The main purpose for this trip was to avoid the general unhealthfulness of a lazy day spent drinking beer at the Flagstaff Made in the Shade Beerfest, while avoiding those popular trails around Flag that everybody else hikes on a hot Saturday in June.
The forecast earlier in the week had introduced the possibility of some monsoon moisture over the weekend, and while we were hoping for some clouds and even the chance of a shower, it was instead a perfectly sunny day, with not a cloud to be seen anywhere. The temps were in the low 80s, and there was a really pleasant wind, sometimes gusting over 30mph on the mountain.
So on to the hike ... I had read the description and triplogs and knew to be prepared for false peaks. Subsequently, I had plotted a route and entered waypoints in my GPS. I even traced my potential track in pen on a printed topo map I was carrying with me.
After taking FR74 and FR75, we made the first left after driving around Bald Mountain and down the other side (marked as FR9521L). We drove up that road about 1/2 a mile and decided to start there.
(This description probably makes the most sense if you read it while also looking at the GPS track I posted). We hiked east, climbing up the first ridge, occasionally finding a short game trail, but otherwise just doing our thing with the intended target of the saddle below peak 8625, which we could sometimes see through the trees. After about 1/2 a mile, we came to a drainage that had a really nice use trail along it. In retrospect, hiking upstream from there might have been a good idea, but my plan had been to go up the 8625 ridgeline to peak 9004, so we crossed the drainage and traversed a little bit to catch a small ridge and climb a pretty brutal 700ft in 1/2 a mile. By pretty brutal, I just mean steep. We were fighting the elevation and oxygen starvation, but the terrain was generally ok, with some loose footing, but mostly fine.
Upon reaching peak 8625, we took a 10-min break to recover some oxygen and muscle strength before proceeding toward peak 9004. This little ridgeline was a great respite. Flat, shaded, breezy, and some nice views. The grade increased slowly and before we knew it, we had knocked off another 1/2 mile and were at the top of peak 9004. There was a rarely used peak register here ... a GLASS bottle ... that we signed. There were two sheets of paper with signatures dating back about 10 years. Definitely not a frequently visited peak!
From here we headed northwest toward Sitgreaves, knowing there was going to be some ups and downs to negotiate. Heading down to the saddle was a pleasant stroll through a dense Aspen grove, though it did get a little bit steep. My goal was to try to avoid all the false peaks, by simply going around them, but we got caught up trying to traverse around a little peak that was just too steep and covered in fallen trees to make it worth it, so we cut back to the north side of the mini-peak where the footing was gravelly and more desert-like. In retrospect, it would have just been easier to climb this little bump than the effort we put in trying to go around it!
Next up was peak 8944, which featured a pretty solid climb (400 ft in 3/10mi). Again, I figured we would only go as high up as the next saddle and traverse around, but we found ourselves on the north side, and the trees and vegetation along with the grade made traversing nearly impossible, so we ended up bagging that false peak too.
The ascent up the last peak before Sitgreaves was the steepest of the day. Strangely, there was a use trail going straight up this open glade, and even more strangely, it had been deliberately blocked with large aspen branches, presumably to prevent overuse and subsequent water channeling/erosion. Once again, my grand plan to bypass the actual peak by traversing at the level of the next saddle just wasn't practical due to the steepness of the terrain. Traversing the side of a steep hill isn't that much fun.
Despite being just one peak away, with the goal now in view, that climb just about killed us, and we took a 20 minute break and ate some food before making the final push down to the saddle and up to Sitgreaves Peak.
Oddly, there was no peak register on Sitgreaves, despite there having been one on 9004. There was a benchmark marking the peak, and another refrence mark pointing to the benchmark. The peak is mostly open, with great views in most directions (north being obscured by trees). As with most Arizona peaks, there were countless ladybugs on the various plants, and as we took another lengthy break, we were actually bothered by a lot of fairly aggressive black flies, though they didn't bite.
After 45 minutes enjoying some food and a couple of well-earned beers we decided to head back down. I had originally planned on going on the east side of the two twin peaks below Sitgreaves, but we ended up just going straight down the drainage between the two.
The south side of the peak was steep, and very loose, sandy, gravelly, scree. There is no way I would have wanted to ascend this way, even though it would be significantly shorter. (I think this was probably JimH's 9/2007 triplog route). I basically skied down the mountain, using my poles and hop-stepping and sliding straight down. It was actually sort of fun! 700 feet in 3/10ths of a mile! Wooooo!
We followed the drainage the remaining mile back to the truck, through open and easy pine forest, arriving at 5:15p (3:15 to get up, and just 45 minutes of skiing/hiking to get down!)
I think we all agreed that on-paper, the 4.5 miles and 1700 feet doesn't sound very tough, but it was definitely a pumpkin-kicker! Much more work than anticipated!
Not only did we not see another person, we didn't even pass another vehicle until back on paved roads. A great day of solitude in the mountains!