After hiking Colton Crater the day before, I had planned to hike Kachina Trail from Schultz Pass to Snow Bowl, ending the hike with my wife & taking a trip on the Scenic Chairlift. I was under the impresson Kachina Trail’s aspens have great fall color. I had also planned to have Abineau-Bear Jaw as a backup for the same reason, but was wary of it, as it started an altitude equal to the highest I had ever hiked — 8500 ft. at Lake Mountain on Los Burros — eventually ascending to 10,320 ft. / 3145m. Talking to Gordon, the proprietor of The Inn at 410, at breakfast, convinced me to have a go at Abineau-Bear Jaw instead of Kachina.
The Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop trailhead is on FR 418, in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, just north of the San Francisco Peaks. FR 418 can be accessed via either U.S. 180, northwest of Flagstaff, or U.S. 89, northeast of town. It’s about the same distance either way, but my impression is that the eastern half of of FR 418 is rougher and, if you drive during Fall color season, you will have to deal with backed up traffic heading to the Inner Basin. I recommended taking the U.S. 180 route.
Head about 18 miles out of Flagstaff on U.S. 180, past Hart Prairie, Snow Bowl, the southern end of FR 151 and the Nordic Center. When you approach a mountain — the Hochderffer Hills — adjacent to the right side of U.S. 180, slow. The next intersection is the north end of FR 151; turn right. In a quarter mile, FR 151 turns south; stay straight on FR 418. The road is windy, and has some bumps, but should be car drivable. (On my way in, I passed a Porsche heading out; on my way out, I followed a semi. WTF!?) The turn off to the trailhead, FR 9123J, is about five miles from U.S. 180. I would not drive a car on FR 9123J, but is easily SUVable. The trailhead is a half mile south.
Friday was a beautiful, sunny, only partly cloudy morning. I was looking forward to getting up into the aspens.
The trailhead is at 8500 ft. I started hitting color about 9200 ft., though that will vary by year depending on temperature, and other weather factors.
The wide & mild trail winds through the pines for a half mile to Forest Service sign-in box. If you watch the video, you’ll see I even mentioned it was a “nice day “. It did not last long. In fact, it pretty much ended as soon as I wrote that.
I hiked clockwise, up Bear Jaw Trail, which is a more gradual ascent than Abineau Trail. A mile in, the trail crosses lower Reese Canyon, then begins ascending 1100 ft. in 1.75 miles to Waterline Road. That’s still a pretty decent grade, but you won’t notice it if you stop to take pictures as often as I did. (Hopefully without complete overcast.) Bear Jaw Trail varies from single track to wide, almost jeep trail-like track, and smooth to slightly rocky; it is smooth sailing. Flowers are scarce. In one grove, all the trees bent to the left, or east. Many of the aspens have been carved with people’s names.
At 2.25 miles, I broke into a clearing above lower Bear Jaw Canyon. The colors on the opposite slope were spectacular! But it was still overcast.
After crossing Bear Jaw Canyon, the trail climbs the final few hundred feet to Waterline Road.
Waterline Road gains 600 ft. in 2.0 miles, which is hardly noticeable. I’m not sure what the legalities are, but it would be easily car drivable. Thick-skulled that I am, I wondered at the solid iron pipe that occasionally appeared on the surface of the road. Duh.
Waterline Road was mostly covered with golden aspen leaves, on which I got some nice water droplet shots. The aspens, themselves, form a cathedral ceiling above the road. But, again, the lighting remained crappy.
The only person I saw on either Bear Jaw Trail or Waterline Road was a turkey hunter around where Waterline Road crosses upper Bear Jaw Canyon. I’m comfortable around guns, but I’m not necessarily comfortable with other peoples’ ability to distinguish me from edible wildlife. But, he seemed like a nice guy. After a brief chat, I wished him luck, then resumed the pleasant stroll west on Waterline Road.
Waterline Road crosses upper Reese Canyon at 3.90 miles, before breaking out into an open basin, midway up Abineau Canyon at 4.90 miles and 10,330 ft. There’s a lot of good sitting rocks there, which I took advantage of while eating my lunch of a Huppy Bar and Gatorade. While I was on my break, a photograper gal hiked up Abineau Trail and a couple of mountain bikers pedalled up Waterline Road. (All the way from Schultz Pass!) Even further up Abineau Canyon, Waterline Road still looked like a jeep trail. Do people actually hike that way up Humphreys Peak!?
During my 20 minute break, I watched the bottom of the cloud line crawl down, then up, then back down Humphreys. I had only one brief glimpse of its summit. The last time the clouds descended, it began sprinkling, the temperature plummeted, and my hands turned to ice. (I’ve always had problems with freezing extremeties: When I returned from Bosnia, I could not feel the toes on my right foot for three weeks!)
When I set out a few hours earlier, I had refused to carry my wife’s jacket along. The jacket was too warm. Instead, I wore a t-shirt under my hiking shirt. That was my only layering, but it kept my core comfortable, even when the temperature plummeted. Still, I bailed with a quickness. Who knew what else was coming?
The first half mile down Abineau Trail was steep, twisty, choked with rock & ground cover, and crossed back & forth over the canyon bottom several times. I could see where it would make for a tiring ascent. The rest of Abineau Trail was wide & clear of obstacles. Another really pleasant stroll. But, because I could now hear thunder, I mostly booked it, making it back to the trailhead in an hour.
In summary, this was a great hike, and not at all as difficult as it is made out to be … Not even for flatlanders like me!
GPS File: Abineau_Bear_Jaw_Loop
Distance: 8.12 mi.
AEG: 1,919 ft.
Time: 3h 33m