Wing Mountain • San Francisco Volcanic Field
• Coconino County


Our campsite, covered in millions of hail pellets
 

Wing Mountain is hidden by clouds
 

A typical view of the uphill hike
 

View of the summit looking southeast
 

Stick Scott at the summit

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Date: May 23, 2015 • Elevation: 8,578 feet • Prominence: 968 feet • Distance: 1.5 miles • Time: 80 minutes • Gain: 980 feet • Conditions: Cold and extremely overcast

Wing Mountain is a lump of cooled lava and cinder rising a few miles west of Flagstaff, as highway US-180 starts to gain elevation heading to the Grand Canyon. The area surrounding the peak is popular with sledders during the winter, and camping in the summer. The peak itself seems to be rarely climbed. There is no trail (that I know of) and there are so many better hiking options, few people will bother.

Beth and I were camping this weekend, enjoying the cool temperatures and beautiful high country. By this time of year, it's usually very hot in the deserts, and pleasurable up here on the Coconino Plateau. We had driven up Thursday afternoon and found a secluded spot to pitch our tent a few miles to the north, near the Hochderffer Hills. I had a few peaks planned, the Hochderffer Hills being one of them, along with a couple others in that area.

I was able to climb two easy peaks, those being the White Horse Hills, and a smaller hill to the west I call the Walker Lake Crater Rim. I ran into trouble with my hike up to the Hochderffer Hills highpoint. The road I wanted was gated at both ends, and when I tried to hike it directly from our camp area, which didn't seem to much trouble looking at the map, I ran into very dense forest up high, and more bizarrely, snow flurries! It seems a big low pressure system was moving through the country, and we were on its very south end. The winds were very strong, pushing 50 miles per hour. I returned to our camp, the time about 3 p.m.

At first, I thought the snow flurry was just a curious fluke. Big Humphreys Peak was just to the east, and it was creating its own micro-climate. But then it started to hail in earnest, soft small pellets as opposed to the harder icier pebbles. We were at 8,300 feet, and at the end of a marginal forest road. If it snowed or got too wet, we might be stuck here a day or two. Thus, we decided to break camp and find a new spot in the forest, preferably lower in elevation. We drove south on US-180 a few miles to Forest Road 222, and found a nice spot just off the road about a mile in from the highway. Conditions here were calm, but still cloudy. I reassembled the tent, then crawled in and took a nap.

I awoke an hour later (now about 6 p.m.) to a pattering sound, assuming it to be rain, but when I looked outside, it was more hail. Beth was in the front of the truck's cab, curled up in her blankets with her magazines. We weren't about to break camp again. The storms had developed more strongly, including plenty of lightning and thunder. This was more like weather one would expect in August, not in usualy-dry late May. I decided to sit up front with Beth in the truck. The hail did not let up for another three hours. At about 9 p.m., I went outside to see stars and the waxing crescent moon. But it was very cold, the hail having collected to about an inch deep, and covering the truck in a sheet of "haily" ice.

We both slept well that night, conditions having calmed since yesterday's storms. The next morning, some of the hail pellets had melted, but the air temperature was still below freezing with low clouds. I spent awhile disassembling camp. The tent itself was filthy with mud and I had little choice but to bunch it all up and cram it into the truck. I'd worry about cleaning it and drying it later.

In spite of the conditions, we were having a good time. The weather and the hail were certainly surprising and a little inconvenient, but we were also amused by these events, too. Thus, with low clouds, muddy ground, fog and cold weather, I still thought it was a good idea to climb nearby Wing Mountain. From camp, we drove a couple miles west, the mountain hidden in the clouds. I drove in on a lesser Forest Road that the map indicated to end somwhere on the peak's northeast slopes. I parked, got my pack on, kissed Beth, and started up the rest of the road, the time about 9 a.m.

I followed the road not much farther, as it simply ended in the trees. I came upon a trail that looked more like a ditch, but it looked promising, so I followed it for about 300 yards. When it started to steeply descend, I decided to leave the trail and start directly up the slopes.

I walked up the slope to a fence, crossed it, then started the upward grind. I was on an obvious "ridge", the peak being surrounded by dozens of these equally-sized ridges formed through erosion. I knew going up would be cake, but I wanted to be sure to descend the same way. I had some margin for error, as any descent route would eventually lead back out to a road, but I didn't want to be that cavalier, as that kind of thinking has gotten me into trouble before.

The slopes were heavily forested with ponderosa, and other trees, but undergrowth was very light, mostly just the bare ground itself. I ascended slowly, building small cairns or jamming sticks into the ground at right angles to serve as a guide for the way down. This went well, and after about 45 minutes, had arrived onto the summit. In these conditions, there wasn't much to see, and even in clear weather, the top is forested with no views. I tagged a couple rocks and snapped a couple images, then started back down.

I was able to follow my path of sticks and cairns easily, descending back to my truck in just 20 minutes. I changed into less muddy clothes and after a few minutes, we started our drive home, arriving a couple hours later.

Given the way circumstances dictated our movements, I was happy to tag the top of Wing Mountain given I hadn't planned on it this weekend. The cold conditions probably helped, as it would be a much sweatier hike even in average conditions. I wouldn't endorse this peak as a must-do while in the area, but if you're like me and have climbed most everything else interesting up here, this is a good peak to get some exercise on.

(c) 2015 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.