|Hiking||55.74 Miles||2 Days 8 Hrs 50 Mns |
|6,888 ft AEG|| 5 Hrs Break|
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|I had originally planned a long (5+ day) backpacking trip in the Greer area for early July, but the forest closures ended up cancelling that. In looking for a replacement trip I ended up deciding to do the Tahoe Rim Trail in September. The prep for that trip includes some new gear and new packing discipline along with the physical challenge of the trail itself (180 miles in 11 days). I decided to modify my original plan for the White Mountains and use it as a shakedown for the Tahoe trip. |
Day 1 - 17 miles - Greer to West Fork of the Black River
This day started out at the Government Springs trailhead around 7:00am. I was a bit concerned about the condition of the trail as I couldn't find a lot of information on it. I was pleasantly surprised to find a fairly well-traveled trail which looks to be somewhat actively maintained (i.e. deadfall has been cut and cleared). There were some overgrown spots where I was concerned about stepping into something I couldn't see, but aside from from water and mud there weren't any issues.
I continued following the river up to Sheeps Crossing where I got onto the West Baldy trail which I followed to its intersection with the Baldy Crossover trail.
The crossover trail was a nice change after the muddy river walk, but the dry trail only lasted for so long. After the first mile the skies opened up and out came the rain gear. The rain was never hard and it only lasted for 30 minutes or so. A new item on this trip was a rain kilt and as ridiculous as it looks I have to say that it's sooo much better than rain pants.
After the crossover trail ended I headed up the East Baldy trail for a bit. The intention here was to replicate a route posted by @Oregon_Hiker which followed the West Fork of the Black River to connect the East Baldy trail with the Thompson trail. I was able to find the headwaters of the Black River without too much trouble, but the condition of the canyon had changed significantly since he posted his triplog last year.
From his photos I expected a reasonably straightforward trek through a sparsely forested canyon. What I encountered was an overgrown mess which made it very difficult to find footing. On top of that there was an incredible amount of deadfall which looked like some jumbo-sized game of pickup sticks. I tried following the canyon a bit above the river and had better luck but it was still slow going. I eventually found the reservation boundary fence but it was in every orientation but vertical and mostly pinned down under massive deadfall. This was very different from last year's photos and description.
Then the thunder and lightning started.
Then it started raining again.
Then it started hailing.
After the storm I started moving again only to be slowed down by even more rain then stopped by more impressive thunder and even bigger hail. This trip was quickly running the risk of transitioning from type 2 to type 3 fun.
While waiting out the storm I decided to abandon the river walk and cut over to FR402D. Once the storm stopped I made my way over to the road and followed it to the point where it diverged from the stream. From there I stuck with the stream and made my way through the meadow to FR116 which I followed to the Thompson trail.
The Thompson trail was beautiful and similar in overall theme to the Government Springs trail at the beginning of the day. There were a lot of marshy sections and a lot of mud. While I had hoped to keep my feet from getting any wetter that just wasn't in the cards.
My intent was to camp near the intersection of the Thompson and West Fork trails, but when I got there I couldn't find a good spot. As the clouds in the sky were getting more ominous looking I decided to backtrack to a site I saw about 0.5 miles prior.
The weather was quickly turning and once I got to the site I raced to get my tent setup. This was comical as it was a new tent and although I had set it up in my yard a few times I had never done so in the wild under duress of an impending storm. Somehow I managed to get the tent pitched, my gear sheltered, and myself into the tent before the skies opened up again. This time it rained hard for over an hour. Fortunately my new tent kept me and my stuff dry.
After the rain stopped I got my stuff better organized, had some dinner, and hit the sack. As I fell asleep a thunderstorm raged several miles to the west. Two hours later and every two hours after that I was awakened by my air mattress having deflated enough to put some part of my body in contact with the ground.
Day 2 - 18 miles - West Fork of the Black River to East Baldy Overlook
I awoke to 46 degrees and 100% humidity. It was actually a very nice morning if it weren't for all of the condensation all over everything. Fortunately, I stayed dry overnight and by some sort of miracle (and a well-designed tent) didn't end up with any moisture on my quilt.
