Kendrick Peak – How a Day on the Trail Can Change Your Life

Kendrick Peak- Kaibab National Forest

This was my first real hike.  My dad made arrangements for it to happen which now in retrospect is pretty monumental because he’s not a planner.  I don’t know where the idea came from nor how he picked Kendrick specifically.  It is located in Flagstaff, a city a few hours north of Phoenix.  As a kid “Flag” was totally lame-oh because there was nothing to do there.  We went pretty regularly to stay at Fort Tuthill, a military rec site with A-frame cabins.  It was always nice to be in the mountains and explore in the woods but it got a bit boring after a while.  Plus Flag may be at 6900 feet but it still felt like being in Phoenix.  It wasn’t THAT  much colder.

For some reason though this trip to Kendrick was always special.  It was even special at the time, which considering I was probably 12 or 13 speaks more to how unique it was that I was willing to like something my parents planned anything.  We drove up with all our equipment packed in our Volvo station wagon for a little father son bonding weekend.  This was real camping by the way.  We drove up and eventually ended up on some country road that we followed until we found a clearing, pulled off the road and set up camp.  No privies, no shelters, NOTHING.  It was definitely a car camping extravaganza.  Our kit was complete with two burner propane stove, 10 gallon container of fresh water (my dad places drinking water on par with oxygen for any trip outside the city limits), chainsaw, propane lanterns (remember those), military cots (surprisingly comfortable), the works!

As you may recall I was fairly certain animals were going to get me at all points in time.  I remember seeing Jaws 3 and then being afraid while sitting in my pool that he might come through THE GROUND and get me a la Tremors.  If that was a possibility imagine what could run through my mind actually in the Wilderness.  As I also said, I has seen the Great Outdoors and had essentially pegged all gears as man-eating, Kodiak, mammoths that preferred the tasty sinew of man-flesh over anything.  This camping experience then was quite unnerving.  What made it infinitely worse was that we must have been camping along an elk migrating path.  The entire night we were serenaded by the most ungodly noise.  To this day we assume it was elk because the sound just didn’t make sense for any other mammal.  I get the chills right now just thinking about it.  Of course where there are elk there are coyotes ravenous wolves, baying through the night as they track prey.  But it wasn’t just my overactive imagination.  The frequency of the noises and their circling proximity around us led my dad to bring his pistol in the tent… as well as the chainsaw.  Not to mention the fact that we had cooked chili and potentially bratwurst that night.  With a lack of Leave No Trace knowledge our camp was certainly strewn with sweet juices of meat.  In short, we were going to die.  Ironically it was that last piece of knowing there was a giant noise maker in the tent that allowed me to sleep.

The next morning we hiked.  Ultralight?  Super-ultralight?  Psshh.  Remember, my dad is both military and considers water to be a survival tool beyond equal.  As an aside, go talk to someone in the military about pack weight.  Discuss with them the concept of titanium cookware, cuben fiber, and dehydrated Pad Thai.  I dare you.  You will walk away with a cuben fiber skirt and pigtails in your hair.  I want to say the military considers 50% body weight to be appropriate pack weight.  Actually, it’s probably more correct to say they consider “what needs to be carried” as appropriate pack weight.  So we had a lot of stuff for a day hike by today’s standards.  Food was apples, Nature Valley bars, trail mix, and maybe some jerky.  I think we packed lunches as well for the summit.

The summit is at 10418 ft with a gain of about 2700 feet over 4 miles.  I have no idea if that is significant.  It wasn’t too bad- mainly fire access road so not a whole lot of rocks, climbing, etc.  Its a pretty even grade the whole way.  You definitely get a few different climates as you eventually reach alpine climate.  Lots of different flora.  The whole back country in Arizona is an ever evolving landscape as they deal with large forest fires every year.  Im not sure what it would be like today, but it was beautiful then.

Once you reach the top there is a fire lookout station.  This was really cool.  The lookout let us come up and see his place in exchange for a Nature Valley bar.  My first experience with trail magic?  From the top you can see all the way to Grand Canyon as well as an amazing view of the San Francisco Peaks.  But what I was amazed by was that this guy was living in this room for WEEKS.  It seemed so bizarre.  He had a little bed and a stove.  He said people brought him up supplies every week or so but largely he was just eating rice and canned foods.  In my mind this guy was Lewis and Clark.

One of my favorite books growing up was some random kids book about Lewis and Clark.  It was a proper chapter book about their journey.  I’m sure if I read it now though it would amaze me how simple it was.  I remember reading it over and over again just to have the chance to experience the imagination of what it must have been like.  It was complete with run-ins with bears, fishing for survival, usurping land trading with the natives.  The whole story just struck me as the most perfect way to go on an adventure- experiencing a frontier otherwise completely unknown to anyone.  Hikers today will pat themselves on the back for different levels of ability to rough it.  THIS was roughing it.  The guy we met at the ranger station, probably could have gone on the trip with LnC.

