I'd a few days to burn so I think I'll go hiking! My plan was to see the upper reaches of the Matzatzals, an area that I had wanted to hike for a couple years now. Ive done all the sections along the divide trail from Sunflower to the North Fork of Deadman, so I set out to see Hopi Spring, and all of the stuff north of there like "the Park" and Red Hills.
The weekend started great with a trip to Pine where we rented a cabin from Steve and Tamara at the Rimside Grill. Nice folks, with a decent menu and some favored beer on tap. "No crap on Tap" is Steve's motto, and he has the right to say it since he has won Gold and Silver medals for best Home Brew from the Rim Country Brewer's Association. (100 members)
Sunday, I got a late start at the Pine t/h and started my hike about 10 am. A pleasant stroll thru the forest as it crosses over the Beeline and follows the new route south of the ranches. The highway traffic can be heard for a couple of miles at most but soon fades as you come over the mesa and make a decent into Oak Spring. Going into the canyon, I was pleased to see Rick and Bev, with their trail mascot "Rascal" doing some AZT work. Rick used a chainsaw to clear the trail of a large oak tree and Bev supervised. We chatted for a good 15 minutes and I thanked them for their efforts and moved on. Reliable water at Oak Spring and as I was filling, I saw a giant Mule deer trotting by.
Rick tells me the next water source is Rock Creek, so after a few cruising miles along the powerline road, I fill up here and head west towards Twin Buttes t/h. Not much to see, just a couple of old two track ranch roads and some old corrals. Heading down the hard to follow Saddle Ridge trail, I make my way down Whiterock Mesa and to the Polk Spring area for the nights camp, a good full day of 23 miles. The views off Polle's and Whiterock mesa's are decent. I set my sights on North Peak, and entertained the idea that I would be there tomorrow. It looks SO far away!
Monday morning Im off to cross the E. Verde and skirt around some ranching operations (LF Ranch) The sun is warming quickly and after a warm night of a 55 degree low Im expecting some heat on the exposed trails ahead. I come to Bullfrog Canyon quickly enough and decided to fill up the bottles for this giant climb ahead. Here I sit at 3,600 feet preparing mentally for carrying 4 days' food and 1.5 gallons of water up this hill to reach 5,600 feet in about two miles. Its pretty hot.
After this climb over Bullfrog ridge I decend to Houston Creek, a pleasant campsite sits here and Brush Spring may be perennial, I dunno. I fill water for the next climb to Knob Mountain. The trail skirts clockwise around this "mountain" (more of a hill, really) and it strikes me as odd that someone would build the trail in this fashion since there is no real water source in any of the canyons I go in and out of, and looking at the map you'll see that if they went along the south side of Knob, it would surely waste little time reaching the Divide trail. The map shows a corral, but I did not see it.
After going in a huge semi circle around and over Knob, I start to decend down to this area known as The Park. It contains some mature Ponderosas, and a level little valley full of cougar and bear sign. I hear a couple coyotes and poke around, finally deciding that the Park is not much of a destination. Its not until a half mile later that the real fun starts..
Leaving the Park on the Divide trail and heading due South, you'll cross the head of Wet Bottom creek and get a chance to fill some snowmelt for the long trek down to Hopi Spring. Only this day I would not make that destination. Ok, though, Im still several miles and almost a full day ahead of schedule.
So let me tell you something: From the Park to Hopi Spring is about the toughest trail Ive hiked in the Mazatzals. This place looks like anything the Supes can throw at you just mere kindergarten stuff. The AZT website tells of this section to be "unmaintained". Ha! I'll say. I continue south for a bit, following cairns that seem to be getting smaller. First a 10-rock pile, then 4 rocks. Then ONE rock on a stump. Wow, this is getting ridiculous. I did see some flagging that goes on for a half-mile, then mysteriously disappears. I spent a good two hours scouring the map, backtracking, and cursing the AZT trail crew.
Daylight fades, I need to set up camp. All is good though, Ive got hanging trees and food, nearby water as well. Time for some sleep.
Wake up to a very calm and warm Tuesday, donning my new Western Mountaineering jacket for all of 10 minutes. Hey, I packed in that 9 ounces, Im going to get my money's worth! I was able to get a signal for Verizon and after looking at the terrain map my trail angel sent via Text, I realized that I am just a hundred yards west of the trail. Turns out, someone flagged this trail beyond the intersection and had me follow the old and now probably decommissioned trail 223, which I can imagine will never be used for recreation, and that's too bad since it eventually connects to the Sheep Bridge area.
Its 8 am and I try to make sense of my wilderness map, which only shows intervals of 80 feet and is not really detailed enough to make any obvious directional clues. Time to rely on navigation experience.. I snoop around for a few minutes and backtrack to the Park to make sure I didn't miss a faint trail. I see the canyon the Divide tr. Is supposed to enter, then I spot a very small (knocked over) cairn and an AZT badge nailed to a stump, literally a foot off the ground and hidden by a Manzanita. OH was I glad to see this, even if it took a few miles off my intended yesterday - 15.2 isn't a bad run, I guess.
And this is where the "fun" starts. Just a heads up, take a GPS route, if you use one, and Detailed maps if you choose them. Detailed as in "actual size"
This intersection is hard to spot and the trail for the next 5 miles to Hopi Spring is pure hell. Unmaintained after a huge fire that caused hundreds of deadfall, overgrowth, and erosion that will test your route finding. I did ok, and it was a nice relief that someone flagged the last mile towards Hopi.
After passing the drainage coming down from Sandy Saddle, I see the only people in the area coming toward me. Turns out its 3 retired gentlemen who are section hiking the AZT, with gear that looks like it has seen some miles. We chat for a good 15 minutes and I warn them of the next 5 miles to the Park. They tell me they are going to camp there, and head out to the Doll Baby ranch to retrieve the shuttle vehicle. Have fun, guys!
I feel beat. Im feeling the effects of hiking 23 miles on Sunday, and another 15 through some very tough country, and now following this trail is making me consider a bail out option, since Sunflower seems so far away. A well deserved pizza and some craft beer is sounding quite nice right about now. So, I reach Hopi Spring area and have successfully completed what I'd set out to do. The upper end of the Mazzie Wilderness is under my belt. Should I continue to Bear Spring for the night, and then another 26 miles to Sunflower on Wednesday? I could, but I could also descend down Barnhardt canyon and end the trip here, for a total of 56.2 miles in three days. At this point, my feet feel the effects of stepping on approximately 48,764 sharp rocks and now Ive planted the "cold beer" idea inside my own head, which is starting to sound better with every step.
I reach Barnhardt saddle and call the girl, with a weak signal but it went through nonetheless. She agrees to pick me up at the t/h in one hour. I have one hour to go 5+ miles. Lets do this! I haul booty-butt down the trail and pass a few dayhikers, a group of four dudes on a backpack, and super cool flowing falls. Hawaiian Mist and Big Kahuna are flowing well and should be for some time judging by the snowmelt on the northern slopes. I reach the trailhead after an 18 mile day, and am awarded with a surprise Double Stack, 5 piece nuggets and fries. This was a great way to end a long weekend. I didn't get a large chocolate Frosty, but what the heck, close enough! Thanks Babe!
Next segment: Blue Ridge (rock crossing) to Flagstaff. Any takers?