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West Clear Creek Trail #17 to Maiden Falls
14 Photosets

mini location map2014-06-28
4 by photographer avatarJoelHazelton
photographer avatar
West Clear Creek Trail #17 to Maiden FallsCamp Verde, AZ
Camp Verde, AZ
Backpack avatar Jun 28 2014
Backpack10.50 Miles 1,800 AEG
Backpack10.50 Miles2 Days         
1,800 ft AEG
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
I've been wanting this trip for about 3 years now and I finally pulled it off this weekend. Solo overnight backpack, which is just the way I like it.

A 6:30am departure from south Tempe got me to the trailhead around 9am, with a Filibertos stop for a heavy breakfast and a gas station stop in Camp Verde. The trailhead for me was actually about 3/4mi away from the real trailhead. My new Forester is more capable than my old Tacoma, but that is a pretty rough road. About halfway through the walk to the official trailhead I saw another vehicle with a HAZ sticker. One car, not bad, and I'm down with the HAZ representation. At the official trailhead there were 3 more cars parked :doh: So much for being alone. There aren't many reasons to hike in from that brutal upper trailhead in mid-June. My only hope was that they wouldn't be camped at the falls.

The hike down was standard (this is my 3rd attempt at this trip so I know the trail in decently well). The campsite where the trail reaches the creek is prime, and could be a destination in itself for a relaxing late-spring or early-fall overnighter. The swimming hole next to it had some nice 9-10 inch trout swimming around. Biggest I saw the entire trip. My goal was about 2.5 miles upstream, so off I went. Working my way up the creek was moderately difficult with the heavy pack. Trekking poles were invaluable through stream crossings and when rock hopping with wet feet. After ~2 miles I hit the 50-yard red sandstone narrows. I inflated my raft, drybagged my camera gear and swam across. The quarter mile after the narrows was brutal. For some reason I thought the falls were right after the first set of narrows. While there was an awesome waterfall there (which I later learned is technically Indian Maiden Falls???), there are at least 2 more mandatory swims and a fair amount of bushwhacking and scrambling adventure before reaching my destination waterfall. This is standard stuff, except for my chosen waterproofing method of a drybagged camera and blow-up pool raft. It was a huge pain having both hands full while trying to pick my way the rest of the way upstream.

After the last mandatory swim I finally saw my destination waterfall! And then a group of 8 people camped next to it :doh: I must say they were perfectly nice people and even offered to share the dinner they were getting ready to make. If anyone was giving off a vibe it was me, as I selfishly wanted/expected the place to myself. But I had built up the solitude of this destination in my head and I had no choice but to wallow in self-pity for a while. :roll: I found a corner and sulked while eating a peanut butter sandwich and listening to them laugh and splash around in the swimming hole below the falls. Finally I pulled myself together and went to locate a campsite. I decided to set up on one of the ledges above the swimming hole, tucked away behind a tree so it wasn't in clear view of the waterfall. After setting up camp I went to scout out photos of the falls. Telephoto is the key to capturing this spot. There are numerous factors contributing to this, but I stand by it. The reason I mention this is, after I pulled out my camera, my telephoto lens (Tokina 50-135) promptly started giving errors. Err 01 lens contacts need to be cleaned. Pencil eraser didn't do the trick as it had in the past. Fortunately I could still take photos with it, but I could only see clearly enough through the viewfinder to compose the shot, so any sort of focusing was 100% guesswork. Also, my camera errored and shut off after every shot. Not a good situation. I half-assed a few shots, not wanting to put forth too much effort as I had no idea if they were going to turn out in-focus, then went back to camp to consider my situation and sulk some more. :oplz:

Seeing as how my goal was photography, and I couldn't shoot these falls with the wideangle lens, right around sunset I made the decision to pack up camp and backtrack to the first set of falls. Not only would this give me the opportunity to shoot confidently with my wide lens, but I could have a very quiet night at a campsite more ideal than the sandstone slab I was on. So pack up I did, and I bushwhacked and swam back downstream. After setting up camp at an absolutely idyllic spot above the first set of falls, I went for a quick night swim, then dried off and passed out. I was up at 5am the next morning and spent about 2 hours photographing the falls, until it was too bright.

Hiking back downstream was relatively uneventful until I hit the big ascent. Climbing out of the canyon was brutally hot and exposed. I'm not one to hike 50 feet and stop, but there were definitely portions of this ascent where that was exactly what I was doing. It was about 1,600 feet over 2 miles in ~100 degree weather, and I felt every foot and every degree of it. When I got to my car, which was parked in the shade, the thermostat read 97. Thankfully, I had a cold Gatorade in the car, and I finished my adventure with mediocre Mexican food in Camp Verde.

I'll be back, and next time I'll spend 2 nights. Photos to come soon :)
"Arizona is the land of contrast... You can go from Minnesota to California in a matter of minutes, then have Mexican food that night." -Jack Dykinga
HAZ Member
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