This trip could be done as an enjoyable overnight or as a terrible dayhike. I chose the latter.
Driving down FR 25 from 201 was bad enough for my little minivan. Parked at the fork of 25/25A and walked up the rest of the way to Mormon Grove. New moon meant great sky views.
Saddle Mountain #91
Still in fantastic shape. Was a piece of cake to walk in the dark, even when a few overgrown branches cast scary shadows over the last mile or so. Potato Patch saddle was delightfully spooky, with those two big mountains towering above, blocking out the stars. Paused at MacFarland to pull a fresh liter and to gawk at the 'food cache'.
Sheep Creek #88
Getting to Squaw Flat Spring was easy with predawn light, though I still haven't found a track I like from there to the Copper Camp junction. Oh well. The final climb was quick and easy and I made it to the 'drop-off' just before the sunrise for some ridiculously good views. Drop was easier this time around, though the trail was a bit hard to track along the creek with the fall leaves. Which I was totally willing to deal with. Few pools along the way that dried up before the seep proper. Reached the cabin area to find a dry Round Spring and creek - which I needed. Hauled up to Sears Junction and the saddle above but couldn't pick up a path until I started dropping down the other side.
Sheep Creek Trail from Sears to Davenport is a bit easier to track than the eastern part of Sears Trail, with small cairns and faint tread to track, but it was easy to lose near the washes. Oh, and that last drop down the ridge after the Sears Junction is terrible, all rolling rocks that really know how to tweak knees. I did find it interesting how small most of the cairns are, as if someone recently did some revival work, there's just not enough traffic out this way to sustain it. Once I reached Davenport Wash I was struck at how different these two trails were - Davenport Wash is like 90% packed footpath with a few cairns and Sheep Creek is 90% tiny cairn tracking and sorting through game trails.
Davenport Wash #89
Section from Sheep Creek to Club Cabin felt a bit harder to follow today, or else I was just in a rush for water. Reached the old cabin to the smell/sight of fresh horse manure but no one in sight. Drank 2 liters here, pulled another 2, figuring that would be enough to last until Deadman Creek. While I was pulling water a bear tried to sneak up on me, but I heard him crunching the leaves (about twenty feet away) and told him kindly to wait his turn.
Onto the fun part. Getting to Red Rock Spring area was simple, good trail that was being overtaken by various spiky things with well-worn alternative routes. Climbing out of Red Rock was a solid gut-punch of elevation and I accidentally ended up on a game trail about forty feet above the actual path but kept to it, unwilling to lose an inch. We met back up in time to tackle two miles of manzanita / catclaw / holly? mess that left me dripping blood from a dozen cuts. Then it was time to slip-slide descend into Upper Deadman, which was dry, and then climb back out, and I chose a bad route initially and had to do sketchy scrambling before finding the real way, and then haul up the grassy hill that never ends.
When I hit mile 21, with forty minutes of daylight left and unknown trail conditions ahead, I had to stop. Drank the last of my water, ate a disgustingly sweet bar of some sort, and watched ballooning strands sparkle over Deadman Creek in the dying day's light. It was one of those moments that I hope I never lose, feeling the concerns about getting back to a decent trail before sunset melting away in the face of silent, overpowering beauty.
Back to the hike. Hauled up the rest of the way to round the cliff by 5400' and find a lonely cairn marking the turn. Which was nice, because there hadn't been dependable cairns for much of the climb from the creek. The terrain got real rocky real fast, huge red boulders that were anything but stable, though there was a packed path hidden in the manzanita that slowly got better as I traveled east. In fact, even after the sun set, I was able to move pretty quick as obvious maintenance made the last mile painless. To whoever did this, you are awesome. Reached Chilson around six and wasted little time booking up Brody and swinging around on the Mazatzal Divide. Stopped before the saddle to don some extra clothes (temps drop fast up there) and wish for some water.
Was far too easy to trot down, even after all those miles. One thing worth mentioning was that I was about a mile in when a large chopper slowly started flying up the canyon. It took a minute for me to register the spotlight on it and I didn't turn off my headlamp in time. They quickly zeroed in on me, swinging low circles and blinding me with their light. I waved them away but it took a while for them to acknowledge and fly away, turning towards the Sandy Saddle area. I'm unsure if someone else was in trouble and called them in or if it was a police chopper making routine rounds or what.
Yet another quiet day in the Mazzies. Didn't see anyone on the trail, only one other car parked at Barnhardt during pick-up. (Big thanks to @reynchr
for assisting with the shuttle)
Mazatzal Miles: 181.5/275 (66%)
Finally got every trail southeast of Mountain Spring completed! (except Fig, but Fig only kinda counts)