'51 Miles over the course of three days shouldn't be that bad.' This was the thought during the planning stage. We would tackle 17.5 miles the first day, have a second easy day at 15.5 and finish the hike with another solid 17.5 miles. Checking the weather report as the trip drew near we were constantly reevaluating our equipment list. Initially it was looking like it was going to be a hot hike that required early starts at 'Petzl dark thirty'. Suddenly there was a slight chance of rain in the forecast; then a little more rain; and then snow. Wait? This is May right? The last report we got before arriving at the trailhead was that we would be encountering rain and potentially snow the second evening. Seems like the foundation for a good trip, with a dose of type two fun.
On Friday morning we awoke at the 260 Trailhead (East of Payson, AZ) and began our journey West. The clock was ticking as we organized our gear and enjoyed the creature comforts of car camping. With the constant reminder of 17 plus miles ahead, we congregated near the trailhead, one by one. The Highline Trail runs 51 miles from the 260 Trailhead and ends just South of Pine, AZ. Although there are no huge climbs, there are endless roller coasters to creek beds. The first day's trail followed close to the Mogollon Rim as it weaved in and out of ravines. As most hikes in the Southwest, water is never a guarantee so we were prepared to carry at least a day's worth if need be. Lucky for us recent rain had provided for a moderate amount of available water. At times we found ourselves walking through thick pine forrest; lush ferns; and high desert landscape. These areas all provided a unique experience and plenty of photo opportunities. After a solid day of hiking we arrived at our first camp. Although we had passed secluded dispersed camps we found ourselves bedding down near a trailhead and fish hatchery. Unfortunately our daily mileage and water availability tethered us to more populated camping areas. Around midnight most of camp awoke to stressed or collapsed tents/tarps. The gentle rain we had fallen asleep to had now turned to snow and was threatening to cave our shelters. For the next few hours we were blanketed with snow, rain and hail as the temperature fluctuated. The night was cold and seemed to pass with minimal sleep.
Due to the snow in the early morning hours, followed by the rain the temperature had dropped significantly when we began breaking camp. With numb fingers and toes (we are Phoenicians after all) we packed up, ate a warm breakfast and hit the trail. Immediately after leaving camp we were graced with the snowy covered Mogollon Rim. The fews were second best only to the Grand Canyon with snow. The combination of the Sedona colored rock, pines and thousands of feet of rock warmed us up. Well, a combination of that and the immediate climb out of camp. The second day found us hiking through low brush a wide views of the surrounding hills. The landscape had changed from the previous day and now included some cacti. The red rock views had us wondering if we had suddenly arrived in Sedona. The second day was took substantially longer then the first. Most likely a combination of lack of sleep and our 'fresh legs' being gone. None the less we wrapped up the hike and found a suitable camping location. Again due to the mileage we were camping near a road, which really took away from the wilderness experience. This evening the weather cooperated and we were able to get substantially more sleep.
The evening before we had made the decision to set alarms and begin our hike as early as possible. The remaining mileage had us nervous that we would not get out until late in the afternoon and thus back to Phoenix late. Starting at 5:30am we began shuffling out of camp as we were ready. Today everyone decided that we would hike out at our own paces, rather then stick together like the previous days. This really stretched the group out, but added to the experience by enjoying the wilderness on our own terms. The hike began in thick forested areas but then transitioned to similar red rock terrain from the previous day. Before dropping down to the Geronimo trailhead the thick forrest reappeared. There was amble water at Geronimo which created a very inviting, lush environment. With the end within seven miles the thought of not wearing packs encouraged our pace. The climb from Geronimo Trailhead is solid, but at the top you get views that carry on for miles in 180 degrees. From this point you can also look back across the ground you covered over the course of the previous days. A few small hills later the trail begins it's decent into the Pine trailhead. With tender feet and tired backs the trailhead seems to move farther away with each step. Moments before you give in to your feet the shimmer of the parking lot appears and the hike ends.
The Highline Trail is a excellent muti-day trip for anyone looking to do their first longer hike. Along the way there are multiple bail out points, making the trail less daunting. If done over the course of 4-5 days the hiker can take a more leisurely approach. There is still the remaining issue of water availability and that should be taken into consideration when planning.