Horse Mountain • Bradshaw Mountains
• Southern Yavapai County

Date Climbed
June 4, 2011

Elevation
7,078 feet

Distance
4 miles

Time
3 hours

Gain
1,120 feet

Conditions
Sunny, pleasant

Prominence
1,078 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


Horse Mountain massif from the trailhead (the summit is still not visible)
 

This is a good part of the trail!
 

Fence and some easier walking once on top the main crest
 

The summit of Horse, yonder
 

Mr. Ray's memorial
 

North view, with Mount Union visible off to the right
 

South view

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Horse Mountain is a major summit in the southern Bradshaw Mountains, located due west of the main peak, Towers Mountain, and about 8 driving miles northwest of the town of Crown King along the old Senator Highway (FR-52), which was the main stage route connecting Prescott and Phoenix back in the earliest territorial days of the 1860s and 1870s. When my birthday rolled around again, we looked for a place to escape, preferably somewhere cooler with a neat hike to do. We always like Crown King (maybe not so much the roads getting there), and have been here now five times, coming here about once every other year. We had spent another of my birthdays—in 2005—here, too. Our last time here was in September 2009.

We left the Phoenix area Friday afternoon around 4:30 p.m., but traffic was lighter than expected. The usual crunch of vehicles trying to get up Interstate-17 to the high country wasn’t there today. We theorize this being the weekend after Memorial Day, no one was going camping this weekend. Thus, we had an unexpectedly easy drive to the Bumble Bee exit, and from there, a bumpy 26-mile drive up into the Bradshaws into Crown King. The road, while advertised as being passenger-car passable, is very washboarded and generally a chore to drive, which is a shame. We arrived in Crown King about 7 p.m., but continued past, intending to get to the Horse Mountain trailhead, which is located at Hooper Saddle, about 8 miles distant.

All was fine for the first five miles out of Crown King. The road to the FR-520 junction (the back-side access to Towers Mountain) had been graded very recently so we had smooth sailing. After this junction, the road to Hooper Saddle was in very bad shape. We needed 4-wheel drive and had to ease up and down over many exposed rocky intrusions and steep ruts, taking the road at a crawl pace. We had driven this road back in 2003 and I do not recall it being this bad. I suspect the Forest Service does not maintain this road much after the FR-520 junction. We finally arrived at Hooper Saddle around 8 p.m. as the sun was going down. We parked alongside the road at the Horse Mountain Trail sign. Given the wretched condition of that road, we did not expect anyone else to come this far, and no one did. We had the place to ourselves the whole night.

The next morning started cool but it was going to be a sunny, cloudless day. Even at nearly 6,000 feet, it could get warm up here, so I got started on the trail about 6:35 a.m. The map shows a trail most of the way to the top, but quickly I could see that this was going to be a rougher hike than planned. The first couple-hundred feet are okay: the trail winds steeply through chest-high woody brush (lots of madrone). Then, the trail just “ends”. Well, not really, but the brush had grown across it so thickly that it had effectively obscured it completely. I plowed forth, sometimes able to see an opening ahead of me, but often, I was stopped and completely bewildered! More than once I simply “guessed” and yes, the trail would re-appear ever so slightly again. So I kept at this for about a half-hour, not too happy about the brush. My goal was the crest at 6,640 feet. If the trail was this overgrown thereafter, I’d turn back.

Well, I got a little lucky. The trail seemed to open up a tad more as I approached the crest, and at the crest itself, the brush essentially ceased. Now, I had more grasses, cactus, and shade trees such as juniper. Farther ahead I could see stands of ponderosa. Things looked promising, so I kept walking, now following a rough path southerly toward a hill marked as spot elevation 6,871 on the map. The trail essentially disappeared up here, but now I had a fence to follow. Why it was up here I have no idea, and it was very old.

At (or near) Point 6,871, I turned west and now had some great conditions: big ponderosa, little underbrush and a soft mat of pine needles to tramp upon. The fence went west, too. I followed the lay of the land, going up and down the ridge to where the fence bent right again. But now, I was below a small hill, and once I surmounted it, could see Horse’s summit just ahead, probably a third of a mile distant. I angled northwesterly a little down a drainage then up to a rock outcrop where I came up some cairns … and the fence again! The remaining hike followed cairns and mostly in line with the fence. Just below the top there is a gate in the fence. Surely one of the more remote, useless gates ever installed! But the going looked less brushy on the other side, so I passed through and charged up the last 100 feet or so, some of it brushy, to the top.

The summit is a big jumble of granite rock, free of trees and brush, and offering superb views up and down the Bradshaw Range. A wrought-iron memorial for Bill Ray, presumably a local rancher, sits below the summit rock. The top rock is easily scaled, and I signed in, the first for 2011. I noted an average of about one group per year who sign in. Given the remoteness of this peak and the bad road needed to get there, I am not terribly surprised. And, not surprisingly, a couple of signers are acquaintances of mine from other hikes. A small world, indeed.

The view north features the uniform wall of peaks of the north Bradshaws including Mount Union, the range highpoint. It does not stand out as obvious, but it is higher than its nearby peaks and you can barely make out the towers atop its summit. Big Towers Mountain stood immediately east, while the foothills and deserts fanned out way to the south. The slope gave away very steeply west, dropping a good 2,000 feet, with the Weaver Range off in the distance. I was very impressed with the views, and would be happy to go on record as claiming them to be some of the best you can get from any peak in the Bradshaws (given most of the rest of the peaks are wooded).

It had taken me two hours to gain the top, even though the one-way mileage was about two miles and just 1,100 feet of gain. Of course, a lot of that time was lost to stopping in utter confusion, trying to glean the trail through the overgrown greenery. For the descent, however, I knew where to go, and I made great time. I had built little cairns for my own use for the descent and these helped a lot, especially at the 6,640-foot crest, knowing when to re-enter the brush. I had also broken many branches or cleared out deadwood on my way up, which helped, of course, on the way down. I was back to the truck in less than an hour. In all, a good hike with tremendous views as the reward.

Beth was happy where she was, not a soul having driven by. The temperatures were still pleasant and we spent about 30 more minutes here before leaving. Our original plan had been to camp here both nights, but we both wanted to get up past that bad stretch of road, closer to Crown King, and not have it on our minds the rest of the trip. I decided to drive it in 4-wheel low, which I use rarely. My truck inched forward at maybe 5 miles per hour, often slower, but going up the road (we had about 600 feet of gain) was much better this way. We just took each obstacle one at a time and after maybe 40 minutes, had covered the 2.5-mile stretch to the FR-520 junction, where the road was now graded. A 4-wheel drive enthusiast with a Jeep would probably enjoy this road, but we didn’t like it much. We do 4-wheel drive roads as a means to an end, but this one was really ugly. We were glad to be above it now, and probably will never drive it again.

We spent the rest of the day encamped at a nice spot about a mile south of the FR-520 junction. Even though it was alongside the road, we were back in far enough to be hidden and there were all sorts of easy nature-walk trails in the area. We just lazed around camp, took naps, walked around, talked, celebrated my birthday, and got another good night’s sleep in the cool pines of the high country. The drive out the next day went without much incident and we were home by noon, Sunday.

(c) 2011 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.