A winter walk along West Fork Oak Creek

It’s been cold around these parts lately. How cold? Well, we’ve seen -24┬║F in Bellemont, -19┬║F in Tusayan, and -9┬║F in Flagstaff. These are all northern Arizona communities that are used to the cold — but not for this many days in a row. This is the coldest 5-day period in Flagstaff in over three decades.

 

One of many icy crossings of West Fork Oak Creek.
One of many icy crossings of West Fork Oak Creek.

There are some benefits. With prolonged cold some of the streams in the canyons will freeze. With this in mind, we took a hike up West Fork Oak Creek. The trail was snow packed and icy. Wisely, we all had foot traction gear including instep crampons and microspikes.

An icy rock and log crossing of West Fork Oak Creek.
An icy rock and log crossing of West Fork Oak Creek.

The trail crosses the creek numerous times and the first few crossings were tricky but doable. That is, the logs and/or stepping stones were ice covered but sure footing could be found using care and caution.

Wall of ice in West Fork Oak Creek.
Wall of ice in West Fork Oak Creek.

 

One of stream crossings, though, stymied us. For whatever reasons, the water and ice level had increased substantially in this location so that all the stepping stones were well under water and ice. And the flow of water had become concentrated along one side of the channel so that the ice was eroded. After studying it for awhile, we reluctantly agreed that the risk of crashing through the ice was too great. We turned back.

 

Canyon wall reflections in icy West Fork Oak Creek (2007)
Canyon wall reflections in icy West Fork Oak Creek (2007).

In previous years we had easily moved through this crossing and many others farther upstream including the “subway” passage. We had hoped to make it this far and, possibly, even farther upstream. It wasn’t to be.

 

Frozen West Fork Oak Creek (2007).
Frozen West Fork Oak Creek (2007).
A deep pool crossing in the "subway" made easy with ice in West Fork Oak Creek (2007).
A deep pool crossing in the “subway” made easy with ice in West Fork Oak Creek (2007).

Still, it’s never a bad day when you are out hiking with no one else around except your friends in an environment not often experienced by most.

Edit: 01 Feb 2013 – fixed typos.