Archive for June, 2009

Sierra Ancha Superloop

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

[Part of the ongoing series of behind-the-hike-descriptions for the D&O Tonto Guide.]

This was a series of trails I combined into one big hike for the book. The Sierra Ancha Wilderness is somewhat obscure and hard to get to (there are no paved roads), but it is also big and weird and rewarding. We started up the Abbey Way trail 151, visited the ranger at the top of Aztec peak, then went down Moody Point Trail #140 to the Rim Trail #139, where we picked our way south across the fallen logs to climb back up the upper portion of the Parker Creek trail #160.

This was Hike 2 of the Ten Day Run. We had hiked the Pinal Mountains the day before, and then drove to Falls Campground, where we woke up that morning. Falls Campground is about 7000′ in elevation and overrun with bark beetles – which make quite the unnerving racket.

HIKE DATE: 12 June 2008

COMPANIONS: Ben

START TIME: 11 AM

END TIME: 5:30pm

ACTUAL MILEAGE: 11.5 miles

I had to park the Buick just shy of Workman falls, which added the extra 2 miles to the hike. A HC vehicle could make it all the way to the TH in dry weather.

Abbey’s Way is sometimes marked as the Peterson Trail, which is how it was known before Edward Abbey became the most famous of ex-forest rangers.

The ranger in the tower that summer was “Red”. We had no food for him (we were on a day hike) but he was happy to talk to us anyway. The Rim Trail had undergone its first round of clearing, but he warned us that trees would continue to fall across the ridge for some time.

I should correct a mistake in the book: the ranger only occupies the tower full time during fire season.

It is also possible to car-camp right on the top of the peak – assuming you have a 4WD to get up there with. The couple we met up there were camping because their truck had broken down right on the peak, and they were waiting for a buddy to come rescue them.

The views from the Rim Trail are spectacular, but the conditions were as tough as advertised. Burned trees don’t fall over right away, but over the course of several years they will continue to tumble down as the soil erodes beneath them. This means that one round of trail clearing will not suffice. We climbed over many, many logs.

None of the springs were flowing. That was not a crisis for us, but it would have been if we had one liter bottles instead of two liter bladders.

Ben thought afterward that this hike was the hardest of any he had done for the book. (I think it would actually be day one of the Cave Creek Loop – but he’s the judge of him).

I want to do the whole distance of the Moody Point trail, but that’s a monster car shuttle, and requires a buddy with a 4WD drive and a few days off.

Alas, no photos. And no DVR – this was one of the ones erased.

Pine Mountain Wilderness

Friday, June 19th, 2009

After our dayhike to Tule Mesa, Ben and I drove to Salt Flat campground and spent the night.

The Prescott National Forest has vague criteria for what is and is not a fee area. Essentially, though, it boils down to water, toilets and some sort of full-time host. Salt Flat has none of this – so its free. It does have picnic tables and fire rings – though the Prescott is currently under fire restrictions.

We woke up in the morning, packed our bags, threw the balance into the vehicle, and crossed the dry wash to the Salt Flat TH, where the Nelson Trail begins.

The Nelson is the central trail for the Pine Mountain Wilderness – just about every other trai connectes with it a some point.

We soon reached the Nelson Place, which consists of remnant stone walls and huge trees (Arizona sycamore, cottonwood, oaks) growing from Nelson Springs. These springs are the only reliable fresh water in the area, inconveniently located less than a mile from the TH. In fact, we soon came upon a pair of backpackers on their way out who reported that all the other springs they came across had been dry.

Which is why I was lugging five liters of water.

All of which I would end up using.

From the Nelson, we went east on the Willow Springs Trail. Willow Springs seemed dry, but there were some puddles in the streambed. Ah well. That trail climbs up Willow Canyon until it meets the Verde Rim Trail – the other main trail in the wilderness. At that junction, we had climbed about a thousand feet in four miles.

Verde Rim features jaw-dropping views of the Verde Valley to the east – the good part where the Wild and Scenic portion flows in front of the Mazazatl Wilderness. On a clear day, such as that one, you can see Horshoe Lake far to the SE.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that it keeps climbing as you head south.

[If you go north, though, you will eventually come upon a jeep trail that will lead you to Cavalier Point – a plan that we rejected only after much debate.]

Soon, you start switching back up the slopes f Pine Mountain, coming within 500′ of the peak. At that point, the signed spur trail to the top is certainly worth the marginal extra exertion.

