We had originally planned to do this loop (except include Upper Oldham) a few weeks back but it was called due to weather. Now, with 40% chance of rain, and not being able to do Oldham due to the accident earlier in the week, we forged ahead with a new version of this lasso loop.
We started off real well by parking at the Schultz TH, not realizing there was a separate TH for Sunset . Karl and I had both studied the topo and route for this hike but apparently missed this minor detail. However, you can indeed reach the Sunset Trail from the Schultz TH. It's just that this day the TH would be rather crowded with the Flagstaff 50 race going on so we retreated to the Sunset TH.
We re-geared up and headed on the trail. We didn't get far though as we ran into a cool mushroom phenomenon; little did we know "shrooms" could easily be the theme for the day. These were absolutely fascinating especially up-close. The inside looked like an air filter. On an upper branch, a couple of them were steaming. The first video shows it pretty well. We photographed it a lot before moving on thru the forest on a delightfully sunny day so far.
But the brakes came on again when we found a tree with one of those big mushrooms attached to it with more mushrooms at its base. We spent a little time here too and this is also where we talked with another older couple that were making their way up the trail. They would be the only hikers we would encounter until we were having lunch at the top of the Sunset Trail.
The trail was pretty nice here as you viewed the mix of trees including pines and aspen. In about 20 minutes we would come upon a meadow and as we made our way, if you looked north, you got a nice view of the SF Peaks
. Karl also scared up a couple deer here. We walked in this flatter section for awhile before we started descending toward the Brookbank intersection losing 150 feet in about 1/2 mile. This after gaining 700 feet in two miles. We would eventually descend a total of 300 feet from our high point to the junction with Little Bear and Little Elden Trails at about 2 1/2 miles.
Here, once again we were in a meadow for a short time before ascending back up through a heavily forested area with big boulders like you see when you get off the Heart Trail. This is what I had expected more of the trail to be like rather than what we had gone through. I love this part as you make your way up. At the intersection we chatted with one of the runners and his dog. He said something about his time is always slow cuz he chats. This was his second time around coming up from Elden and down Heart. We also encountered other runners and dogs on this part of the trail.
As we looked over to the east we could see some rain storms not knowing that a little one was brewing above us. We encountered some rain as we made our way through Sunset Park and all of us changed to rain gear. Luckily, by the time I decided I was starved and would need to stop for lunch, the sun came out as we made our way to an area with a big log to sit on and near some trees if we needed cover from the rain.
After lunch, we took the Sunset Trail through the baby aspen (some were just starting to turn chatreuse) to the Elden Saddle where we encountered a few more runners and a sign cleaner-upper. We took the steep path up to the towers where the rain started spitting aggressively again. We took refuge under the steps of the tower for awhile and waited for the light hail storm to pass over. It was sunny to the west and the storms from the east, though getting closer, seemed to want to stray south so Karl said, "Let's make a run for it"
We headed around the towers back and down the road to connect with the Sunset Trail once again. Here is where we got some more hail and then rain off and on as we made our way back to the Heart Trail junction. But we were not deterred and would still stop to take in the views and get some pics of the wildflowers along this part of the trail.
Once we started heading down through the forest and boulder section, the weather became tenuous again and it looked like they had more water here. You could also see groups of hail sticking together in spots. The tenuous weather would continue for the rest of our trip with a couple moments of sunshine except the last few miles where it decided to rain lightly off and on but mostly on. We made our way to Brookbank arriving there around 3:20 including another "shroom" (this time orange) photo session delay. I wasn't sure of the mileage we had left and due to weather we did discuss just taking the 2 known miles back to the TH. I figured if the total hike was around 11.5, we shouldn't have more than 3 1/2 to 4 left.
It was on the Brookbank that we encountered 4 runners (two older gents and another girl we had seen up at Sunset Park and a tall shirtless younger gent). The older gents said they had got caught in the hail on top too. The Brookbank is a pretty little trail with some small meadows that came in and out of the forest. I do think we kept our heads down a bit more than normal and took less photos of some of the scenery and wildflowers due to rain.
And imagine that, we ran into another "mushroom show" so we had to stop for that. And just a little ways past that, off to the north in the lower valley was rising clouds and in the distance, the SF Peaks were shrouded by rays of fog or rain with blue sky peeking through. At 4:45ish we hit the junction with the sign that says it was another mile to Elden Lookout Road (heading west) or hang a right toward Schultz Loop. I think we were now on a connector that split in a little bit with a trail to the left being part of the Schultz Loop? and Little Gnarly being to the right.
The thunder started pounding but we could see clearing to the east. Soon we came upon a body of water, a stock tank, that was underflowing (leaking out of the bottom). Karl decided to check it out and I followed. As you got atop the dam you are treated to a beautiful body of water with
reflections and toward the back, bunches of yellow flowers. And then there was the lightning
and thunder to add a little more flavor to the moment. Karl tried to get a lightning shot but that's pretty hard no matter how fast you are. I got a shot while in video mode (Video 4) but I actually had to slow down the motion a lot to get the horizontal strike.
From there you followed an old road through some pretty cool forest and we spotted more mushrooms here and there. The thunder continued to crackle through the trees and the sky was still dark. Eventually you come to a prescribed burn area where the forest floor is covered in beautiful flowing grass and burnt tree trunks. It's very photogenic though the light wasn't the best. Kathy and Karl had found a bunch of hail nuggets still stuck to the ground at the road barricade area. Now it was just a hop and skip to the TH but not before the mist start rising from the ground. If anything on this hike, it was constant entertainment weather-wise.
Finally back at the car, we ungeared and found it to be a tad chilly. We still had our post-hike beer and enjoyed the scenery as the sun had finally come out now. In fact, the sun was putting on a show with its rays through the trees. I would have to jump up and get my camera to grab a few more pictures. I wish I had thot to video it too.
Now if you thot our show was done, you would be wrong because on the drive back to the main highway, we saw 3 or 4 elk (a couple pictures, no elk), 1/2 dozen deer (a couple pictures, some deer), and hail (a couple pictures, 2 inch high hail piles) that looked like snow as there was so much of it still stuck to the ground. We had to stop so I could get out and investigate closer. I grabbed a pile of it to show Karl http://hikearizona.com/photo=360955 as I was so amazed. He was too busy eating huckleberry taffy to come see for himself plus we were stopped in the middle of the road. The road had a lot of running water in places too. Anyway, it was a hail of a day !
Video 1 up the Sunset Trail - http://youtu.be/EElZK2_yGsU
Video 2 across the Sunset Trail thru the baby aspen up to the Towers and our hiding spot during the hail and back down the Sunset and more hail - http://youtu.be/7SDZkHviwZM
Video 3 down the Sunset to Brookbank, Brookbank to Little Gnarly - http://youtu.be/945ofN4s89M
Video 4 on the Little Gnarly including a stop at a stock tank and to the Sunset TH - http://youtu.be/eg5llAvNuR4Wildflowers
still lots of flower action for this time of year but it's on its last legs I think. Most of the flower action was from the intersection of the Heart to Elden Road.