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Sun, Oct. 20

Johnson: Setting your hiking pace for 2019, part II
Hiking Arizona

Just as some in our group turned back from reaching the summit of Mt. Wilson, north of Sedona, the glorious views began to open up. Sedona is always scenic but with snow on those red rocks, the affect is enchanting. The view of the San Francisco Peaks was impressive. The breeze sent a constant supply of snowflakes into the air to sparkle all around us. Breathtaking.

In addition to the seven factors affecting pace I spoke of last time, more issues may be relevant in some situations. The Mt. Wilson trail is quite rocky in spots and the hike involves an overall elevation gain of some 2,500 feet. Daylight or dark too makes a big difference. Hiking a familiar route or a new path matters. On more than one occasion, my groups have included individuals who lived at sea level, yet the hike we were on rose above 11,000 feet in elevation. Acclimation can hit you hard, slowing your pace dramatically.

Whatever you encounter, wherever you hike, whomever you hike with, bear in mind that your pace and that of others will likely vary for many reasons. I’ve listed a total of fifteen factors.

In order to enjoy a group hike more, communicate up front and do your best to keep up or slow down, since hiking with others involves some adjustments by everyone in order to hike together and isn’t that what hiking in a group is all about – being together?

Some may wonder, “Why bother?” Good question. What’s the problem if we get strung out? Besides the obvious safety concerns, comradery matters. Another reason for paying attention to your pace is the question of whether or not you will reach your destination on time, before it gets dark.

If you fall behind schedule you may have to spend the night out unexpectedly. Winter hiking means shorter days, hence tighter schedules.

Two groups get rescued in Arizona wilderness areas more any than others: individuals entering the state illegally and day hikers. Lacking a full complement of backpacking gear, are you equipped to spend the night out in relative comfort?

Hiking with young children affects the pace of a group. Novices, too slow everyone down. Hikes where a guide or instructor explains things is an obvious reason to hiking more slowly.

Several of these factors, plus a late start, combined to force our small group to establish an emergency bivouac on Red Mountain east of Phoenix.

We might have made it but, as the light waned, the cross country route caused me no small amount of concern. Therefore, I decided to set up shelter in a small cave part way down from the summit. The first order of business was to start a fire. You should be able to start a fire anywhere in the wilderness across the Southwest, other than above timberline, since there is nothing to burn up there.

Though a little uncomfortable, we were able to pass the night without incident, huddled together. A fire not only keeps you warm, it provides security. We completed the hike the following morning, so we quickly warmed up and found our way back to the vehicle from where we began, before the rescue party was sent out. But that’s another story.

Next: Hiking recommendations for out of state visitors or for those new to Arizona.

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

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