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Old Smokey - Tunnel Spring Loop, AZ
mini location map2016-03-12
25 by photographer avatarchumley
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Old Smokey - Tunnel Spring Loop, AZ 
Old Smokey - Tunnel Spring Loop, AZ
 
Hiking avatar Mar 12 2016
chumley
Hiking12.41 Miles 3,515 AEG
Hiking12.41 Miles   8 Hrs   59 Mns   1.55 mph
3,515 ft AEG   1 Hour    Break
 no routes
1st trip
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joebartels
Ol' Smokey has been on the list since a former hazzer introduced me to it two years ago. The KofAs have what I view as about a 4-month window of enjoyable visitation. November-February. Others tolerate the heat more than I do, but this is a place of extremes. A cold front was coming through and the temperatures were set to drop 10-15 degrees so I figured that with highs near 70 Saturday would make a good day for what would likely be my best last chance to spend some time here this season.

I penciled in a few routes with options as I wanted to explore potential water sources for future endeavors out here, and figured that the trip up Smokey would certainly not be an all-day affair. In fact, I think a Smokey, Signal, and Ten Ewe trifecta might be a killer day sometime!

We opted for the more direct route to Smokey (almost due south), beginning with a climb straight up a steep 500-foot hill from the end of the KofA Queen Canyon road before generally following a drainage until it swings around to the steep, rock-scree northeast flank that makes the easiest approach to the summit. Upon reaching the "crux" ... a short stretch of ridge about 2-feet wide that climbs to the summit ... I was happy to realize that I would in fact be able to fight off the mental block that the ridiculous exposure hits you with. The footing and hand holds really are abundant, and the wind was perfectly calm.

The summit register was placed in 1980 and there are not many pages with names. The register is in a rusted container that could use a new replacement. We took a short break before making our way down the steep slope.

My next primary objective on the day was to find Tunnel Spring, for which I had found some teasing information online, but not much else. Along the way we spotted some bighorn sheep, an old well, a well-developed tinaja with a trickle of flow below a 50-foot dryfall, an incredible diversity of geology, and some impressively developed sheep trails.

Tunnel Spring was even more impressive than I had envisioned, and we managed to climb up to it with the assistance of a rope left in place by AZGFD which maintains the trough here for the local sheep population. The current rope doesn't have much life left, so if you come this way, bringing your own might be a good idea. It would be a challenge to get up without a rope, and likely impossible to get down. The shade of the "cave" was welcome and cool, and the water clear and delicious. A real treat in these rugged mountains!

From here we had to make our way back to KofA Queen Canyon and the road to the truck, but that involved ascending about 900 feet over one ridge, dropping into Tunnel Mine Canyon, and then climbing over another smaller ridge. I had originally planned a longer route for this part of the hike, but we opted for a shorter, more direct route back, and were happy with the result as it made it possible to get out to the west of the range in time for a colorful sunset.
Fauna
Fauna
Bighorn Sheep
Culture
Culture
Water Well Windmill
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