Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Mad as Hell in the Mazatazls and Section Hiking Friends - (Mile 300 to 463 - Superior to Pine)

We were warned of the Hachuchas, Rincon's and Santa Ritas but for some reason neglected to hear any our impending scratchy doom in the Mazatazls (pronounced like mad-as-hells with z's).  Leaving the tiny town of Superior was easy enough - a ride from a traveling chemical engineer familiar with the superstitions but nothing north of there.  We camped a mile or so beyond the highway due to Rachel's sore feet from the town pavement and the dimming light of dusk.

End of the Superstition Wilderness

The next morning we were startled by an angry rattlesnake on the flat approach to the start of Reavis Canyon.  There was plenty of water in the creeks and we climbed up and over some ridges to camp high up on Reavis saddle.  I was a ways ahead of Rachel and spent the extra time picking a protected campsite and gathering some firewood since I knew she'd be hurting and looking for a little boost.  Also, Pod and Gnar make campfires almost every night and kind of got me longing for the traditional camping experience when it isn't windy and there's already a fire ring.

April 10th was a nice hike in the forest to Reavis Ranch - some old ruins of a ranch with springs and creeks along the whole way.  We hiked out of the area and down towards Roosevelt Lake.  Just as we were leaving the Superstition Wilderness Rachel saw our first Gila monster of the trail! I was a little ways ahead and missed it, which was a bummer.  Just after the wilderness boundary the trail switched to some old washed out dirt roads that were incredibly steep and covered in walnut to peach sized pointy loose rocks!  I call them Arizona Slip-n-Slide's!  I could actually scree-ski some of them when the rocks weren't too big but Rachel had a tough time and took it slow.  We camped just past a beautiful riparian creek full of magically huge oak trees and stick bugs.

The next day was 5 miles on shitty rock strewn trail to the Roosevelt Lake Marina - a tiny store that takes packages literally floating on an artificial lake created by Roosevelt Dam. We even got a ride on a golf cart down the long gangplank to the store!  Our packages were all there so we dumped food into our bags, ate some snacks and got out of there in a few hours.  The big question of the day was whether the seasonal Buck's Creek in 10 miles would have water or not.  If dry, our next water would be almost 8 miles further. No one ahead of us has been updating the AZT water report (but I have and so has everyone behind...) so that was no help.  Instead, Rachel searched Sheriff Woody's incredibly detailed blog and found an entry from a few weeks ago saying there was a ton of water.  Still a risk so we took just enough to dry camp but not enough to comfortably get to the next source - a dry morning would not mean the end of us.

Roosevelt Lake!

Leaving the marina we took a short cut on the highway that removed a mile or two of trail  since the tread sucked and we had 6 days of food and 3 or 4 liters of water on our backs.  We rejoined the trail just past a huge bridge and the start of a steep rocky climb up to Inspiration Point - a popular day hiker destination.  We saw lots of them on their way down but none headed up.  This was fortunate since after inspiration point we saw our second Gila monster! These are incredibly rare to see in the wild so I waited for Rachel to catch up while the Gila "hid" in a bush.  She loves these things and wants one as a pet but I'm pretty sure it would bite/kill her since they are one of two poisonous lizards.
Gila Monster!

We continued climbing and had a beautiful ridge walk through the open grassy foothills of the Four Peaks wilderness until yet another steep and long climb to a still higher ridge that lead to Bucks Creek.  On the way up we met three day hikers, one of whom claimed the trail was dry all the way to the far water source.  At first I was alarmed but reminded myself that day hikers are generally not aware of things like water and pushed on.  I reached the creek ahead of Rachel and immediately found a slow clear flowing spring just downhill from the green grassy trail - you could literally smell the water!  When Rachel came around the bend I shouted "Hey - watch!" and dumped the water out of my bottle with a grin to sarcastically show that there was plenty of water at our campsite.  Not only that but there was a beautiful flat spot, although filled with spiders, just next to the stream.  I made a second campfire and we enjoyed a beautiful cowboy camp under the stars.

The next day continued our theme of steep rocky climbs but now with brushy overgrown trail! The views of the four peaks - four giant granite peaks on a huge treeless ridge - were worth it.  I tend to be mile focus on long resupply stretches like this, since doing too few miles early on leads to long days or hungry days at the end of the stretch.  I misread the map and was flustered thinking we only did 4 miles by 10 am when we really did 7 - oops.

We looped around the four peaks and enjoyed a little waterfall at Shake Spring, near the end of the passage.  We even scrambled up to see the source of the water and poke around the waterfall. We decided to fill up at the last water source in the passage - Pigeon Spring but it turned out to be a gross stagnant pool instead of the wonderfully clear streams the sources just a mile or two back were.  Damn!  To add insult to injury the route turned into an 11.5 mile long dirt road walk filled with jeeps and speeding ATV's that almost ran Rachel over.  There were some nice views though and we camped at an established site near dusk.  No fire tonight, too footsore and tired from the roadwalking.
Four Peaks!
The next morning we awoke to a fox eagerly checking our campsite out, he even came right up to Rachel looking for food.  The asshole off roaders must be feeding him so we chased him off.  We finished the roadwalk and descended on faint trail through open meadows and forest to Sycamore Creek, where we skinny dipped at a deep pool just downstream from the trail.  After our swim and sock cleaning party we crossed highway 87 for the first of many times to find the tread turning to a pot-marked dirt road from a couple of horse riders out for a ride when the trail was still muddy.  It sucked to walk on and made easy hiking a chore.  We kept following this crappy tread past numerous ranches and up into the start of the Mazatazls, losing the trail when it turned into a cow pond.  We somehow missed a turn that looped around the pond which wasn't listed on either of our maps.

