Great Beginning Backpacking
This is an absolutely gorgeous and picturesque hike through a historic area on the Mogollan Rim north of Strawberry and Clint's Well. As described below, this area was used by ranchers and the US Forest service many years ago and is part of the Cabin Loop Trail system. In the early 1900's this trail system was developed to link General Springs Cabin, Pinchot Cabin, and the Buck Springs Fire Guard Station. The trail passes through picturesque forest atop the Mogollan Rim and consists of 4 trails: the U-Bar #28, Barbershop #91, Fred Haught #22 and Houston Brothers #171.
This was my first backpacking trip in umpteen years and Mary was gracious enough to be my partner and accompany me in both the trip and the planning. We had decided on the area for two reasons... #1) it's the RIM! What's not to love? #2) I needed something on the less strenuous side to start out. We left Phoenix at 7:30 AM on a clear Saturday morning and drove up 87 through Payson, Pine, Strawberry and finally reached Clint's Well. We found FR95 fine just past the Blue Ridge Ranger Station and took Mary's new toy (a nice Toyota 4X4) down this road through a beautiful area in East Clear Creek called Morgan Draw. There were some pretty scary and steep drop offs along the mountain grades but the 4X4 did well combined with the expert driving. Along FR95, you'll eventually pass a sign for Kinder Crossing and Barber Lake and the views are amazing. We finally found the TH along FR139A. It was decidedly cooler at 7,000 feet with temps in the low 70's at noon when we donned our packs and the smell of the Ponderosa pines and the crunch of the pine needles & cones under our boots added to our already heightened enthusiasm of the adventure yet to come. The sky was a clear blue with puffy white clouds and the air was clean and sweet with the fragrance of Ponderosa pine. I packed conservatively (25 lbs) but ran into a problem right away because the pack (that was generously given to me by a friend) is really too large and was seated way too low across my lower back. We tried adjusting the straps but it was still pretty uncomfortable. But, we had driven all this way and I was determined to move forward. So, onward we went.
We started down the trail to Pinchot Cabin and found it after 1/2 mile. At this intersection are the options for Houston Brothers, U-Bar and Fred Haught Trails. Last minute decision and we decided on taking the Houston Brothers trail south which follows a small creek. There were many elk prints all along this trail which leads through many grassy meadows. After another 1.5 miles, we arrived at Aspen Spring which proved to be the perfect place to set up camp. There's an old cabin, an old dilapidated outhouse and a free standing fireplace (where a house was at one time, maybe?) all in a stand of Ponderosa pines with the afternoon wind was whistling through them. There are generations of chipmunks in this area and we watched them scampering across the meadow, up the trees, on top of the outhouse and just about everywhere. We set up camp and then decided to take a hike heading south following the creek but found the entire area blocked off by barbed wire. We headed back and then followed an old Jeep trail heading north that was intentionally blocked off at the top of a hill by some trees. Walked around this and found a FS road that we later identified as FR139. Also found the Ubar trail crossing up on this route. Headed back to camp, made a fire, ate dinner, drank some wine, watched the sun set, the moon rise and the stars start to come out. There was so much silence and solitude out here... we heard some coyotes in the distance as we enjoyed the fire as we nested in our Thermarest recliners.
It was pretty cold at 8 PM when I turned in. I woke at 3:15 AM and was freezing, even in my +20 sleeping bag. Got up at 5:45 and there was frost on items we had left out... you could see your breath. Mary's water bladder had ice in it so I'd say it was in the low 30's during the night. She said she heard some "ruckus in the woods" during the night but I slept like a baby and didn't hear a thing. We made another fire to warm up, had a snack, broke up camp and got to the truck by 8:45. We stopped at the Strawberry Lodge and Cafe for a HUGE breakfast & fresh coffee.
This is an OUTSTANDING area that I'd love to explore more. There are tons of camping areas all along this short stretch we did on our way in. Mary... thank you for your patience and guidance. It was awesome. This is so beautiful!
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.