|Superstition High Country Loop, AZ|| |
Superstition High Country Loop, AZ
|Backpack||33.00 Miles||4 Days |
|6,700 ft AEG|
|The forecast before I left NJ on Friday was partly cloudy. I should have checked again Saturday, although it wouldn't have mattered. I was going. This triplog will be long enough to use for reference so I can save my breath a few times.
Day 1 - West Pinto & Campaign to Fireline junction
It was overcast when I got to Miles TH. So what? Within half a mile, I had to deploy rain gear. Even so, I enjoyed the cool temps on the long climb to the divide and removed my jacket when the rain briefly abated. Just as I began pondering how far the top was, a full-fledged downpour let loose. Mildly disheartened, I re-jacketed and resumed trudging. My boots gained a pound each. They'll dry out tonight, right? I finally did top out, and began the descent into Campaign Creek with renewed vigor. Fireline shouldn't be far off, but the miles weren't clicking by fast enough and the two days of water I was carrying were taking their toll. I saw a fire ring and flat spot to the left, and decided I'd gone far enough. I dropped my pack to scout the area and discovered the corner of the campsite was the trail intersection. Things were looking up.
The rain paused after I got the tent up, allowing a normal, though slightly rushed dinner routine. The rain's return signaled bedtime. The major downpour resumed a few hours later, and I started worrying about how low and close to the creek the site was. I put on wet rain gear and boots to check. Stream flow was still all subsurface.
Then the fireworks started and I spent half an hour counting seconds between lightning and thunder. For a while I wasn't getting all the way to one, but the heavy action eventually moved downwind.
Tent stakes started popping out as the ground liquified. Wet clothes back on, I reset and buried them under big rocks and went back to sleep. I woke to the feeling of water on my face. A vast puddle was just starting to top my bathtub floor. I erupted from tent to puddle and cleared drainage obstacles, mainly the sitting logs, clumps of pine needles, and debris that had washed down the hill and across the trail. A sheet of water half an inch deep was flowing across the whole area. I scuffed a couple shallow channels in the sand with my heel, which drained enough to keep the tent dry. The creek flow was still all subsurface. The rain grew more intermittent. Back to sleep.
Day 2 - Fireline, Circlestone, Reavis
It was raining when the alarm rang, so I went back to sleep until it stopped around 8:30. The lull was long enough to make breakfast and pack up. It started raining again before I was done, but it wasn't wet. Fine graupel continued nearly the whole rest of the day. I was ecstatic that it was neither rain nor snow, and marched up Fireline in high spirits.
Partway up, I spied at long range what appeared to be a rock wall. Maybe it was a ruin, or maybe just trail embankment. I couldn't relocate it when I got closer. I topped out before too long, and headed down the Pine Creek basin. The sun peeked through a few times, but clouds ganged up on it. When the slope turned up uphill again, I started looking for the turn to Circlestone.
I dropped my pack at the junction and practically levitated up the trail. Circlestone was bigger than I imagined, even knowing the dimensions. Despite not being very intact, it's worth seeing. I don't know of many comparable structures, and they're mostly much farther north and east. It seems in keeping with the contention that the Salado migrated during a regional depopulation of the Four Corners area. I snapped a few bad pix and wandered about for as long as I dared. Precipitation intensified, and a new round of thunder suggested a hasty retreat.
Fortunately, no lightning was evident, and I soon recovered my pack and continued down the Fireline to Reavis. Along the way were a couple pockets of quicksand at stream crossings (pretty weird at this elevation, I thought). There were a few hundred yards of very soft, ankle-deep mud on the flat, I think near Whiskey Spring. I feared it would be like that the whole rest of the way, but firmer ground returned. Eventually the Fireline ended and I turned north to Reavis. I didn't figure on having the place to myself, but it was utterly deserted (not to mention totally mushy). I plopped my tent on high ground near the foundation.
While I was unpacking, the graupel turned to a light, soft, wet snow shower. A young couple passed through, on there way to Angel Basin, and asked the time. It was 4:15, and I didn't think to ask if they planned to get all the way in one shot, but I said they could probably hit the campsites at Reavis Saddle by dark. They gave me a ripe persimmon. (Thanks!)
The snow turned heavier. An inch fell in the next 45 minutes, and my willingness to cook dinner vanished entirely. I finished off the day's trail mix, ate a tortilla and a peanut butter packet, ate a Clif Bar, and then ate the persimmon while I walked down the to the Reavis Gap junction to see what was new since my last visit.
Volunteers must have been busy, because I haven't seen the area so clean in years. The snow tapered off and soon melted. I finished wandering and watched the sky until well after dark, cheering for every little glimpse of moon or stars. My boots and socks were still thoroughly saturated, but otherwise life was good. Time for bed.
There never was such a quiet night at the ranch. With so much water running everywhere, the critters didn't have to converge as usual. I slept much more soundly than usual.
