, they wave you on through.  They’re for people like my friend @halfpint22 that go to them in winter when no one else is there because it’s hard, not because its easy.  They’re for people like my mother-in-law, that just want to visit the visitor’s center and buy a T-shirt.

Others will speak much more elegantly to the history of the monuments, the facts, the economic impact, the ROI vs. expenditures and other such terms.

I prefer to tell you how public lands make me feel. 

In a word, they make me feel American.  They make me feel proud.  They make me feel pride inside that people that came before us gave a damn about their country.  They gave a damn about the land, about the meandering streams, the babbling brooks, the misty morning meadows and the massive mountains.  Buildings made from adobe, brick, wood and steel.  With skies above them so beautiful they make you cry.

But as the title of this post implies, the monuments are in peril.  Frankly, America is in peril.  I’m convinced that many of us are going to have to fight to keep some of these spaces.  Some will and some won’t.  That’s the way of it.

But I’m willing to fight for public lands.  I’m willing to fight with my words, with my brain, and with my heart.  I don’t have money, I don’t have influence.  But I have a voice.  But just like one voice is relatively quiet, many voices are loud. Now more than ever, our monuments need your voice.  They need your tweets, your blog posts, your letters to your elected officials.  They need you to show others why they are important.  Why they are sacred to both Native Americans and to tourists.

They need us.  

They need all of us.  

Because they’re facing the fight of their lives.

Will you answer the call?

Best Hikes in Phoenix you’ve never heard of: Mount Ord from Slate Creek



Ord Route

Where is it: In the Tonto National Forest and in the greater Mazatzal Mountains.

How do you get there: About 38.3 miles past the intersection of Shea Blvd. and SR 87 Beeline Hwy. about 2/3 of the way to Payson, AZ.  TH Coordinates: 33.9601, -111.39841

Lists of John link: http://listsofjohn.com/peak/17292

What kind of hike is it:  Instead of an out and back, its an up and down.  There are likely some limited connecting routes out here as well and opportunities for backpacking/overnights.

How long is it: ~15.50 miles from the Slate Creek TH to the summit and back down. (RT)

Accumulated Elevation Gain: ~4100 ft.

What trails are involved: A couple of Forest Roads. You’d have to be the worst navigator ever to get lost here…

How long will it take: Between 5.5 hours and 7 hours depending on your speed

Is it scary:  Not in the least.  This is Class 1 trail (road walk) the entire way to the summit.

What animals might you see: Coyote, mountain lion, mule deer, elk, Arizona black rattlesnake, Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Gila monster, white tail deer, human hunters

Do I need water:  Always as there are not really any water sources close by the trail. Bring at least 3.5L.

Who will like this hike: This may very well be the easiest 7128 foot mountain in the world to climb. It’s a good opportunity for a beginner to get their first ‘tall mountain’ exposure.  You don’t need ANY navigational skills to reach the summit.

For more info:  http://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=1640

Hiking Jason rating: 4 hiking boots out of 5

This is probably the easiest tall mountain in Arizona.  It very well may be your first introduction to a ‘big mountain’ and its perfect for beginners that want to begin some elevation goals.  Very likely, for many, this may be the tallest mountain they’ve ever climbed.  The trail begins just off of the Beeline Hwy at Slate Creek.  While there are some nice views on the way up, the best views are from the summit.  This hike is what I like to call an achievement hike.  Meaning that the purpose of this hike is to teach yourself that you belong on big mountains, that you really can do 4000+ AEG in one day, and that you can hike nearly 16 miles.  Trust me, YOU can do this hike.  

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be super excited about a hike that consists of ONLY a jeep road for the entire length of it.  But its pretty along the hike, there are some great views of the Mazatzal Mountains and you’ll be excited to be on a big mountain. And Ord is a BIG mountain.  It seems MUCH taller than it really is from the trailhead.  It LOOKS 10,000 feet, but its very deceptive.  There are tons of shady spots along the way to have lunch or take a break.

