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Upper Mazatzal Loop, AZ
mini location map2018-12-05
51 by photographer avatarjacobemerick
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Upper Mazatzal Loop, AZ 
Upper Mazatzal Loop, AZ
Backpack51.92 Miles 9,373 AEG
Backpack51.92 Miles2 Days         
9,373 ft AEG
1st trip
After traipsing around the wilderness for three years, this adventure completes the last of the Mazatzal trails for me. Saved this one for last, as it was one of the OG planned routes and I figured that I would need every bit of experience, both in terms of hiking and gear, in order to knock it out in two days.

FR 194
Road walking in the dark. Bumped into two hunters, didn't even realize the season was starting in a few days.

Saddle Ridge #14
Once my eyes adjusted from the two-track to a single track it was pretty easy going. Cairns are big and tread is (usually) easy to make out, a dark line in the light grass, even with no moon to speak of and a few dozen candles strapped to my head. Sun waited until I was 4 miles in before it began to lighten the sky. After that it was smooth sailing, easy going over the pleasant trail, and the snow-dusted North Peak beckoned me onward with icy promises. Watered up at Whiterock Spring, which is heckin' beautiful. Only annoying section is that drop off of Polles Mesa, that got a little painful. Briefly checked out Polk Spring and then crossed the East Verde with little fanfare. That half mile of trail on the south side dragged.

Bull Spring #34
The haul up and over Copper Mountain was just enough to warm me up. It's better defined than I remembered - then again, last year, I had been stumbling down this way hours after sunset, so I may have been biased. Conceded to giving my legs a twenty minute break near Bullfrog Spring to down some water and caffeine before the main climb of the day. Then it was off to the races, a steady march up to the pass, and I passed the time looking around at the other roads criss-crossing their way up these hills. The tread on this trail is smooth and easy enough to let the eyes wander, a rare treat in the Mazzies.

Trail began to fade immediately after the AZT junction, which is to be expected, though it was never hard to track through the waist-high brush, even without a cairn in sight. Beyond the pass there are two minor drainages to swing through, the first of which has an old mining exploration and trailside tank to check out, before the drop into the valley of Bull Spring(s). Along the way I began to pick up the smell of something big and dead and I wondered if something would be fouling up one of the two water sources ahead (ick!) or if I'd stumble upon a kill (yay?). Never found the source of the smell. Anyways, took a break at Bull Spring to pull up to full capacity, struggled a bit to find a steady tread in the area, and then proceeded to LF Hilton, which is in rough shape.

Wet Bottom #269
One of the two sections of trail that I feared the most - yet it had such a great start. No sign at the junction by the cabin, just a curve in the trail. As soon as it crosses the drainage a steady line of cairns show up (a promising sight, after the cairn-free Bull Spring Trail) and a wide, rocky tread marches up the hillside. I was feeling a little tired at this point (over 20 miles behind me) and I noticed, with some dismay, that after the climb there was a second little drainage and valley to walk through. At least there were some good rock tanks down here, so I took the time to guzzle one of my bladders and refill it.

The west side of the valley marked an important point. First, there's a spur trail to Childer's Seep (which I didn't have the time or energy to check out today). Also, it marks the edge of the Willow Fire boundary. This, this is what I was looking forward to the most: a Mazatzal trail near 5000', south of the East Verde, that was spared from that fire. It was immediately gratifying. Old junipers and pinyons and other trees that I'm not smart enough to name (no ponderosas) clustered on the top of this mesa. The route swung back and forth, offering views north to Limestone and south to Wet Bottom Creek and Midnight Mesa, mostly shaded along the way. The cairns were large and the tread, even when it was covered by low branches, was well-defined. I did lose it a few times, either due to impatience or grassy sections.

When the trail began to drop is when it got harder and harder to follow. There were a few obvious re-routes done in more recent years that deviated from my track and, sometimes, didn't even make sense to me. One particularly memorable example was where the route dropped steadily down a drainage with small, humble cairns, only to suddenly be re-routed 300 yards for a mild switchback using huge, chest-high cairns, and then revert back to the little rock piles and original tread. And then, below contour 4400', the trail hugs the north side of a ridge and all bets are off, with game trails, thick growth, and loose ground all conspiring to cause mayhem. I fought this for almost an hour and made a mile of progress and decided to call it a night.

Found a pleasant saddle with a flat spot protected by a large pinyon and quickly set up camp, getting the basic structure in before light left the sky. After the initial rush I took my time boiling water for dinner and tea before settling in with the Kindle. By eight I was completely out and, with the exception of a few rollovers, slept right through the night, one of the better sleeps I've had outside. Woke up an hour before light and just barely got my camp packed up before it started to drizzle. Made oatmeal and coffee under the soft, inconsistent patter of tiny droplets.

