Checklist for Hikers (and hiking guide authors)

Items that pertain to normal people are written normally.

(Items that pertain only to guidebook authors are in parentheses).

 

AT HOME:

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One possible resource for researching a trail. Just saying…
  1. Pick a hike. Don’t just drive somewhere and hope for inspiration.
  2. Pick the best hike feasible. Never skip a good hike for a mediocre hike thinking, “I’ll get to that other hike soon enough…” Weather/health/family/jobs sabotage hiking opportunities all the time. (If you haven’t prioritized your hike list by coolness vs accessibility, go do that now.)
  3. Do a little research. This, of course, depends on how comfortable you are with uncertainty. Some hikers like to know everything before they go (for which guidebook authors must be grateful). Some just want to know how to get to the trailhead, and let everything else be a surprise. At a minimum, though, you should know what the weather’s going to be like, and the water or fire conditions.
  4. (Learn something about the history, geology and ecology of your hike destination – so you know what to look for on the trail. Yeah, you can do a lot of that afterwards, but why work harder?)

 

PACKING THE GEAR

 

  1. Get a map. Bring it with you. Your GPS does not count. (Print an extra one for your significants – so they can refer to it when they call the emergency response team later)
  2. Gather your essential survival things. (Have these in a kit ready to go, and keep that kit in your vehicle, so your son does not plunder it).
  3. Calculate the most water you could possibly consume on the hike, and put at least twice that amount in the car.
  4. Don’t forget lunch!
  5. Make sure your GPS, flashlight and camera are charged.
  6. (Make sure your GPS has memory left.)
  7. (Make sure your flashlight actually works.)
  8. Make sure you camera has memory.
  9. (Clean the lens on the camera.)
  10. (Bring a notebook and a working pen – because bad things can happen to digital recording devices in the wild).
  11. If the hike is more than 10 miles round trip, or you know you won’t make the trailhead until after 11 am, pack extra batteries for the flashlight, and bring an extra layer of clothing. At ten miles or more, or a noon start or later, you are one wrong turn from looking for the trailhead by moonlight.
  12. Gather this stuff the night before if you can.

 

AT THE TRAILHEAD

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  1. Turn on the GPS, and let it find the satellites while you do the rest of your things.
  2. Finish your coffee. It won’t taste good when you get back.
  3. Now drink something else – don’t start the hike dehydrated.
  4. (Write down the GPS coordinates of the trailhead. Don’t just recite them into the DVR – write them down! Remember altitude.)
  5. Top off all the water containers.
  6. If there is some sort of toilet – use it. Especially if there are a lot of other cars at the trailhead. I don’t have to explain this logic – right?
  7. (Test the recording devices. Get the date and start time in the first recording, so you can use it on your blog seven months from now.)
  8. (Take a Bongo picture at the trailhead.)
  9. Lock the car.
  10. (Catch up with your companions who grew weary of your fussing and have already started the hike.)

 

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Hualapai Mountain Trail System

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Hualapai Mountain towers over Kingman and surrounding parts,; an island of pine forest in a high desert sea.  High on the slopes, at about 6000 feet, sits Hualapai Mountain regional (county) Park, featuring campgrounds and a trail system wandering around the peaks.

There are several access points, one being right in the campground, but I started from the actual trailhead – and had the place to myself.

From the trailhead (with vault toilets tables and trash-cans) the approach trail follows the wash, past the buried remains of the Silver Bell Mine and finally across a cute little wooden bridge, and up the mountainside.

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The only reason to take the trailhead spur

That leg took me to the campground trailhead, and honestly, unless you are hankering to see a mostly buried silver mine, you can start here and miss nothing. The meat of the hike is the Potato Patch Loop which starts in earnest a hundred feet up the dirt road from the secondary trailhead.

Now, let’s pause a moment and consider that all I had was the free trail guide they gave me at the campsite HQ. Which, so you are warned, is next to worthless. Oh, sure, it has colors and illustrations and explanatory text about the various ecosystem stratas and how regions got their name. But the scale is so small, it is useless as a means to track where you are hiking.

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Don’t hate me because I’m pretty. Hate me because I’m useless.

A common topic of conversation with my fellow hikers – many of whom seemed more experienced than I – was “where do you think we are?”

I went clockwise around that loop. My first stop was Staircase Lookout, named for the CCC built stone stairs that lead up to that lookout point. That would be the last landmark I could properly identify until I hit Camp Levi, which we will get to.

 

 

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Between those two points, the trail winds around the slopes as a mostly obvious single-track affording views of the high desert vistas (mostly to my left) and cool forests and giant boulders of the mountainside (mostly to my right). The whole loop is around 10 miles, not counting spurs to summit trails. Hualapai has four summit trails, and you would be on your own with any of them.