This hike is a confidence building hike.  It may be good preparation for you for climbing taller mountains in Flagstaff, the White Mountains, etc.

I highly recommend that you check out this hike.

Let me know what you think!

On Fear

I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom – how great is that?– Soledad O’Brien

The vertical, crumbly, rotten summit block of Peak 4202.  I. Was. Terrified.  I wasn’t sure I could do it.  I did it.

A big part of my thought processes these days are how to get more people outside. Because I believe strongly in the healing power of nature, and for me in particular, mountains.  While I altruistically want people to get outside for their health, spirit and general well being, I also want them to get outside so that they will begin to care about the wild.  I believe unless you’ve smelled the pines, seen alpenglow, or had the thrill of a difficult mountain summit that its hard to really care about policies that are designed to protect these spaces.

I’ve been afraid on mountains, I’ve been afraid on a city street.  I’ve been afraid in a car and I’ve been afraid at home.  We all have fears.  In this post, I want to talk about some things that I believe to be barriers to people getting outside and also provide some things to think about how to cope with those fears.

I want to talk about two types of fear, rational fear and irrational fear.  

Rational Fear

Rational fear is normal.  Rational fear is healthy.  Rational fear keeps us alive.  It’s tied to instincts, which we all have.  Here are some things that I think are rational fears but also how to ameliorate them.

Fear of falling–  This is a healthy fear because falls are one of the leading injuries in the wild.  I think its fine to be afraid of falling and to some extent, exposure (an area is exposed if there is a high rate of injury or death from a fall from wherever you are).  

Tips to combat:  Be sure of your holds and when descending steep slopes I like to pause on rocks just long enough to see if they move.  Another thing is to not look down until you are on terra firma.  This really works.  There’s a reason they say, don’t look down!

Fear of certain animals-  I think its good to have your guard up.  My Canadian friends that hike and climb have to deal with grizzly bears.  Most American bears are harmless. Attacks are VERY rare.  Frankly, the only two animals that I fear are mountain lion and humans.

Tips to combat:  If in bear country, take bear spray and ensure that your food is secure. Here in Arizona, we don’t really have very many areas where a canister would be necessary but if it is, use them.  As far as mountain lion, if you see one (it would be VERY VERY rare that you would) DO NOT RUN.  It triggers their feline instincts.  Make noise and usually they will leave.

Weather related fears-  Frankly, I believe this to be the most important fear to maintain, and one in which I simply do not play around with.  If you see lightning, leave.  If you hear thunder, seek shelter.  If you cannot leave, DO NOT SHELTER under trees.  Research the lightning position online.  Supposedly no one has ever died, using this technique.  

Admittedly, I have a fear of snow and ice.  Mainly because I don’t have much familiarity with the gear that it takes to enjoy the outdoors in them.

Tips to combat-  Check the weather BEFORE you go.  The night before and before you leave your house. I LOVE mountain-forecast.com because it has forecasts at various levels of the mountain, the trailhead, and at the summit.  I also use Weather Underground because of the numerous weather stations they have.

Irrational Fear

Irrational fear in my experience is most common in newer hikers and outdoors-people.   Because they may lack experience in the outdoors, they can often fear a litany of things. Getting lost, running out of water, snakes, bears, animals, being too slow, not being able to keep up, it getting dark outside, etc.  The list can go on and on.

Getting lost-  This is one of the things that I hear that actually happens the most.  There is no reason to get lost.  There are numerous smartphone apps that will track your hike.  If you feel unsure, if all else fails, just refollow your path the way you came.

Tips to combat- Purchase a GPS, or download a smartphone app such as Route Scout. BUT also please learn to read topographic maps.  This link is the single best internet resource that I have seen to teach people how to use maps!

Snakes-  Please do not let fear of snakes keep you off the trail.  They simply ARE NOT interested in you.  I have stepped on two rattlesnakes in my life and lived to tell the tale.  

Tips to combat-  When using handholds in rocky terrain, you do need to have some caution.  99% of the time on a maintained trail there is no possibility of an actual encounter unless you bother the snake, try to move it, or anger it.  Just cut them a wide berth and go around them.  

