map updates and route ideas

Along with the 1:24,000 series topo maps, the new map CD
also has an updated set of 1:500,000 series overview maps,
which highlight the distance, location and terrain of the
route between town stops. Like before, the overview maps are
also available on the GET website. The updated maps are now
online; for an example, see:

http://www.simblissity.net/500000_series_03.shtml

(click on the map to view full-size)

The overview maps now show the main route (the red line)
along with all alternate routes (blue lines), and the alt.
routes are labelled, so it should be easier to compare these
maps to the guide descriptions and get a feel for the
possibilities.

The example map shows segments 6 thru 11 of the route. This
is probably the most challenging stretch of the GET. For
one, it’s over 100 miles from Mammoth on one end to Safford
on the other, and Klondyke (along the way) may or may not
still work as a maildrop option. (I’m planning to call
Bonnie Garwood in Klondyke soon; has anyone else?)

Other complications include the post-flood condition of
Aravaipa Canyon, the possibility of encountering a locked
gate on Aravaipa Canyon Road on the east end, and the
condition of trails in the Santa Teresa Wilderness and in
the Pinalenos.

The upshot is that the main GET route in this stretch is
more of an ideal travel corridor than one that is realistic
to use in its entirety at this time. As momentum builds
within the hiking community, and as certain folks with the
Forest Service in Safford find their commitment, the odds
improve that the ideal will again become reality, that the
portions of trail which the GET should preferably use will
be maintained – and in some cases rebuilt – to make them
usable again.

In the meantime, I’ve tried to highlight a range of
possibilities for travel. Hiking these miles from one end to
the other will mean using a combination of the main route
and alternates. The options are several, and each has its
pros and cons. The guidebook attempts to spell it all out in
detail, but it might also be useful to touch on the whole
thing in more of a general way, more for planning purposes.

First of all, no matter how one chooses to hike it, this is
some amazing country, with ooh-and-ahh type scenery, plenty
of solitude, and extraordinary diversity. For various
reasons though, it is also generally quite rugged,
little-travelled, and most of the trails are in primitive
condition – this is NOT the Appalachian Trail or the PCT! 🙂
Away from roads, the walking here is work. In my estimation
it’s rewarding work, but it is obviously not for everyone. I
suspect it’s for those who are motivated to discover (and
feel) the land more than having a nonchalant stroll past
pleasant scenery.

Anyone choosing to hike Aravaipa Canyon – it’s open again –
will probably find that it’s now sub-1mph type territory,
all of it cross-country since the social trails were wiped
out by the flood. Very little shade in the canyon, as I
understand it, although I suspect the loss of riparian
vegetation lessens as one heads east. The advantage to
hiking through Aravaipa, besides the scenery and all the
available water, is that it’s somewhere on the order of 12
miles shorter than the suggested detour. The 12 extra miles
along the detour assumes that one walks (rather than
hitchhikes) into Mammoth (see vertical blue line at map’s
left), then continues east to rejoin Aravaipa Canyon at
Turkey Creek. East of Mammoth this detour becomes quite
scenic as it climbs over the Galiuro Mountains, although the
4WD “Rug Road” used here is extremely rocky and rugged, a
real rollercoaster of a swath through the hills, and water
is only “probable” at two locations in a span of 20+ miles.

The Turkey Creek Alternate is a good option for those
heading for Klondyke, which itself is 2.5 miles off the main
route. This alternate avoids the stretch of Aravaipa Canyon
Road which passes the Norma Tapia property, who has been
locking her gate to prevent vehicle traffic from continuing
west toward Aravaipa. In my experience the gate can be
climbed over when on foot, and this roadwalking approach is
a few miles shorter than the alternate. But the alternate
also has advantages beyond the access issue, in that Turkey
Creek features Aravaipa-type scenery, the creek usually
flows in places, and for 3 miles of the alternate it’s in a
wilderness-like area with much solitude – a wonderful
(rocky) cross-country canyon hike.

From Klondyke, one could head south, joining the Buford Hill
alternate, or walk north to rejoin the main route. Currently
the main route is not followable all the way to where the
Buford Hill alternate rejoins it. The guidebook therefore
only describes the alternate route. This alternate is
certainly workable; water is usually found along it at one
or more places, and the scenery is far-ranging, even if the
vehicle-free solitude may not be quite as good as the main
route. The primary issue with this alternate is that it
rejoins the main route eastbound in some seriously rough
country atop Cottonwood Mountain in the Santa Teresa
Wilderness. From here to the east boundary of the
wilderness, one must attempt to follow a vague trail in a
semi-burned environment, which is guaranteed to be
slow-going and navigation-heavy. This is too bad, since
otherwise the ridge views into Holdout Canyon are
jaw-dropping. For those not so inclined, one option is to
follow the Buford Hill alternate as far east as FR 667, then
take this road south to the Klondyke Road, and walk east to
a rejoining of the main route at the end of segment 8.

Another option from Klondyke may exist, which I intend to
explore this spring. This option may be the best of the
bunch for the time being, in that it heads into the heart of
the Santa Teresa Wilderness – following the main route into
Holdout and Black Rock canyons – and offers more solitude
than the Buford Hill alternate, avoids the steep climb of
Cottonwood Mountain, and is not quite as challenging to
navigate. This “Black Rock alternate” – shown on the new map
CD – has just a couple of possible drawbacks. For one, it’s
the longest of the possible routes by about 6 miles. For
another, east of the Wilderness it unavoidably enters the
San Carlos reservation for a spell, passing through an
uninhabited corner along Black Rock Canyon and Telegraph
Wash. Most of the reservation is open to recreational use by
permit – including hunting and activities far more
resource-intensive than a quick walk-through sans camp. But
as far as I can determine, this portion of the reservation
is in a zone where permits are not being offered at this
time. (I intend to speak with someone who can answer
definitively.) There is also a private landowner near Black
Rock itself (“T. Hinton” on maps) who does not allow public
access to the road across his property, though it should be
possible to walk a ridge just to the north and remain
outside the property.

Perhaps not surprisingly, these days the Santa Teresa
Wilderness is often considered to have “no public access,”
at least according to conventional (and even sometimes,
official) wisdom. In truth, it’s just not so, but because so
few folks are inclined to travel here, the Wilderness is
truly wild again, and any travel feels like a pioneering
adventure. It’s a very special place; Holdout Canyon in
particular is every bit as magical as Chiricahua National
Monument, and yet comparatively very few have seen Holdout,
and virtually none of them while on foot from nearby
Aravaipa or the Pinalenos. All told, a challenging but
potentially very rewarding section of the GET.

Holdout Canyon:
http://tinyurl.com/22wbm3

Slideshow of Mammoth to Safford:
http://tinyurl.com/2235q2

More info on the Pinalenos in a follow-up note.

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