This hike made for a very long day, but well worth it. Kyle arrived at my house at the designated 5:20am start time and we were quickly off and running. We met Bruce at the Ballantine TH 2 min. early at 5:58am and Ron two minutes late at 6:32am at the Barnhardt TH. On our way driving to the Barnhardt TH, we saw some deer, which were pretty much the only animals we saw all, other than the lady on the Barnhardt Trail at the end of the day with the dehydrated dogs, but more on that later.
Our start time was just after 7:15am. We made our way up the Rock Creek Trail following GPSJoe's track. About a mile or so in, I checked my GPS and was surprised to see that we were way off the track. We weren't lost at all, there was clearly a trail there, but it wasn't the same as the track. Eventually it got back and they synced up. Wondering if this trail got re-routed at all or if GPSJoe did some off trail stuff.
Kyle and Bruce quickly pulled away from Ron and me. We saw them briefly at the waterfall on the Rock Creek Trail but then not again until we were almost at the Barnhardt Trail. I quickly shed my sweatshirt on the way up, which I thought I would be needing more. I expected to need it again once we got up higher but it stayed pretty warm all day.
This trail to me didn't seem all that bad, for all the bad things I've read about it. There is some route finding and it can be faint in sections, but if you have a GPS track and know where to look, it's not that bad. I think it helps psychologically if you know what you're in for on a hike like this. Before the waterfall, the route finding was really minimal, but very steep. After the waterfall, you had to keep an eye out for cairns and (Preston's?) orange ribbons, which helped a lot. The trail leveled out some a half mile or so after the waterfall, and from there to the saddle was pretty easy, relatively speaking. The downhill portion to the MDT is overgrown with Manzanita, but it's still navigable. I kind of felt that the rockiness of the trail was more a hindrance to me than the overgrowth. The last hundred feet or so the trail totally disappears, and it's easiest to just make a beeline directly west thru the clearest area you can find until you hit the MDT. The worst part of the Rock Creek Trail to me was how time consuming it was. It took us a good 4.5 hours to go approximately 4 miles. On our way up to the saddle, we ran into Steve coming back the other direction to get Alex's truck and take it back to the Barnhardt TH.
Ron and I arrived at the HAZ Horse Camp Seep at about 12:10pm and ate lunch. We checked out the fire ring, the HAZ sign and stream running thru. Shortly after 12:30pm we were on our way out.
Just before the junction with the Sandy Saddle Trail, we could see Bruce's red shirt down by the edge of the canyon opening up to the west. He and Kyle were down there checking out the waterfalls. From where we were, they looked WAY off trail. So much for catching up to the backpackers. We called to them and Bruce insisted we go down and check that out. We had just spent time at the camp, so we weren't really inclined to spend more time bushwhacking. The trail worked it's way around closer to them and crossed a stream that formed the waterfall. We saw a ribbon that said "HAZ, follow water 0.1 mile to water fall, Kyle and Bruce are there, 12:45pm". We had assumed that Bruce probably left this there for us. We found out later Preston left it and was not much further in front of us. We made our way down to the stream. It looked more like a quarter mile easy and not 0.1. and then there was a dropoff in front of us that we didn't really feel like negotiating. Ron gave me a skeptical look and I kind of concurred. From what I hear it was a pretty spectacular view of the falls. I'll have to make a note of that and put it on my to-do list of hikes for one day.
We moved on and left Kyle and Bruce. They caught up to just after the junction with the Brody Trail and Bruce gave me one of his walkie-talkies. He also told us that when he and Kyle got to junction of the MDT and Sandy Saddle, they had already caught Preston and some of the overnighters and Preston was the one that told them about the falls. On our way up to Barnhardt Saddle, I decided to talk to Bruce on the walkie-talkie and asked if Preston might be able to hear us. Preston answered me that he could and that they were just arriving at Barnhardt Saddle. We all finally caught up together just past the saddle along the Barnhardt Trail, and then just as quickly started to disperse and leapfrog our way down the trail as we hiked at our own varying paces.
Finally found the junction of the Barnhardt and Sandy Saddle Trails. I had seen the junction at the other end and asked Preston if that trail really is as bad as everyone says since from what I saw on both ends it didn't look too bad. He then told a horror story of dashed hopes and dreams as the trail fades away into drainages filled with overgrowth and over hills with no signs of a trail. I guess it's best to steer clear of this one then. Although it does take you right to the waterfalls...
Everyone made the obligatory stop at the "Big Kahuna" waterfall. I've seen it before and it was about 4pm, so I was in "get back home" mode. After the rocky section of the trail ended, I was able to pick up more steam and eventually caught up to and passed everyone. I pretty much jogged the last two miles of the trail, stopping occasionally to take some pictures. I keep forgetting how nice the scenery on this trail is until I go back and do it again.
About 1.5-2 miles from the TH, we ran into a lady with two dogs that were not doing well. I was the last of our group of 4 dayhikers to reach them and the other guys had already given her some water for the dogs. She was making her way back down from that spot, but it must have been slow going, and daylight was sure to be an issue for her. On the ride home Kyle was wondering if she and the dogs made it back ok. The oddest thing to me was this was in the same spot as 2 years ago when I hiked this trail where we ran into a guy with an older dog with hip trouble that was barking and yelping because it couldn't go any further.
Thanks Preston for setting this one up. It was nice to see some HAZ hikers again and nice to get some trails in the Mazzies I've never done before.