Fear of being slow-  I will be blunt.  Honestly, no one cares that you may be slow.  No, really, we aren’t judging you.  What we are is happy that you made the decision to get outside and you chose to spend time with us.  Those of us that are fast hikers have other opportunities to hike fast on another day.  And we can take more photos.  We are just glad to be in your company.

Tips to combat-  Don’t worry about this one.  We are glad you are with us.

Over time the more often that you hike, climb, ski, kayak, whatever it is that is outdoors, you’ll have less and less irrational fears.  You’ll learn to trust yourself, your gear, your hiking partner, or in whatever spiritual being that you believe in (or not).

Another thing that helped me conquer my fear is a personal preference to potentially die outdoors rather than chained to a desk.  It’s a feeling of letting go, managing risk, and accepting outcomes that you cannot always control.  I learned to control what I could control, and not worry so much about things that I couldn’t control.  This is truly how I conquered most of my fears.

I hope that this helps you conquer some of your fears and I hope to see you out on a trail.

Let me know your tips to combat fear in the comments below.

Lessons from the Mountains


I was six.  My dad was 54…  He had taken me to a place near our house in Alabama that geologically were the absolute end of the Appalachian Mountain foothills.  As in, THE END, the foothills are no more.

I remember looking up with a sense of awe at how huge this mountain was and how I couldn’t wait to climb it.  My dad called it Brown’s Mountain.  It was in reality known as Baxley Hill to the fine folks at the USGS and I found out in later years about 400 feet tall.  But to me it was Mount Everest.  And a love affair began!

But like a lot of love affairs, they can tend toward being on again, off again.  I still explored, adventured, and hiked the Alabama(and later Florida) woods but didn’t really climb very many mountains. Mainly because Alabama doesn’t have many!

But about two years ago, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, in particular Cave Creek. When I first moved here, mountains scared me.  I thought I would fall.  And die.  But like most things in life, I began to notice that if I got up and just WENT, that everything seemed to work out well in the end.  I began to get stronger and more confident. But most people feel that.  I want to share with you some other things that I have learned from mountains.  Things like core values and things that all humanity can benefit from.

“Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself.” Saint Francis de Sales

Patience-   I recall being six years old simply wanting to charge up the mountain (hill!) In fact, when I moved here, I’d climbed a few mountains in the South, but I really just walked the trail.  When I began climbing mostly off-trail and obscure mountains, is when I began to see patience in other parts of my life.  See, mountains require you to stop and think sometimes. They don’t just reveal all their secrets to you immediately.  They’re like a puzzle that only you know how to figure out how to assemble the pieces.  And patience helps with that. Believe me.

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” Leonardo da Vinci

Accomplishment-  I’ve always accomplished things.  Mostly smaller things.  And mostly with my brain.  See I’m not super physically strong, and two to three years ago I wasn’t even very fit.  But I am now.  Because I have accomplished most of my mountain related goals.  But what I really learned from the mountains is that these are personal accomplishments.  I didn’t do them for others, I did them for me.  And every time I climb a mountain, it just makes me want to climb five more.  And higher and steeper.  This is a lot like life.  We just build on our accomplishments one by one until you really look back and say, wow, I really did that.

“The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Beauty- OK, I am a typical guy.  But mountains have taught me to appreciate the beauty in all things.  Most people just see a big tall pile of rocks, but I see the equivalent of a snowflake.  I’ve never seen two mountains that were exactly alike.  But all of them are beautiful to me.  In their own way.  Kind of like humans…

“Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.” Aristotle

Solitude-  Well… I am certainly no god.  But I not only delight in solitude, I crave it.  I need it to recharge my batteries, recharge my soul and basically to challenge myself to learn to depend only on myself.  But much like there is no silence without a sound.  It also reminds me that I also need people.  Genuine human interaction.  

I saved the best thing that I have learned from mountains for last.  It is the greatest of all things, and that is love.

