2/3 of the PCT Girl Gang are back together with honoury member Mia who walked 10 days on the AAWT with us back in Australia (blog posts available). We are all staying with Mia’s friends in Flagstaff and plan to do many great day trip and maybe a few overnights in the next 2 weeks. Arizona from the window of the bus looks amazing and I (Quiz) am quite excited!
After picking Turkey D up from the Amtrak station this morning we all piled into a truck and commented how bizarre it was that 3 Melbournians were driving the desert together. We quickly left town and headed for the high altitude(ish) plains around Flagstaff, which reminded me of the desert leading into the Sierra, yellow from dry grass and covered in pines. The trees petered out and the yellow plains became punctuated with purple brown domes and and few jagged peaks covered with more pines. There is a fire to the south that is also casting quite a bit of smoke into the sky.
There are very few roads, road signs or even buildings along Highway 89, but we finally passed Hank’s Trading Post and knew it was the next left. The dirt road we took went through private property, passed a beat up letter box and directly into a land of cinder cones and lava fields. The drive in was great so we knew walking in this landscape would be even better. The road headed for the biggest cone of them all, crossed a lava field in a swirl of dust and we pulled over at a point where we thought the cone looked the lease steep.
Our climb was divided into two, the first half was relatively easy as we walked up a ridge coming off the main cone. The ground was firm and we walked to the saddle pretty quickly, the car soon looking like small dot, our only distance marker in the huge plain. The next part of the climb was up the steep slope of the cone, and this was hard! The path quickly disappeared and we were left to make our own way up the scree slope which fell away from under you. Going was slow, and the vegetation scratchy and soon we were all panting, sweating and getting scratched up legs – it felt so good! I haven’t felt my calves burn since climbing up the well manicured long PCT climbs in the Northern Cascades, and I haven’t had to scramble around on screen since attempting to climb My Theildsen in Oregon and I haven’t had such wide horizon bound mind altering views since the Hat Creek Rim in NoCal. It has been impossible not to fall in love with this place!
Having said all that I was happy to reach the large rocky rim of the cone and peer down into its internal red sandy depths. The rim of firm rocks at the top must keep the cone structurally whole as I felt like I was ageing it at lease 10 years climbing up with all the erosion I was causing. Mia is a plein air painter and set up an easel and got to mixing up colours once we hit the top. We all took turns in carrying her pack and painting gear up, but getting the fresh wet painting down the side of the cone without smudging it was actually the hardest part. On the top Turkey D and I did a bit of scrambling around, but we were too scared to go into the crater’s centre as we didn’t know if we would be able to get out. Walking down felt like walking on the moon, each step slipped from underneath you and became huge, lifting our knees high we kinda looked like monsters hunting and making shrieking call of glee to one another. We were back to the car in no time at all, covered in dust and feeling very satisfied.
The cone was named Shit Pot (just S P on maps) by cowboys in the 1800s. Wikipedia puts is best – “when viewed from certain angles on the ground, the combination of the smooth round shape of the cone, the dark lava spatter on the rim, and the long dark lava flow extruding from the base do indeed resemble a toilet catastrophe.”
View more of Mia’s art at http://miaschoenart.blogspot.com/?m=1 or on Instagram @miaschoen