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Whetstones By Storm, AZ
mini location map2017-01-07
75 by photographer avatarAZHiker456
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Whetstones By Storm, AZ 
Whetstones By Storm, AZ
Hiking16.60 Miles 5,009 AEG
Hiking16.60 Miles   11 Hrs   3 Mns   1.60 mph
5,009 ft AEG      40 Mns Break
1st trip
Partners none no partners
At just over 11 hours, just over 16.5 miles, and 11 peak bagged [including three named peaks: Granite, French Joe and the Whetstone’s Highpoint, Apache] this adventure was none other than tarzan swinging' EPIC! Even the drive in was a total joy; and I mean that literally, not sarcastically…

…access to Apache Peak has reputation for being a total bitch. There is the infamous Western approach [via Empire ranch], which involves over 15 miles of dirt road, with the last 4-5 miles being so horrendous that, [when I was there in Dec. 2015], I actually had the person who was driving stop the vehicle, [a Chevy Avalanche w/ off-road tires], so I could get out and walk part of road, fearing that the massive ruts might flip the vehicle. The Eastern approach [via the road leading in toward French Joe Canyon] is supposedly better… but from the HAZ Description [ description ] , still not great AND on top of that, wasps at time of year when the Whetstones were partly covered in snow made French Joe Canyon a less than appealing option.

A few months ago, my realtor showed me some homes in the Rain Valley area of Elgin, and I was surprised at just how close to the Whetstones it was; and the roads seemed very accessible and in GOOD condition. Shortly after moving to Elgin, I used Route Scout to map some driving options into the Whetstones from that area [Southern Approach]. I could see some ruts from satellite imagery – as well as some gated areas – and until I tried it today, I just didn’t know how things would pan out. To my very pleasant surprise, it was only about a 5 mile drive in and took about 25-30 minutes, [a good chunk of which was due to having to get out 4x to open/close gates, [a few of which were quite stubborn]. The road conditions were very, very good though; unfortunately not ‘car good’; but very easy/doable in my Forester. If Sedona’s Schnebly Hill Road is a 10/10 on the ‘feces factor scale’ for a high clearance vehicle, then I ‘d give this road a 4/10.

As for the hike… [never expecting to be able to drive in as far as I did], I was initially planning to go for just Granite Peak and any other UN Peaks nearby… but after making it all the way to Bear Corral, [located at the base of the ridgeline I’d planned to ascend en route to Granite Peak], I knew that the longer route I drawn, [which incorporated the big ass, N-S running ridgeline with many of the Whetstone’s 7,000’er’s], was well within striking distance, and I decided to go it.

The entire ridgeline was routed; in some places it felt like a full out trail, and in other places it felt like a gnarly bushwhack. The brush wasn’t too bad, but there were a few places that were very steep and required some bouldering; so even a little brush made it more challenging, [especially while trying to make good time]. Interestingly enough, some of the best-routed areas along the ridgeline was within the section starting shortly after coming off Granite Peak, [a little before UN 7072], up to the saddle area just after UN 7104… while the worst section by far was just after UN 7104 while approaching “The Nub” [more on this in a minute…], right up to the final saddle area to the SE of Apache Peak. This was opposite of what I expected; I thought the section of ridgeline near French Joe Peak, [and especially the section between French Joe and Apache], would have the best route; but this was definitely not the case!

As for what I referred to as “The Nub” above… it’s the 3rd prominent point [if using CalTopo] and 2nd prominent point [if using FS Topo] along the ridgeline after UN 7104, heading North, toward French Joe Peak. Let’s just say, how this little Nub did not end up with even a UN designation on the Topos is beyond me. Unlike several of the UN Peaks that I bagged, [which I would not have even considered prominent points, let alone peaks if the topos did not label them], “The Nub” is quite prominent…and unlike many of the UN Peaks “The Nub” was a total motherpumpkin! There were many cliffy sections, [which proved easy to work around]; and the boulders that were solidly ‘rooted’ into the Earth were very reliable… but with several medium sized rocks that were not reliable, along with a steep grade and loose footing, ascending this little Nub proved to be one of the most challenging parts of the whole adventure.

