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Bear Flat Trail #178 - Tonto NF
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13 by photographer avatartopohiker
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Bear Flat Trail #178 - Tonto NFPayson, AZ
Payson, AZ
Hiking avatar Oct 13 2014
topohiker
Hiking30.88 Miles 6,440 AEG
Hiking30.88 Miles   13 Hrs   38 Mns   2.55 mph
6,440 ft AEG   1 Hour   30 Mns Break
 
I return to the Bear Flats TH to finish off the connector trails. I got to the TH at 8:30 and it was cold. The Tonto creek was higher than the last time I was here, so I crossed the bridge instead of the creek to start the hike.

The trails I did were:
Bear Flats
Mescal Ridge
Mail Trail
Big Ridge

Bear Flats
Within minutes I went from shaking cold to sweating buckets on the steep climb out of the creek. It looks there’s been recent trail maintenance or high activity. A lot of the high grass has been cleared away and some of the brush has been cut back.

Mescal Ridge
The trail offer nice views of the surrounding area. The trail is easy to follow. The trail ends at a tank. At the tank, I found another old road/trail and followed that until it turned into a cattle path.

Mail Trail
This was an impromptu trail for me. I read Stillers comments about a trail that’s not on any maps. The trail starts about 1.3 miles from the Bear Flats TH. There’s a wilderness boundary post. Others have seen a trail sign, but I didn't. I saw a long plank of wood on the ground that might have had writing on it at one time. There a distinct trail heading up the side of Christopher mountain. The trail follows a drainage and is steep (as if the climb out of the Tonto Creek wasn't!). Soon the trail left the drainage and started to switch back. I could see a saddle and I pushed for it. At the saddle I saw a lot of signs of cattle activity. The trail pushed forward going up the side of Christopher mountain. The higher I got, the more cattle / horse tracks I saw. Near the top there was cairns. The cairns would help on the way down due to the numerous cattle paths. Near the end, the forest was burned out. The trail ended at the Christopher mountain RD. I turned around and went back to the Bear Flats Trail. I might come back to explore around Christopher mountain. The Mail Trail is maintained. Almost all of the fallen trees have been cleared away.

Big Ridge Trail (aka the big climb out)
The Big Ridge trail is about 6 miles long. For the first 2+ miles it stays around the 6,000 feet mark. Then it starts to drops. It doesn't drop gradually. It drops from shelf to shelf by hundreds of feet. You’ll drop about 200 feet, then it flats for a little bit, then repeat. The drops are very rocky with loose dirt. The scenery changes with each drop. The trail drops into the Salt Canyon where it ends. The maps show the trail ending in the canyon, but the road continues on another 2~3 miles to the wilderness boundary. I took lunch by the running stream. I wanted to continue on the road, but I knew I had a long climb out. The creek elevation was 4,350 and I had to climb up to 6,000. I may come back to finish off the road.
I had hoped to check out the Ellinwood ranch. I went down the road (to the ranch) to where it started its steep drop and turned round. It was getting dark, plus I didn't need any more extra climbing for the day.
It might be possible to connect the Mescal Ridge and Rig Ridge trail if you bushwhack and do some canyoneering. If someone figures out a safe route, I might be convinced to try it out.


It was typical Arizona Fall weather day. Cold in the morning extra warm around noon and extra cold after the sun dropped. This was the maiden voyage for my new Ospray backpack. My old pack shoulder straps were started to rip off. The Ospray worked out nice.

The adventure didn't end with the hike. I had a tire blowout 1 mile from the bee-line. It wasn't fun changing a tire in the dark when your freezing.
_____________________
"Everywhere is walking distance...If you have the time"
-Stephen Wright
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