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Mon, Jan. 20

Johnson: Hiking trails in the fall a favorite activity for many
Hiking Arizona

Fall, for many is their favorite time of year. Hiking where fall colors are on display in grand style, such as in the vicinity of Mt. Elbert, Colorado, is unforgettable. On my first trip there, I thought I was being given a glimpse of heaven.

In addition to the glorious fall colors, there is a crispness in the air. This is especially invigorating after a long, drawn out summer. High elevations too, may already have received some snow. This, our final summit in our series of hiking higher, has carried us through a long hot summer into this glorious change of seasons.

We’ve come to the end of the line, so to speak, all the way to the “Top of Colorado.” In fact, it is not easy to get much higher in elevation, anywhere in the Lower 48.

Hiking from the Black Cloud Trailhead on Highway 82, the trail climbs nearly 5,000 feet to 14,433. The distance is less than five miles one way. Once you clear the trees, the views really open up, at first to the south. After about 2.5 miles, you gain a ridge, which you follow west and north to the summit proper. Along this ridge, you can see far and wide, jagged peaks, deep valleys and a skyline that seems to spread out forever.

My first hike here was in the fall but I have also hiked here late in spring when there was lots of snow to deal with. There are a couple of other trails from the east, which are more heavily used but about the same length and difficulty. In the spring, I had the summit to myself but in the fall, a small number of other hikers gathered at the top.

Some of the most interesting conversations take place on the summit of lofty peaks. One hiker started talking about memorable wildlife encounters he had experienced on the trail. He spoke of bears, bobcats, deer, elk and moose. Then he said, “I have yet to see a mountain lion.” There was a moment of silence, as if everyone was waiting for someone to speak up. After a lengthy pause, I related my sole “close encounter” with a mountain lion while I was hurt and hiking solo out of West Clear Creek in the Verde Valley a few years ago.

I’ll save that story for another day. In fact, I have documented a number of such experiences, calling them, “A Series of Fortunate Events: The Unexpected Blessings in Wilderness Hassles, Hurdles and Hardships.” You may recall Lemony Snicket and her series of “Unfortunate Events.” Yet, it is often those times when we face adversity that we look back and find that the initial trouble is now viewed quite differently.

Those challenges have a way of transforming us, making us stronger, wiser, better in some significant way. Now, we wouldn’t change those circumstances even if we could.

Whether it’s running out of water or daylight, running into a sudden storm or hidden rattlesnake or getting hurt or lost, we will inevitably find ourselves facing some sort of serious challenge if we hike long enough and far enough. How will you handle it? Will you be prepared? Will you come through it better in some significant way? There is quite a bit each of us can do to transform any unfortunate event into an “unexpected blessing.” Perspective is key.

Next: Night hiking.

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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