The Westerners Combat Cabin Fever

February 17, 2023

By Terri Petrescu

Flagstaff may be buried under feet of snow, but in reality all it takes is a few inches of the fluffy stuff to transform the Red Rocks into a frosty wonderland. This is a view out near Cockscomb.

It was a brutally cold morning for those of us used to hiking at just above freezing.  Nineteen degrees to start the morning…who would be hiking in the cold?  But cabin fever hits and you feel like you need to get outside.  It will be warmer when the hike starts, you tell yourself.  Layers come out of the closet that haven’t been worn all winter.

We start the hike at a nice twenty-seven degrees. The morning is warming up quickly.  The sun is finally shining after another one of the rain-turned to snow days that kept all of us inside the day before.  One group of hardy souls is willing to make the hike, so off we go.

The hike boss, who is responsible for setting the hike schedule, has changed the hike so we won’t be on ice, will avoid the colder north slopes, and will be on terrain that drains better than some in the area.  We start at the Aerie trailhead and don’t see another hiker.  This morning the trail will be to ourselves.

When we start out the ground is frozen.  There are some icy patches that are easily avoided.  As we go on, however, the ground warms, sunny spots are now wet.  The trail starts getting some muddy patches.

We talk about what we learned at the Westerner meeting about trail design and keeping trails in good shape.  Walk on the rocks when you can.  This is natural, the rocks aren’t muddy.  We see the drainages that the trail builders have put in, many of them are doing their job moving water off the trail.  Then we get to the muddy spots where the trail doesn’t drain well.  In these areas we walk through the mud. 

Our boots will need to be cleaned when we get back.  We explain to the folks who didn’t attend the meeting that walking on the sides of the trail to avoid the mud damages the trail in the long run since it widens the trail an unnatural amount.  The ground is super saturated from more than 3 inches of rain we’ve had in January, some of these areas will likely be muddy for quite some time.  Maybe the boots will be cleaned later.

As we walk along, we are in pinyon and juniper trees.  Snow is at eye level, some forming small icicles in the trees, so I grab some and relish the taste of the snow.  I feel like a kid again.  Stories of what we did as kids in the snow are told to our fellow hikers.  My brother and I made snow ice cream as kids and thought our parents wouldn’t know we had been out.  I wasn’t old enough to realize I had left evidence with my footprints in the snow.  Other hikers in the group preferred their water to come from the water bottle they carried and didn’t sample the snow from the tree.

Led by Deb Hicks, we hiked what we call a lollipop, out and back on the same trail with a loop in the middle.  Staying in the general area, we traversed Cockscomb to Axis to Rover to Rupp and back on Coxcomb.  You wouldn’t believe it was the same trail in and out at the end.  Layers of clothes have been shed.  Hats for warmth are off.  No gloves.  No frozen trail.  We pass people just starting their hikes as we are finishing ours.  They have missed the experience of hiking in the cold.  We are all happy we had cabin fever and decided to brave the elements this chilly morning.

We drive home looking at the frozen pools and running water in Dry Creek.  There is a lot more snow melt to come down the creek.  Flagstaff is in the top 4 January snow totals on record.  Maybe, hopefully, fingers crossed, the rain continues.  Aquifers get filled, waterfalls run, trails stay muddy, and in the spring, if we are lucky, the wildflowers will bloom.  When that happens, you can bet our little group of Westerners braving the cold will swell to many more.  Maybe we will see you on the trail.  If you join after reading this, let us know.

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