An amazing overnight in the Rincons - which are quickly becoming my favorite wilderness area in AZ. A group of 4 with widly varying experience levels left from the Miller Creek TH (4400'elev) after spending a delightful evening under the stars. The hike up Miller Creek was wonderful. The trail, though bordered by lots of lush monsoon-driven vegetation, was easy to follow and had a good mix of steep and and easier sections to keep you on your toes without completely killing the less-experienced hikers. We hoped that once we hit Happy Valley Saddle, that it would be smooth sailing... Well, I don't think they call that the "Heartbreak Ridge" for nothin'! Lots of up and down, along a very badly overgrown trail. We had to really watch for signs of the trail, and several times had to back track to get back on the correct route up to the base of the trail to the look-out. Because this is one of the longer routes up to Manning Camp, I think it hasn't been used much. The trail through this area is spectacular - with views of the valley and Rincon peak constantly, stone stairways and lots of varied vegetation.
Heartbreak Ridge dips and climbs over 3.5 miles, leaving you with quite a bit of elevation to gain before you get to Manning Camp. Then we headed over to the Devil's Bathtub - which was flowing quite nicely. The cooler weather (thanks to an afternoon storm) and our tired feet weren't condusive to further exploring the pools below the trail - though I think I'll plan time for that on my next hike up here. Talk about some amazing rock formations and potential for great swimming! The trail to the bathtub lost us another 200 feet, leaving us a final push up to Manning of around 500' (camping elevation 8000').
After a well deserved drink and a yummy backpacker's dinner, we spent a lovely night at Manning camp - which was once again deserted except for our group. The next morning, it was up bright and early and up once again - this time to the peak of the range (Mica Mt.) at 8,666. Mica has no real views - and though guide books say there are amazing views from Spud Rock, we weren't perky enough to climb up that massive piece of granite to find out. Luckily, views were abundant along the remainder of the trail, so we never felt like we missed out.
From Mica, we headed down the Italian Springs trail. This is a portion of the Arizona Trail, and is well maintained (if once again crowded by wildflowers and grasses). Just before you reach Italian Spring, you pass through a spectacular area where the fires have burned the lower branches of the trees, leaving sweeping views across Reddington pass and a carpet of lush green ferns. Too bad the Park doesn't have a camping area here! Before the spring, the trail heads down at a reasonable pace. After the spring, it becomes steeper, and you get into an area of exposed rock ridges and hike in and out of a serious burn scar. Although the trees here are only just starting to return, the wildflowers are incredible!
There's a great camping spot about 1.5 miles past the National Park boundary - along a stream that was running strong when we hiked through. Beyond that point, the trail follows an abandoned jeep road that is quite sunny and exposed - and is what I like to call get-it-over hiking. The trailhead at Italian Trap requires high clearance, and possibly 4wd to access - otherwise you end up hiking a further 3 miles of up-and-down-sunny-road stuff to Reddington Pass Road. Luckily, Lucky had his Chevy waiting, and had the AC cranked by the time I got there. Great hike!