“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” Orson Welles

Love-  Wow, where to begin.  I love everything about mountains.  Looking at them, climbing them, reading about them, I could go on.  But that’s not really what they have taught me.  They’ve taught me that even I can love something other than my family, something intangible, something not living as much as I love those other things.  And that my purpose in life is to share that love with everyone else.  Because if others love them half as much as I, they’ll want to climb them.  Then they’ll want to tell others about them.  Then they’ll want to protect them.  Then they’ll clean trash off of them.  Then they will ask their politicians to prioritize them and to pass laws protecting them.  

Love is the single most powerful thing that we as humans can do.

But more important than even that, is that love will be passed down through the generations.  Just like my father passed down to me.  See, he took me to that mountain for a reason.  Because he loved me, and he wanted me to love it.  Now I understand.

Climbing Off-Trail Mountains: A How-To Guide

Cal Topo Table Mtn

With the cooler temperatures here in Phoenix beginning to creep into our collective psyches, its time for Central Arizona peakbagging season. If you are anything like me, you appreciate that there is more to life than Camelback Mountain. Yes, really, there ARE other mountains. Many of them known only to whatever deity you worship. Or not…

So I thought I would put together a sort of how to manual of how I personally hike mountains that have no semblance of trail to them at all. As in NO trail, perhaps past the parking lot or trailhead.

While I certainly have friends in the hiking and climbing community that believe that planning is anathema to a good time, that’s not for me. So if you don’t like to plan, jump ahead!!!


I personally find as much fun in the planning as I do the climbing and hiking. I use a very simple method to plan my climbs. I utilize https://caltopo.com with two simple toggles, Map Builder Overlay and Gradient Slope Shading. This allows you to visually see both the topographical contour lines but ALSO see the colors that show you steepness. I use Caltopo to see the steepness and hikearizona.com to see if a route is already available. In the example above (Table Mountain), a route was not available so I made my own beforehand using Caltopo’s tools and then the blue path you see below is the actual path I took today. Further using the example above, you can clearly see how I chose the path that I did to get to both summits, as the topo lines are farther apart (less steep) and there was less ‘color’ along the path I chose.

So you got to the trailhead, what now?

Become an Indigenous Geologist…

What? There were no native American geologists. Au contraire… Native peoples understood geology just as much as we do. Here is what I mean… You don’t really hike/climb with your feet, you hike and climb with your eyes. Since you don’t have a trail to follow, you’ll learn to look for game trails or areas where water has flowed down the mountain. These tend to be areas that are less steep since water follows the path of least resistance. Now are you following my logic…? Picture yourself as an indigenous person tracking a deer. Yes, this method works. It does!

If you are hiking in an area that it is at least somewhat likely that others have hiked or climbed before, look for visual changes in the rocks that you are climbing over. Often you can see a color shade difference where feet have worn a path over the rocks that you can actually see.

Game trails almost always lead to the summit of mountains. Why, I am not sure, maybe javelina, deer, mountain lion and bears are also peakbaggers!!!

A few helpful hints…

Often, it is better to climb in a zig zag pattern, instead of just climbing straight up. This is because mountains have ridges and are not just smooth surfaces. It would be equivalent to switchbacks on an actual trail. Think of those.

Don’t fear big rocks. In fact, big rocks are great. I LOVE big rocks. I HATE small rocks. Big rocks are easy to climb up and over, small rocks are like ice and slippery.

Often you will summit peaks that have a ‘blind rim’ at the top, meaning that its hard to see over the edge. I often take a crappy white t-shirt and leave it at the exact spot that I came ‘over the blind rim’ so that I can visually spot it when its time to go down. Don’t leave the shirt!

Repeat this mantra… mountain biking is for speed, hiking is for distance, peakbagging is for the experience of the summit. Other than fastest known time peeps, as long as you summit no one really cares how long it took. They don’t.

If you’re afraid, sing. Seriously. I have found NOTHING better than humming an ear worm to calm my fears. The cheesier the better.

It’s OK and even good to be afraid. It’s what keeps you alive. But you will know the difference between crippling fear and discomfort.