The most significant aspect of our hike up Kendrick was the landing pad by the ranger station.  It was a completely exposed (go figure) slab of concrete near the summit.  It was surrounded by shrubbery and wild flowers.  We ate lunch there and enjoyed the warmth of the sun as the trip in had left us chilled as our sweat began to evaporate.  Typical to how my father gets down, he decided to take a nap.  I remember being very frustrated.  “Can’t we just get going, this is boring”.  Add to this that it was probably spring because everything was in bloom.  As a result this landing pad was OVERRUN by bugs.  Mainly lady bugs and what looked like winged ants.  Nothing concerning, but teenage me was not ready to enjoy.  But my dad didn’t care.  He stretched out right there on the pad, laying on his back.  He threw some sunglasses on and caught a 200 20-minuter.  I remember watching him and at some point my frustration turned to admiration.  He was completely at peace.

Here was a guy who grew up in Huntington Beach, CA.  Growing up the Pacific Ocean was his babysitter.  He and his brother would head down and do junior life guards in the morning.  When that was over they would stick around and do kid stuff until their mom could pick them up.  I would only get one day versions of what this was like but it seemed fun.  Digging up sand crabs, building sandball runs, searching for treasure.  He always tells this story about how in the afternoon as the sun began to go down the air would cool off.  This resulted in the typical late afternoon breeze the Pacific Ocean (all oceans?) gets.  After a long day of adventure he and his brother would dig dugouts in the sand.  They would lay down in them and tuck their towels over top of them and under their bodies.  This created a wind shield of sorts and provided warmth.  From there they could relax and fall asleep to pass the time until mom came by.  An imperfect system, every time they did this they would wake up covered in the finest layer of silt that had managed to make its way through the towel.  He tells this story with the nostalgia and longing that I tell about stories for England.  You know those times in life when everything was just perfect.  I think its the movie Reality Bites that encapsulates this as those moments where if time could just stop, never move forward, never back you would just let it stay right here?  This moment at Huntington Beach was just such a moment for my dad.  Somehow, on top of Kendrick Peak, miles from any sand, crashing waves or beach, years from being the kid with a tan so solid he looked Hispanic, years from being inseparable from his younger brother, years from having offshore breezes be the biggest challenge in life- here he was, on a mountain, but completely back in his childhood.  At the time I didn’t realize THAT.  I just knew my dad was content and it was impressive enough that it made me keep my mouth shut and realize that he just needed this time.  And that maybe I should try to find the same place with this time as well.  Years later I would return to Kendrick on my own twice- once on a date and another with my roommate (and her insufferable dog Frosty).  Each time we would summit I returned to that pad and laid down in the same spot.  I wasn’t going back to Huntington Beach, but I was going back to my childhood, to one of the best memories I have of time with my dad.

That really is what hiking is about for me.  You are out somewhere remote, TECHNICALLY facing a chance of death (at least by modern human standards), and creating a moment of significance.  Many different things can cause that significance but you can’t force it to happen.  Somehow nature will find a way to make each trip special.  I think/hope that is what will keep me on the trail; keep me willing to walk for miles every day no matter how bad I smell or how sore my body is.  At some point that day, there will be a high point, a summit if you will, and it will likely be more special than any summit I could have had at home.  When you are outdoors things happen that don’t happen at home.

As we descended back down the 4 miles to the car we actually met trouble.  12-13yo me was in the middle of growth spurts.  I would get random bouts of excruciating leg pain.  It would often get so bad I would just sit in a hot tub hoping the heat would replace the feeling of pain.  I had one such episode on our descent.  It was probably dehydration, probably a lack of appropriate nutrition, even poor sleep the night before.  Heck maybe even that I had never done this before.  Whatever the reason I was basically walking a few hundred feet and stopping.  The only thing that relieved it was to stretch and that was relief the same way tonguing a cut on the inside of your mouth “relieves” pain.  My dad took all my pack weight and gave me all the tolerance he had inside him.  He knew I was in pain and he couldn’t fix it.  All he could do was show me that no matter what we were going to do what I needed to descend in a way that I felt I could manage.  Years later he would tell me that he was actually pretty freaked out.  It was so bad he was considering carrying me… except I weighed well over 100lbs.  He wasn’t sure if I would have to give up.  He had even begun to make plans for how we would camp on the trail that night.  I can’t imagine what that must have felt like for him.  In the end we limped into the trail head just before dark.  We made our way home.  It really was one of the best experiences of my life.

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2 Responses to Kendrick Peak – How a Day on the Trail Can Change Your Life

  1. Pingback: How the Good Badger Made Us Hike the Appalachian Trail | Off the Couch and On the Trail

  2. Pingback: Father-Son Overnight Hike Day 1 | Off the Couch and On the Trail

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