When my wife, Corrine Leistikow, and I decided to hike Mount Prindle recently, we had no idea that we would be accompanied by personal trainers.
Some people hire human personal trainers for external motivation. But we found that “trainers” can come in a variety of forms. Our own Prindle Personal Trainers.
Hiking Mount Prindle in a day is challenging. It’s long — about 17 miles round-trip — with nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain. The long ridge portion of the hike has several tricky boulder sections with random loose rocks. Some parts require dancing around wet spots. It’s a tough hike to keep up your pace.
Knowing it was going to be a long day, we left home really early and were on the trail before 8 a.m. At first we didn’t need much motivation. We were fresh. Conditions were great: the often-boggy trail was mostly dry and the temperature was cool. I had heard reports that the bugs were horrible, but once you got beyond the trailhead they weren’t too bad.
As long as you kept moving. The first quarter-mile of this trek requires a couple of stream crossings. We crossed them in sandals and then stopped to put on our hiking shoes. The bugs welcomed us gleefully, so we got moving quickly. They were our first Prindle Personal Trainers, but they didn’t work us too hard.
About two miles in we crossed a boggy drainage and the bugs went from bad to headnet worthy. In your eyes, nose, ears, and mouth bad. Biting any skin unprotected by bug dope bad. Our second set of Prindle Personal Trainers! They were whiny and annoying, and they kept us moving. Any stops were severely punished. Hiking with bugs is not nearly as relaxing as yoga with reindeer.
After about 5 miles we reached the head of the valley. Here the trail ends and the route turns to ridge walking. The ridge, I knew, would have a stiff breeze. Only it didn’t. The bugs were a bit better on the ridge but still annoying. We kept moving.
We climbed higher on the ridge and finally a strong breeze swept away the bugs. Man, they had been annoying trainers! Occasionally the wind would die and the bugs would be back, but mostly we were bug free. We talked to a couple of guys who had spent the night on the ridge. They said the wind had died often the day before and the bugs had been horrible. We felt lucky. Those were personal trainers we could do without.
The approach to Mount Prindle is a mixed bag – nice alpine ridge hiking mixed with challenging sections of rock. Some sections have smaller rocks — think basketball-sized or smaller. Other sections have rocks more the size of appliances, large and small. Every section has loose rocks patiently waiting for your footfall so they can deviously trip you up. Kind of like personal de-motivators. It’s not a place for speed, but the closer you get to the summit, the easier it is to self-motivate.
Our legs tiring, we climbed the last hill and finally made the summit of Mount Prindle after just under five hours of hiking. I had been on the summit a few times before, but this was Corrine’s first time and she was happy she had made it. We rested, ate lunch, enjoyed the view, and contemplated the hike back on tired legs. We figured we’d have to rely on a lot of inner motivation.
Then the thunder caught our attention. The weather forecast had called for possible thunderstorms, but so far the weather had been great. Still, we weren’t too concerned. The thunder sounded a long way off. But as we hiked back along the ridge, slowly picking our way over the rocky sections, the thunder got louder. Dark clouds grew over the mountains off to our left. As we hiked the thunder got louder and the clouds got closer. I saw some lightning. If that thunderstorm was going to overtake us, we really, really wanted to be off that ridge. We had another Prindle Personal Trainer! This one had a deep voice and seemed really angry. We tried to hustle as best we could.
As it happened, the thunderstorm paralleled us but didn’t enter our drainage. Still, it did its job to motivate us. We kept moving despite wanting to take a rest stop or two.
Dreading the trek back down the bug-filled valley, we donned more bug dope just before dropping off the ridge, but we were pleasantly surprised by a nice breeze. The bugs were just down to bad again. We had five miles to go, but no “trainers” to really motivate us. Tired, we hiked along considerably slower than our hike in.
Then another thunderstorm started developing over the ridge to our right. And we got spit on by some overhead clouds that might be part of the thunderstorm we thought was staying safely in the other drainage. Neither of us wanted to put on rain gear or get wet. We sped up a little for these Prindle Personal Trainers, but they didn’t push too hard.
Then just two miles from the finish Corrine took a rest stop while I continued down to a creek crossing to get more water. While I filled my water container, Corrine hiked past me and said something I couldn’t hear. Her rest stop had seemed awfully short, but she’s not the lingering kind, so I didn’t think too much of it. I finished with my water and then hustled down the trail to catch her. And I really had to hustle. She was moving fast. I tried to figure out the reason. Had that short rest been all she needed? Had she really been holding back, thinking I was tired? Had she found a new Prindle Personal Trainer?
Bingo! This one was purely technological. Shortly after sitting down to rest, Corrine’s Garmin watch had buzzed. It was down to 5% battery power. Worried that she wouldn’t get full Strava credit for the hike, Corrine sprang up and hustled down the trail, determined to finish before her watch died.
The battery survived to the trailhead, where the bugs were again headnet worthy. They motivated us once more, but this time to get in the car as fast as we could. We finished the hike in just under 10.5 hours. And I’m sure we finished much quicker than we would have if we hadn’t had our Prindle Personal Trainers.
Eric Troyer is a Fairbanks-area writer and volunteer who loves to spend time on trails.
If you go:
The easiest and most direct approach to Mount Prindle starts at the Mount Prindle Campground in the White Mountains National Recreation Area. There’s a parking area at the trailhead in the campground but no sign or maps. Finding your way for the first little bit, across two stream crossings, might take a bit of poking around, but the trail up Nome Creek Valley becomes obvious after that. At the head of the valley the trail peters out and the trek becomes a combination of route finding and following Dall sheep trails.
There’s no water after leaving the valley, so be prepared for that. The ridge section is about 3 miles long with no great bailout places, so keep an eye on the skies for thunderstorms or other bad weather.
Quartz Creek Trail parallels the Nome Creek Valley and can provide for alternate routes or for mixed-transportation adventures, such as combining mountain biking or ATVing with hiking. Some incredible tors line the ridge early on the ridge portion and are a worthy destination without going all the way to Mount Prindle.
The best place for information on the hike is the book “Outside in the Interior.” The valley up the trail and the hike to Mount Prindle don’t appear to be anywhere on the Bureau of Land Management website (or at least are incredibly hard to find).
If you’re looking for a “wacky” way up Prindle, check the Fairbanks Area Rock Climbing Guide available at Beaver Sports, Ascension Rock Club or Outdoors Adventures at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Or check out Sam Friedman’s trail report from 2017: http://tinyurl.com/ybbednf8