By: Ed Sweeting
The round trip to Navajo Mountain, on the trip led by Abe Siemens, was accomplished on the Santa Fe El Capitan, an interesting experience in itself. We were greeted by a light snowfall in Northern Arizona, which beautified the fields and the pine forests but raised questions about the weather for the following day, when we would be climbing the peak.
In Flagstaff we picked up two rental cars, one of them a station wagon, threw in our gear, and after a late breakfast drove northward through the Navajo Reservation to the Utah line. Arriving at camp in mid-afternoon, there remained ample time for pitching tents, eating dinner, scrambling up the nearest ridge, and warming up at the camp fire before the early bed time. Abe had checked the train schedule for the return trip and had decided that we should start the climb by 6 in order to return to camp by 2.
Next morning a crisis awaited us. Our intrepid leader had lost the car keys. The only duplicate keys available were in Flagstaff, five hours away by car, and this was Sunday morning on a holiday weekend, and with no way of telephoning the rental agency anyway. What to do? Abe started ten of us on the hike at 6 as scheduled, explaining that he would stay in camp with Helen and would "think up something". We all hoped.
The climb was beautiful in spite of the snow and the gray skies. No snow on the jeep trail that we were following, but the trees were covered with hoar frost, and there were great views over the desert, with the sun casting cloud shadows over the flat expanses and picking out the red and yellow coloring in the cliff faces of the distant mesas. The weather remained cold, so in spite of the 3600 foot elevation gain, most of us reached the top without a stop, including the three younger members of the LAN Miller Family.
There was no view at the top. We found ourselves in a clearing for a missile-tracking station, with a dense ring of pines around it. On a clear day, we might have climbed the tower, or a tree, but the mist of a heavy cloud covered the summit and visibility was almost zero. While eating lunch at the top, everyone promptly froze their hands as there was a cold wind blowing, but mittens plus the hike down the trail improved the situation.
Surprise! A short way down the trail we bumped into the Siemens coming up. Abe had found the keys, thanks to removing the rear seat, digging through the back board, shaking out with the help of a tree branch the trowsers worn the day before, and emptying the pockets. Our worries were over. By such mishaps are trips recalled, years later, over camp fires yet to come.
By the time everyone return to camp the sun was shining full, and we had a warm drive back to Flagstaff. After turning in the cars a huge dinner was consumed, including such things as steaks, prime ribs, and even Chinese food. Abe had judged our time perfectly. The last of us reached the station just ten minutes before the train pulled out. We all agreed that we had had a great Memorial Day weekend.
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