Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

April 23, 2010

Westerners Hike Leaders Know The Way


by Roberta Avery

Hike leader Kevin O’Connor stepped out with the confidence of someone who had been there before.

Hike Leader Kevin O'Connor confidently leads hikers over a water crossing on Bear Sign Trail. Photo by Roberta Avery.

The Bear Sign trail through the Red Rock – Secret Mountain Wilderness, crossed washes and wound around groves of cottonwood and sycamore trees, wasn’t always easy to spot, but O’Connor didn’t hesitate as he led a group of hikers out on a Sunday afternoon hike with the Drovers.

“Watch out for cactus,” said O’Connor as the group squeezed through a narrow gap.

“If we go upstream, there’s a good place to cross,” said O’Connor as the hikers reached the first of numerous water crossings. The creek was flowing and it took some serious rock hopping to get across, but each time O’Connor seemed to know exactly where the best rocks jutted out above the water and even which ones were unstable.

“Don’t tread on that one,” said O’Connor as the hikers made the next water crossing.

Such intimate knowledge of a trail, clearly doesn’t come from intuition, it comes from having hiked the trail, often just days before.

O’Connor and hike co-leader Liz Sweeney had asked long-time Westerner Walter Krywucki to take them out to scout the hike in what has become a Westerner tradition of sharing the knowledge of the best trails.

Even on the well-trodden paths and more well-known trails, the hike leader often goes out a few days ahead to make sure that there are no trees down across the trail and the rivers are still crossable. It’s an opportunity to confirm the time it takes and measure the distance and elevation gain of the hike to ensure that it is just right for their group.

In the case of the Drovers, the hike is to be between three and five miles and something that can be accomplished in under four hours including driving time.

The hike leaders also need to know if high clearance vehicles are needed to reach the trail head and that was certainly the case for this hike as the trail head is at the end of FS 152 off Dry Creek Road.

The heavy rains of this winter have made FS 152 even more rutted than usual and it takes some careful and slow driving to reach the trail head, but there was no doubt that it was worth the effort.

The trail started on Dry Creek Trail then veered off into Bear Sign Canyon on a sandy path through the forest to a narrow drainage with dramatic overhanging red sandstone walls.

The trail passed through more groves of trees including some Arizona cypress and Douglas fir before O’Connor took a narrow path up a steep grade. The trail here was more challenging as it involved some rock scrambling, but the view from the top made it worth the effort.

O’Connor led the hikers along a meandering path that afforded amazing views of the soaring Coconino cliffs and then, just at the right moment when everyone was ready, he announced it was time for the afternoon break.

The two-level overlook that O’Connor and Sweeney had selected offered lots of flat rocks to sit on and sweeping views of Brins Mesa, Lost Wilson and Secret Canyon below.

It was a perfect place to enjoy a snack and the camaraderie of a group of like-minded people and to appreciate the wonder of Red Rock Country.

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