Past Pine Mountain, we began to wind down the ridge, crossing limestone-covered ridges, and fiannly descending into some pine forest, where we camped.

Having emtied our water, we found ourselves filling our bottles from a deep, but bug-infested puddle while mosquitoes filled themselves on us. Even though I got to use all my filter/chemical/boil methodology, the effort was not recreational, and we decided to opt out of  our optional second night.

Instead, we returned to the Nelson Trail, follwoing it through pine forest both burned-out and pristine, and back to our car.

Total estimated mileage: 14

Total hike time: 14 hours

Pine Mountain Wilderness is obscure and poorly documented compared to some other wilderness areas, but the trails are in good shape, and the journey is worth it – providing you come prepared.

Photos on my personal blog (where I have bandwidth left): What Have We Learned?

Tule Mesa Revisited

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

If you take FR68 east of Dugas (which is not actually a town, but the remains of a settlement crumbling on what is now private ranch land) you will come to a Y. Your decision: take the easy road (right) towards the Salt Flats “campground” and the Pine Mountain Wilderness, or take the left fork, dubbed 68G towards – well the edge of the cliff.

If you read last post, you know which one I took.

The signs become increasingly ominous about the “primitive” and “unmaintained” nature of 68G, and, true to the warnings, the road becomse worse the farther you go in.

About 4 miles in, as I’m prodding my 06 Chevy Equinox through what is essentially a trench filled with lava rock, we have to back up to allow an older couple in a Toyota 4X4 Truck to get past us. The man says, swear to God, “You haven’t gotten to the really rocky part yet…”

A mile later, we got to it. And there, I found the Equinox Filter: a stair of rock about 20″ high that spun the tires of my HC but definitely Front-wheel-Drive crossover (pretend) SUV no matter which angle I tried. When I had smelt enough of my own burning rubber, I backed it up, and found a place to park the thing.

Yeah – that’s right – I couldn’t get the Equinox as far as I got the Cavalier. It may be a sign of wisdom, or it may be a sign of deeper erosion in the road. In any case, Ben and I climbed out and hiked the remaining three miles or so to Cavalier Point: a sizeable juniper just off the road from the cattleguard that separates the 68G from “Verde Hot Springs Road”. The latter road is marked as “Unfit for Public Travel” and is officially closed to motor vehicles at this writing.

My  straps were long gone.

We did, however find the norther terminus to something called Trail #27 which goes into the largely undocumented Cedar Bench Wilderness that covers half the northern slope of Tule Mesa. The southern terminus is, in theory, a graded dirt trailhead near Camp Verde. I’m adding that to my To Do list.

Meanwhile, while daylight remained, Ben and I drover around the other fork in the road – to Pine Mountain. That account will be the next post.

Photos on my personal blog (where I have bandwidth left): What Have We Learned?

Tule Mesa – the backstory

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

About five years ago, Ben (then 7) and I climbed into a Chevy Cavalier and headed off for Fossil Springs. My plan was to intorduce Ben to backpacking. The problem wit this plan was that I was driving.

From Phoenix, I-17 to AZ 260 to FR720 seemed kinda dull, especially when my AZ Gazetteer showed a more direct route through Dugas. I should not here, in some feeble defense, that the Gazetteer does nt reliably indicate a road’s condition – just its existence.

I should also note that my wife will never allow e to own a 4WD the way you would not want to give a loaded pistol to a monkey. I have little to no fear of road conditions.

Forest Road 68G – which will, actually, bounce you down to the Verde River from Dugas – is high clearance up to the edge of the mesa. I bounced and prodded the poor Cavalier that far in anyways – because that is how my mental disorder manifests. We stopped at the top of the mesa, because the switchbacks going down were CLEARLY 4WD. And my nerves were shot. And we were losing daylight. And this moment of clarity saved certainly both of our lives.

So you know, to continue on the Fossil Creek, you would have to ford the Verde River and drive through the Hot Springs campground to get back to FR 720.

So we camped at the top of Tule Mesa. My hammcok, strung from a huge juniper, swung in the wind as I had nightmares of rocks moving down a roadway in waves like an incoming tide. The wind picked even more, and I had to move into Ben’s tent.

The next morning, I worked the Cavalier slowly off the mesa, blowing two tires in the process. (Happily, one was just a slow leak). We ended up “backpacking” in a few miles from a spot north of Lake Pleasant.

