Wow. Where to begin!?
I really have an affinity for rain in the desert. It's just such a rare treat to see things in the entirely different light and perspective that rain and clouds provide. So when the forecast started to show a near certainty of rain on Thursday, I decided that I wanted to take advantage of it. The rarity of this storm became clear when I looked back in the almanac only to realize that it hadn't rained in Phoenix on April 26 since Jimmy Carter was president!
So I woke up Thursday morning and fired off an email to work, explaining that I would be taking a personal "meteorological appreciation day". I'm really sort of surprised I didn't get any kind of query from the higher-ups as to what that meant!
Now, I'm quite used to my random weekday adventures being solitary, since most people I know who would be interested in this kind of thing have jobs where "meteorological appreciation day" is not a valid excuse for taking off work. Not to mention, how many people get excited about going hiking in the rain? On purpose?..."Jonathan? Seriously? Sweet! Let's go!"
So I drove down to the QC and picked him up at the dealership where he dropped off his truck for what turned out to be like $15,000 in BS repairs. LOL. It had started to rain on the way there, and I was getting really excited to get on the trail. I had decided it would be fun to climb a mountain, and I had never done Granite, so it seemed like Prescott would be a great destination for the day. As we headed up I-17, we encountered a constant downpour. Twice it was raining so hard that the water wasn't draining off the road quickly enough and I had a momentary hydroplane. That kept the speed down to about 50.
Despite being prepared for a rainy hike, I was secretly beginning to wonder if I was really up for going out on an extended trip in this kind of deluge. I mean, there's a difference between some scattered showers or drizzle, and what we were experiencing. Luckily, somewhere between Prescott Valley and Prescott (literally), the rain stopped, the clouds parted, and it turned into the most perfect, crisp, spectacularly clear, sunny, 43-degree day! I think we made five stops. Jonathan hadn't eaten anything so we stopped to grab a sandwich. Then he needed to stop by the bank. Then it occurred to me that I had left my camelback (filled with water) in the fridge at home, so I had to hit a grocery store and buy some hydration. And then I realized that I had no cash to pay the trailhead fee. So about an hour after getting to Prescott, we finally got to the trailhead!
By now the sun had been out for a little bit and the thermometer read 49. There wasn't a single other car at the trailhead. Prescott's most popular hiking trail, huh? We struggled for a few minutes choosing the appropriate clothing options, but once settled, headed out just a couple of minutes past noon. Neither of us had hiked Granite before, so it was a fun exploration. There was running water all over the place, and a lot of yellow leaves, both on and off the trees, giving the day an unusual autumnal feel.
The weather was perfect. Breezy, big puffy clouds cruising by at a low altitude, occasionally clipping the peaks and shrouding them in mist. We climbed sort of leisurely, enjoying the day, and occasionally taking a few photos. Jonathan's camera is currently fighting an unfortunate medical issue, so I loaned him my little Lumix P&S. I think it really appreciated an actual photographer pushing it's buttons for once!
This hike featured perhaps the most diverse flora I've encountered over such a short distance. The number of different desert plants is impressive, and we were treated to some nice flowers too. Then there's a short stretch of Ponderosa forest that disappears as quickly as it appeared. It was really neat to enjoy the variety of plant life on this hike!
As we got to the top of the main climb, the skies to the south and west were dark with rain, and it became abundantly clear that we would be getting hit in short order. We got our packs out and put on some extra gear, just in time for a wall of wind and rain to arrive. Luckily, the rain quickly turned to hail (I say luckily because the hail was small, and rain is a lot wetter than hail!) It only lasted for a few minutes, and didn't slow us down.
Immediately after the shower, some more great views opened up with clouds whisping around the mountain and overhead. (1 min video here: http://youtu.be/U050_9OHu3s
I had set my mind on summiting the highest peak (7626), and since we were both feeling fine, and the weather had been cooperative, we skipped the half-mile out to the observation point at the end of the official Granite Mountain #261 trail, and just headed on the off-trail route toward the peak. This is where the fun really started!
I had uploaded Wally's track to my GPS, and I'm glad I did. Despite the descriptions saying that there are so many cairns that you can always see from one to the next, we managed to lose the trail more than a couple of times. Don't get me wrong. There ARE tons of cairns. But it's a bit of a jungle of manzanita and other scrub, and it's not terribly difficult to get off-track a bit. Much of this off-trail ascent follows small drainages, which are probably nice easy "trails" on a normal day. But today they were little rivers, so it required a little more attention to footsteps.
The first part of the off-trail ascent follows a relatively flat basin, before a short ascent up a deceiving false peak and another short flat area. We stopped here and had a snack and hydrated before making the final 500 ft push to the top. I loved this part. There was climbing, scrambling, bouldering, hopping, jumping, and overall just fun exploring while working our way up and up. Some cool trees, stumps, and the constant sound of water flowing below the rocks we were on. The cool breeze and low clouds just added to the experience.
After a bunch of different routings we finally figured out the best way up, and success was ours! It had taken 3 hours and clocked in at 4.98 miles on my GPS. The views on this day were unmatched. It was very windy. In fact, it was so windy that I was not able to get my little Lumix to stand on its own for a timer shot. I did take a video from the top that does a 360-degree panorama. It was awesome! (It begins facing north, and swings to the east http://youtu.be/H0e99zMOe9U
). I signed the peak register, noticing that the previous visitors had been there two weeks prior, in the snow. Must've been some crazy Norwegians!
We were a bit more successful following the route on the way back down, and this was just as much fun as the ascent. (I uploaded my GPS track, and if you compare it to the others, you can see that none of us followed the same route exactly. It's just that kind of hike!) When we got back to the official #261 trail junction, we decided to skip going out to the lookout point and just head back down the trail. The weather stayed nice and the long shadows of the lower sun cast beautiful light. We pretty much cruised down the mountain, with only a couple of stops to set up some photos.
After 2 hours, we arrived back at the trailhead. Still the only car there. How many people can say they've hiked Granite Mountain and didn't see another person all day!?
This is another of those hikes that I may never do again. It will simply be impossible to enjoy it as much as today. Any subsequent visit will almost certainly be a disappointment. Probably crowds of people. Maybe a hot, baking sun on the 99% southern exposure of this hike. Probably a hard, dry, dusty, and sandy surface. Pollution or humidity filling the air. Who knows what else? But for today, I will have the memory of the perfect day on Granite Mountain!
The hike was over, but the day didn't end there, as we went downtown and met Jonathan's cousin for a drink at The Raven, followed by beautiful drive over Mingus Mountain and through Jerome, before cruising into Sedona for the most satisfying dinner ever at the Elote Cafe with Katie and a couple she works with, Nathan and Toni. For dessert, the chef served us a delicious round of his own raisin-infused tequila, which was surprisingly delicious. (I don't like raisins or tequila!)
After contemplating the invitation to stay at Nathan and Toni's overnight, we decided to head back despite the late hour. Because my tank of gas wasn't going to get us all the way to the QC, we stopped in Scottsdale and had a quick victory lap at Four Peaks
I think I crawled into bed at around 2:30, still feeling the euphoria of such a fantastic day!