Monday, March 29, 2021

Phoenix Phearsome Phour Phastest Known Time

I've been itching to run longer for the past several months, ever since I completed the Flagstaff Fearsome 4 FKT on Thanksgiving.  The day after that run, I woke up to more than the usual run soreness.  Turns out I've got a pinched nerve, and it is taking a long time to improve (even with help from a PT doc).

Weirdly, it hurts more when I walk (especially uphill), while running has mostly been OK all along, as long as I don't overdo it.  The definition of "too much" is a fluid thing, thankfully with an upper limit that seems to be increasing all the time.

So when I saw that someone named Jeff has created a similar - and helpfully not nearly as long or tall - 4-peaks FKT route in Phoenix, I started thinking I should at least try it.  If nothing else, it would be a good training day and a reset on my "what is currently possible" thinking.

John was happy to play along - thank you John!  We did some orienteering on Saturday and then got up early on Sunday to start before dawn and try to avoid a bit of afternoon warmth.

Which was a good plan, because, wow, is that Echo Canyon trailhead ever popular!  Crazy numbers of people already there when we arrived around 5:15 am, and a line of cars backed up waiting for parking spots when we left.  Normally I try to follow all the rules about open/closing times for parking lots and trails, but I didn't find the "closed from sunset to sunrise" info online, it appears that zero people are paying attention to it, and if you did you would have trouble getting on the trail in the first place.

My first time at Camelback Mountain, looking forward to seeing this iconic trail:

John was excited about joining me for this first up-and-back, which was great because he's faster than me on this type of terrain and was able to take a few "action" shots along the way:

Full moon!  Apparently I planned that well without even trying.  What a beautiful morning for a trek up the mountain, with the lights of Phoenix down below.

The trail posts have the letter E on them, which I joked must mean this is the "Easy" route.  John recalled that laz says "E means Excellent" (and if you haven't seen the Barkley movie, you totally should go watch it right now).  Boringly, it probably actually stands for Echo Canyon trail.

If the light wasn't reflecting off the post, you might see the E, but you'll just have to take my word for it.  Or go hike this trail.  It's worth it!

Steep climbing up through rocks, and my pinched nerve was active but not overly excited, so we motored on up.

To the top in just under 40 minutes; I was pleased.  And thrilled to be experiencing this lovely morning from up here.

Imminent sunrise on the eastern horizon:

Working my way down, as John has even more time to bounce ahead and snap photos - it was fun but I'm rather slow on this stuff:

It's nice that there are multiple ways through most sections, so the hiker hoards can find ways to pass each other going both ways without many conga lines or backups:

There's the sunlight!  So pretty!

For this steep part, I found that a modified rappel using the railing was my fastest descent method.  Super enjoyable too.

Sometimes it even looks like I'm running...

Wait, I actually am running, almost back to the crowded parking lot so we can get out of there.

From there it's almost 3 miles along roads to the next trailhead, the only sidewalks of the route.  It was nice doing this in the cool part of the morning.

Starting up the next trail, on a short run over to my next meeting point with John:

A small saddle in the sunlight:

I missed one intersection (and the fact that it even WAS an intersection) and found myself heading downhill toward a neighborhood.  A quick check of the map on my phone, and a conversation with a hiker who followed me (who said he has made the same mistake before) and we were both back on track.

I prefer to scout for my FKT runs whenever possible, saving time not trying to figure things out on the fly, but that wasn't possible this go-round so I would just have to work out the route as I went along.  Next time I'll find a way to print out a paper map to carry instead of just relying on the phone.  Google Maps and the Gaia app worked great, but it's still a pain.  Kip has a new GPS watch where he can see the map and route on his wrist - if only I had a larger wrist that could support such technology.

Having a good time on the trail:

First glimpse of peak #2, Piestewa (and if anyone knows how to pronounce that, please let me know) - it seemed to get taller the closer I got:

Hi John!  Quick drink and water fill, moving on.  There are a couple nice-looking bathrooms here, someone doing an unsupported run might check to see if the water fountains are working.

Another nice feature, a large bridge to get from the parking lot to the trail:

Then - lots of climbing, more steepness, plenty of people, and another decently-wide trail that can handle all the traffic.  The comparison in # of people I saw while running the Flagstaff FKT vs. the Phoenix one is quite dramatic.