As for views, they were absolutely sensational throughout! In terms of the named peaks, I liked Granite and Apache the best but there were several UN Peaks and/or miscellaneous points on the ridgeline that were just as awesome. In December of 2015, I physically bagged Apache Peak, but at that time, visibility from the peak was literally about 15-20 feet due to a snowstorm. I rarely repeat hikes/peaks, but as beautiful as the Whetstones are, it’s been eating away at me not to have gone back and experienced this peak in terms of its awesome views. Today I did just that, and getting closure felt so nice.

As for summit registers: I found one on Granite Peak, nestled under the rocks by its extremely obvious highpoint; and two registers on Apache Peak, [also nestled under some rocks by its extremely obvious highpoint]. As for French Joe… I found some sort of register, but I think it may have been a geocache register.

My return was absolutely epic. I’d drawn out a few route options, but I really just kind of free-styled it based on the terrain. I took a LONG, never-ending ridge ride off Apache, staring off the SE, [the same ridge that I took with the hiking club when I did Apache Peak in Dec. 2015]. However, after about 1/2 mile when the original SE ridge branches into smaller ridges, I opted for a ridge to the South of the one I took in Dec. 2015. When I finally reached the bottom, [about 2.5 miles after having departed from Apache Peak], it was almost dark. I ended up on a ‘finger’ of ridge that was cliff-like on all sides. Luckily one side had a lot of sand, [which proved to offer a lot better grip than I anticipated, especially given the grade], and I scrambled down into a drainage, which is where I was supposed to pick up a trail. However, no sooner do I spot the trail when I also spot some very cool ruins of an old corral and home [or barn]. CalTopo did not show anything, but after I returned and overlaid my route with FS Topo, I saw that this is the Shack Corral. It was extremely neat, and it must have been an amazing little get-away.

After briefly visiting the Shack Corral, I picked up the trail for all but a fraction of a mile. The trail seemed headed in the wrong direction and I was kind of worried that I might have picked up a trail not shown on the topos. With almost no daylight left, I instinctively / intuitively just started free-styling, using the line-off sight / old fashion method, [which I’m becoming quite fond of]. With the many ridges coming off the mountain, [and many of them having small cliff walls], an ‘as-the-crow-flies’ approach would not have been optimal with no daylight.

Just before reaching for my headlamp, I spotted a more major looking drainage, [which proved to be Wild Cow Canyon]. It was very easy to aim for, the topo contours leading into the canyon were extremely gradual, and if I headed into the canyon, it would lead me to a jeep road in a little over 1.5 miles [vs. nearly 4 miles of bushwacking if I opted for the [as-the-crow-flies approach]. I reached for my headlight right at about the 5,240’ contour line, just North of Wild Cow Canyon. The last place I wanted to be in pitch darkness when the critters tend to come out is in a canyon, so initially I attempted to contour but there were lots of boulder crags, and the going was not exactly smooth. Thus, at a very gradual / easy place to enter the canyon, I decided to take my chances and go for it…

…let’s just say, my apprehension at having to bushwhack for another 1.5+ miles, off-trail in pitch darkness in bear / mountain lion / God knows what else territory suddenly went out the window when I entered this canyon. There were endless, beautiful pools of water, super neat rock formations, and even a mini-waterfall… and best of all, no waterfalls / other places that involved cliffing out. With the Whetstones practically in ‘my backyard’, I will definitely be making a return to this canyon to see it in the daylight… and making it a priority to find an easier way in…

…as if there weren’t enough challenges on this adventure, the point where I planned to scramble out of the canyon was steep and cliff-like [gotta love those occasional, damn generalizations of the topo contours…]. Somehow with only the light of my headlamp, I managed to find some animal routes, and a few basic Class 2.5-3 climbs later, I had made my way up the small cliffy area and onto the jeep road at the top. From that point, it was smooth sailing for just over 1.5 miles along very easy jeep road back to my vehicle.
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