The Mostly Triumphant Return of Hiking Jason

IMG_1820 copy“Been on any cool hikes lately”   

‘Not really.’  ——-Me.

“That’s a shame… that’s WHO YOU ARE…”  —— Unnamed coworker

“Hey, remember that 18-mile hike you did when you said your back hurt… I looked at your track and you rode with someone the last half mile on the jeep road.  You’re a fraud, and I’m going to tell everyone…You never deserved to be in Backpacker”  —–Prominent guy in the Phoenix hiking community


I hiked today for the first time in a LONG time.  It felt good, familiar yet also foreign.  I realized oddly, that I missed the smells and the sounds alot more than I missed the sights.  My lungs were fine, one of my ankles hurt a little bit and my back hurt from the weight of the 3 gallons of water that I always take in my Camelbak, mostly out of habit.  But otherwise I was fine.

But what have I been doing for a year…

I wish I could say that I’ve been writing the next great American novel, have been in some foreign country building a water source for underprivileged children, or having founded a successful non-profit.

But I can’t.  The truth is, I’ve been doing whatever I wanted to do, which mainly has consisted of spending time at home with my family, watching sports and doing my other nerdly hobbies.

For months, I beat myself up about it…  Still do/did.  But I also realized that unlike the trails and the mountains, my family won’t always be here.  My son’s already left for college and my daughter’s about to be in the eleventh grade.  My dogs that I play with almost constantly will one day die.

But the trails will always be there.  The fact is… they don’t miss you.  They also don’t really call you.  We are called to them from within and for the last year, I just didn’t want to do it.  Hiking became work.  Work became obsession.  Accomplishments meant little because no matter what I accomplished, it wasn’t as good as someone else.  My hills and mountains weren’t the Rockies, or the Cascades, or Nepal, or insert whatever other cool place that you can imagine or have lusted over. Instead of going to Iceland to hike glaciers, I got up every morning at 5:25 and went to work.

I also became jealous and envious over time.  But not of the pretty pictures, not of the hikes, and not even of the places that my friends were going, but of their desire.  Because I didn’t have any.  None.

Truthfully, what I did have was fear.  Not of snakes or animals, but fear that I’d never have any desire to hike or go outside again.

But one thing that I have learned in a year is that what we do is not who we are, and its not what we are meant for.  Although I don’t really understand why, people tell me that I inspire them.  But as some have told me its not what I do (or in this case did) its how I care about them, tell them that I am proud of them, tell them that in many cases that I love them for who they are, and not for what they do.

Today, I still hiked over 3 miles per hour, which I suppose is probably because of my long legs.  I stopped and watched a javelina make its way down into a wash.  I took a ton of pictures for a three mile hike.  Basically, I did it my way.  I hiked for myself, and for nobody else.






Stewart Mountain(s)

20161029_094836View of Peaks 2961 and 2931

This past October, I climbed Stewart Mountain, Peak 2961 and Peak 2931. If you’re familiar with Phoenix, these peaks overlook Saguaro Lake and yield wonderful views of Four Peaks. These are my favorite type of mountains, loose pea gravel … (sarcasm)

I had arrived at the trailhead (pull off) before daybreak and used my headlamp for the first half mile or so.  Being October, I didn’t worry too terribly much about snakes (I rarely do) and saw none.  It was unseasonably warm, however maybe I should have!

But I made it first up 2961, down, then over to Stewart Mountain then over to 2931. 2931 marked what had been a long string for me of the shortest mountain being the hardest. It seemed the steepest and had the loosest scree.   These are mountains that you will not find another soul on.  Ever.  There is no trail whatsoever and there really are not any cairns either.  These are fairly safe mountains that are good for a Phoenician to introduce themselves to route finding and off trail adventure.

View of Four Peaks (and Browns Peak at far left, the County HP)

The ~1 mile boulder hopping chute down between Peaks 2961 and 2931 held a first for me. I could feel a rock I was standing on slightly vibrating from I believe a rattlesnake or two (possibly a den) below it. I looked, but never saw them and kept moving. The smooth granite boulders in the wash/draw/chute are particularly slippery and my hiking shoes were getting low on tread so that was fun. 

All in all, a great day.

20161029_082218Summit View from atop Stewart looking at the Superstition Mountains (r) and Weaver’s Needle (l)


stewart routeThe route

Hike Statistics:

3.73 miles
1819 ft AEG (Accumulated Elevation Gain)
1145 ft of actual gain
3:39 elapsed time

Trailhead coordinates:    33.588, -111.542
Vehicle needed: Passenger car is fine.  I parked off of a paved road, N. Bush Hwy.
Water sources: none 
Nearby peaks to bag:  Three in one day isn’t enough?  🙂
Permits: None


stewart profile



Governor’s Peak

20161209_090752My first glimpse of the backside of Governor’s Peak (center right near the yellow cliff bands is a false summit)

With daytime highs still around 110 here in Phoenix (Hell Portal, AZ), you’d think I was nuts to be getting the itch for peakbagging season… but dewpoints and nighttime temperatures here in the desert are finally starting to creep downward.  I’ve already begun to mentally prepare for this coming season.  

So with that said, I thought I’d highlight some of my favorite peaks that I bagged last season.   And Governor’s Peak was certainly one of them.  

I began my hike by parking along Castle Hot Springs Rd. which at this point is unpaved and fairly graded.  You will have to cross a dry creek bed which the road goes over but unless it’s wet you should be fine.  I parked basically between Casa Rosa (a group of houses where desert rats live) and the actual Castle Hot Springs Resort.  Believe it or not, this resort which in the 1930s SURELY was in the middle of nowhere, and currently is only slightly less in the middle of nowhere, entertained guests such as the Rockefellers. Of note is that this is where John F. Kennedy was taken to recuperate from his wounds on PT-109 in World War II.

20161209_094518Castle Hot Springs Resort

The hike itself (route below) is fairly nondescript except the views when you enter Four Tanks Canyon are pretty epic.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 9.02.36 PMThe route
20161209_100105Views on the way up just above Four Tanks Canyon
20161209_100725Summit Views

Hike Statistics:

6.40 miles
1951 ft AEG (Accumulated Elevation Gain)
1358 ft of actual gain
3:28 elapsed time

Trailhead coordinates:    33.965, -112.343
Vehicle needed: Passenger car would be OK
Water sources: none (possible that water could be in Four Tanks Canyon, but for a 3.5 hour hike I’d just take 2-3L)
Nearby peaks to bag:  Salvation Peak is approximately .5 miles NE but much more difficult and getting to it from Governor’s would be interesting to say the least.
Permits: None


Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 9.46.02 PM


Quien Sabe (Who Knows) Peak


20161127_092257 (1)

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. 

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 8.28.02 AM

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:

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:

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 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.