Arizona Trail, Day 21, Part 2: Heart of the San Francisco Peaks (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 27)

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The Arizona Trail continues through massive groves of mature aspen and across rice grass meadows below the San Francisco Peaks. Contouring around below Humphreys and Agassiz Peaks, the two highest in Arizona, the view of the Peaks themselves and the western San Francisco Volcanic Field, over to Kendrick Peak and Bill Williams Mountain near Williams, is wide-open and magnificent. The quality of the aspens seems to be growing. I will again allow these magnificent trees to speak for themselves.

(The San Francisco Peaks are the highest peaks in Arizona today, including Humphreys at 12633 and Agassiz at 12360 ft. Native peoples such as the Hopi believe them to be the home of the Kachina spirits, supernatural beings that visit the villages in the first half of the year. This makes the Peaks exceptionally sacred to local Hopi and Zuni cultures. The wilderness that surrounds much of the Peaks is named the Kachina Wilderness in recognition of this connection, and to native peoples they are the Kachina Peaks.

Physically, the San Francisco Peaks are a product of a volcanic hotspot under northern Arizona that formed what we know of today as the San Francisco Volcanic Field, a cluster of lava fields, around 600 cinder cones, and lava domes surrounding Flagstaff. The most prominent feature are the Peaks, an extinct stratovolcano complex. San Francisco Mountain erupted around 400,000 years ago in a lateral blast (think Mt St. Helens). The eruption carved a hole in the northeast side of the mountain and is estimated to have lowered the height of the mountain by approximately 6000 ft. At an estimated height around 18000 ft prior to the eruption, had the eruption not taken place it would be the highest peak in the continental United States today. The view from the top reaches into Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico at a minimum. I’m not sure if you can see the southwest corner of Colorado. The most recent eruption in the San Francisco volcanic field was Sunset Crater, now contained within Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and probably one of the most unexpected places for many visitors in the United States where one can walk on and get a hands-on experience with lava. Sunset Crater last erupted around 1085 AD, meaning there is human documentation of the event from native people.)

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The Arizona Trail approaches aspen groves as it passes through rice grass meadows on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest

Logistics for Today’s Stretch:

Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Length
Trail SurfaceSingletrack
SeasonSpring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesAlfa Fia Tank
TrailheadsArizona Snowbowl
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Logistics for Section Hiked Today
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest

Logistics for Full Passage Length:

Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Length35.3 miles
Trail SurfaceMixed, dirt road & singletrack
SeasonSpring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesCedar Ranch supply box
East Cedar Tank
Kelly Tank & supply box
Alfa Fia Tank
Schultz Tank
TrailheadsArizona Snowbowl
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Logistics for Full Passage Length
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Towering aspen groves and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Southwest view from the Arizona Trail on the lower slopes of the San Francisco Peaks, across US-180 toward Bill Williams Mountain
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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West panorama from the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, over the San Francisco Volcanic Field, including Bill Williams Mountain (left), Sitgreaves Peak (center-left), and Kendrick Peak (center-right)
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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The San Francisco Peaks tower over the rice grass meadows and aspen/mixed conifer forest of the lower slopes along the Arizona Trail. Humphreys Peak is center left, Agassiz on the right (the subsidiary peak in the middle is a false summit of Humphreys). The trail to the Humphreys summit ascends to the saddle between the center ridge point and Agassiz, and crosses the center peak to Humphreys
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest

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To Thruhike or Section Hike, That is the Question

When many individuals are first looking at getting into thruhiking, they face one crucial decision after trail selection – to section hike, or thruhike. Each has different advantages and challenges, and may be better suited for one trail than another. Today, we’re going to discuss these. First, we need to define each. For our purposes, … Continue reading To Thruhike or Section Hike, That is the Question

National Park Quest: Tonto National Monument

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Inspiration Point to Roosevelt Cemetery (Passages 20 & 19, Four Peaks to Superstition Mountains)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

