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Flagstaff is a beautiful area, much greener than one might expect for Arizona. It helps that it lies at almost 7,000ft, usually keeping a lid on the Southwest's typically scorching summer heat. Even with the altitude it was warmer than usual, 93F in the afternoon the day before. It seemed prudent to find someplace high to hike today and I found opportunities in the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff. I had hiked here once before with a friend and my son to tackle Humphreys Peak, the state highpoint. Today I would go after the southern group of peaks that include the state's 3rd and 4th highest ranked peaks. Schultz Peak is more than 1,000ft lower than the other two and sports little prominence, but it would be a bonus while I was collecting the other two.
The Weatherford Trail climbs up the south side of the massive to Doyle Saddle (between Doyle and Fremont Peaks), continues around the north side of Fremont Peak to Fremont Saddle and eventually climbs to the Agassiz/Humphreys Saddle where it joins the Humphreys Peak Trail. It's not as popular as the Humphreys Trail for several reasons - it's much longer to reach Humphreys, it starts at a lower elevation, and the road to the TH isn't paved. Fortunately the road is well-maintained compact gravel and easily negotiated by any vehicle (some potholes to watch for and the road is narrow when confronting on-coming traffic). I'd spent the night camped at the 8,000-foot trailhead just east of Schultz Pass, about 4mi from US180. I was up early with the sun which rises not long after 5:30a at this time of year, and ready to go just after 6a.
The area immediately around the TH has been recently logged, leaving clear cuts and piles of slash - not the prettiest start for a hike. I plied the trail for a little over a mile, through lovely pine and aspen forests. Just before the trail turns south for a short jog, I left to head cross-country across Weatherford Canyon and onto the SW Ridge (becoming the South Ridge) of Schultz. It was a very steep climb out of the canyon, rising more than 1,500ft in about a mile. Luckily the footing was decent and the forest understory not difficult to navigate. Once on the South Ridge the gradient eases and the hiking along grass and forest slopes is pretty nice. The highpoint of Schultz is buried in forest without much in the way of view and I had no luck finding any sort of register. After more easy hiking along the ridge to a saddle, the climbing grows steep once again, rising another 1,000ft towards Doyle's summit to reach the crest surrounding the Inner Basin. This is a U-shaped crest running across all six of the high summits over the course of about six miles. A last 400-foot climb got me to the highpoint of Doyle Peak shortly before 9a. A register I found here dated back to 1988, a MacLeod/Lilley classic. It lacked a pencil which at first glance explained the lack of recent entries. I left a pencil I carried with me after signing it, then continued west along the crest. Though trees cover much of the ridgeline there are good views to the higher peaks to the north across the basin. I discovered a second highpoint, the west summit, about 100yds distance. This had a newer register that appears to have taken over for most visitors since it was placed in 2010. The west summit has better views and a neat little summit bivy spot.
My next effort was to begin descending the west side of Doyle Peak to Doyle Saddle, a steep, loose slope through more forest, dropping more than 600ft. Halfway down I spied two others on their way up, evidently not seeing me through the trees. I paused to allow them to pass by without detecting me, then continued down myself. Not sure if I did this so as not to startle them, or perhaps more selfishly, just to continue my illusion of solitude. Fremont Peak rises more than 500ft higher than Doyle across the saddle and makes for an imposing view, especially if one is already tired. Another 1,000-foot climb to go...
A use trail starts up from the saddle but soon peters out in the woods. This ridge climb required more care in navigation as I found myself moving from one side to the other in search of less brush and trees. There are a few minor cliff areas but overall it wasn't too bad, taking about 45min from the saddle. Unlike the previous two peaks, Fremont's summit is barren and open to views in all directions. A rock wind wall has been built (sadly) here and I just didn't have the energy to dismantle it. I found a register from 2010 (same fellow that placed the one on Doyle's west summit) tucked in the rocks of the wind break. At 11,900ft, this would be as high as I would get today. Time to head down.
It would have been faster and probably easier to simply descend back to Doyle Saddle, but since I had lots of time today I decided to continue over the west side of Fremont and descend cross-country to pick up the Weatherford Trail near Fremont Saddle. This added several miles to the outing, but it gave me a chance to take in the views of the Inner Basin and the surrounding peaks from along the trail. After returning to Doyle Saddle, I found a lone gentleman resting off to the side and several parties making their way up from the south side. I descended most of the Weatherford Trail back to the trailhead, some 4.5mi all told, but found no love during the descent. The trail is really an old mining road and it is rocky and uncomfortable to walk on for most of its distance. Added to that are long stretches where the trail traverses the hillside nearly flat - makes sense if you need to let your 1940s International Harvester's engine cool, but utterly painful for hiking. There are long, long switchbacks that gain or lose little elevation. Unable to contain myself, I used the GPSr to cut off the last, very long switchback by descending a nice, grassy ridgeline. This had the amusing effect of putting me ahead of a jogger who had passed me 10min earlier. He passed by a second time shortly after I returned to the trail and he wasn't quite sure what had happened as he gave me a slight, puzzled look. The trail became busier lower down, a family of three with an unhappy daughter who had fallen and scraped her arm, three equestrians, and a number of solo hikers. It was after 1p by the time I returned, making for a 7hr effort. It was warm again at the lower elevation, about 83F, and time to call it a day...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Doyle Peak - Fremont Peak
This page last updated: Mon Jul 18 15:12:00 2016
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