After taking care of my morning routine and packing up a very wet tent (inside and out) I headed back down the Thompson trail to the West Fork trail. I crossed the river and headed up the canyon wall to the plateau above. Everything was wet and muddy. Not just muddy, but suck the shoe off your foot muddy. I don't have much to say about the West Fork trail as it was pretty unremarkable. I'm sure it was much more interesting before the fire, but now it's just a lot of exposure.
From the West Fork trail I took FR68 north to FR249C which roughly parallels the canyon edge. Not much to report from these roads other than the fact that they were rutted and muddy messes in places. Lots of sun exposure and slow going in spots. I had planned a stop a Deadman Spring to get some water and dry my tent, but upon arrival I found a pond with what appeared to be a pretty healthy bloom of blue green algae. Not wanting to test my theory I backtracked a bit to a flowing spring I had passed by earlier and took my break there. In retrospect perhaps Deadman Spring had that name for a reason
After my break I continued my walk through the mud bog that was FR249C. Eventually I made it to FR249E, the FR116, then 402 then 8037 which I followed over Burro Mountain to AZ273. This section featured some great views from Burro Mountain, but was otherwise a long and tough slog. The sun was blazing and having learned my lesson descending the Rincons in May I was carrying a sun umbrella which I attached to my pack for some portable shade. This turned out to be a lifesaver as there's nothing worse than broiling your brain in the sun.
After cutting through the Gabaldon campsite I got onto the East Baldy trail and started making my way up the hill. Knowing that I would have a dry camp I grabbed water at the last possible spot before the trail started ascending. The Easy Baldy trail is beautiful and although I was tired I was loving the scenery.
I made it to the overlook about midway up the trail and found a perfect spot to pitch my tent between a couple of boulders. Took in the views, made some dinner, and hit the sack early. As I didn't have time to track down the leak in my mattress I went through the same cycle of interrupted sleep.
Day 3 - 20 miles - East Baldy overlook back to Greer
I woke up early and had just enough time to make some coffee before the sun came up. Enjoyed the display and then got on with my day.
The remainder of the East Baldy trail was beautiful and in retrospect one of my favorite parts of the trip. There was some deadfall to deal with, but nothing too bad. I stopped at the spring near the plane wreck to camel up and continued on. The area around the wreck was completely overgrown with ferns and cornlilly to the point that the tail section was barely visible.
Made it to the junction with the West Baldy trail and took a side trip up to the accessible summit. The views were great, but there was some haze in the air which limited visibility.
From the summit I started down and once I got to the shallower grade in the last 4 - 5 miles I hauled a** to the trailhead. I was feeling great and making great time so, stupid me, thought that the last 7 miles would be a fast walk back into town. I should have known better as the West Fork trail was a nightmare.
Once I found the West Fork trail I was treated to 4 miles of rutted and muddy terrain with nearly zero redeeming qualities. I'm guessing that without the mud it would have been more enjoyable, but in its current state I was really regretting my decision to take this trail. Fortunately the last 2 miles were through a beautifully forested area which almost made up for the prior pain.
Once at the trailhead I was ready for my day to be over, but I still had a 1.75 mile road walk through Greer to get to my truck. What energy I had left was sapped out of me by that walk. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday afternoon and the restaurants I passed were all either closed or not serving. I had been looking forward to a celebratory piece of pie, but that wasn't meant to be.
While quite different than my original plan of a leisurely stroll through the area I think that the fast approach that I took was more appropriate. The overall area is beautiful, but the beauty is punctuated by burned areas and, in the case of this trip, a lot of mud. I imagine that I would have gotten rather bored and frustrated if I had spread it out over any more days. In the future I may make another trip to focus more on the Mount Baldy Wilderness and unburned sections of Burro Mountain but I think I've had my fill of the area SW of Big Lake.
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|This may have been the highlight of my day. Clean and clear flow out of the pipe.|
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|Hard to tell actual flow, but there was a lot of water in the pool. Film of what was likely and algae bloom on top so gathered drinking water from the spring a 1/2 mile south on the road.|