Made another pilgrimage east to the Apache-Sitgreaves, more specifically the Primitive Blue Range area, or as my map says the Blue Range Wilderness and Primitive Area. However, even the latter is a bit of a misnomer, as currently the Blue Range has not achieved wilderness status in the eyes of Congress and to this day remains the last "primitive" designated area in the United States. Not sure what any of that means, however, anyone who knows me, knows that I would have a natural attraction to any area with the word primitive in its title. Similarly, since my first visit about a year ago, this area has really intrigued me. It was in this are that Aldo Leopold (arguably the founding father in American conservationism and ecology) obtained his first position working under the federal forest service. Leopold saw much in his day, he spoke fondly of the "mountain" in fact, one of his most famous written works, "Thinking Like a Mountain" is based off of his expediences in and around Escudilla and the Escudilla Wilderness area. So the question for me: could I find what gravitated Leopold to this area and transformed him into perhaps America's first conservationists, but 100 years later and after the greatest forest fire the Southwest has seen in contemporary times? Spoiler alert the answer is a resounding yes!
A chance encounter with a game warden around 10:00 p.m. on Friday changed my plans slightly for the three days. He had personally just conducted a "shocking" and fish count of Grant Creek and gave me some pointers on where all the trout were congregated. However, if I were to hit these areas, I would have to modify my original route of Grant Creek Trail which stays high above the creek until crossing around the lower elevations where the Game Warden officer told me all the fish had been killed or can no longer exist due to warmer water temps caused by the destroying of their natural shade and the naturally warmer water at lower elevations. So from the intersection of trails #76 Foot Creek and #75 Grant Creek I took trail #306 down to Grant Creek and decided I would just fish and hike the whole stream length off-trail to its southern intersection with trail #75. If the fishing and beauty of Grant Creek were not as great as they were, this might have turned out to be a negative experience. Movement down stream was very slow at times, however, as I stated earlier the fishing was amazing and the creek beautiful so it negated the slow moving pace of boulder hoping, and down climbing water falls complete with three day pack and pole in hand, oh and along with keeping Blanco floating and upright through some of the deeper pools and obstacles. From there I made good time to the Blue River, passed through a little bit of civilization as I walked the forest road that connected my ambitious loop. I took the first opportunity to camp at a place marked the "box" on my map. This was one of first areas where there were not a dozen no trespassing signs or signs proclaiming the owner's willingness to shoot me if I stepped foot on their property. Day one turned out to be a little over 17 miles, camping was nice, but not spectacular, ate well, slept well.
I thought day 2 would be a much easier day, however, that did not turn out to be necessarily true, thanks in part to some of my decision making. I hate to give a negative trail description, because with trails everyone has their own opinions, and I would not want to steer someone away from an area. However, Steeple Trail #73 is probably a trail one could leave off their to do list for the time being. The upper sections of the trail have really been damage by fire and the trip across KP Mesa is enough to make one yearn for a very quick change of scenery. However, that is simply not the case as you seem to hike forever to simply cross KP Mesa's fire damaged landscape where one can easily see areas that suffered 100 percent devastation from fire. From Steeple Trail #73 I took trail #70 into the KP Creek area. However, this trail got no better! In fact, I will give a fair warning, if you do not have a G.P.S route for this trail or sound topo reading skills, I would avoid this section of trail all together. One can safely say to some degree that this trail ceases to exist in several spots, littered with dead fall, washed out and very faint in the good spots. Nevertheless, we were doing just fine, traversing the several drainages leading to K.P. when I had the great decision to cut a mile or so off route and explore some off-trail sections of K.P. Creek. The whole situation reminded me of something my friend Jim always says when I am pondering short-cuts and more direct off trail routes. He always says, "if that way is shorter or easier, that would be the way." Well in this case that held to be 100% true. I could tell from cliffs along opposite side of creek that there was potential for not being able to cut down to creek and man did that hold true, cliffed out once, then took a side drainage only to come to an impassible pour-over so intimidating that I did not even snap a photo, Blanco and I finally broke through down about a 4-5 foot wide scree shoot, hit the creek where Blanco drank profusely and I silently chastised myself. One would think at this stage in the game I was done making those kind of mistakes, but something tells me that won't be the last time. We slowly made our way up the lower section of K.P Creek where the trail is a little tough to follow and made camp at a superb location.
The final day was just an easy hike up K.P. Creek to K.P. Rim Trail, back to the upper section of Steeple Trail and back to the TH. Everything on this hike went well except finding my short connector trail to complete my K.P. Rim loop. Similar to the hike description, the turn-off for the trail is very hard to find and the forest fire certainly did not make it any easier. In fact, the author wrote had we not had the route downloaded we would have never found the turn-off. Unfortunately, the author failed to post "said" route to description, I guess his way of adding a little excitement for the next guy, we found it but you are on your own I guess. After accepting defeat I was reserved to back-track and make the less than 2 mile trek down 191 to my TH. However, this whole thought was leaving a bitter taste in my mouth, almost like a surrender, or a walk of shame in my mind. First a small voice contemplated just going off-trail the whole way until I found something to walk on. However, this voice was quickly drowned out by about 1000 sane other voices in my head who still had yesterday's folly fresh in their minds and they quickly and probably for the better got that thought out of my head. I then looked down and could clearly see the meadow I needed to get to, but no trail to get there. I said to myself I will go exactly .25 miles to meadow look for Steeple Trail #73, if I don't find, I turn right around. As luck would have it, after about 100 feet off trail I ran into my long lost connector trail.
The trail now ran in a complete opposite direction of the trail featured on my G.P.S! Oh well no time to curse and dwell, I was happy to be on trails and heading back to car, went through some pretty bad burnt out sections, but oddly enough found some beauty in them. Whether it was the stubborn trees that refused to burn or the half million or so 5 to 15 feet tall Aspen blowing fiercely in the wind and the numerous reinvigorated meadows and cienegas, I found beauty in it all.
Even with the adventure in finding my connector trail, Blanco and I still hit TH by 11:30 in morning.
HAZ Appreciation I used a hike description from Arizonaed written in 2004 and it turned out to be pretty much spot on. Which is something to say, as he obviously wrote pre-Bear Wallow Fire. Route might need some small adjustments, but overall great hike description!