By Jacob Wolf, Chief Distribution Officer
Image Credit: Jacob Wolf for Horizons
During orientation my freshman year, my mom and I stumbled upon a map for the Prescott Circle Trail: a 56-mile loop that encompasses Willow Lake, P-Badger Mountain, Thumb Butte, Granite Basin, and part of ERAU. She half-jokingly mentioned that I should travel the trail at least once before I graduate, and I’m nothing if not committed to a miscellaneous comment (I once enrolled in Yavapai College because someone asked me nicely). I have one semester left to commit to the comment, but before I could set out on a single-day attempt at the loop, I had to approach the task like a good engineering student.
- 56-mile trail.
- The sun sets at 6pm (1800).
- I can average four miles per hour by jogging and walking.
- I should be off the trail by sunset.
- 56 miles / 4 miles per hour = 14 hours.
- 1800 – 1400 = 0400.
- Start early.
And so I found myself pulling into the Activity Center’s parking lot at 3:30am on a Saturday. I quickly got running into the 18°F night, stumbling behind the rocket test cells to catch the Circle Trail where it hits Pioneer Park. I took the loop counter-clockwise, wanting to pass the difficult terrain by Granite Mountain and Thumb Butte while I was still fresh-ish. I zig-zagged through the park’s switchbacks, laughing at the trail signs that read, “Don’t Use When Muddy.” Silly signs, it’s too cold for mud! There’s only icy dirt.
I soon learned my first assumption forgot a crucial factor: running in the dark sucks. The moon set before I started, and my dim headlamp barely added to the soft starlight. The Circle Trail just doesn’t exist for a few miles as it traverses a subdivision, and I could only walk briskly past the paved driveways.
By 7am I made it 11 miles to Iron Springs Wash, where I filled up my water bottles in the little stream of snowmelt. It took about 10 minutes to squeeze the water through my backcountry filter, freezing my fingers and putting me even further behind my assumed pace; I arrived two hours late for my rendezvous with Thumb Butte.
Unlike the previous sections, the high elevations of the Sierra Prieta left the trails covered in snow. Folks were generous enough to leave their footprints for me to follow up Thumb Butte’s backside, but they got stingy on the approach to Wolverton Mountain. The only trail indicator was a small divot in the shin-high snow, associated with the shallow-dug trail. But even this divot betrayed me eventually, and I found myself without a path to follow.
Feeling oddly peaceful about being lost in the woods, I chose to take it Lewis and Clark style: pick a direction and wander. I contentedly meandered alongside a rushing creek for a half mile, rolling through its valley until it took a sharp left, where I scaled the hill it turned to avoid. On top of the ridge I tracked some unidentifiable animal prints for another half mile, until they ended abruptly at an unidentifiable animal carcass.
The stained bones and ripped fur jolted me out of my idyllic trance, and I realized how miserable I was. I had been moving for nine hours, two of them lost in the woods. My summertime hiking boots were soaking through my feet, I hadn’t put on sunscreen, and my hiking sandwiches were tasting less tasty with each taste.
In cruel fashion, a sign for the Circle Trail greeted me at the next ridge. I used my torn map to guess my location and plot my route out. I had enough cell service to call my good buddy Dylan, and he graciously picked me up at the top of Copper Basin Road.
On the drive back to campus, my shame in not completing the Circle Trail was outweighed only by my sniffles. I had made it less than halfway around town, but the ill feeling would make it all the way through the week.
Circle Trail 1, Jacob 0.
I’ll update my assumptions.