The Mountains of Arizona •
Yarnell Hill • Peak 6080 • Granite Mountain Hotshots State Park (part)
• Weaver Mountains
• Yavapai County

Yarnell Grade, Arizona
Town of Yarnell, rain
Yarnell Grade, Arizona
Wall of honor, Hotshots Trail
Yarnell Grade, Arizona
The rough path beyond the main trail. (Not the summit yet)
Yarnell Grade, Arizona
Summit ahead
Yarnell Grade, Arizona
View west
Yarnell Grade, Arizona
View east. Those rocks I felt were highest
Yarnell Grade, Arizona
The Yarnell Grade (Highway AZ-89)

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Date: September 25, 2021 • Elevation: 6,080 feet • Prominence: 1,120 feet • Distance: 8.8 miles • Time: 4 hours & 10 minutes • Gain: 2,460 feet (gross) • Conditions: Cloudy and steady rain

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This peak rises above the famous Yarnell Grade, where highway AZ-89 gains steeply uphill (or downhill, depending on your direction), west of the small town of Yarnell in Yavapai County. The summit peak itself has no official name, but the whole area is called Yarnell Hill. From below, it's not clear which ridge-bump of the long ridge is the highest point. A very rough Jeep track runs along this ridge and nearby the summit.

I would access this Jeep track by following the Hotshots Trail within the Granite Mountain Hotshots State Park, built to honor the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew that perished in the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013. I have wanted to hike this trail since the park was opened a few years ago, but kept finding reasons to put it off. I finally made a plan to come here, hike the trail and pay my respects to the firefighters.

I left home early, well before dawn, and took the usual route into Wickenburg. As the sun rose, I noticed the abundance of clouds up this way. This could be interesting. Past Wickenburg, I followed AZ-89 through Congress and up the Yarnell Grade, then doubled back to the small parking lot at the trailhead. I rolled in at 6:50, got changed, locked everything up and started walking at 6:55 a.m., the sky dark with clouds, but for now, still and slightly humid. The air temperature was about 70°. There were a couple cars already parked.

I made a donation in the metal donation kiosk, then started up the trail. It's steep but with stone steps and long switchbacks to mitigate the gradient. Soon, I came to the first of the nineteen plaques. These are affixed to large rocks roughly every 800 feet. I stopped and read each one, then tapped each plaque with my hiking pole.

There was a group up ahead of me. I could hear them, and they kept about the same pace as I was going. The grade here is very steep, the trail switchbacks many times to make its way up the slope, but the tread is wide and free of rubbly rocks. Even though it was relatively cool, the stillness of the air and the humidity was a little uncomfortable. I kept hoping the clouds would scoot through, but they never did.

This Hotshots Trail runs about three miles and gains about 1,200 feet. At my pace, I was coming to each plaque about every 8-10 minutes. What these guys had to endure that afternoon is beyond comprehension. I made sure to read each one and spend a moment thinking about who they were. (I made a decision not to take photographs of any of these plaques. These should be seen in situ only, not on my measly website. I hope you agree.)

I was about 75% of the way up when rain started to fall, at first just a light drizzle. It was still warm, in the low 70s, and there was no breeze. I caught up to the guys on the high ridge, near the last of the plaques. We exchanged pleasantries. They were a group of firemen hiking up as I was, to pay their respects. They were not local, but I forget where they were from. I went on ahead and was soon at the end of the Hotshots Trail, where there is a bench and shade structure, and a tribute wall, where past visitors have affixed patches and stickers from Fire/Police/EMS departments all over the country and world. In the rocks nearby, many t-shirts from various fire departments were also laid out. I found a small Central Arizona Mountain Rescue sticker and tapped it. I was on that team twenty years ago.

The "Journey" Trail starts here, dropping about 450 feet to the location where the firefighters actually perished. I could see the monument from up where I was. My plan was to go hike to the peak I was after, then come back and hike down to this monument.

I stayed high, and continued northbound on the Jeep track, much rougher and overgrown than the lovely Hotshots Trail. I had about a mile and a half to the peak, which was not visible for the moment. The track drops about 140 feet to a low point. The rain was falling steadily, not too heavy, but consistent. Looking to the east, I could see a big sheet of rain heading this way. Conveniently, there was a rock here with an overhang, so I sat in it for about ten minutes to let this cell pass. When the rain lightened up (it never really stopped), I continued on this track.

The track was in bad shape, with deep erosion channels, loose rocks and heavy brush at times. But it was easy to follow. I just kept walking the track, trusting it would go to the top. Each time I would crest a rise and see a hilltop in the distance, I'd get my hopes up that it was the summit. It usually wasn't. The track itself is a curiousity. Why would someone go through the trouble to put one in literally on the range crest? It is clear some rock had to be blasted out to make room for it. I'm guessing for some old mines.

The rain fell steadily, and I took refuge in rock voids when I could find them, but toward the end, already soaked, gave in and just let the rain have its way with me. The upside was that it was still mild and with no breeze. I was uncomfortable, but nothing more. The track gained and dropped a couple more times. Finally, the top was in view. I left the track and hiked through low brush to the top, tagging both sets of rock outcrops. I felt the east ones were higher. But I did not stop. I had no views and the rain did not motivate me to stop at all. I just turned around and started the walk out.

The walk out was much like the walk in, but facing the other way. I had the advantage of going mostly downhill. The rain fell at its steady, consistent pace. I did not think about much, just looking forward to getting back to the Hotshots Trail and that bench/shelter. I could take a break from the rain there.

When I got to the bench, the structure was a metal lattice, so the rain still got through. I had wanted to hike down to the monument in the valley below, but I was so soaked, I had no desire to do so. I will be back someday, in nicer weather, and visit it properly. Today, I just wanted back to my car and out of my wet clothes.

I made good time on the downward hike. A couple hikers were going uphill, and there was a large group of about 20 people, all part of one family judging by their t-shirts. I snapped a couple photos for them, but they too were turning around given the rain. It never stopped. I was back to my car at 11 sharp, completely soaked. I quickly changed into drier clothes, then sat for a spell in my car, windows up, listening to the rain patter the car.

I enjoyed the hike, despite the weather. I had wanted to pay respects to the firefighters for a long time and was happy to do so. The peak itself wasn't anything special, but I was happy also to be able to tag it. I did not take many photos, and what you see here is the best of the batch. Obviously, heavy gray skies and rain do not lend well to good photography.

For the drive home, I drove into Wickenburg, then followed Vulture Mine Road to Aguila Road, then to 355th Avenue Road into Tonopah, catching Interstate-10 at 339th Avenue. The cloud margin seemed to disappear about Wickenburg. Down this far south, I had clear blue skies, temperatures in the 90s. What a difference a few miles and an hour can make.

The drive home was an ordeal. The interstate was closed near 75th Avenue, so I tried to be proactive and got off the freeway much earlier, then hoped to take surface streets into the city. But no matter which one I followed, it seemed to dead-end, or force me onto ones I didn't want to be on. I could not avoid the traffic crunch, and at some point, just gave in and sat like a stooge in the traffic. I ended up following the Loop-101 all the way around, an extra 30 miles, than deal with that damn traffic. I am convinced that some time in the last year, half of Los Angeles moved here to Phoenix, including its traffic engineers. If I want bumpy concrete freeways and confusing lane/road closures, I had enough of that in L.A.. Anyway, I got home about 2 p.m., the traffic ultimately just another inconvenience. I shouldn't complain.

(c) 2021 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.