Day 3- Reavis to Rogers Trough TH
I had decided to only go as far as Rogers Trough, so I passed on the blue and gray light and slept until there was yellow light. Yellow light? That meant the overcast blew away, which meant the temperature plummeted. My saturated boots were now blocks of ice, and the tent stakes were frozen solid into the ground. I pulled on my wet socks and jammed my feet halfway into the boots, hoping they would melt enough to get all the way on. Moments after I left the tent, the condensation froze solid.
I ate a big breakfast and filtered water from where the dead horse was. (I'm glad it's not still there). The sun warmed everything and got my feet the rest of the way into my boots. I packed up and headed for Rogers Trough at warp speed.
I followed the young couple's tracks to guess how far they went the night before. They made it past the upper sites, past Fireline, past the big juniper, past the trailside sites approaching the saddle. I stopped for a break at the saddle, and couldn't tell whether they camped there or kept going.
On the big downhill, a couple backpackers passed me heading up. They had shifted their trip to avoid the weather, so their feet were dry. They were also the last people I saw on the trip. It was getting a tad warm, but I was down before too long. The Reavis grave seemed less brushy than on my last visit.
I was running out of gas by the second break, which I took lying down in the middle of the trail. The rest of the way was longer and tougher than I expected. I didn't know there was so much up-and-down on the benches between the creek crossings. The true AEG must be quite a bit more than what's in the book. I was paying the price for last night's minimal dinner. I finally topped out and started crossing an endless meadow, wondering why the TH wasn't there yet. Then I saw the sun glinting off a distant sign, and stepped up the pace with the goal within reach.
In retrospect, I should have stopped at the campsite with the big cairn. The Rogers TH was not a happy place. It was trashy and lacked legitimate campsites. Turning back into the Wilderness, I found a little stealth spot someone had cut into a thicket not far down the trail. Home!
Utterly uneventful. Nice!
Day 4- West Pinto back to Miles TH
I rose before dawn to get a good shot at finishing in one day. Boots were frozen solid again, but didn't take as long to thaw. My socks were almost dry. Breakfast was good and everything packed up quick. Besides the distance, I wondered about route-finding, because the stretch of West Pinto that I saw winding through the meadow yesterday looked lightly-traveled and indistinct. Still, it was a nice, cool, sunny morning and life was good.
Putting my fears to rest, the trail was easy to follow once I got out of the grass, except for missing the turn just before Rogers Spring. After reorienting, I quickly finished the two big climbs with a good bit of morning still remaining. I should have mentioned by now that every drainage everywhere has been running heavily since the morning of Day 2.
According to the book, it's downhill the rest of the way. At first that sounds like a good thing, but the downhill is pretty steep in places, and it just keeps going. I was glad to reach the Silver Spur junction, where I figured on some moderation. There were a lot of crossings in the next couple miles of the "normally dry" West Pinto Creek. It was running a few inches to a few feet throughout, but every crossing was rock-hoppable and the trail was entirely on benches and not in the creek bed (Thanks!).
Where the creek starts dropping, the trail doesn't. I'm sure it beats scrambling through the pour-offs and cataracts, but contouring deep into half a dozen main side drainages adds a lot of distance, not to mention up-and-down. The south-facing stretches had plenty of catclaw. However, the trail is smooth and hard, not rocky or wet, and the view is spectacular the whole way. I pushed along, my boots finally dried, but 30 miles of hiking in wet socks has taken a toll on my feet, and 2000 feet of downhill hadn't helped.
The long trek high above the north side of the creek finally ended, and became a similar trek high above the south side, with a little more up and down. By now, my toes welcomed the uphills. Just when I wondered if I would really finish today, I found myself at Oak Flat.
I dropped my pack and hobbled around a bit, exploring the corral as I hadn't on the way in. I finished my snacks and drank the last of my Gatorade. I could definitely see the barn. I'd been making almost 3 mph for the last couple miles, and did well over that for the remaining two and half miles to the car. I'd forgotten how many stream crossings there are in that stretch, but the bed was oddly dry except for a few puddles. I suspect that all the water pumping downstream for the mine leaves the water table extremely low in this stretch.
In about 40 minutes, I saw my car sitting alone at the corral. I skirted the giant puddle, dropped my pack, and started the long, slow, drive on FR287A back to the highway. It was long and memorable trip, but the car seat sure was comfortable.
If you've read this far, you must be a relative, friend, hiking partner, or perhaps just the kind of person who would enjoy such a trip as much as I did. As much as I enjoyed the it, I think I'll need some time before I tackle these trails again. I had thought about taking an extra day to revisit the Rogers Canyon ruins, but decided to pass. It would have been great to see Reavis Falls with so much water flowing, but I figured it would be miserable camping down there in the cold and damp and too long to do as a day trip from the ranch. I guess I'm still saving that one for the next time.
Finally, Route Scout reports about 500 feet more for AEG on West Pinto than what's in the book, and I didn't even fire it up until I was at Rogers Spring, which makes the difference more like 700 feet. With the rollercoasters on contour between Silver Spur and Oak Flat, I think that's probably a realistic number.
||Autumn Foliage Observation Isolated
Some sycamores are still in color