Everyone gets lost at Camp Levi. This is a Boy Scout camp, and therefore riddled with trails that look official and well made, but really just loop back to camp for whatever reason. I would love to give you solid guidance on how I found my way out of that maze, but really I just kept trying trails in and out of the Valley of the Porta-potties there (there are like twenty spread about) until one of those trails just kept going.

 

The actual trail will have orange reflectors nailed to trees – though not through Camp Levi – but that’s the true sign you must seek.Then it was more wandering through shady forest around staggering boulders separated by high desert vistas.

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The true sign of the actual trail

The hike is at serious altitude – meaning it will be blessedly a good ten degrees colder than nearby Kingman, but will also work your lungs harder. So while the trail is Medium with pockets of Hard, it will feel like a lot more Hard than it is unless you are accustomed to the lower oxygen ratios.

 

You can do this hike in tennis shoes. There were some families with kids chased horned toads. I hit some clots of people on a warm Sunday afternoon, but few do the whole circuit. I had the more distant slopes largely to myself.

 

I clocked a good thousand feet of overall elevation change across the 6 or so miles of actual hike. Most of this was accomplished via switchback.

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Eventually, I came back to where I started, and followed the spur back to my car.

 

My tent site cost $17 a night, but a day pass to the park costs $7 per vehicle. Yes – they will check.

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Willow Creek (whatever)

The city of Prescott has three man-made reservoirs in or about city limits, and Willow Creek is the most accessible, and arguably the most scenic. While you can float a non-powered boat on it, and fish and bird-watch, or even peer into the excavated homes of the long-gone natives if you time it right, the attraction – at least for me -is as a hiking destination.

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There are three trailheads, and I picked the only one with a parking fee – City-run Willow Lake Park on the north side.

Let’s stop here and clarify: the body of water is called Willow Lake, Willow Creek Lake, Willow Creek Basin or Willow Creek Reservoir depending on what source you look at. It is all the same body of water.

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The city park is the most developed site, with the boat launch and the well-guarded aboriginal ruins. They were closed when I was there, and thus we skip right past them. The park asks for a $3 fee paid by an honor-system kiosk. Or you could park at the ball-fields of adjacent Heritage Park – as I did, and hoof in for half a mile extra.

The lake, and the 6 mile trail that wanders around its perimeter can be accessed by the Jim McCasland Willow Creek Park, which has a ball-field and a dog park, on the east shore, and some undeveloped gravel parking areas on the south shore. McCasland, for your planning convenience, also has restrooms and water fountains. The south lots have only trash cans.

Back on the north shore, the city park is adjacent to a trailer park and a campground, and a number of social trails connect the two. I went clockwise, past all of these and into the portion of the Granite Dells, a large, relatively famous jumble of granite boulders and mounds that line the north and east shores of the lake.

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Like all trails through this terrain, the path has a lot of up and down and round and round and is often a scramble over granite marked only by spots of white paint.

In the NE corner, some side trails loop further into the Dells, but I skipped these, to budget time and energy. Originally, I was just going to go to the dam, and then turn back. Past the junction with the loop trails, heading south through the boulders, you can look for the red bridge, though if you take the offshore leg of the loop you could miss it, before you wind down into the valley behind the dam.

I have been through this valley both wet and dry. Dry is far more likely, but trails exist which will get you across when the water is spilling out from the concrete barrier.

On the south wall of this valley are the stairs, rail-road tie stairs, which will march up 200’ in elevation to the last leg of the journey south through the Dells.

Here I reasoned, correctly I still believe, that retracing the just under two-mile journey from the city park to the top of the stairs would consumed as much energy as continuing along the remaining four miles ahead of me, and I decided to press forward around the lake.

Another half mile of big boulders, including a close encounter with the edge of the lake, that required a bit of rock hopping, separated the stairs from more open terrain. You can avoid the edge of the lake via a loop I did not take.

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Both will dump you into the shadeless, swamp-grass covered expanse of the south-eat edge of the lake, The map claims this part of the trail could be submerged, but this is rare. When I traveled it, it was a dry dirt track through the tall grass and swarms of insects that live there. This turns west and rises into the hard-pack of the southern shore. Power lines and an intermittent fence-line separate the trail from Willow Road to the south. Past the gravel parking areas, and across a wooden bridge, the trail wanders away from the road, and skirts some low granite formations before turning north along the east shore.


forklift stuntsIt will dip in and around some wooded washes before reaching McCasland Park, where I found the water and restrooms nearly life-saving. Past there the trail wanders through scrub along the shore, passing Embry-Riddle University on the far side of the road, and finally back to the city park sprawling along the north shoreline.

I did the trail in about three hours. The Dells are Hard, the rest of the trail is easy, but the Dells are the worthwhile portion in my opinion. These Dells would be a premier destination for burning off the energy of junior high boys. Even as an adult, this hike remains a good way to kill a few hours if you happen to be in Prescott, in good weather, with time on your hands, and reasonably sturdy shoes.