This was a very cool hike, both figuratively and literally. My friend Ted tagged along with sarichter and I, making three of us total. The mileage and elevation are as recorded by my GPS, which may be a bit off from the generally accepted stats. The elevation difference came out to 3222', so I rounded up to the next hundred feet to estimate the added in between gains.
All the trails are very wide and easy to follow, a welcome change from alot of the unmaintained trails in the Tonto NF. Icehouse starts as a normal trail, then follows a jeep road. Even though it was a dirt road, the steepness of this hike made it a very good workout. Once the road reaches a cement trough, the vegetation changes from the desert scrub brush to tall ponderosa pines. It was also at this point that we noticed the cooler temps and breezes. Once the trail gets to Doghouse Spring and the semi-hidden junction with the Telephone Trail, it turns back into a normal trail until it reaches FR651. The further you ascend to FR651, the cooler the temps get and the vegetation gets more lush. It resembled back east much more at this elevation. At one point near the top, it began to rain on and off, but nothing enough to do more than keep us cool as we hoofed it to the top.
Once we got to FR651, we notice a road spur that goes to the east. This at first seemed to be the road to take up to the Telephone/Sixshooter Trails, but in fact it is a dead end road, as noted by the sign on it. I had a feeling this was the case looking at my maps and GPS, and it was confirmed by a friendly moutain biker who was just passing by as we got to the road. On our way over to the Telephone Trail along FR651, we made our way up a bit towards Signal Peak to notice the spectacular views to the south and east. Picketpost Mt. was very easy to spot, and we could even make out Picacho Peak a little bit thru the light haze.
Along the rest of FR651 we passed a campground that seemed full and saw some cabins that were further up the mountain. We stopped for lunch at the top of the Sixshooter Trail and saw some ATVers, hikers and campers come and go. Along the way down Sixshooter, we were passed by two mountain bikers who were with the ATVers we saw earlier.
The junction of the Sixshooter and Telephone Trails is marked very well, but finding the Telephone Trail is a bit tricky as it fades as it crosses a stream. After that, the Telephone Trail was as easy to follow as the Icehouse Trail and the views were just as nice. Four Peaks was visible to the west and we noticed some heavy localized rainstorms to the east.
Looking forward to going back next week with the family to do some of the shorter, level trails up at the top. This is a great area and as happy as I am to have finally got around to hiking here, I feel dumb for not getting here sooner.