Archive for May, 2009

Kayaking from Butcher Jones

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Friday afternoon I had a chance to go kayaking with the Rhino Expeditionary Corps (a gang of co-workers that find adventure and peril recreational). We hit the water from the beach at Butcher Jones on Saguaro Lake.

While I’m a veteran canoer, this was only my second time in a kayak; in this case a little 6′ plastic thing I borrowed from Carolyn ( a regular companion in doing something stupid in the wilderness).

Our goal was a little island all the way on the far side of the bend from Butcher Jones, where the gang wanted to find a geocache. The island itself is a pile of rocks, and doesn’t lend itself to docking anything – but we found a way. What we never found, though, was the cache – which, given the size of the island (tiny) makes us think its been removed.

While they poked in every crevice on the island, I had to pee, so I paddled to a little cove on the shore, and picked my way over the rocks and cacti, behnd the reeds, and out of sight from the lake.

The javelina started bolting from the reeds in waves. There must have been more than 20 of them, some just wee-little. And I patiently waited as they all eventually scrambled up the far side of the ravine and off into the desert. What I did not need was to start watering a bush and then get charged by the alpha male.

All this time in the desert, and this was the first time I have found myself within encounter distance with javelina. Previously, I’ve only seen them from a great distance, or simply came across evidence of the recent passing.

There are two types of kayakers: those who have tipped over their kayak, and those who are going to. I remain in the latter group.

By GPS measurments, we covered 5.25 miles of water round trip. Took about 4 hours. We’re noodling on a multi-day expedition to Lake Powell (though I’d probably have to bring the canoe for that).

As fun as water-skiing looks (even when your little kayak is getting clobbered by speedboat wakes) I still prefer self-powered craft.

I didn’t take any pictures – but Genevieve did. Her facebook album here. (If ya don’t have FB – I think yer hosed).

The Pinal Mountains

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

[Part of our ongoing series of Behind-the-Hike for Day and Overnight Hikes in the Tonto National Forest]

Several trails loop around the Pinal Mountains, which jut up 6000+ feet from the desert just outside of Globe AZ. I picked a couple more-or-less at random, and got really lucky. This trail goes up the mountains via Telephone Trail and comes down via Six Shooter Trail.

HIKE DATE: 11 June 2008


START TIME 11:10am

END TIME: 5:45 pm

ACTUAL MILES: 11.5 miles

This was the first hike in the 10-Day-Run, where I took a week of vacation and just banged out as many hikes as I could just car-camping across the National Forest. Ben went with me for most of them.

I lost the DVR notes, and didn’t discover that fact until the end of the run. (See Verde River for more on that).

The loop also includes the Icehouse trail, but only for a hundred yards.

You can see a few photos on my Facebook album.

I ignored my own good advice and checked out an old mine shaft about  a half mile up the road from the Icehouse intersection. It goes back a bit, but it was full of mosquitoes, and my son was certain I would die.

This is one of the closest and surest ways to get out of the desert and into the cool greenery – if you can handle the elevation change.

Fire Restriction vs Backpacking Stoves

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

The Tonto NF has announced fire restrictions from May 14th until, well, until the area gets serious rain.

The Prescott and Coconino NF’s have announced similar restictions starting tomorrow. Typically, these closures cover all the National Forests in the state by the beginning of June.

This is what that means, according to the press release:

Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire or charcoal-burning device is prohibited. Restrictions also apply to smoking outside of a cleared area, operating internal combustion power tools, using welding equipment or torches with open flames, operating combustion engines without spark- arresting devices in effective working order, or discharging firearms except in taking game in accordance with Arizona hunting laws. Use of petroleum-fueled stoves, lanterns, and heating devices are allowed, and some developed campgrounds are also exempted from these restrictions. (Please see attached list).

Note, however, that fires are still permitted within designated fire pits in established campgrounds.

There is considerable gray area regarding which sort of backpacking stoves are legal under fire restriction. I know that my trusty MSR Pocket Rocket IS legal, because, like most liquid-fuel stoves of this type, I can shut it off instantly by turning the valve. I also know that my little metal Hobo Stove is NOT legal, because even though the fire is wholly contained in the cylinder, I can’t just shut it off.

The grey area, then, consists of alcohol stoves, Sterno stoves, and solid fuel stoves. From experience, I know that the legality of these depend upon which ranger you talk to. So I called the front office.

According to Tonto NF Fire Supervisor Helen Graham, alcohol and sterno would be legal, so long as they can be immediately extiguished.

“The real spirit behind the restrictions is that it’s a fire you can put out immediately.” She explained.

So, as long as you have a lid handy that will snuff the flame, light-em up. Good news, since alcohol and sterno stoves (particularly well-made alcohol stoves) have excellent weight/cost/btu ratios.

Just don’t be the jack-ass who started the fire that prompted the FS to outlaw all backcountry stoves.

Mazatzal Divide

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

[Part of our ongoing series of Behind-the-Hike for Day and Overnight Hikes in the Tonto National Forest]

This hike follows the Mazatzal Divide Trail #23 north around Mt. Peeley to Bear Saddle. This once well laid out and easy trail has become something of an adventure since recent fire damage.

