It didn't start terribly well.
I got home at about 4:50 knowing I had to leave by about 5:30 to meet TNAB at the Granite Mountain trailhead a few miles up the freeway. I had forgotten to pack the night before so I spent my time making dinner (mmm... pbj), assembling gear, and loading the truck. Oh yeah, garbage night. Gotta take that out. And I need to spend some time with the kids. And Amy. And I at least had to say Hi to Grams and Gramps. I finally left at about 5:35. Not too shabby.
Just as I turned onto the freeway my phone started ringing. Of course it was in my pack so I pulled over and fished it out. Boots? Nah, I don't need no stinkin' boots! (Yes, I need boots.) Of course, you can't just turn around on the freeway so I high tailed it up to the next exit (four miles), turned around, and sprinted for home. Amy had put the boots outside so I grabbed them and headed east once again.
I finally got on the trail at 6:10. So much for hiking with others. Or was it? Maybe if I really pushed I could catch someone and have company.
Half an hour later I decided to slow down because there was no way I could keep up that pace for the whole mountain. About 45 minutes into the trip I did see someone. Hurray! Except it wasn't someone I knew. Oh well, it's all about meeting new people, right? So I met Jack and his two year old son, Marshall, and chatted for a few minutes. They were out for an hour's climb before turning around.
Back on the trail I pushed somewhat hard, but didn't feel like I was making up too much time. I broke out of the trees and into the meadows and decided it didn't matter. Granite Mountain is a beautiful hike with open slopes and great views to the south and east.
A little while later and I did start catching hikers with TNAB. Hurray! We gave most of our time back, though, when we got to the rocks. Tokul doesn't do talus and last year we had to detour to the south of the rocky ridge and that was lousy. This year we opted to stick to the snowy bowl to the north of the ridge where there was a set of tracks heading to the lookout.
After changing from t-shirt and shorts into fleece and gaiters (yes, and shorts, don't get all excited) we made good time through the snow. It was well consolidated, firm, and great for kicking steps as it got steep. Tokul raced up to the ridge and was silhouetted against the pale blue sky. Once I crested the ridge it was only a short hop past the lookout to the summit and the party.
It's been said that TNAB is a group of alcoholics with a hiking problem and there's no better example than the Solstice Party. The constant refrain was, "You have to drink it. I'm not carrying it down." As the final hikers gained the summit they received margaritas and other treats.
A plate of goodies (and a glass or two) was delivered to the USFS ranger in the lookout. It's not usually staffed at this time of year, but after some innocent problems on the Solstice in 2005 the Forest Service has someone on duty when TNAB shows up.
Tokul enjoyed scraps wherever she could find them and a big hunk of watermelon. I stuck to my pbj, brownies, and a Nalgene of bucket I had hauled up. (Somehow nobody wanted to share my bucket. Hmph.)
After the sun set we started down. Although I was one of the few to come up the snow almost everyone went down. Most of us decided a sitting glissade was the best way. The only problem was if you were one of the first down because then you had to keep an eye on who was careening, out of control, at you from behind. I rarely get to glissade so I took advantage of the free ride offered by gravity wherever I could.
Sadly, the snow ran out and we were back to walking through the darkening meadows. By the time we got to the trees we had to snap on headlamps to avoid certain death. Except Tokul, of course, who raced up and down the trail with her magic see-in-the-dark eyes.
At the cars we started counting and realized we were way short. It was a full hour after we got to the pavement before the last of the 23 hikers made it down.
Total distance is about 8.6 miles and the gain is just under 4,000 feet.