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Pipeline Fire Scar, AZ
mini location map2022-10-12
75 by photographer avatarchumley
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Pipeline Fire Scar, AZ 
Pipeline Fire Scar, AZ
Hiking17.81 Miles 5,447 AEG
Hiking17.81 Miles   9 Hrs   4 Mns   2.14 mph
5,447 ft AEG      44 Mns Break
 no routes
1st trip
Notice: Super long triplog and obnoxious photo dump! Intentionally posted excessive detail to share as much of the Pipeline scar as possible.
After Saturday's 22-mile sufferfest around the north side of the peaks I wanted to take advantage of the near-perfect seasonal colors, lack of typical crowds here, and the minimally publicized end to the area closure, to check out the devastation firsthand.

With the forecast calling for rain and wind by the weekend, I figured it would be good to take advantage of the perfect weather today. In fact, after the cold wind, flurries, and socked-in peaks four days ago, the blue skies today were somewhat ... bland!

After a quick gander at driving 9129D to Alto Spring it became apparent that walking the 552 would be eternally faster. What's an extra 6 miles and 1000 feet on a day like this!? ](*,) There were 3 other cars parked at the gate. I could have easily made the drive, but I can see how the roadbed is too unstable to reopen without some extensive culvert reconstruction and erosion prevention. It'll be interesting to see how this progresses.

Lockett Meadow was in great shape, as we saw from the Waterline Road on Saturday. All the camp sites are fully intact and ready for enjoyment. It was odd to experience this place in autumn gold without another soul in sight.

I was unprepared for the matchsticks that the first quarter mile of #29 now passes through. It is complete and total destruction. But the trail cuts through the scar quickly and emerges into the untouched forest as the remaining trail climbing to the waterline road are as pristine as ever. And today was absolutely perfect for aspen colors; the best I've ever seen them! :)

Above the waterline it was amazing to see how quickly the aspens had progressed from just four days earlier. These trees had lost significant amounts of leaves and looked drab compared to the vibrant yellows just a short distance away. We saw our only other hikers on the trail sitting at the bus stop. They had come over from Snowbowl, and were headed back that way.

We made quick work up the ankle-buster road before hitting Weatherford and climbing up to the saddle. Off-trail to the summit of Fremont is as it has always been, untouched by fire. As LJW reported a couple of weeks ago, this is where things change significantly.

The trip down the ridge to Fremont Saddle follows the burn perimeter, sometimes in untouched forest and others in ash and char. Fire rings remain at the saddle campsites, but everything else is gone. The climb up to Doyle is severely burned. Climbing it was a challenge, descending it might be more of a buttslide. If wet, bring a sled. The ground was always a little bit loose and gravelly here, now it's just ash and dried ash-mud. The bristlecones are just blackened skeletons.

To nobody's surprise, the rudimentary cabin structure just below the peak was completely destroyed. The corrugated roofing materials lay in a heap, collapsed as the wooden structure which supported it no longer exists. Countless nails, the door hinges, and some remnants of metal tools are still in the rubble, but not much else.

At the high point, the summit cairn still held two summit register jars. A plastic jar had melted into the register paper inside, and I made no attempt to remove it. The glass jar survived and the paper inside was charred from the heat. But it survived and is still usable.

From Doyle we headed down the ridge toward the ridge that leads to Schultz. This area is moonscape. It appears that the fire did not burn east of the Schultz Peak ridge (which had previously burned), and there were pockets of unburned (this time) terrain as we headed downhill. North of the 10,569 ridge, the damage was extensive once again. There was a new rain gauge placed here presumably to help warn the downstream neighborhoods of imminent flooding.

As we progressed down the ridge, the damage was total. It wasn't until shortly before reaching the Waterline Road that we started to encounter aggressive aspen sprouts and even a couple of little mosaic islands of unburned mature aspen groves. As we crossed Waterline it was clear that the north slope into the Inner Basin was torched, but the south side meadows down toward Doney Park appeared to be largely untouched, despite being within the perimeter scar.

The views looking up from here were beautiful, with golden fall colors carpeting the entire inner basin. The late afternoon sun prevented us from getting any quality photos.

After returning to Lockett Meadow we began the trip back down the road and caught up with a pair of hikers from Flagstaff who we chatted with for the final mile down to the closure gate.

I might need a hiking break after these last two! It was great to get up and hit the fall colors and get into the fire scar up close, but it's definitely a bittersweet experience. Glad to see what still stands, but sad at what doesn't. Thanks to N for getting out there with me, it was a good day.
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Autumn Foliage Observation Extreme
Prime time in the Inner Basin. It doesn't get any better than this!
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