High mountain adventure
The Snowshed and Greenhouse trails are on the east side of the Chiricahua Mountains very near the border of Arizona and New Mexico. The trailhead is in the Herb Martyr campground some 7 miles past Portal, Arizona
Clearly this hike is not for everybody. It's a fairly grueling 15 mile loop with a total of 4,300 feet cumulative elevation. For 1.5 of the 15 miles, the trail is almost non-existent or buried under fallen trees and debris from fires several years ago. This 1.5 mile section is on the Snowshed trail as it approaches Snowshed Saddle. Navigating to the saddle requires use of maps and/or GPS or both with adequate preparation in advance.
So I have rated this hike 5 for difficulty and 5 for trail finding. The 5 for trail finding applies to the 1.5 mile section noted above. Trail finding on the other 13.5 miles of the loop is at a 2 level. These trails are clearly defined and any difficulty comes from there being so many trails and signs near the top of the Chiricahuas that picking the right trail itself is challenging. But we had good GPS waypoints pre-loaded for this hike and the right choice for us was clear.
The hike starts at the trailhead in the beautiful Herb Martyr campground about 3 miles past Portal on Cave Creek road (FS 42a). We start by going south on the Basin trail which is signed as trail 146. This is also the trail number for the Snowshed trail and they both can't have the same number. On the Coronado National Forest website, this trail is listed as the Herb Martyr trail 247. But the sign on the trail says Basin trail 246, so go figure. We followed this heavily treed trail for 3 miles while climbing 2,000 feet to its end and intersection with the Snowshed trail. Along the way we caught some great views of the Chiricahua Mountains ahead. We turned right and hiked up another 1,500 feet in 3.1 miles to the Snowshed saddle. The first half of this trail was easy to follow. Then we arrived at the burned out part, the last 1.5 miles to the saddle. The downed trees and debris from past fires combined with a number of rain storms in between has almost wiped out this trail. We would rediscover something that looked like a trail, take a few steps and lose it again. All the time we hiked over, under or around many fallen trees. One of Sun_Hiker's able hiking friends tried this trail a number of years ago and turned back before reaching the saddle. We pushed through to the saddle but it took about 2 1/2 hours to do the 1.5 miles. We had planned on going up to Snowshed peak, only 0.6 miles from the saddle but we decided not to risk coming out in the dark. So on we went.
We continued on Snowshed trail 0.4 miles to its intersection with the Crest trail turning right and following it passing the Chiricahua peak and Anita Park and onto Cima Park and the intersection with the Greenhouse trail for a total of 2.7 miles of hiking on good trail from Snowshed saddle. From the Crest trail there are many panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys below. We then followed the Greenhouse trail east for 4.1 miles to its intersection with a 4WD dirt road. Greenhouse is a very impressive trail with no fire damage. It follows Cima creek that has water with some good flow in spots although you may need an ice pick to get at it at this time. We crossed Cima creek several times and had to dance on the ice on 3 of those crossings. We passed a couple of cabins on Cima creek including one cluster of 3 buildings in excellent shape that is reserved for use by Forest Service personnel.
Cima creek feeds Winn Falls, a 365 foot high spectacular waterfall. There is one signed viewpoint for Winn Falls on the Greenhouse trail. At this time, the view was frozen over.
We then followed the 4WD dirt road to its intersection with Cave Creek road which we followed back to the car. Having stayed in the area the night before, we started hiking at 7:40 AM and finished at 5:45 PM. We arrived back in the Phoenix area at 11:30 PM.
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.