It is rare that John and I get to do a day hike together, without Mary. We take her with us everywhere we go, because that is what you do when you have a family. We do everything together; we even select kid-friendly trails, so that Mary can hike with us.
But every now and then - about once or twice a year - John and I feel the need to do something a little less kid-friendly. Sometimes we just need to bag a peak or go on a very long hike, just to prove that we can still do it. For now, we just can't do those things with Mary; after all, at four years old, she was only good for about two or three miles a day, and she was getting too heavy to carry uphill.
The time had come again for us to do another day hike without Mary. John and I had been eyeing Kendrick Mountain ever since we had taken Erika and Mary there in June. (We had only hiked in one mile, then back out again.) It had been over five years since we last hiked all the way to the top of Kendrick Mountain, and now we wanted to go back again.
So, John made arrangements for Erika to watch Mary on Labor Day, so that we could once again conquer Kendrick.
The trail that we wanted to hike was the Kendrick Trail #22, a nine-mile (round trip) trail that goes to the top of Kendrick Mountain and back. The trail starts out at an elevation of 7,900 feet and ends at 10,400 feet, at a Forest Service watch tower on the top of Kendrick Peak.
When we did this trail in May of 1999, the trail had been covered in snow, and the only way that we were able to find the trail was by following the footprints of a jogger who was just finishing the trail when we arrived. We had had the trail to ourselves that day, so we were able to "take advantage" of the historic Forest Service cabin near the peak of the mountain, making it one of our more memorable hikes.
What a difference five years could make. In 2002, much of Kendrick Mountain had been burned during the Pumpkin Fire. Although the Forest Service watch tower and cabin had been spared from the devastating fire, there were still over 12,000 acres of wilderness land that had been burned in the blaze. The beautiful forest of pine trees that once covered the mountain was now nothing more than a bunch of charred sticks. The foliage that had not been burned was dry from the drought.
So would it be worth it to hike to the top of the mountain? Of course it would, and we were going to do it.
We left the house around 6:00 a.m. that day; after dropping Mary off with Grandma, we drove through Flagstaff to US Highway 180. From there, we bypassed FR 245 - the usual route to the Kendrick Trailhead - and took FR 171 instead, because FR 245 had become too rutted and rough. The alternate route did not take us any longer; in fact, we still made it to the trailhead by 9:00 a.m.
Upon our arrival, we got out of the Jeep and prepared to put on our hiking gear, only to make a shocking discovery: one of our Camelbaks had leaked all over the Jeep! The water bladder was almost completely empty, and the Camelbak was soaked. We would only have one bladder to share between the two of us.
We were used to these types of things happening to us: we had been through everything from flat tires to broken boots, so we weren't worried. We left the leaking Camelbak in the Jeep, and I put the dry one on my back. Then, grabbing the digital camera, we were off.
As soon as we began to hike on the Kendrick Mountain Trail, I could tell that I was out of shape. It had been a very long time since we had hiked anything this difficult - after all, many of the trails that we had done recently were all kid-friendly hikes that did not require a lot of elevation change (perhaps 300 feet at the most). Within the first mile of the trail, I was winded and falling behind. However, I was not about to quit; I was determined to make it up to the top of the mountain, no matter what.
I just needed to take frequent breaks. That's all.
John, on the other hand, was doing quite well and managed to stay several hundred feet ahead of me for most of the hike. While waiting for me to catch up to him, he stopped to take pictures of the fantastic scenery that was all around us. The fire damage had created an unobstructed view of the San Francisco Peaks, Mount Eldon, and the forest surrounding them. The views were just incredible, and John had to photograph them.
Despite the slowness of my ascent, John and I still made good time climbing up to the top of Kendrick. In fact, we made it to the Forest Service cabin by 11:30 a.m. By that time, I was hiking on fumes and needed a pick-me-up, so I suggested that we eat lunch before we went on that last half-mile jaunt up to the top of Kendrick Peak. John couldn't argue with me; after all, my face was very red and he thought for sure I would pass out or something if I didn't sit down and rest.
We sat down behind the cabin and had lunch in the shade. While we were there, we watched the other hikers going up and down the mountain. One thing was for sure: there would be no solitude for us on this hike (not like last time). Playing in the cabin was not going to be an option, not with that many people coming and going.
So, instead of reliving history, John and I bypassed the cabin and started on the final leg of our journey: the last little climb to the top.
Having been refueled, I was feeling great again, so the last half-mile to the top was nothing. I made it to the top in about ten minutes. John was right behind me; he had lingered a bit at the cabin to "water the trees", so by the time he caught up to me, I was already nearing the top. We would make it there at the same time.
When we arrived, we found that there were many other hikers there as well; a large group of hikers was enjoying lunch on the heliopad behind the watch tower. They were watching smoke billowing up from the forest below, from what was probably a prescribed burn. Another pair of hikers arrived at the top of the mountain right behind us. And, in the watch tower, there was a Forest Ranger, keeping on eye on the forest.
The Forest Ranger invited us up to the watch tower to chat. We asked him about his job, and he indicated to us that he spent about six months up in the watch tower every year, from May to October, depending on the length of the fire season. Food and equipment were brought to him by helicopter while he kept watch over the forest. To hear him describe his job, you could tell that he loved doing it. For one thing, he woke up every morning with the most incredible view that anyone could ask for. We couldn't argue with that!
After spending a half an hour talking to the Forest Ranger about Kendrick Mountain and the surrounding area, we bid him farewell then began our descent from the peak.
Our return hike did not take us nearly as long to complete; after all, it was all downhill from there. Since it was all downhill, we only took a few short breaks along the way, rather than frequent, longer ones, so we made it back to the trailhead in only two hours - at about 2:30 p.m.
John and I both felt good after completing our hike - yes, we were tired, but we felt good, too, because we had once again conquered Kendrick Mountain. When we picked up Mary that afternoon, we thanked John's mother for watching Mary for us, because we couldn't have accomplished that feat with her in tow.
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