Ben and I didn’t make it to Fossil Springs until we hkedt for the guidebook about a year ago.

In a few hours, though, we’re going back to Tule Mesa, because I now own a high clearance vehicle.

I left a ratchet strap in that Juniper. Ben wonders if its still there. We’ll let you know.

Bear Canyon Lake

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Not in the Tonto – but this is ostensibly a general hiking blog.

Bear Canyon Lake Campground is located in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest, near the eponymous lake (actually a reservoir) on top of the Mogollon Rim. It sits just east of center of the Forest Road 300.

No fee.

No host.

No water.

No trash service.

“Rustic” toilets (for some reason the Forest Service feels this to be a reasonable synoym for “vault/composting toilets”, which is a synonym for “pit with toilet seat over hole”.)

And no vehicular access to the lake. A sub parking lot will get you to a half mile switchbacking trail which leads to the lake. That’s a long haul with a canoe over your head, so we left the boats at home.

The “Shoreline Trail” goes from that point upstream, counter-clockwise, south, away from the dam about 1.5 miles. It’s a great little trail: no challenging grades, but enough rocks and other obstacles to keep you awake. A fine adventure for middle-school kids ( I had three in tow – though only Ben went the whole route with me). The pay off at the end is the lush meadow once you find your way across the stream that feeds the resevoir.

The second “Parking Lot” spur leads to a separate lot from the main one, closed most of the time, about a half mile further down the road. There’s also a good geocache along the trail – but be prepared for a short, strenuous bushwhack up the slope to find it.

Also, there is a good, short, unofficial trail following the stream on the far side of the dam. Keep aware for poison ivy, though. By short I mean about a quarter mile.

On weekends this area is popular with anglers, ATV riders, and gun enthusiasts, as there are relatively few restrictions on such activities in this part of the forest compared to the balance of the Rim. So expect a fair amount of noise and garbage.

Our high temp was 74, our low around 40. Good weather for June.

And I slept relatively comfortably in my hammock despite the cold by using an emergency bivy sack to line the bottom of the hammock, thus keeping the wind off my back as I slept. Good down to 40 – but I wouldn’t take it down to freezing.

I may update later with photo links.

Tonto News Roundup June 2009

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

Summer’s here – because the forest is on fire:

Summary: The Pioneer Fire started on Saturday, and is burning on East Mountain, approximately 7 miles south of Globe, Arizona.  Burnout operations were conducted last night.  Aerial resources will be assisting ground crews today in holding the line at Forest Service Road 112 near Pioneer Pass.  Smoke is expected to be visible around the East Mountain area for next 5 days.  The public is asked to please use caution on Hwy. 77 because of fire equipment and fire traffic.

This is not far from the Pinal Mountains (see last post). You can keep track of the progress here.

Presciently, the Globe area is scheduled for some prescribed burns this summer (though the big, unprescibed burn going on right now may modify their plans).

“The purpose of these prescribed fires is to reduce the hazardous fuels in these areas and lower the chances of catastrophic fire, which could burn onto private land and endanger valuable electronic sites and private property. The prescribed fires will also help promote a healthier forest and watershed,” said Rick Reitz, Globe District ranger.

In the Phoenix area? Got free time? Here’s the Arizona Game and Fish Online Calender. AZG&F is, of course, a statewide operation, and the calender does have events all over the state, but, basically, the bulk of them happen around Phoenix.

Try to follow this: Towards the end of the Clinton administration, a ruling came down declaring a moratorium on new road construction in the National Forests. Towards the end of the Bush administration, this ban was overturned. Did that lead to a frenzy in two-track road construction? No. Iy led to a flurry of legal action.

So the Obama administration, late last month, declared a moratorium on lifting the moratorium. This is from the Department of Agriculture’s press release:

The U.S. Forest Service, with jurisdiction over the National Forests and Grasslands, makes decisions about what projects can take place on those lands. In simultaneously upholding and overturning the 2001 Clinton roadless rule, the courts have created confusion and made it difficult for the U.S. Forest Service to do its job. The directive will ensure that USDA can carefully consider activities in these inventoried roadless areas while long term roadless policy is developed and relevant court cases move forward.

In related news, the adminstration has also released stimulus funds to -ah – build forest roads.

So, well, good luck with that.