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Turkeyfeather Mountain, NM
mini location map2016-05-30
46 by photographer avatarAZHiker456
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Turkeyfeather Mountain, NM 
Turkeyfeather Mountain, NM
Hiking avatar May 30 2016
Hiking16.17 Miles 4,030 AEG
Hiking16.17 Miles   7 Hrs   56 Mns   2.19 mph
4,030 ft AEG      33 Mns Break
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
As they say, ‘go big or go home’; and on Day 4 of what was supposed to be a 10 day mountain getaway, I did a little bit of both. None of the peaks I’d planned to access off 159 were short adventures, [and given how the strain in my lower leg was feeling, I knew that whatever one I chose was gonna be a grind].

Day 4 was probably going to be the final day of my hiking trip due to my leg strain; and with that in mind, I kept debating which peak(s) to go for and what TH to kick things off from right up until about an hour before I started hiking. I wanted to see the Willow Creek area and decided to go for Turkeyfeather Mountain. The other peaks on my list can be accessed from TH’s that are not quite as far down 159, but unless you plan on hiking mega-mileage, [OR doing an out-and-back from the Sandy Point TH], then the best option for hiking to Turkeyfeather Mountain is from the farther away Willow Creek TH. In addition to being one of the shortest ways to access the peak, [which still equates to about 20 miles RT… IF adhering to the trail…], launching from the Willow Creek TH also allows for a loop hike over an out and back, [although the loop option would be closer to 25 miles].

En route to the Willow Creek TH, I stopped to take some photos from the absolutely beautiful Sandy Point. The next time I am back in the area, I will definitely be doing a peak or two from this beautiful area/TH! The Willow Creek area was incredibly beautiful as well [but in different ways]; instead of expansive views like Sandy Point, Willow Creek has lush green meadows with beautiful flowing streams… I was not disappointed in my choice of TH!

My loop kicked off on the McKenzie Trail #151. For nearly the first four miles, the trail is extremely well defined, the footing is excellent, and there are no major ups/down, all of which make for a very fast traverse. Despite the soreness in my leg [which was around a 3-4 on the 10 pt pain scale at the time I launched], I made decent time for the first several miles. However, right around mile 4, the trail takes a sharp turn out of Iron Creek and into Cooper Canyon; and, [aside from a very short segment of route that runs along one of the banks as you first enter the canyon], the next 1+ mile is like an off-trail canyon / boulder hop. Under normal circumstances, this would come as an awesome surprise; but given how my leg was feeling, I wanted northing more than the canyon portion to be over with. While my leg had not gotten much worse of the course of the first 4 miles, it was up to a 6+ on the 10 pt pain scale after not much more than a mile in the canyon.

For the most part, the canyon closes you in enough that searching for an exact trail is not necessary; you simply head upwards. However, after around a mile, the official “trail” takes a left into a side drainage, which then leads you to Turkeyfeather Pass. My leg was bothering me enough that I stopped checking the topo as often as I normally would; [seeing just how little progress I was making made the time go by so slowly!]. Although I did not notice any cairns, the side drainage is quite large, and when I reached it, I had a feeling I should’ve given the topo a quick look… but for some reason, I simply continued straight ahead, heading up Cooper Canyon...

…when I finally checked the topo and saw I’d missed the turn, it didn’t bother me, [given that continuing up the canyon was a more direct approach, as far as distance was concerned]. However, before much longer, I decided to hop out of the canyon and bushwhack over towards the trail. My leg was around a 7 on the 10 pt pain scale, and I was done with drainage traverse!

When I picked up the “trail” towards the beginning of the ridgeline that leads to the top of Turkeyfeather Mountain, it was very clear that I wasn’t going to be treated to the nice type of trail I had during the first 4 miles… the remaining 2+ miles of “trail” to the peak felt more like I was on an easy bushwhack following a route versus an actual trail. While the trail was well defined in some places, there were an equal number of places were it was very faint [or nonexistent]. To top things off, there were some rocky prominent points as well as tons of downed trees to scramble over. Under normal circumstances, my reaction to such “trail” conditions would be, ‘Hell yeah; bring it on!”, but given how my leg was feeling, I wanted nothing more than to reach the summit and get the hell out of Dodge.

Views along the ridgeline leading to the highpoint of Turkeyfeather Mountain were absolutely phenomenal. While the views were still very nice from the highpoint, the ridgeline, [being open in more directions], had the best views. I was unable to find a register or survey marker but as bad as my leg was feeling, I didn’t devote much time/effort into looking. There was what looked like a cairn near the highpoint, [on top of which a tree had fallen]; but I didn’t see a register underneath the rock pile or downed tree.

The pain in my leg had progressed to an 8 on the 10 pt pain scale, and I was starting to wonder if I’d have to send out an SOS. The three options for returning to the TH were:

1. Going back the way I came [which would come to another 10+ miles for a total of over 20 miles RT AND involve 1+ miles of canyon/drainage traverse]

2. Proceeding with the loop I intended to do originally [which would equate to another 14.5-15.5 miles, 12.5+ of which would involve unfamiliar trail that could prove to be rugged, in poor condition, or even nonexistent in places… not to mention, it would bring my total RT mileage to around 25]

3. Doing my thang [i.e. bushwhacking as-the-crow-flies back to the TH, which would involve about 4.5 miles of bushwhacking and just over a mile of trail].

While I had no intention of getting badpumpkin in the Gilas, I needed to capitalize on my strengths [off-trail/bushwhacking] and let go of my weakness [DISTANCE] if I wanted to make it back without potentially having to send out an SOS. Truth be told, I had pretty much defaulted upon option #3 back when I was in the canyon, [having thought to myself something along the lines of: ‘there’s no way I’m coming back this way;’ and ‘no way I’m hitting 20 miles today;’ but ‘no reason why such favorable terrain should stop me from bushwhacking directly from the peak back to the TH.’

Despite feeling slightly intimidated by the massiveness of the Gila Wilderness, the topography in the area of my hike was extremely favorable. With relatively gradually sloping, pine covered hillsides that had been thinned by fire, soft dirt with great cushion and excellent grip, and excellent visibility & maneuverability, I could not have asked for better bushwhacking conditions. I even got a taste of just how easy [and fun] it was to bushwhack in this neck of the woods when I had missed the turn out of Cooper Canyon and ended up doing some bushwhacking mid-hike to get back on route.

Under normal circumstances, I would’ve been overjoyed at just how epic the adventure turned out: having shortened a 20+ mega mile hike to a much more manageable loop of just over 16 amazingly beautiful miles, while still incorporating the summit, an awesome canyon, and over 5 miles of off-trail fun. It took a day or two for the awesomeness to sink in… cuz immediately upon my return, the priorities were: getting off my feet, numbing the pain with a quick soak in Willow Creek, and then hauling pumpkin back to Southern AZ to salvage the vacation days I’d put in for the 10 day mountain getaway I’d planned. It was frustrating to have to end the trip early, but I couldn’t have asked for a better end than the awesome loop I pulled off.
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