Another recon for Shawn this time on Willow Springs Trail from Sheep Bridge on 4 day backpack. One of the Arizona Trail volunteers Roger was kind enough to give me an early morning ride out to Sheep Bridge. The timing worked out great arriving around 715am.
Day 1 started hiking around 730 across Sheep Bridge and up Willow Springs Trail which is in great shape on the desert section. Made a few side trips to a cluster of Cottonwoods looking for water. Found a few small pools and good to know for future reference. The first 7.5 miles to Willow Springs turn off was good trail and went relatively fast. Arriving at Willow Springs turn off it’s about ¼ mile down to the springs which was full of water and really nice spot to take a break. After the break headed back up to the junction and continued on Willow Springs trail to Mountain Spring the camp spot for the night and about 10 miles from the start. Again good trail to Mountain Spring and great location to call it a night with good water and large oak trees to camp under.
Day 2 after comfortable night camping at Mountain Spring continued on Willow Springs trail which is not as good shape as the previous 10 miles. However there are large cairns some up to 4 feet high making it easier to follow the trail. About 1.5 miles from Mountain Spring is the Lost Spring turn off with a sign. There is an old trail still visible and followed it the ¼ mile to Lost Spring. The whole area was heavily damaged in the Willow Fire but there was still water at the spring. Unfortunately cows or wildlife have fouled the spring so much that I would be hesitant to filter unless absolutely necessary. After checking out the spring continued up Willow Springs trail which deteriorated on a saddle just past Lost Spring. From the saddle it traverses over to the Midnight Mesa turn off and was in rough shape in spots but still no problem following. However at the Midnight Mesa junction the trail disappears and there was a sign post but no sign. I tried to follow the track for the trail but would see it intermittently and most of the time would end up pushing through manzanita. The last ½ mile to camp for the night was side slope and very brushy down to a drainage. In previous years there was water in the drainage but with how dry it’s been I wasn’t counting on this time. Went downstream about ¾ mile and found nothing before turning around. Fortunately I filtered the max amount at Mountain Spring in case the drainage was dry. Another good night of camping this remote spot of the Mazzies.
Day 3 started just trying to find any signs of trail. There is also a 1000 foot climb out of the drainage but after searching the area was able to find some old cairns and tread. Despite thick brush I was able to follow trail for the first mile but after that it was another side slope and the trail disappeared. This section was less than a mile but took over an hour. After that it gets easier for the next mile as the track follows a ridge with an occasional cairn or tread on the ridge. Unfortunately the worst part of the trail was the last mile to Mazatzal Divide trail. Very slowing going with thick manzanita, scrub oak and other assorted obstacles taking about hour and a half to fight through to real trail. Took over 5 hours to hike entire 3.5 miles so I was relieved to reach Mazatzal Divide and the Park which would be camp for the night. Also ran out of water in the last half mile of fighting the brush so priority was to bushwhack over to Pete’s Pond for water. Even though everything else was bone dry the trusty Pete’s Pond had water. It was somewhat green but I was in no condition to be picky. Filtered 5 liters and headed back to the Park and another great spot to camp for the night.
Day 4 just needed to hike out North Peak Trail to Mineral Springs trailhead. The first ½ mile is still in rough shape but had no problem following thanks to some well placed cairns. After the first mile the condition improves significantly and seems like some nice work has been done since last time I hiked this trail about year and a half ago. With good trail I made it down to the trailhead by 1pm and my ride Roger waiting to pick me up. Thanks to Roger and Shawn for setting up and providing the transportation!