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mini location map2016-03-11
13 by photographer avatarAZHiker456
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North Peak Trail #24Payson, AZ
Payson, AZ
Hiking avatar Mar 11 2016
Hiking7.51 Miles 3,821 AEG
Hiking7.51 Miles   5 Hrs   12 Mns   1.60 mph
3,821 ft AEG      30 Mns Break
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
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Given our jam-packed itinerary for the backpack portion of our trip, Peter and I decided to do North Peak as a day hike on Friday in lieu of tacking it on to the end of our backpack on Sunday; [and it’s a good thing too, cuz we totally underestimated things and would not have come close to fitting it in on Sunday]. We got a very late start [almost 4 PM]; in fact, had Peter not encouraged me to give it a go, I definitely would not have attempted it. Peter assured me that he didn’t mind if I put the jets on, so I hauled pumpkin up the North Peak Trail, hoping to make summit and then come clean off the bushwhack segment before pitch darkness.

I broke from the trail around 2.4 miles. The footing was excellent, there was very little brush to contend with, and there were several animal routes to chose from. Nonetheless, [given that I was racing sunset], the bulk of my bushwhack up to the peak felt like a never-ending ridge ride. Towards the end, the final few sections involved some fun hand-over-foot type of scrambling. I saw a few cairns along this portion but don’t recall seeing any along the ridge below… perhaps the LARGE animal tracks, [I’m guessing either bear or mountain lion], had something to do with that…!

I made summit in 1:50:50 and my mileage to the summit was *AT LEAST 3.50; [*mileage as per Route Scout; I normally use MapMyHike which provides more accurate mileage stats; Route Scout always underestimates mileage to one degree or another. For whatever reason, the MapMyHike app failed to record the distance on this adventure, so I was thankful that Route Scout came through]. There was just enough daylight for me to enjoy the beautiful views, sign the register, and rest for a few minutes before heading down. The “register” consisted of a very small glass container with a couple sheets of small paper, and the top was partially exposed; there also wasn’t any writing implement. I donated a pen that I had in my hiking pack and wrapped the glass container in two plastic bags that I also had handy for such occasions.

With darkness fast approaching, [and what appeared to be some very well defined routes – at least in the beginning – off North Peak in the direction of the Mineral Creek TH], I stupidly opted for an ‘as-the-crow-flies’ approach off the peak. Let’s just say this turned out to be a ‘don’t try this at home, folks!’ type of descent. I was following a track that I had drawn [vs. a track that had been HAZ’ed]. Initially, the routes off the peak were very close to the one I’d cooked up, but then they strayed from it slightly. There were many cliffy sections… shortly after starting my descent, I negotiated two Class 4 climbs, which definitely put my stellar bouldering skills to the test, especially given how I had to ‘baby’ the wrist I'd injured back in Feb. After that, it might have been smooth[er] sailing, but given the fact that there were still a few questionable sections, still over a mile of bushwhacking [had I continued with the ‘as-the-crow-flies’ descent], AND only about 20 minutes until pitch darkness, [at which point I’d barely be able to make out the ground directly below me thanks to forgetting to have changed my headlamp’s batteries], I decided to play it safe and contour back over to the ridge I ascended from, at which point I could return along my original tracks.

After battling through cat-claw and taking a few partial falls thanks to less than ideal visibility and attempting to go at a faster than ideal pace on loose, rocky footing, I finally connected back with my ascent ridge. Toward the bottom of the ridge, [just as I had to go slightly up another small ridge before reconnecting with the North Peak Trail], I heard LOUD noises in the brush nearby in one of the areas where I’d seen large animal tracks on my ascent. After calling to make sure it wasn’t Peter, I pointed my gun into the dirt behind me and fired a warning shot. Whatever animal(s) I’d heard hauled ass away from me, thankfully!

Given that it was now pitch dark, I decided for a ‘two-sides’ [vs. hypotenuse] approach back to the North Peak Trail, the former involving less bushwhacking. Frustratingly, after bushwhacking for what seemed like an eternity in pitch darkness, my GPS tracks suddenly indicated that I had overshot the North Peak Trail. I angled my path back toward the trail, yet when I was supposedly right on it, there was nothing that remotely looked like trail. Either the trail was overgrown at this point or my headlamp was too dim for me to find it; [or maybe a little bit of both]. I stopped trying to find the trail, and headed as the crow flies back up the small ridge toward my ascent tracks, blasting though brush, tripping over rocks and logs, and taking a few more partial falls. Once on top of the small ridge, I noticed that I overshot my GPS tracks once again. By now, I was seriously starting to wonder if I’d have to send an SOS from my DeLorme. I could push on scratched up and beaten up, but during two of my partial falls, I’d twisted my bad ankle as well as my left knee, both of which were still throbbing pretty intensely. It was definitely one of my scariest moments to date on the trails.

Toward the top of the small ridge, I suddenly noticed a bright headlamp, about 100-200 feet away, [in the direction of the TH]. Immediately I started shouting for Peter. There was no response… I didn’t even hear Tyson, [his dog], bark in response to my voice. A few seconds later when the headlamp started to move away from me, I grabbed my gun and fired two shots at the ground [in the opposite direction], hopping that Peter would figure out what was going on and wait up for me [luckily he did!!!].

For the first several minutes after connecting with Peter, I was too shaken up to give him my usual, detailed rundown of the adventure. I was bummed to learn that he didn’t make summit. After having hiked three miles earlier that day with a 50 lb. pack and having done a 9 mile run the day before, his legs weren’t as fresh as mine; but luckily he didn’t seem to mind. Peter was actually about a full mile ahead of me on the return to the Mineral Creek TH, but turned back to go look for me after hearing the first gunshot [when I had let off the warning shot to scare away whatever animal(s) were lurking in the brush nearby]. Had it not been for that, returning solo with my super dim headlamp could’ve easily added an extra hour at least... or ended with me putting out an SOS if I were to have taken a bad enough fall thanks to barely being able to see. In addition to nearly 2 miles RT of backtracking to come get me, Peter was kind enough to let me use his super bright headlamp, while he took my practically useless dim one. The remaining two miles back to the TH were luckily uneventful.
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