SJ's Hike of the Week: Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial Trail
Distance: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,699 feet
Dog Friendly: Yes
Permit/Pass Required: No
Getting There: See Map
Tips: Get there early to get a parking spot and avoid crowds. There are only a dozen spaces at the trailhead. Bring plenty of water and wear the correct footwear. This trail is 3.5 miles out and back at a 7% grade. There is no shade.
About the Hike:
My dad was a wildland firefighter. I still remember the smell of ash and soot and sweat when he’d finally get to come home from what could be weeks to months at a time. I remember the helitack crew using our pasture to park the chopper. I remember my dad losing a friend when a helicopter crashed during a fire. One my dad barely survived himself while trapped in his truck as the fire rushed over him. For some reason, the gas tank didn't explode and my father was spared his life.
My mom and I counted our blessings every time he came home. And the shirt I wore on the hike is one he wore from a fire he fought when I was only 8 years old. One of countless fires he fought throughout my youth that gave him back to us once they were contained.
The Granite Mountain Hotshots...you may have heard them be referred to as “The 19”...didn’t get to come home. This tight-knit team of young men worked together to contain wildland fires that had gotten out of control. Which is what happened on June 13, 2013 at the Yarnell Hill Fire, northwest of Phoenix.
Driven by fierce winds, the fast-moving fire turned and overran the hotshot crew, authorities said, cutting off their evacuation route. A scene and story documented and recreated by the movie, Only the Brave.
This humbling hike pays tribute to those heroes at the site where they passed away. As you make your way along the Journey Trail you will encounter 200+ stairs carved from the surrounding rock, interpretive signs, benches and 19 memorial plaques, each honoring one of the fallen men.
After reaching the summit, you will come to an observation deck overlooking the fatality site 400 feet below. Next to the observation deck is where I shed my first tears...a tribute wall where visitors can leave stickers, patches and other items in honor of the sacrifice the Granite Mountain Hotshots made to protect the community of Yarnell.
From here the trail leads you on a series of switchbacks to the where the Granite Mountain Hotshots made lost their battle with the raging fire. Surrounding the fatality site, 19 gabion baskets, one for each Hotshot, are united by chains "representing their eternal team." It was here I sat, allowing the emotion to take over, tears streaming down my dusty, sun-burned cheeks as I honored those lost as well as those who survived. The men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day. From the fire lines to the front lines of the pandemic we are overwhelmed with now. The ones who selflessly fight for our safety and health.
I sat there honoring my dad. The days he'd walk through that door smelly and covered in dirt. He always remembered to bring me back a gift. Little did I know then that the true gift was his life.
This weekend I hiked for them all. For the lives lost far too soon. For the fearlessness and for the community this crew saved. This weekend I hiked for this beautiful life I’ve been given.
“Dream as if you will live forever, live as if you will die tomorrow.”
- Garret Zuppiger,
Granite Mountain Hotshot