I found my way to the Aldo Leopold Wilderness as others have with the burning and closure of the high country of the Gila Wilderness. I did some research and since this was my first venture here chose a mish mash of trails. The crest, then down Sid's Prong, then over to Holden Prong, then up Water Canyon, then an unavoidable road walk back to the car.
I had a late start secondary to a nail in a tire and a patch job in Silver City. Then the forest road spur off 152, the unsigned 537, was very rough and a true HC 4wd road. Took almost an hour to drive 6 miles. I started down the Crest trail of the Black Range a little over 3 miles from the McKnight Fire Cabin. It's an old Jeep road, so wide and rolling, with big trees and some views. At a little over 9K it was not as cool as I would've liked, but hey, it is July.
About 3 miles along and comes the signed turn off to Sid's Prong. It is a gentle valley at first with small boggy meadows with thousands of yellow flowers and butterflies. The little brook was dry. Upper part Aspen groves, lower pines and fir trees.
Some water in still stagnant rock bound pools on down, and some errant rather wild cows.
Before the trail turned away from the deepening canyon to climb up to junction with Pretty Canyon, I looked at my map and thought, well heck, I should just go on down the Prong to Holden Prong. The canyon looked interesting-----
I am bad about deviating from the plan if solo. This one almost bit me in the butt. This was the toughest short off trail backpacking I have ever done. I knew there would be some big drops looking at the map. The initial big drop was at least 75 feet. A vague bear/animal and probably occasional hiker way saved the day. The bypass was a short 8 foot downclimb and then a scree, butt surf of about 50 feet. The bottom had slickrock pools and big boulders, embraced by bigger shear rock walls. My backpack fortunately was lightly loaded and didn't have a lid, great for ducking through brush and not hanging me up too bad. Lots of the vegetation was vine like, and functioned really well as tripwires. I had a sudden comeuppance when in the brush I almost stepped off a 50 foot vertical slot drop, unable to be seen until the last moment. My foot was literally stepping down into air. I grabbed a small tree nearby. I regrouped then scouted the drop. Backtracked and followed the animal trail, crawling at one spot, to the bypass. I can certainly understand in terrain like this someone falling to their death. It would've been easy to do.
I was tired by the third drop, haunted by the uncertainty I could make it to Holden Prong by this venture, and not really wanting to reverse the route. I camped just past the third drop, minor, in a rare level spot for the bivy. The canyon had occasional pools, this would've been super difficult if running. I slept very well, I was so tired. The wind roared at times above; it was still where I was.
The next morning I had renewed confidence. In 15 minutes the terrain was letting up, benches wider and the rocky canyon not as steep. With little fanfare I walked down a steep bank to the foot trail in Holden Prong. The canyon was alive with the sound of water and birds. The stream had good volume here with little waterfalls and good sized pools. The huge trees and steep canyon walls made it seem dark and gothic. I whipped the camera out and went to work. So beautiful here, I expected little gnomes to peak at me from around moss draped trees. One part of the trail went high to avoid a difficult spot, giving great views up and down this canyon. I really enjoyed moseying down this trail, the dense forest, the stream, the huge boulders. On down the water went underground and at the juncture with Water canyon only a few meager pools. I dropped my pack here to go downstream to the Murphy Place. There were some horse packers there so I did not linger and returned to my pack and started up Water canyon. It was dry mostly lower down, but mid canyon some nice amazing rock buttresses and a slick rock portion which had a little water. The canyon branched several times but the trail was easy to follow. A little spring gave water to the left hand fork I was in. I decided to camp at a lovely pine flat near the tiny stream. It was early but it was so nice and I was in no hurry. Some early afternoon reading reclining on the pine duff, then up to take pictures in a rocky cleft of tiny waterfalls. Then leisurely dinner and roaming around. I slept good again. The next morning the serious elevation gain back to the crest trail, by water most of the way, then the trail went right through a spring area; above this no water. Now in a glorious thick Aspen grove, and intermittent old giant firs. It was still nice light when I got to the crest trail once again, and walked to the road just before the McKnight Fire cabin. I wasn't motivated to go to the cabin so didn't.
I had a three mile road walk which I dreaded, but it wasn't bad. The road is evidently not used much, with grass growing down the middle and locust bush branches hanging into the road. The walk alternated in Aspen groves of varying height to open rocky areas with tremendous views. I grazed on some roadside raspberries and wild strawberries. The road rose and fell gently and soon I was to the faithful Toyota, waiting silently.
A short but great trip to a new area. McKnight mountain has huge Aspen groves covering it, and I imagine this will be a wonderful sight come fall. Of note, the road is truly rough in spots and the signage here is hit and miss, for example Water Canyon is signed down in the Prong but not off the crest trail, and the signage for several trails is vague. Seems like some neglect of this part of the wilderness, just the way I like it.