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O’Leary Peak Day Hike
August 10, 2019
by Li Li

Eighteen trailblazers headed to Flagstaff on August 10 for the O’Leary hike, to avoid the heat in Phoenix. We gathered at Sunset Crater National Monument at the O’Leary Trailhead for this exciting hike.

O’Leary peak is a lava dome volcano, which was created by tons of small bulbous masses of lava that was too viscous to flow to a great distance, so it piled up to form the dome. Near its south side is the Sunset Crater, that was also a volcano which erupted from a single vent that ejected particles and blobs of congealed lava to form a cinder cone.

front: Terry
middle:  Victoria, Jane, Billie, Chris, Lin, Mark, Debbie, Heather, Li, Dave
back: Jim, Michael, Rudy, Neil, Carol, Michelle, Mark

I had been thinking about this hike for a while. Since a few of us are going to do a Rim to Rim hike at the Grand Canyon in September, I thought this trail would be a good conditioning hike before our trip.

After a short introduction, we took a detour to a lava formation on the right side of the O’Leary Trailhead. Michael had hiked on this trail a few times, so he showed us the way. Everyone was excited to see the piled up black lava flows. Debbie and Chris climbed to the top of the dome to get a closer look while the rest of us stayed at the bottom, taking pictures and enjoying mother nature’s creation. Along the edges of the lava formation there are some small aspens, ponderosas, and a few fairly large spruce. It is a fascinating landscape.

Lots of volcanic soot.
Debbie and Chris climb the dome.

After 15 minutes of touring, we kept on walking on a wide old Jeep road and started the hike. The first mile is relatively easy, since it is a smooth slope. After the 2 mile mark the mountain starts getting steeper with a few switchbacks. The higher you get, the better the views become. On the left we could see the mountain ranges and green forests. Wildflowers blooming cheerfully on the side of the trail provided a scenic view and added to the interesting points of the hike.

At first, the road is nice and level.
The steep part comes soon enough.
Wildflowers brighten our journey.
Li and Debbie enjoy the climb.
Debbie and Heather. [photo by Heather]
Summer wildflowers. [photo by Heather]
violet yellow
Summer wildflowers cheer us. [photos by Lin]
Plenty of ladybugs. [photo by Lin]
A rose called by any other name ... [photo by Lin]
A metal sheet with holes.
It was a pleasant day and the temperature was hovering around the 70s. Clouds from the sky hanging over our heads provided more than enough shade needed for the exposed trail, so we did not feel too hot while climbing the steep slopes. Since the trail is used by the forest service and rangers to get to the lookout tower, it is well maintained and wide enough for two Jeeps to easily pass.

After 3.5 miles we started to catch glimpses of the fire lookout tower on the top of the mountain to the north. Debbie and I were excited since we were getting closer. The last 1.3 miles was difficult, due to elevation changes and steep ascending.

The weather held up well. Although we saw many dark clouds above our heads, there was no rain to threaten our pleasant hike. The last 20 minutes of the hike to the top was even tougher since it is a sharp ascent. A metal sheet with holes was placed on the road to increase traction so cars can drive up to the top, where the lookout tower is. We finally reached the summit after about 5 miles of climbing.

Once you get past the metal ... [photo by Billie]
Welcome sign. [photo by Billie]
The Fire Lookout Tower.
What a great view you get from these rocks, Mark!
Looking west, the San Francisco Peaks.
Sunset Crater is nearby. [photo by Heather]

The ranger in the lookout tower was a very nice lady. We were allowed to go up the tower two people at a time. Since the group was pretty spread out there was no problem taking turns. Billie and Neil were the first two people to reach the tower, so when we arrived they were waving at us on the terrace. Mark and I took a picture and looked around the tower. On the south side, you could see Sunset Crater with its hard black lava stretching miles to the mountain area. You could see Humphrey’s Peak and Agassi Peak on the west side. On the northwest, you could see a glimpse of the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The views were unbelievably beautiful and magnificent!

Carol, Li, Debbie, Billie
We made it to the top!
Billie, Li, Carol, Debbie, Mark
Niel has a commanding view.
Dave had a good time on the trail.
This tree has been through a lot.
The group had lunch on the summit. We took countless photos and stayed for quite some time, until the whole group of people made it to the top. Some people wanted to start the descent after lunch and many of us waited for a while until we heard that two of the people would not make it to the summit. We took a group photo and then started our descent.

The descent is fairly easy compared to the climb. The weather helped, since the sun wasn’t directly shining on us. Clouds provided enough shade for us until the last 1.5 miles, when the sun started coming up. Because the trail was highly exposed we all felt how intense the heat was. Luckily the last mile is relatively flat. In no time we grouped again.

Everyone was hungry after the 10-mile hike so we headed to Beaver Street Brewery for a late lunch. The food service was great. We all enjoyed lunch and headed back to Phoenix around 4 PM. On the way home, we even stopped at Rock Spring for their famous yummy pie! Heather was satisfied with her chocolate pie as an after-dinner dessert!

This is the life!
meal meal
Enough hiking.  Let’s eat!

What a beautiful day, with wonderful friends hiking along such magnificent mountains! I would like to repeat this hike again next year!

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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated August 19, 2019