One day my lovely wife suggested we go camping with her aunt and uncle. I was a bit baffled by her increasing fascination with the great outdoors. I’ve only gone camping two or three times, throughout my entire life, if sleeping in a tent in one’s own backyard counts as doing the deed. My criteria for camping is having immediate access to indoor plumbing, air-conditioning, and television. My wife’s aunt and uncle’s newly purchased camper offered all three amenities, so I was willing to sacrifice part of my weekend to make the missus happy. That’s what good husbands do for their spouses. It’s not that my wife has ever been an avid outdoorswoman, at least not in the thirty-two plus years we’ve been together, but suddenly she was adamant about giving it a try.
My wife and I arrived at the campsite, located in Flagstaff, Arizona, and quickly unloaded our car before settling into our “new home” for the next 24 hours. Our “roughing it” experience began with a harmless cookout. The outdoor gas grill churned out some delicious burgers, and the refrigerator inside the camper kept the side dishes from spoiling. Afterwards, the four of us congregated to our comfy lawn chairs, situated on a small cement slab next to the camper, so we could chat and simply enjoy the summer’s eve. We were accompanied by a cooler of ice-cold beer. It rained off and on, but it really didn’t matter since we were nestled underneath the camper’s extended awning.
I could not help but notice the gigantic mountain towering above us in the near distance. I kept glancing at the magnificent mound, in between our enlightening conversations and swigs of craft beer, until I finally decided to inquire about what I’d been spying. I found out I was looking at Mount Elden, and it was within walking distance from the campsite. I continued probing into the matter throughout the evening, and eventually I was reminded of a quote from the classic holiday movie, A Christmas Carol. After coming to his senses, and being overcome with a childlike excitement, Ebenezer Scrooge declares, “I must stand on my head.” I found myself to be outright giddy, like the former curmudgeon, while surveying the mountain, and ultimately I concluded, “I must climb that mountain.”
The humongous heap I had been observing all evening was a far cry from the mountains I had scaled back home at Thunderbird Park. It certainly was nothing like the snowbanks I used to conquer as a rambunctious adolescent growing up in Iowa. I fondly remember when a pile of snow and a couple of friends typically meant only one thing: playing a testosterone-fueled game of King of the Mountain. It was good to be king, but sometimes the consequence of playing the physical game was “his royal majesty” would be left with one or two less friends by game’s end although usually for only a day or two at the most. No, the beast now currently before my eyes was definitely going to be more challenging than anything I’d ever climbed before.
The next morning I got up early, had a cup of coffee, and grabbed two bottles of water, some trail mix, and my cellphone before heading out on my newfound mission. I jogged on a dusty path leading from the campsite to the numerous trails beginning at the bottom of Mount Elden. I found the sign pointing to where I desired to go, looked up to the heavens above, and then began my anticipated 2 hour roundtrip journey. After following the trail a short distance I came across what I could only assume was a family of visiting tourists. They obviously were of a different nationality because I could not understand a word they were saying. They were taking turns snapping pictures of one another while posing atop an assortment of boulders along the trail. I flashed them a smile as I meandered through all of the commotion.
I soon noticed the path I was navigating seemed to be heading downwards. It’s not uncommon to encounter a few patches of declining land when mountain climbing; however, experiencing them so early on, and at such a rapid descent, was undoubtedly confusing and too much for me to simply ignore. Thankfully, at my time of uncertainty I was greeted by someone heading in the opposite direction. I informed him of the situation at hand, and I asked if he knew what might be happening. He did. The local man explained how we were on the Fatman’s Loop trail, which only went around the mountain, and how I must have wandered off the Elden Lookout Trail; therefore, missing the entrance to Mount Elden.
The friendly hiker assured me there were signs, a ways back from where I had just come from, indicating where I should go. I traipsed back a bit, and sure enough there were the signs: labeled with bold letters and in plain sight. I contemplated how I possibly could’ve missed them until I realized I was standing in the exact spot where I had earlier run into the presumed family of tourists. The posing family members surely would’ve blocked anyone’s view, of the informative signage, when standing on top of the boulders. I had lost a little time (and energy) in search of the correct path to take, but I was now officially ready to scale Mount Elden.