Arizona Trail Backpacking Logistics – AZT Gateway Communities: Tonto Basin

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Four Peaks South (Passage 20)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Four Peaks North (Passage 20)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Four Peaks Passage to just south of Pigeon Spring. The terrain is incredibly precipitous – in places the trail seems to occupy the only level ground around. Fire impacts are present throughout as well, a legacy of the 1996 Lone Fire. Magnificent views of Roosevelt Lake, the southern Mazatzal foothills, and the Sierra Ancha across Tonto Basin.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Prologue: The Arizona Trail

I finally bit the bullet on a thruhike. Since I arrived at Grand Canyon National Park in March, I have been considering thruhiking the Arizona Trail across the state.

For those who don’t know, the Arizona Trail is an 800 mile long hiking trail across Arizona. It starts at the Utah state line, skirts Buckskin Mountain, climbs onto and crosses the Kaibab Plateau, crosses the Grand Canyon and Coconino Plateau. It skirts the mighty San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff and the town itself, and then runs to the southeast past Mormon Lake to the Mogollon Rim, the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Dropping off and running beside the rim to the town of Pine, it passes within miles of the Fossil Creek Wilderness area before crossing several mesas and the East Verde River. It climbs into the rugged Mazatzal Mountains and traverses them to Roosevelt, then crosses the Superstitions and desert canyons to eventually reach the Sky Islands near Tucson. Climbing across Mount Lemmon and Santa Catalinas, it drops to Redington Pass before rising again through the Rincon Mountains in Saguaro National Park. It again enters desert but soon climbs again into the Santa Rita Mountains, passing directly below 9400 ft Mt Wrightson. Crossing the Canelo Hills, it makes a final climb into the Huachuca Mountains and ultimately drops to its southern terminus at the US/Mexico border at Coronado National Memorial.

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“The Arizona Trail”
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The hallmark of the Arizona Trail is diversity. Many long distance trails simply follow mountain ranges and focus on views. The AZT, by contrast, focuses on crossing each of the state’s ecosystems, from deserts to ponderosa forests, Sky Islands to riparian areas.

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Of course, this means that the challenges vary greatly along the trail; depending on the area and recent conditions, terrain, elevation, water availability and access to resupplies may all be challenges.

Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Kaibab National Forest



On September 21st, I set off to conquer this trail, adding 45 miles at the start through Vermilion Cliffs National Monument to access the northern trailhead.

I have chosen it for three reasons: I wanted one that was unique, that relatively few people successfully achieve. The diversity appealed to me, as it is a novel approach to a trail. And I wanted one that would give me the confidence that no matter what I follow it with, I could do it. And, I’m already in Arizona after wrapping up my season at Grand Canyon. I also hope to raise funds for the Arizona Trail Association and National Park Foundation.

So, I’m coming for you, Arizona. Let’s see just what we are both truly made of.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 51: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23), Part II

Disruptive event today, an F-16 that flew over while I was packing. It flew extremely low and around a mountain – possibly North Peak – and made me think very seriously about why that would be allowed over a designated wilderness area. Still, I manage to knock out a few miles to Chilson Spring before dark, with spectacular views of Deadman’s Canyon, the Verde Valley, and the western Mazatzal foothills along the way. The mountains are jagged and rugged and the trail traces steep slopes nearly the whole way across precipitous terrain.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

It’s here. The Mazatzal Divide represents the heart of the longest stretch of the Arizona Trail within a designated wilderness area. To that end, a reminder on the meaning of wilderness. Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, wilderness is “an area where man is but a visitor and does not remain.” Consequently, motorized access as … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 47: Red Hills, Part II/II

Second day hiking through the Red Hills toward the Mazatzal Mountains. Earning their name through the red rock colors, the Hills also provide hikers with wildflowers and diverse vegetation, in addition to showing the scars of recent wildfires and spectacular views of the range north toward the Mogollon Rim.

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