Made it to Safford, a little late but none the worse for wear (I think!).
I purposely avoided stopping in Mammoth this time around, so this is my first town stop (not counting Klondyke) since Superior. Talk about a break from the modern world – I experienced almost no vestiges of it the entire way, including a full week of seeing no people or vehicles between Klondyke and Superior. NO ONE. 🙂
The reason for the weeklong trek from Klondyke has the do with the route I hiked, which included Holdout Canyon in the Santa Teresa Wilderness, east to Black Rock Canyon, then south in Telegraph Canyon to the main route, then into the Pinalenos. I also did a good deal of flagging and cairning in Holdout, which added at least a day onto the itinerary. Holdout Canyon is absolutely stunning and is a spot everyone should see at some point in their lives, but perhaps not on a GET thru-hike. Getting through this entire stretch right now is a tall order, given the distance, the remoteness, rough terrain, and slow conditions. I won’t outright “forbid” anyone from trying it, but even for CDT veterans this would be a considerable effort and step outside of the comfort zone. The rewards could be unparalleled, or you could end up a real mess. My suggestion, therefore, is to hike the Buford Hill alternate, bailing out to Klondyke Road rather than heading over Cottonwood Mtn, then rejoining the main route at the start of Segment 9. This way hikers can focus their efforts more squarely on the Pinalenos, which still have some snow to negotiate. More on this in a bit…
Water was available at Alamo Mochado Windmill, 100 yds or so down-wash of the defunct windmill itself, in a cement trough; also at Section 30 spring (pools in the bedrock side drainage), and at the artesian well in Walnut Canyon. The flagged route to the Gila River is in fine shape. Look for new orange flagging here, but don’t be confused by the occasional red pennants and other flagging placed by AZT trail crews who are laying out a finalized trail corridor that sometimes overlaps the flagged route.
The trough 0.2 mi S of the AZT in Ripsey Wash was foul, but one can follow the PVC tubing uphill to the spring source in the cliff wall, which was small but usable. The “100 gallon stock trough” about a mile further along WAS DRY OR BROKEN – nothing coming out of the PVC, trough dry. Ripsey Ranch (0.5 mi W, not a ranch, just a corral and windmill) has a stock tank that was full and of fair quality. The water cache near Freeman Road had about 3 gallons, but does not appear to be regularly maintained anymore.
Beehive Well has water in the tank, but better water in the trough within the corral. Best water is at Putnam Spring, but make the 0.3 walk up Camp Grant Wash to its source to minimize cattle exposure.
My intentions were to hike Aravaipa Canyon, so I continued down Putnam Wash, across the San Pedro, then up Aravaipa Creek’s wash until the fish barriers. The wash was flowing almost the entire way, and is quite a changed landscape since the flood. I had been expecting more blowdown to negotiate, but in fact the wash is fairly easy to navigate. A very unique experience, especially with the chorus frogs (?) crying unsonsolably as I walked along after dark, followed by the coyotes, and all sorts of animal tracks in the freshly scoured sand bars. The fish barriers are more of an obstacle now, as the floods exposed more of their height. As such, it is necessary to bail out of the wash at some point before here, then walk the road to the ACW trailhead.
Apparently one can purchase a permit by phone, then pay for it at the trailhead self-pay station. This might be an option for last-minute. Either way, getting one shouldn’t pose a big challenge on weekdays, and I highly recommend hiking through the canyon. Conditions are not that bad at all. In fact, travel time is about the same if not a little quicker than before due to much more exposed terrain along the creek banks where before one had to seek out social trails among the dense riparian canopy. The canopy is largely no more – I was surprised at how the effects of the food extended all the way through the canyon to Turkey Creek. There are vestiges of the riparian forest here and there – enough to offer a little shade and possible campsites – but the landscape is markedly changed and will be for a generation. Waiting for the canyon to come back isn’t worth it – SEE IT NOW. It is still beautiful, but in a different way. More of the beauty is in the unencumbered views of canyon walls, and less on the biological diversity.
There is a lot of algae in the creek now, due to the increased sunlight and decaying organic matter. But the creek is still flowing throughout.
I recommend taking the Turkey Creek alternate into Klondyke. Turkey Creek was largely spared the damage of last summer’s flood and offers a hint of how Aravaipa used to look. It is a beautiful walk, the creek was flowing, and the cliff dwelling is worthy of investigation. To find the dwelling, look for a metal railing and walkway on the right side of the canyon just after passing a corral. The dwelling is well hidden from the road now.
Water is available at Fourmile Campground. There is also a dump station nearby, which is the only option for trash disposal in Klondyke. Eastbound hikers receiving packages at the Klondyke store will therefore need to backtrack, so consider camping at the CG and making the out-and-back walk unencumbered. Water is also available from a spigot behind the Klondyke Store.