The final four miles of trail passed by quickly, becoming steadily better defined the closer I got to the next junction. The only nasty bit was a valley (more like a mesquite maze surrounded by a moat of catclaw) that I eventually did find a way, but not the right way, through. Took a while to pick up the trail on the far side. Squaw Butte became more defined as I descended and the morning drizzle faded in and out, never enough to warrant taking my poncho out for. Reached Highwater at 900, which was the planned campsite for last night, putting me a solid 3 hours behind schedule.

Highwater #20
Feels like I was just on this thing. Watered up at Canyon Creek, otherwise kept my feet moving northward. The rain and mist was starting to thicken and I was started to get worried that my contingency plan (spending a second night out here) might not work with these cold temps and wet weather. This time I followed the trail all the way to the proper junction w/ Verde and found a lonely pole, no sign, to mark it.

Verde River #11
The second feared section of trail, and it was... impeccable. Seriously. It is in at least, if not better, as good of condition as Highwater. Shortly after the junction it cuts right down to the river with a series of rocky switchbacks and then, complete with good cairns, marches along the sandy banks with a few jumps to avoid different obstacles. The first two miles has a lot of bovine traffic, and they stuck to the tread. I was surprised to see a well-defined trail so remote and took advantage of it, putting on the afterburners to make up time.

Rain was coming down pretty steady by now, which, coupled with the wet brush, had my shirt, pants, and boots completely soaked. The temps were in the mid-50s so, as long as I kept moving, this wasn't a problem. Thanks to the well-defined trail and flat going there was no real need to stop, so I didn't. Sure, there were plenty of cool things to take photos of (Squaw Butte kept stealing the show, but there was also Red Wall Rapids, a few very rugged washes, and even a campsite or two), and there were also long stretches of straight path through creosote. Things got a little hairy near the end, when I got impatient on the far side of 2878' and decided to take a more direct route instead of backtracking to the tread and had to play spider-monkey on some rock walls above the Verde. Made it to the East Verde in one piece and let a deep sigh out - it was almost all known trail from here.

Watered up, changed socks, and launched towards the final 11 miles with just a hair over three hours of daylight left. Initial climb to Deadman Mesa Trail was new ground and was steep and rocky and simple to follow. Then I swung east and began the long climb to Twin Buttes. There were two things that I wasn't ready for. The first was fogged glasses... the harder I climbed, the more I steamed, and harder it was to see, which forced me to take periodic breaks to wipe the fog away (cue flashbacks to Midwest hiking). Second was the mud. Everyone complains about the rocks on this trail, yet the mud is so much worse. Even a 20' section of mud would add pounds of clay to each boot, weighing me down and throwing my balance off. I would pray for rocks just to knock some of the clods off.

This quickly became a muddy death march. Thankfully the trail is easy to follow and I could dedicate my focus on sliding one foot in front of the other and not hunting cairns. At least I saw some elk, and cattle, and even a very fat rabbit to break things up. Was within a mile of the boundary when I had to haul out the headlamp, which didn't help at all, and I stumbled-tripped, all balance and coordination wiped out by the haul, in a generally correct direction until, ten feet from the metal posts, a pair of headlights flipped on and completely blinded me. Two hunters (a different set) were very friendly and offered me a ride back down to my Jeep below, which I couldn't agree to fast enough.

Mazatzal Miles: 275/275 (100%)
 Fauna [ checklist ]
[ checklist ]  Elk
 Culture [ checklist ]
[ checklist ]  Campsite
 Meteorology [ checklist ]
[ checklist ]  Autumn - Color Foliage  Sunset
foliage observationfoliage observationfoliage observationfoliage observationfoliage observation
Autumn Foliage Observation Substantial
Along the Verde, so lovely.

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water less than maxwater less than max Bee Tree Tanks 26-50% full 26-50% full
Super muddy. A gang of elk were going to town in it.

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water less than maxwater less than max Bull Spring Quart per minute Quart per minute
Both cement trough and metal ring were full of clear water, minimal green stuff near bottom, tasted great.

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water less than maxwater less than max Bull Trap Spring Quart per minute Quart per minute
Plenty of shallow pools, tho Bull Spring up a ways seemed more appealing / dependable.

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water 3 out of 5water less than max East Verde River Medium flow Medium flow
Plenty of water, though there are still dry crossing spots if you hunt for a bit.

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water 3 out of 5water less than max Polk Spring Gallon per minute Gallon per minute
Beautiful area, lots and lots of water.

dry Red Metal Tank Dry Dry

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water 3 out of 5water less than max Red Saddle Tank 51-75% full 51-75% full
Lots of mud, murky water would be hard to reach and totally not worth it.

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water 3 out of 5water 4 out of 5 Rock Creek Heavy flow Heavy flow
Almost as much water flowing into the E Verde as... the E Verde itself.

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water 3 out of 5water 4 out of 5 Saddle Ridge Pasture Tank 76-100% full 76-100% full

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water 3 out of 5water less than max Whiterock Spring Gallon per minute Gallon per minute
Tank was overflowing with clear, cold water.
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