Took several boy scouts, ages 14 to 18, and their adult leaders through the upper portions of West Clear Creek entering from FS road 142E. Our intent was to spend 3 days in the canyon and make our way upstream and exit at the top of Willow Valley, above the narrows. This week was the beginning of heavy monsoon rain in AZ so that slowed our progress and forced us to spend some time drying things out in the evenings and mornings before continuing.
The first night we camped on a beach just downstream from the entrance to the canyon. We started raining pretty quickly so we took cover from time to time and explored the area nearby including a small feeder canyon to the left just downstream from our beach. That was my first and only encounter on this trip with a black rattlesnake that I nearly stepped on in the tall grass. After working around him, I headed up the canyon a ways. It was extremely thick and mossy. I don't think this little canyon gets much sun. I found a large crack between the sandstones walls with a 3 foot opening and extending back about 50 yards and up even higher. I walked back until my chest and my back were squeezed between the two walls and took photos looking out and in towards the end. Pretty cool.
Next day we hiked for about 4 hours; 2 of those in heavy rain. We setup camp that afternoon at the junction of Clover Creek and Willow Valley on the rocky beach. It would have been beautiful to camp in the trees nearby but everything was too wet. After the rains stopped, clouds formed in the valleys around us as the evening came on. We built a fire on the rocks to to dry us and our stuff out before going to bed.
The next morning one of our group was ill and we didn't leave until close to noon. He had been really tired the night before and his stuff was mostly dry so he just went to bed without dinner or much water. I think this contributed to his nasea and shakes the next morning. We hiked upstream into Willow Valley. Here the creek flows a little slower and the water isn't as clear. Intitially, our progress was better as there were several trails where we could walk more quickly than in the headwaters of West Clear Creek. But things eventually narrowed and the rains came again. At one point we stopped to get GPS bearings. Many of the boys took a swim in the creek. We headed a little further upstrem and camped on a beatiful wooded shelf for the night. We needed to meet our shuttle ride at the top of Willow Valley but, by this time, I realized that it would take the whole day to make it the rest of the way upstream and navigate the narrows so we agreed to a fallback plan which was to exit on Maxwell Trail.
While folks were getting settled for the night I went back downstream to locate the Maxwell Trail. Later I would find out that the Maxwell Trail was downstream from the Clover Creek/Willow Valley junction. I saw it as we passed the day before but assumed it was the Tramway Trail instead. So I probed the largest northbound canyon near us which heads dirctly towards Maxwell Tank (all of the southbound canyons were too heavily vegitated) and decided to take the group out that way in the morning.
On Saturday morning we headed about 300 yards downstream and started climbing. It was slow going and took a few attempts to find a path out but after about 1.5 hours we were on top of a bluff and were able to get our bearings and contact our ride out. We had 3 cell phones and only Verizon worked from there. We re-routed our shuttle drivers and headed west to the nearest road. Hiked up that road a couple miles and met our drivers who brought water, gateraid, and Kentucky fried chicken. Not my favorite but it sure was good. They then shuttled the drivers back to our cars at the end of 142E. That took fully two hours round trip, by the way.
We headed out just as the rains came again; four cars full of stinky, sweaty boys and men with some new experiences and stories to tell. Good times for all.
Can't wait to go back and finish the upper sections of Willow Valley!!!