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Sunday, March 24, 2013

A pilgrimage to Mount Francis

Near the summit of Mount Francis

Aspen Creek Trail
For me, planning this hike was torture.  Each time I put it on my calendar, my efforts were thwarted by rain, snow, hail or schedule conflicts.  I was beginning to feel as if the powers that be didn’t want me to bag this peak.  Then, out of the blue, just as the newly elected pontiff emerged as pope Francis, the weather cleared.  Was it a happy coincidence---or, a miracle?  Certainly, His Holiness has bigger concerns than my hiking itinerary, but I had to wonder (even though I’m not Catholic) if the break in the weather, a hike up Mt. Francis and a new pope named Francis aren’t--ya know-- connected.  Still, whatever your religious affiliations, it’s hard to deny that trekking in the "cathedral of the great outdoors" is a great way to renew the spirit.  Counts for church! Now, on to the hike details.
East Copper Spring
There's no shortage of hike-able peaks in the Prescott area and this sweet little find on the fringes of log-cabin-vacation-home-land holds its own among its loftier, more remote commrades.  Remarkably easy to access for a mountain trek, the route is a web of forest roads, ATV tracks and hiking trails.  To seasoned hikers, the tiny 800 feet of elevation change from the trailhead to the peak may seem like an outing for amateurs, however, once on the trail, unrelenting dips and climbs easily add up to three times the advertised ascent.  There are many ways to hitch together a loop hike using the labyrinth of dirt roads and footpaths circling the antenna-cluttered peak which resembles a lumpy knoll.  Therefore, a good map and a compass will be your best tools to avoid frustration and aimless wandering in this scrubby terrain of juniper and yucca. And so, in yet another weary homage to the slogan of this blog, we set off to conquer the mountain and record our journey for your hiking sanity.  Here's a description of our route:  from the trailhead, cross Copper Basin Road and pick up Aspen Creek Trail #48, follow the “48” signs 2.9 miles to the junction with East Copper Trail #260.  Turn right (north) and hike 0.5 mile to a 3-way junction with a gate. Head up the road with the gate to the summit of Mt Francis.  Once done exploring the peak, head back down to the first shed with antennas and turn right onto the road below the power lines.  Soon, you’ll pass thru another gate.  At this point, you’re on FR9402D.  Follow this aspen-fringed track to Copper Basin Road, turn right and hike roughly a mile back to the trailhead.  NOTE:  Along FR9402D, you will notice several side roads on the right blockaded with boulders.  According to my research, these theoretically head northeast to connect with trail #48.  However, we didn’t verify this.
Aspens along FR9402D

LENGTH: 7.8-mile loop
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 6266' - 7110'
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 117 miles one way

From Phoenix, travel north on I17 to Cordes Junction and the turn off for AZ69.  Head into Prescott on AZ69 (which will become Gurley St) and turn left (south) on Montezuma St. Continue 1 mile to Copper Basin Road, turn right and go 4.6 miles on Copper Basin to the Aspen Creek Trailhead on the right.  Roads are paved up to the last 1.6 miles, which is on sedan-friendly dirt.
City of Prescott Mile-High Trail System
Prescott National Forest

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