Day 1 - 5 miles
Started at the West Fork Trail TH in Greer a little after 3pm. A few minutes up the trail is Trail Spring Tank, a beautiful small pond. I saw two hikers walking around the edge. They would be the only people I saw that day.
The trail then goes through some forested areas and large meadows. And burned areas. Lots of blowdowns to climb over or walk around.
Potatoe Hollow Spring had a good flow. The spring and the earlier tank were the only water sources along here.
I stopped for the night on the edge of a large meadow about a half mile short of Sheep's Crossing. As I was boiling some water for dinner a bear walked by, maybe 100 feet away. This time I had my camera at hand and got a couple pictures and some video. It didn't seem too concerned that I was there, not even when I made some noise. A few minutes later, 5 or so turkeys walked past.
Day 2 - 10 miles
Crossed 273 and arrived at the West Baldy TH. One vehicle in the lot with a guy sitting in a lawn chair. We chatted a bit. He'd been out hiking with friends and got worn out from the altitude, returning to the car while the friends went further on the Crossover trail. I admitted I was concerned about the elevation. I've never hiked to 11000, much less backpacked. My plan was to try Baldy, but if it was too much, I'd come back down and take the crossover to make a shorter loop.
The trail soon follows closely along the West Fork Little Colorado. Very scenic. I like water features. I think this was my favorite section of the loop.
I met a pack train and a trail crew coming out. They did a great job. Only had to detour around one blowdown on the West and East Baldy trails, with lots of recently cut through blowdowns.
At the last drainage before the trail starts seriously climbing I stopped for lunch and to load up on water. I figured the next sure source wouldn't be until the East Fork Little Colorado. As I picked up to leave, two guys came huffing and puffing up the trail and passed me. Ten minutes later they passed me going back down. They didn't say anything.
I was huffing and puffing too, but I kept going. I was on the last stretch to the trail junction when something exploded out of the brush next to the trail. It was a Dusky Grouse (I think) hen squawking and carrying on like it had a broken wing. I took a couple quick pics and moved on. My heartrate slowly returned to it's normal pounding.
Made it to the trail junction. Yay! Highest I've ever hiked. It's all downhill from here. (I thought briefly about sneaking to the summit, but after hearing that it wasn't that difficult to actually get permission from the tribe, I decided no, I would do it right sometime.)
I headed down the East Baldy Trail. I checked out the airplane wreckage, and the unnamed spring near the saddle with Mount Thomas. Not big, but it was flowing. I could have filled up here.
Spent the night at the saddle below Mount Thomas.
Day 3 - 10.5 miles
The trail so far had been quite clean, but at my campsite and one a bit further down I found a fair amount of trash including a large glass bottle. Some people are disgusting. If you carry it up, you can carry it back down. I stuffed it in pack pockets and hung it off loops, figuring I'd haul it down to the Gabaldon campground. But they don't provide trash collection, so I ended up carrying it all the way to Greer.
I think this was my second favorite section. The trail is good, some nice forrested sections, and interesting rock formations. Some good views down towards Big Lake too. But I think I like the trail along the West Fork LC better.
I met several groups of hikers in the morning, all asking things like how far they had come, if it's steep all the way. I tried to be encouraging, but they'd only started up the steep bit.
Took the trail over to Gabaldon CG after grabbing some water from the creek. Crossed back over 273 and started on the East Fork Trail. It follows the same route as the 601 railroad grade trail for a bit over a mile. I've thought some about backpacking the 601 and the Overland trail as a longer trip. Now I'm not so sure. The 601 may be an easy grade, but the surface isn't that easy to walk on.
I saw a couple people in the distance walking out to the dam at Colter Reservoir, but they turned around and headed back on the 601 before I got there. The East Fork splits at the dam. I saw no people or even footprints after that until almost Greer. It seems this trail doesn't get much use.
Colter reservoir had some water, and was nice and green around, as was the EFLC below the dam. But after that, the most interesting thing was a billowing smoke cloud from what I found out later was the San Juan Fire. Shortly after crossing the EFLC, the trail enters cattle country. Dusty trails. Cows that insist on walking ahead of you down the trail, kicking up more choking clouds of dust. Or being agressive and threatening. Burned areas with so much blowdown you can't follow the trail. Others where there are so many cowpaths you don't know what trail you're on. I guess it's clear this was my least favorite section. I don't think I'd do it again except as part of loop or longer hike.
I stopped for the night on a meadow a bit past Dry Spring. Which was dry.
Day 4 - 5 miles
Woke to cows staring at me.
I wasn't in a hurry. Just a few miles in to Greer now. This part was hit hard by fire. There's a point where you can see down into the EFLC river valley, and Greer in the distance. It's all burnt sticks. I do believe in the goodness of fire, and that fire is natural. But not this devastation. On the upside, I guess there wasn't much of a clear view before all the trees burned. At least the last bit into Greer was in nice trees again.
A little log "bridge" over the West Fork and I was done.
Well, except for mile and a half of roadwalk to the West Fork trailhead and my car. Stopped at the Rendezvous diner for a cold soda. I reeked pretty bad, but they were polite and didn't hold their noses.