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HIGH COUNTRY RUNNING

High Country Running: Serenity gone as fires burn near Flagstaff once more

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Pipeline fire high country running

Peter Mortimer climbed Mount Elden June 13, 2022, to get a view of the Pipeline Fire on the San Francisco Peaks.

Standing on top of Mount Elden overlooking the San Francisco Peaks, just before the national forest closed, I had no words, mainly tears.

As a trail runner, I watched my paradise being decimated in real time. The Pipeline Fire was raging and the 40 mph winds were not giving our beautiful mountain a fighting chance.

Looking onward to Fremont Peak, I hearkened back to the countless adventures I’ve had, running and hiking up the Weatherford Trail. I spend most of my time climbing up to Mount Humphreys from the various trails that lead to Arizona’s highest peak.

Now, I could only imagine what is left. As the winds swept north, I thought of our beloved Inner Basin and Lockett Meadow, one of the most serene trails in the country.

Through social media, we have come together for support. The fire in our hearts from anger, sadness and compassion has burned hotter than the flames. As the forest starts to shut down, many of us trail runners have fled south of Interstate 40 to the few remaining trails still open, such as Campbell Mesa and Walnut Canyon.

This has coincidentally brought us together in person, where we have shared our thoughts on the Pipeline Fire. We shake our heads in disbelief and anger. How could this happen to OUR forest?

After all, we spend far more time in those woods than most, doing trail maintenance and cleaning up to keep our forest beautiful. Some of us, like Truheart Brown, are actively battling the flames as we speak.

He and I are scheduled to run the coveted Western States 100 in just over a week. All I can think of is how much he’s having to deal with at a time when he should be relaxing and enjoying one of the biggest races of his life.

We know that nature has a way of resetting. With destruction, comes rebirth. However, nature wasn’t involved here. In this case, it was gross neglect. Ignorance can no longer be an excuse for this type of devastation.

Events like this can simply be avoided by following the rules. Fire restrictions are set in place online through media outlets, and with construction signs and campground notices. In the Schultz area where the Pipeline Fire ignited, there are countless signs: NO FIRES PERIOD!

The trails have been my solace and escape since moving here four years ago. Most of us who share in the splendor of Flagstaff’s nature are angry. We have a right to be. Our little taste of Colorado will never be the same.

I’d like to think this will never happen again. Sadly, it will. Responsibility comes from within ourselves. It only takes one match to bring this much devastation — and ignorance can no longer be an excuse.

A UK native now residing in Flagstaff, Peter Mortimer is a competitive ultrarunner who has competed in some of the world’s hardest races. He lives with his longtime partner, Francisca Vazquez, and his son, Alex.

Send your running stories and opinions to coordinating editor Julie Hammonds (runner@juliehammonds.com) to be featured in a future High Country Running column.

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