From Klondyke I headed north to rejoin the main route. (Not necessarily recommended.) Just before FR 94 is another road on the east side of Aravaipa Canyon Road, posted No Trespassing. The BLM ranger told me that public access is allowed and that this would offer a shortcut to Reef Tank environs. In fact he was right. After a short bit in sandy terrain, the 4WD road started up a ridge. I went straight at a 3-way junction a few miles up, then just beyond a gate in FS land, took a cairned trail on the right. This trail (now flagged) continues to Reef Tank, (water available) where one would proceed around the tank to its N side, then head E via flagged/cairned trail toward Holdout Canyon.
The trail in Holdout is now thoroughly flagged and cairned, and is an amazing experience. The terrain is rocky and rough, and the trail is a bit overgrown in places, but the scenery is just beyond words. Holdout and Black Rock creeks are flowing.
From Black Rock Canyon I followed the bypass outlined on the map set. This worked okay initially. After reaching Black Rock Rd I headed N a short ways to the next road on the left. This was posted private in 100 yds, but my assumption is that the owners are the Drydens at Black Rock Ranch Retreat, who have a policy of allowing hikers access. Carpenters Cave is in fact a cliff dwelling, not a cave but an alcove, gated and off limits but viewable. No structures here, but a few potsherds as well as blackened walls. Beyond the cave, I followed the mapped route onto the ridge. The ridge walk was tougher than expected, due to many minor ups and downs and a fenceline that requires crossing back and forth. Walking Black Rock Rd here is not an option, due to a very unfriendly landowner. I bailed out to the road beyond the property, found water in Black Rock Creek near YL Ranch (defunct), but then no water in Telegraph Wash or at Ladron Tank. I arrived back at the main route on Klondyke Road feeling that I’d had an amazing experience through Holdout Canyon, but then a less desirable and much more roundabout hike from there on.
Water was available from the trough in the corral, just left of FR 351 in Tripp and Underwood Wash. There were also pools in Tripp Canyon near the car camping area, but I had to hunt a ways in the canyon bottom to find them.
Dry Lake Tank had water. Hereafter I encountered snow for the first time near Turkey Spring (dry or unfindable). Here I left FR 286 to follow signed Blue Jay Ridge Trail. Despite a number of awkward blowdowns, this is a good trail with views and lots of vegetational diversity. There were some snowed-in switchbacks where the trail climbs along the flanks of Blue Jay Peak, but no real issues. The trail rejoins FR 286 (West Pk Rd) at its terminus. From here I walked the road to a rejoining of the mapped red line toward Taylor Pass. There was a fine snowmelt rill just before the end of the Blue Jay Ridge Trail.
I encountered occasional snow en route to the Swift Trail, but nothing of consequence. A few snowed-in switchbacks in steeper terrain near Clark Peak were avoidable by shortcutting. The Swift Trail (road) was mostly snow-free. I continued on this road to Columbine Campground. At FR 508 I encountered more pervasive snowpack, through which I post-holed (shin to knee deep) much of the way to Round-the-Mountain Trail. The trail itself had less snow, then nothing once I entered the burned area.
The burned area is in rougher shape than when last I saw it in fall of ’06. More blowdowns and more erosion where the trail crosses/follows the drainage bottoms. Hikers should be prepared to encounter large tree blowdowns at a frequency of perhaps 1 per 100 yards. One way or another they are all negotiable, often just by walking widely around.
Where the map set indicates the need to detour around an eroded segment of trail, look for flagging a ways uphill. The flagged detour isn’t ideal, but it’s better than anything else I could figure out.
THe roughest terrain is from the junction of Round-the-Mountain and Frye Canyon (Creek) Trail down Frye Creek to the following waypoint. This waypoint is important for navigation, as it indicates a spot where the trail (a former wide swath now full of blowdown, brush, and debris) crosses to eastbounder’s left side of the creek, then climbs away. It climbs away to avoid pour-offs down-canyon. Look carefully on the map set to see how this is depicted. Don’t necessarily rely on the waypoints indicated on the map set, though, which are based on the existing route line drawn by USGS.
32.73522 N 109.85113 W (decimal degrees format)
Overall, snow was not a major concern in the Pinalenos, no doubt thanks to the recent heat wave. What snow did remain was mostly limited to the north and east facing slopes above 8500′. However, the heat wave has broken and it has been raining on and off for two days. I received some snow/hail/sleet in the higher terrain, which was coming down with an urgency that suggested it might accumulate. Bottom line, the conditions I experienced may not be indicative of those that other hikers encounter later. There could be more snow… or less.
Where this stretch of trail is bad, it’s downright awful. Undoubtedly the worst conditions hikers will likely encounter along the entire route. If a better way existed, the GET would follow it. Unfortunately I know of no better option at this time.
I wasn’t able to flag as much as I’d have liked, having used up most of it on Holdout Canyon. Leaving Safford, I intend to lay a fair bit of flagging, and may be carrying loppers, primarily to clear a brushy section near Maple Peak just inside the AZ line.
Next check-in may be from Clifton, where I should be able to gain a sense of the San Francisco River’s flow before heading off again. I may bypass Glenwood, which would mean no further library options until I finish at Monticello around April 10-12. If anyone would like updates before then, feel free to leave a voice mail and call-back #.