A lung busting hike
On this loop you hike the Pine Canyon trail to the East Rim trail. Then bushwhack to the Milk Ranch point road to the Donahue trail. Then the Donahue to the Highline, back to the Trail head.
You start at the Pine trail head just south of the city of Pine. We started up the Pine Canyon trail and followed it to the intersection of the East Rim trail. Read the Pine Canyon trail write-ups for a description of the trail to this point. The intersection of the East Rim trail is about 4.3 miles into the hike.
The waypoint is N34 25.019 W111 26.053. I was a couple of feet into the trail before I remembered to record a waypoint. The East Rim appears not to be an official forest service trail. There is a sign that looks like it was hand made by the girl or boy scouts. There is a girls scouts camp about another mile or so down the Pine Canyon trail. The sign looks like the other trails signs around the girl scouts camp. Now this East rim trail is a lung buster! In six tenths of a mile you climb a 1,000 feet! The trail is not 100% well defined, but there are ribbon trail markers in the trees and scrubs. The trail is very well marked with these ribbons. There's a ribbon every 5 of 6 feet (at least!). There is a lot of dead fall to work around and the ground is very loose to the point were it feels like scree. I had to use the dead fall and tree branches to help keep my footing. I would not advise hiking on this trail when its raining. I would not want to hike down this trail either. There are about three to four false summits. After hitting the first false summit, the trails turns into a scramble on boulders. This section was not hard. We took our time. One good suggestion is to take your time to locate the ribbons. At times you have to stop and do a 360 to see the next ribbon. Never just try to bushwhack where you 'think' the next one should be. If you you'll probably get into trouble or waste a lot of energy backtracking. After the rock scramble, the trail returns to the dirt and starts to level off a bit. After another false summit or two, you start to get views of the rim. At the end of the .63 miles, there is another hand made sign stating this was the end of East Rim trail (waypoint N34 24.810 W111 25.686) and another sign pointing to Jacks Canyon. There was a different set of color ribbons for the Jack's Canyon. I've seen other signs for Jack's Canyon on the Pine Creek trail closers to the girl's scout camp, but that adventure / loop would have to wait until another day.
Now the bushwhack starts. This was a pretty easy bushwhack. I would suggest downloading my GPS route and following. But if you like to figure things out and don't mind adventures, it's not to hard to figure this out. From the sign we hiked to the south east. I hiked the same direction of the rim and tried to slowly work my way to the left. I knew I would eventually cross over the Milk Ranch road. We took the path of least resistance (avoiding the thorn patches and fallen trees). We still had to climb a slight incline for another 1/4 of mile or so. We got lucky and ran into an old abandoned forest road. We followed this road figuring that all roads in this area must lead back to the Milk Ranch point road. (I also keep a close eye on the GPS to make sure we were going the right direction). This old road lead us into forest road 9382L. FR 9382L (which is behind a locked gate) lead us right into the Milk Ranch Point road. Now we just followed this road to the intersection of forest road 9385 (waypoint N34 23.593 W111 24.447). There are three roads here. One main road and two smaller ones. Take the main road. There was a cardboard sign nailed to a tree showing where the trail is. Follow the main road and ignore the spur roads. The Donahue trail is at the end of this FR. Two years there was a sign for the Donahue trail, but this time all that was left was a wooden post in some rocks. The waypoint is N34 23.397 W111 24.895. At first you'll question yourself if this a trail or not. But keep a lookout for cairns and the trail will be come more defined.
The Donahue trail will take you to the edge of rim and drop you down into the Highline trail. At the intersection of Donahue and Highline, make sure you make the correct turn to right (away from the Geronimo TH). Just follow the Highline trail back to the Pine trailhead. This section of the Highline trail is part of the Arizona trail. Read the Donahue and Highline write-ups for descriptions of these trails.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.