First of all, I think Iron Mountain should have BIG BAD WOLF somewhere along its name. Simply because, it will have you huffing and puffing and tries to knock you down, the entire way up. Having major switchbacks on the trail was at some point something I would definitely not look forward to. Til’ IRON MOUNTAIN. The steepness level of this brutal hike is unbelievable. Not only that, there are 3 or 4 major hills, that before you can go UP, drops DOWN several hundred feet. I guess that’s the STEEL of the mountain. Total distance up to the summit, about 7miles with 7,000ft elevation gain. Keep in mind, you are practically climbing 1,000 ft per mile, something to ponder about.
Sunday morning, our plan was to arrive at the Heaton Flats trailhead parking lot at 6am. I received a message from Chad (@life_is_goodoutdoors), something about being a tad bit late. No worries, I said. As the thought of not having enough food was at the back of my head. Stopped by a near 24-hr Walmart store to get some food; Chicken Wrap rolls for the way, and honey buns for breakfast. I munched a few 😅 . 6:20 at parking lot, Chad arrived about 5minutes later. Handed Chad 3 honey buns, and he handed me a water bottle, fair exchange, right? I must say, do not underestimate the amount of water needed on this trail, especially on a sunny day. “Here, you can have a water bottle,” Chad told me after I said I was PERHAPS a tad bit short on water. I had 2 1/2 liters, Chad had I believe (6) 16-oz water bottles. All gone before completion of hike.
A little past our desired time, 6:45am, we were all packed and ready to tackle the BEAST mountain, as Chad described it. About 1/2 mile into the fire road, Heaton Flats campground is reached. Here, you have the option to hike to the Bridge to Nowhere, or go where few have gone, Iron Mountain. A Wilderness Permit is required, to which is self issued at this junction. Bring a pen! A few pics were snapped, permit was submitted and we were on our way. Our goal was set, and we were determined to accomplish that goal.
From beginning of trail, the only way is up. Though not as bad compared to what is yet to come. Our trek was quickly interrupted, for a few seconds, by a junction that switched the trail 360degrees. To the right, was what seemed like a trail, however no foot evidence of being one. More like a water drainage, so, we decided to pour some water of our own and put it to test. To the left, was the more evident trail. Unfortunate for a hiker, he took the wrong turn, and found himself hauling ass to get to his group. “I took the wrong turn, have you guys seen my group?” he asked, as he described fellow hikers about 20 minutes ahead of us. 1 mile into the hike and several hundred feet already climbed, the Sheep Mountain Wilderness sign welcomes you. Our only thought at this point was, how do some hikers see herds of bighorn sheep or at least one, and we’ve yet to witness that.
Along the way, we were greeted by a nice older gentleman James (@he_wei_jin), advised us of his secret water stash, at the Saddle. We chit chatted for a while, and he also mentioned the steepness past the Saddle was about 60% incline. He also added that before going (straight) up, we would first descend a few hundred feet. This is the interesting and tough part of the trail, we thought. And this is my reason as to why I don’t mind switchbacks as much as the UPS AND DOWNS. Upon getting to the Saddle, already some 4miles and 3,000 ft out the way, the best was yet to begin. Water stash was found, nearby a few rocks slighty hidden, as advised by @he_wei_jin.
The first descent is right after the Saddle, straight down. Then, about 1/2 mile or so, straight up. The inclination level was just insane, and though we were taking a beating, we kept pushing up. I told Chad we were doing great as we passed a group of 4, taking a quick breather break before heading up the first hill. I spoke a bit too soon, however, a new group we had not seen, quickly got ahead of us. They came out of nowhere, hauling ass straight up the hill. Not worried much about it, after that first hill, we decided to stop and get some breakfast, the time was now roughly 11:13am. I had some chicken wrapped rolls, delish; Chad boiled water and had a dehydrated meal. 20 minutes, give or take a few, our ascending continued. 2nd hill; ups and downs, again. Done. The 3rd or 4th hill, I lost track, included major rock scrambling, that was after the DOWNhill part of course, straight UP we went.
6 hours 20minutes, 7 tough miles with rock scrambling and 7,000 ft gained, we arrived at the summit, 8,007 ft. Exhausted and hungry AF, looked around and enjoyed the view; snapped a few pics, signed register book, and got to boiling water on Chad’s jetboil stove. Which may I add, that thing is just fuckin’ amazing. Water boils before you can even blink. Once water was boiled, under 2minutes, all that was left to do was wait for dehydrated meals to fully cook. After our meal, a 30-40 minute power nap was enjoyed deeply by Chad, who found a rock out in the sun to be his comfy bed. I tried laying on a rock, only lasted seconds; the heat was just beyond my handling capabilities. I dislike heat; hot water and sun are at the top of the list. Crazy how I can easily chug down steaming hot boiling coffee on a 100• degree day. But, that’s just another story. Anyhow, I moved to a grassy shaded area where I re-adjusted my shoes, leaving them off for a few minutes felt great. And kept being bothered by bees just roaming near by. Hat on face, I doze off for about 5 or 10 minutes. Time to go? Chad still on that power nap. Oh well, back to laying I go.
At 2:20pm, we started heading down the beast mountain, heads high and chest all pumped, running down some not-so steep parts of the trail. Coming to a quick halt and walking slowly uphills, then running downhill, then slowly uphill again. We kept on saying the entire hike was like a video game, with the water cached and the man stashing the water was on a side mission. And our mission was to find it. All fun and games, til, going downhil you slip on loose rocks and fall on your ass. Yep, that happened to me alright. Mountains just caught me slippin’ and that was a sign that a quick break was needed. I mean, I was already sitting down, might as well, right!? Kept running, trail blazing down; being extra careful with the yuccas trying to prick us. There were parts of the trail where there were yucca plants in both sides, sharp and pointy as can be. Only way to pass thru is to slowly, very slowly maneuver your entire body. This stages were called LEVEL 1,000 in our hiking GAME! As we reached the Saddle on the way back, we grabbed some water from the secret stash. Thank you @Hei_Wei_Jin for such great gesture. It took us about 4 hours 40 minutes to get down, few breaks and picture sessions included. Tired and sore AF, and although heels and toes took a beating, no blisters! A horny toad was spottedby Chad onthe way down. Funny looking horned lizard.