A Stormy Hike Up Elden Mountain and a Mini Brewery Tour of Flagstaff

We’d already been snowed and hailed upon staying in Alpine at 8,000 feet but with the immediate and mid-range forecast further deteriorating we decided we needed to decamp. The problem was that the storm system was set to impact hundreds of miles, from southern Arizona right up through the middle of Utah; there would be no escaping. With the strong possibility that there’d be no hiking for the next few days we decided to head to somewhere where we’d have other options, or at least somewhere where we could visit a couple breweries.

Although at 7,000 feet and surely not going to be exempt from the cold and wet weather on the way, the Flagstaff area seemed to fit the bill, plus was en route to our next destination so we booked into a few nights at an RV park just north of the city. Our arrival in mid-afternoon coincided with darkening skies and falling temperatures and so after parking and taking Abby for a few miles’ walk we decided the best course of action was to drive into town and start the brewery tour. With multiple highly-recommended options if Flagstaff it was difficult to narrow down which places I wanted to try but I knew for sure I wanted to go to Mother Road Brewing, purveyor’s of the Lost Highway Double Black IPA, one of my all-time favorite beers. I was maybe a little too excited by the opportunity to try Lost Highway on tap, fresh from the source, and Tom may have rolled his eyes at me, but I think we both really enjoyed sampling a selection of their brews. I think he rolled his eyes again when I suggested we consider moving here someday because I am so in love with this beer.

In any case, we awoke the next morning to a delay in the next line of storms and were promised a dry morning and early afternoon. On our stroll the day before we’d already established that the RV park was adjacent to national forest but Tom discovered on his early morning walk with Abbs that there were actual, legitimate trails back there and suggested I take a few hours to go check them out since the weather had promised a reprieve of a few hours. And so Abbs and I set off towards the base of the mountain to the west, eventually intersecting with what I later-learned was Fatman’s Loop.

We’d started off in the grassy ponderosa flats but soon after joining the Fatman’s Loop the terrain became more wooded and included quite a few interesting boulders and rock formations. As we slowly gained elevation I was excited by the emerging aerial views of the city and thus, when we reached a trail intersection that pointed towards Elden Lookout which I assumed was the top of the mountain, we decided to head up. At this point I’d noticed more clouds congregating to the south but despite the heavy cloud cover there I was lulled by their light color and overall distance from my location. I was also seduced by the ponderosas and vistas, both of which became better as we climbed the steep, rocky trail. It wasn’t until I was right below the ridgeline that I spotted darker clouds from the west and became concerned that the storm was in fact much closer than I thought. A few minutes later this was confirmed when we reached the ridge and we were faced with large, dark mass of rain clouds directly in front of us. And as if I couldn’t take a hint, right then a huge booming roll of thunder sounded off, followed by a lightening strike just a few miles to the northwest. Forget the lookout; it was time to go.

Coming down the 2,200 feet of elevation we’d gained was almost certainly my fastest descent ever. Big fat raindrops and the increasing frequency and volume of the sonic booms led me to literally run down the mountain, bounding down rocky steps and hopping across the boulders littering across the trail. I could see more lightening too, now appearing to be moving towards me from the north. As those of you who know me may recall, I do not run for really any reason at all – ever – but I don’t regret that decision for a second, despite the jarring punishment of the fast, steep descent on my back. Those flashes of lightening were a little too close for comfort.

A few hours after my return, most of which I spent on the heating pad. and I was ready to get back out there. And by that I mean, visit another brewery. Dinner and a flight at Lumberyard Brewing definitely saved the day, providing compensation for having not reached the lookout. The Pumphouse Porter was definitely my favorite amongst the tasty offerings and I once again floated the idea of moving to Flagstaff for the beer… but I’m not sure Tom took me any more seriously than last time.