Having said that, the mountain is not going anywhere. If you see lightning, leave immediately. If you are shaking with fear, (I have before) I always try to at least make the saddle or be able to see where the summit is. I find if you quit but could see the summit, psychologically it makes it much easier next time.

Use technology but don’t rely on it. Pro-tip… Use your technology on the way up, use your paper map on the way down. This is because you’ll likely be lower in battery after the summit and you will be visually able to see things you’ve already passed. Always take a paper map especially when you are doing off trail routes. Always.

Awesome mountain resources:

Lists of John




Let me know some of your favorite tips and also some of your favorite climbs in the comments section!

Becoming Desert Adapted



I live in a desert.  

No really.  I do.  Phoenix has often been called (sadly) the least sustainable city in America, and possibly on Earth.  Yet 4-5 million people live here and a ton of them hike.

Too often, I see people that simply do not have enough water with them.  Most hikers I see, have SOME water with them but it usually is not enough.  The only folks that I see without any water, are typically tourists.

Since daytime highs are now in the low to mid 90s, I wanted to share with you my simple, yet effective hydration system, and how I generally keep cool.  These methods have allowed me to hike in Phoenix nearly year round with the exception of a very few days of the year.

There is nothing Earth shattering about any of this, but based on what I see on trail, maybe it is!

The first thing that I have and do is that I always carry more water than I think that I will need.  That’s probably my one inviolate rule.  I do this for a few reasons.  It allows me to change my plans, i.e. hike further than I expected to, go for a couple more peaks than I planned and also to give some away in case of an emergency.  On three occasions, I have given water to strangers, including all the water that I had left.  Frankly, I can do this because A. I know my body and B. I am SO hydrated that I know how long I can go without water.

As far as HOW I carry my water, I carry a few things.  Keep in mind that these routines work FOR ME, but they are just common sense techniques.  

First and most important, I carry a 3L water bladder inside my Camelbak Fourteener.  I LOVE this pack. It is big enough to hold enough for an extended day hike but small enough to not be heavy or too bulky.  Typically, I will fill up the bladder and place it in the refrigerator the night before.  I don’t like freezing mine because I find that it takes a while to thaw.

Second, I carry a small less than 20 ounce cheap disposable Smartwater bottle and I tuck it into my pouch on the side of my Camelbak.  Why would I do this when I have a bladder with 3L of water in it? Over the years, remembering that I am a huge peakbagger, I learned that my first instinct when I made a mountain summit other than to look for snakes is to take off my pack.  And it holds my water! So I found that I’d have to either put my pack back on, or contort my body back down toward the tube to drink.  So I started carrying a cheap, disposable bottle that I could drink from with my pack off.

Third, was something I started doing about a year ago.  When I am putting my Camelbak bladder in the fridge at night, I also freeze another cheap disposable water bottle.  Don’t fill it up all the way because the bottle will get out of round and will not sit up.  I take this bottle BUT I leave it in the vehicle. On a day hike, even in Phoenix in the summer, the water will usually be cold.  I drink this water on the way home from wherever I am hiking and I always know I have cold, or at a minimum, cool water waiting for me.

Probably the WORST thing that I do that breaks the rules, is that I do not personally subscribe to the covering everything rule of desert hiking.  I don’t like wearing pants and typically won’t wear long sleeves in the summer as some swear by.  I tend to be VERY hot natured, so I just don’t like getting even hotter than I need to.

As far as time of day, I begin my hikes anywhere from 3:30 AM to no later than 7 AM between around March and September here in Phoenix.  I do it for two reasons.  I love Arizona sunrises and so that for anything short of a 15 mile hike, I am finished before noon at the latest.

I am not super huge on night hikes, particularly in the summer time because there are snakes EVERYWHERE.  I feel that your chance of being bitten by a snake at night is exponentially higher at night.  Plus, you can’t SEE anything but the lights of the city, depending on where you are.

So to recap, take more water than you need, have a system, and stick to that system until it becomes habit.