HIKE START: 3 may 2008, 10:20am

HIKE END: 4 May 2008, 2:00pm



Te-Wa is an acquaintance from Hike AZ.

Early May finds the air in these mountains filled with little yellow butterflies, and the bushed filled with sticky clusters of caterpillars.

This is a segment of the AZT, and we met an actual thru-hiker early in our hike, on the way up Mt. Graham. He told us that even as a veteran of the Pacific Coast trail and the Appalachian Trail, among others, the AZT was one of the hardest long-distance trails he had attempted. Shortly thereafter, he let us in the dust, for he had designs on a making a campsite twice the distance from our humble goal of Bear Saddle.

The Maz Divide trail in full length goes 27 miles to City trailhead due west of Payson. We chose to stop at Bear Saddle because the nearby spring is morereliable than the traditional one several miles up the trail, namely Windsor Spring near Y-Bar Basin. That area, about ten miles north of the Mt. Peeley TH did not fair so well in the fire.

Yes, you can still find the saddle by just bush-whacking over the ridge if you missed an orange ribbon – as I did.

We spent a lot of time scouring the ravine east of Bear saddle for some alternate water source beside the spring (which are as green as I described them) to no avail.

Didn’t just forget my camera – forgot my DVR as well. Happily, I’m old enough to remember how to take notes by hand.

I was able to look up the general type of thornbush that nearly shredded my sleeping pad, but looking up “little yellow butterflies” on the internet is completely futile. Free copy of the book (signed, of course) to the first person who can convincing ID that species of butterfly for me.

4 Peaks Loop

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

[Part of our ongoing series of Behind-the-Hike for Day and Overnight Hikes in the Tonto National Forest]

This “loop” (its really a car shuttle) takes the Oak Flat trail up the mountains, follows Four Peaks Trail south along the top of the ridge, and then takes the Chilicutt Trail back down. The Four Peaks Trail portion is part of the AZT.

We learned that Forest Service map from the website is wrong is several details.

DATE HIKED: 25 May 2008

COMPANIONS: Joe Bartels, Stiller, Wally Farak (all from HikeAZ link to the right ->).

START TIME: 7:45am (See what happens when I’m not driving?)

END TIME: 3:30pm (See what happens when you don’t get lost?)

ACTUAL MILEAGE: Just over 12 miles

This is where Joe Bartels earned getting his name in the acknowledgments. I discovered at the trail-head that my GPS was not in my bag. There’s a down side to trying to get ready at the crack-of-frakkin-dawn. The GPS route in the book is derived from Mr. Bartels’ GPS recordings – which came from a different brand of GPS, and took some doing to import into our software. I spent more time editing the map than I did on the hike.

Our route, if you’re wondering, was identical. I have the blisters to prove it.

It still seems to me that the stretch going up Oak flat was the single hardest march I undertook for the guide. 1700 feet in 1.7 miles with virtually no switchbacks. Straight up the gravel path – dare you not to die.

Four Peaks are the highest points in the Tonto, and the whole south/central part of AZ. There is no easy way up.

While heat pummeled us on the way up, pockets of snow still lingered at the top.

All the springs were flowing strongly, which was good, because I used a lot of water on the climb.

You can thank Stiller for scouting around and confirming that 4 Peaks trail now runs around Buckhorn mountain, and not over it.

We saw a rattlesnake on our way down the Chillicut.

While the distance between the two trail-heads looks manageable as a loop, you should know that the road is all jeep grade in and out of several ravines. I would definitely recommend a car-shuttle over a loop if you have the means.

This is one of the few hikes within two hours of Phoenix that you can attempt well into Spring. Worth the climb!

April News Round-up

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009


Dripping Springs Fire, which has burned 100 acres near Pine AZ is 90% contained. The fire started early morning Monday [4/27] about six miles east of Pine.

AZ Central has the story here.

Started by a campfire. We’re not going to make it to Memorial Day without fire restrictions.

Forest thinning – to mitigate these sort of fires – has been practiced in varying degrees for years, but now the Forest Service is getting serious about it – preparing bid solicitations to thin out 300,000 acres over five national forests, including the Tonto.

Your stimilus dollars at work – eventually: Payson got the preliminary go-ahead from the Tonto NFS to build a pipeline from Blue Ridge Resevoir on top of the Mogollon Rim, along the banks of the East Verde River, to the town of Payson. The Forest Service clearance allows them to, well, get on with the other studies.

British mining conglomerate Resolution Copper wants to mine through and around an 3,000 acre parcel of the Tonto that includes the popular state campground “Oak Flats”. This campground is the nearest established campground to Phoenix that’s above 3500′. It is also popular with rock climbers.

In return, Resolution is donating 5000 acres of land (old ranches) they own to the Feds, though none of those parcels (as far as I can tell) are near the Tonto. This has been hotly contested by the climbing community, but it is probably a done deal.

$2500 reward if you know who shot the bats in an abandoned mine near the Peralta Trailhead.

Walking away from your mortage? Tonto is looking for campgroud caretakers for the summer.