I haven't been backpacking since August, and this was quite the trip to get back into it.
I dragged Aaron (Pathfinder Aaron) and Brian (vvebb) out here with me in hopes for some great views and remote backcountry camping. We definitely got both. The road to the Mormon Grove trailhead was in great condition on the way in. It hadn't rained for a week or so, so it was dry, and there were certainly no bad washouts on the way up. The creek crossing immediately after the junction with 25a definitely requires some clearance, but no 4wd was needed (on the way in, at least. The drive out was a different story). Once we started hiking the clouds started to move in. There was no thick cover quite yet, but every once in a while a cloud would move in front of the sun and give us a bit of relief. After a couple miles we took a short side trip to the Potato Patch to ooh and ahh at such a large, perfect primitive campsite, but that was our only significant break along the Saddle Mountain Trail.
Once on the Sheep Creek trail every ravine we crossed had running water, which made for a beautiful stretch. We decided to stop and have lunch at the very scenic junction with the Thicket Springs Trail. The intimate campsite there was so perfect that I think we were all seriously considering setting up there. I know Aaron was game for making base camp there and spending the rest of the day exploring the surrounding creeks and waterfalls. I'm stubborn, though, and insisted upon reaching our planned destination. After lunch we all semi-reluctantly packed up and moved on. There was lots of running water and some significant downfall that resulted in slight issues in routefinding, so we built new cairns at some of the trickier spots.
After the Copper Camp Trail climbs out of MacFarland Canyon the hike drastically changes character. The ridgeline is full of burnt logs and extremely thick patches of new pine trees. Right before the trail rejoins the upper reaches of McFarland Canyon (after passing through the major burn area) it seems to suddenly dead end at a large cairn. We just hopped over a couple trees and pushed through some manzanita to catch the trail again in the creekbed. It was a little iffy at first, but soon cairns confirmed we had made the correct decision. From here on out route-finding was a cinch. After climbing back to the ridgeline the views of Saddle Mountain were ridiculous... The mountain doesn't look too daunting from the Saddle Mountain Trail, but from Copper Camp one gets to see how huge it is. As we trekked deeper into the wilderness, however, the views towards the lakes and the Verde River drew our attention away from Saddle Mountain. Canyons opened up on either side and the views went on for miles.
Soon the Plateau Overlook Pt came into view. It's a pretty significant drop from the high point on the Copper Camp trail down to the Plateau, but the trail is laid out well enough that it doesn't happen too quickly. Once we neared the destination I couldn't help but to forge ahead of the others... I was much too excited to get there. The turnoff to go off-trail and down to the overlook was pretty easy to spot, and we were all glad to make it there. We set up camp right smack in the middle of it.
That evening, after some brief exploration and photographing, we settled down by the campfire for dinner and went to bed not long afterwards. The rain came almost as soon as we retreated to our tents. Great timing (except that my rainfly popped off in the middle of the night. It was a brief stressful moment, but ended well).
The hike out was cold, windy, rainy, hail-y and snowy. Not much can be said about that but that we were all relieved to get back to the truck. The drive out required 4wd. Don't attempt these roads after heavy rain... Every last tiny drainage had water flowing, including all the ruts in the road.