Also dramatic - the view from the top.  And yay, I made it to the top!  The first two peaks are the biggest ones, and it was a nice surprise to climb both of them without too much pinched nerve chatter.

I took a minute to soak in the views:

So, there's a rocky highpoint just over there, and it looked a tad taller than where I turned around, but it wasn't for sure, it would have taken some time and scrambling to get there, Jeff's track didn't go there (his track turned around before the actual top of all the peaks, possibly because of lower tracking frequency and faster speed), and I decided not to mess around trying to clamber over to that spot.  I dwelled on this briefly on the way down but finally had to say "self, stop thinking about it."  I've spent way too many minutes of my life trying to find the exact top of things.

Partway down, veering off to take the trail MUCH less traveled:

The trails are numbered, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how good the signage was, for the most part.  I should have written down more of the numbers to know what to look for.

A nice bench at a saddle:

I made the bad assumption that I was going to follow the 1A trail all the way around to the bike path, and I just followed the excellent markings through a maze of trails.  I even captured a picture of one of the signs:

It took me until the next bench to sit and check the map on my phone.  Hey, my dot isn't on the track now.  I watched it for a few seconds, hoping the GPS would update to move my location onto the route... please?  Nope, I was going the wrong way.  Dang it.  Well, it was a nice place to sit for a snack, but I wouldn't have gone out of my way for it.

OK, time to start verifying every intersection.  Problem was, there were a lot of intersections.  Sigh.  That's what I get for coming into this with zero prior knowledge.  And making assumptions.

I ran back down the little hill, climbed the correct hill, made my way over to the paved bike path, and soon found John at the Dreamy Draw parking lot (don't you just love that name?).  Hello, Mr. Dreamy!

One of several tunnels for the day:

I'd thought I was going to follow trail #100 for a few miles, but no, it has a reroute and I wasn't supposed to follow the arrows (sensing a pattern here).  At least I stopped to check before going the wrong way this time.  It did make me question everything, plus I'm not great at running with the phone in my hand.  I could make up quite a bit of time if I came back again.

Running through the desert, glancing over at some interesting homes:

Flowering ocotillo (I saw a much redder version earlier but didn't get a photo, so this will have to do):

Back on trail #100, heading toward another crazy trail intersection.  I did another little backtrack trying to follow the track on the map, but that one was unnecessary.

Also seemingly unnecessary was a short, steep climb that led to a short, steep drop, not sure what that was about, but I was still following the track to the letter.

Hello, cactus:

Enjoying the run through the desert - we've done a good bit of orienteering near Phoenix this winter, and it was a nice change to stay on trails and not worry about pokey plants.

After some "middle of nowhere" running, I went through another tunnel and popped out at the trailhead.

John waving me in:

Only one section left!  And it included both of the remaining climbs, each 700+ feet up.  I told John I had a strong feeling I was going to make it, one way or another.

The road up to North Mountain, a nice grade for speed-walking:

With a view toward the final quest, Shaw Butte:

As high up as I could get, next to the radio towers at the top:

My next trail goes that-a-way:

So, this was my least favorite part of the route.  It's a "pick your way down" steep little thing, which would be great if I were better at this stuff, but I got there eventually.  Actually, I was so happy that I wasn't climbing UP that thing that I didn't really mind.

One last flat jog and then the start of the trail up toward Shaw - this one at least has excellent signage once you get on the Shaw trail:

Partway up, looking back over toward North Mountain.  Oddly, when I was on North Mountain I couldn't figure out where I'd come from and where Camelback and Piestewa were located.  There are quite a few mountain ranges of various sizes around the city, and I'd like to go back and figure things out better sometime.

Well what do you know, my legs are getting tired.  Haven't felt that in some time - I'll take it as a good sign.

John hiked up Shaw from the other side and found me as I was nearing the top.  Cool!  It was fun to spend more time on the trail with him.  Finishing the climb toward the towers on the final peak of the day:

Sending a "Just checking in" message on the InReach Mini (it has been too long since I've run an FKT, I have to figure everything out again):

Selfie at the summit:

Starting the run down to the last trailhead:

It's a nice road down to the end of the trail:

I have no idea what this pose is about.  Maybe I was dancing with happiness, because that's about how awkwardly I dance.  I was indeed happy!

Yay John, thank you and that was fun!

Ready for some pizza...