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Sheep Mountain Peak 6996 - Mazatzal
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mini location map2013-05-08
22 by photographer avatarOregon_Hiker
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Sheep Mountain Peak 6996 - MazatzalPayson, AZ
Payson, AZ
Hiking avatar May 08 2013
Hiking6.90 Miles 2,070 AEG
Hiking6.90 Miles
2,070 ft AEG
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
I had been reviewing triplogs, gps tracks, and photos from the searches for GPSJoe and decided to go take a look at what is thought to be the route Joe planned for his fateful 11/8/2010 hike. This route traverses the northwest side of the ridgeline between Mt Peeley and Sheep Mt roughly following the 6400 ft elevation contour. For a short read of this triplog: I didn't even get close to the Sheep Mtn summit and I found no sign of Joe.

I arrived at the Mt Peeley Trailhead at about 8:00 am and started hiking on the Mazatzal Divide Trail. This was my first time to this area since Dec 2010 so it was interesting to see the changes brought about by the Sunflower Fire in May of 2012. Many of the larger pine trees survived and there were areas the fire skipped over but where it had burned, the manzanita and other brush were pretty much wiped out. Growth has returned - primarily low lying bushes and flowers. I hiked along the MDT for 2.9 miles until reaching the off trail starting point where you climb south west a short distance up a shallow wash to a saddle overlooking the northwest side of the Mt Peeley to Sheep Mt ridge. There were signs of a campsite at this location with a recently used fire ring. I would later find a water cache probably associated with this site containing about 10 gallons. I assume the fire ring and water cache are from the Superstition Search and Rescue folks who have been conducting searches for GPSJoe in this area over the last few weeks. (BobP confirmed the water cache is not one of his.) There were red marker flags on bushes and trees sprinkled around this area which I assume were placed there by SSAR. It looks like their search so far has been concentrated on this northwest side and along the top of the ridge. From the size of the water cache it looks like they plan on a lot more searching in this area.

I started off southeast down hill to the 6400 ft elev contour which I planned to follow but seeing many SSAR flags I decided to follow a wash down below the 6400 level and search wash bottoms for any sign of Joe that might have been brought down from above by water runoff. This slope had been burned and I found the soil loose with rocks easily rolling under foot probably because of the fire killing off vegetation that held the soil together. As I entered the bottom of a wash I suddenly took a full face plant between a small boulder and a tree. Not sure how it happened - first time since I started using trekking poles. I was wedged tight between the boulder and tree facing down hill with my head stopped hard by a boulder. My hat has a padded crown which probably saved me from a serious head injury. I quickly determined I had no serious injuries so just laid there for a few minutes to calm down and plan my next move and thinking, could something like this have happened to Joe. I could not free my arms to get up or to reach the Spot emergency locator in my backpack. Fortunately I didn't need to use the locator but made a mental note to start carrying it in a more accessible location. After about 15 minutes I freed myself by pushing aside the boulder blocking my head and pushing downhill with my feet. A few minutes of first aid to a scrape on my arm and I was ready to go.

Reconsidering my plans for the day, I decided to forget about any more rough off-trail stuff. Instead I limited my search to glassing the northwest side of the ridge with binoculars and taking lots of telephoto pictures which I could later examine at home for possible signs of GPSJoe. I climbed up to a nearby point which gave a good view of the northwest side of the ridge and spent some time searching and taking pics but did not see anything. I will spend some time in the next few days examining my photos. I tried to visually pick out a line along the side of the ridge that Joe might have used to reach Sheep Mtn. I could see what looked like a doable route even for me up to the northwest side of Sheep Mtn. However I was feeling way to clumsy and scared by my fall to attempt it. I could not see a doable route up Sheep Mtn from this side for someone lacking in climbing skills and guts like myself. It's hard for me to imagine that Joe would have attempted this route but then maybe he had a different perspective on risk vs reward and more confidence in his off-trail abilities.

For the remainder of the day I decided to take a look at the abandoned junk found on May 3 by BobP up on the ridgeline and to look for an old pack trail that descended from a saddle on the southwest side of Mt Peeley to Thicket Spring. I found the junk using BobPs gps track. My take is that it's camping gear stashed away in the brush probably from a hunter's camp for later use. The stash included what appears to be a tent stove made from a garbage can, plenty of stove pipe and both metal and fiberglass tent poles. A black hard residue melted into the ground was probably the remains of a tent or tarp made from synthetic material. The sides of the galvanized garbage can and some of the stove pipe were still shiny which would seem to indicate this stash could not be too old although it's burned condition shows it pre-dates the May, 2011 forest fire. Interestingly the stove pipe and the garbage can were made in Canada. Two pieces of thin sheet metal each with a mirror image of a 1980s Vancouver, Canada newspaper were in the pile.

The old pack trail had vanished except for a short segment on the slope above Thicket Spring which although very faint is visible on Google Earth. I attempted to follow its path using a gps track I had traced from an old USGS map. If you select the US Topo map display in Mapdex you can see this old trail. The trail switched back and forth down the steep hillside of very loose soil and rock so it had long ago disappeared. I soon got tired of trying to follow the original track and just climbed down the stream bed which led through the forest of blackened manzanita skeltons at the bottom of the wash. It was slow going due to the treacherous steep and loose hillside so it took me 2.5 hours to go 1.1 miles. I would not recommend this route to anyone.

I got back to my car at 6:00 pm. Never saw another person all day all though there were tire tracks laid over mine at the trail head so someone had been there while I was gone.
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