The Mountains of Arizona •
St. Clair Peak • Tonto National Forest
• Verde River Valley
• Maricopa County

St. Clair Peak as seen from Horseshoe Dam Road

Walking the road, this view is to the south. Weavers Needle is barely visible

Now I am close to the peak

Looking up at the higher peak as I approach the saddle

View west of Kentuck Mountain

View northeast toward Horseshoe Dam and reservoir

At the summit, view southwest, where some old walls can be seen on the bench below

View east toward the Verde River Valley

Close up of the walls

View of the peaks as I hike out

All images

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Date: April 6, 2019 • Elevation: 4,230 feet • Prominence: 610 feet • Distance: 4.4 miles • Time: 2 hours • Gain: 864 feet • Conditions: High clouds, slightly cool, way too much pollen


St. Clair Peak lies in the high desert northeast of Scottsdale, along the road heading toward Horseshoe Dam. There are two "St. Clair" features here, this peak, and a lower bump about two miles north, called St. Clair Mountain, which is absurd since it has just a hundred feet of prominence. However, that St. Clair has extensive ruins of old Hohokam-era Indian dwellings. St. Clair Peak, on the other hand, has just a few fortifications but nothing extensive. The peak stands by itself, accompanied by a smaller north subsummit. For a hiking objective, I was more interested in St. Clair Peak.

I was here in February, and got as far as the gate along Horseshoe Dam Road west of the peak. I did not purchase a day pass, thinking I did not need one. But the road in was gated, and I had nowhere to hide my car. Not wanting to chance a ticket, I bailed and hiked another peak nearby. Today, the weather was cool and I had most of today (Friday) open. Our first heat wave was coming in a few days so I wanted to hike something before things got too hot. I decided to come back and retry this peak.

I left home about 6 a.m. and arrived to Horseshoe Dam Road a little after 7 a.m., roughly a 45-mile drive. I had some traffic, lots of stoplights, and the usual slow speed limits in Carefree and Cave Creek. I made sure I had a day pass with me (they can be purchased at a kiosk shortly after entering onto Bartlett Dam Road). I pulled into a parking area on the west side of Horseshoe Dam Road and got situated. I was hiking at 7:20.

I walked to the gate for Tonto Forest Road 1104 (not shown on the maps but visible in the satellite images). I hopped the gate and walked the road. Some guys were doing repairs with big earthmovers near the “corral” shown on the map. I gave them wide berth and hiked into the low grasses and scrub, then re-met the road about a quarter-mile later. I walked the road generally southeast, losing about 110 feet in a mile of hiking. The day was sunny with high clouds, cool but when the sun was out, kind of warm.

The road reached a low point then swings south. I followed a lesser track north up a long low ridge, then angled right (east), following the road to its end atop a tiny bare hill. Beyond the hill, a good footpath continued. I followed it up toward the saddle connecting the peak and its north sub-peak. The trail petered out in low grass as it achieved the saddle. I was about 330 feet below the summit. Here, the sun disappeared and the clouds thickened, which cooled the temperature by about 10 degrees.

I hiked up what looked like a track, aiming for the top. The slopes steepened but the track seemed to keep going … until it ended in a small thicket of woody scrub plants. I was able to find lanes through these plants. Here, the slope steepened, and I came to some low rock outcrops. I generally stayed left of these but close to their base, using the rocks as support when necessary. In a couple places I simply scampered through the rocks directly. I was soon near the top. I angled left and within moments was on top the peak, a one-hour hike covering a little over two miles.

I found a small register jar and signed in, the first since January. However, there were signatures going back many years, so this peak does see visitors. The views were okay, the heavy clouds muting good light for photographs. I signed in the register but did not stay. The pollen was so heavy that I could not stop sneezing, one after another. My whole head was a bolus of mucus. I figured if I kept moving, maybe that would help.

On a ledge about a hundred yards to the south I could see a low stone wall, so I hiked down to it and inspected it. The wall stands about 5 feet high in spots, but is mostly just a foot or two high. It did not look like it was part of a structure with lots of rooms, and the wall itself may have been rebuilt in the years since. It may have been a simple fortification, but nothing more.

My sinuses were so busy driving me nuts I had trouble keeping my balance. I started down but had to go slow because I would teeter in places. Once I started moving, the sneezing and sniffling and hocking and spitting seemed to mitigate. I went slow down the steep parts, then sped up as I neared the saddle. From here, I simply retraced my route back to the car. The outbound hike took less than an hour, and counting stops, I was gone exactly two hours. The guys with the earthmovers were on their mid-morning snack break.

Truthfully, I had done little research about this peak before hiking it so I was surprised to see the stone walls. Checking later, it seems these stone walls aren’t that interesting to the researchers. They’re not as easy to get to, apparently, as those on the lower St. Clair Mountain, nor are they as elaborate. But I was pleased to see them, something interesting to check out while up there.

I was back home by about 11 a.m., and spent the rest of the day at work and with my wife. The day stayed cool and breezy, but within days the temperatures would be in the high 90s.

(c) 2019 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.