We then descended into some washes but trail crews were in the process of replacing all the signs.  Nice new wooden posts were up with blank spots for the actual signs so we had to guess what junction was what based on mileage and cardinal directions.

The washes remove most signs of the trail tread every winter due to annual flooding so we had to keep our eyes peeled for small cairns marking where to go.  We missed one and backtracked to the trail which turned into a clean bedrock wash - no tread and no AZT markings, something the trail has never done before.  I had to check the GPS on my phone to verify this was actually the trail!  We learned later numerous hikers before us got lost there and followed flagging for a reroute that will be completed in a month or two but were SOL when the flagging ended.

The bedrock wash climbed steeply up to a ridge, then steeply descended to the Mt. Peely trail head which suddenly transformed the trail into beautifully manicured switchbacks! We enjoyed the climb up to the side of the mountain in soaring ponderosa pines (and the soft needle strewn tread) as well as the long ridge walk that ensued.  Yet again I was a little ways ahead of Rachel when a giant burst of brown spotted wings exploded from the trail feet ahead of me!  An endangered  Mexican Spotted Owl had been snoozing on the side of the trail and flew to a perch on a burned tree! The trail did a U around the tree with the far side getting within 15 feet of the owl so I snapped some photo's and waited anxiously for Rachel to show up, hoping the owl would stick around.  She sat on her perch, head turned 180 degrees around to stare at me, only looking away when she heard Rachel's approach a good 5 minutes before her arrival.  We hung with the owl for a while and slowly walked the trail around, taking photos as we went and leaving her in peace.

Endangered Mexican Spotted Owl

The ridge walk continued but the trail soon became overgrown again and we fought the brush as a windstorm leading a cold front blew in, easily gusting to 50 mph.   I tried to set up the tarp but the ground was rotting shale - impossible to put stakes in and there weren't enough rocks to use in that much wind.  We ended up cowboy camping in the bushes for a windy and cold night out but with epic views of the enormous Mount Mazatazl right in front of us.

The next day the trail was constantly overgrown and rocky, it torn up my legs pretty good and made for slow going.  The views were plain and we pushed through it, ending the day in another steep and loose rock filled descent.  Instead of the usual solitude I heard voices and we ended up camping with two other thru-hikers - Jen and Ash - two women who told us about their lives as traveling van-dwellers while I made a camp fire. The work when they need to as seasonal employees or for Amazon during the holidays and spend the rest of the year travelling and seeing new outdoorsy places, totally independent in their van - a very appealing lifestyle to Rachel and I. They were going to stay at LF Ranch the following night, just 7 miles away so we would be passing them on the way to Pine.  We didn't know much about the ranch but found out you needed to call in advance to get $15 meals or a $20 bunk - not bad after all the overgrown and rocky trail in this last chunk.

Leaving the Matazals
The next morning was a long descent to LF Ranch and our fording of the East Verde River - Arizon's only designated Wild and Scenic River.  It was about calf deep and there was an awesome spring a mile uphill from the river.  The ranch was an eclectic collection of junk, rotting buildings and peacocks.  The owner was out working on her backhoe so we didn't bother her since we didn't plan on staying or eating.

The trail turned into still another steep, loose and rock filled climb up to White Rock Mesa.  We suddenly popped out from the climb and oak tree filled river valley to an open green grassy mesa with rounded juniper trees spread out every fifty or hundred feet.  Very startling!  The white volcanic rocks had smooth holes in them from gases released during their cooling a million years ago, making them look like shattered bones.  We continued up past this Mesa and then up another rocky climb to Hardscrabble Mesa with more junipers and the ground covered in their berries.  I met a hunter along the way out scouting for his elk permit in September.  We had some confusion and ended up camping past out last water source of the day, so I had to run back a most of a mile and grab water for us the next morning.

April 17th, our last day of this section meant lots more road walking.  The roads did a triangle so we bushwacked  the hypotenuse to cut off half a mile or so.  A little ways later we could see two tiny figures way off in the distance on the straight road following a powerline.  I noticed one of their footprints were almost identical to mine!  Odd since these Altra Lone Peak shoes are a little rare and usually only used by crazy thru-hikers.  We steadily caught them - they turned out to be Pam and Jamie, two section hikers from the Phoenix area.  Pam has even read my blog!

We had a great time chatting away the road walk and ensuing trail.  They even fed us their extra food! This was awesome since we were each down to a handful of snacks and stuck rationing them against our hunger on the 14 miles to town.  The other great thing about meeting section hikers is they have cars!  They were both insistent on ferrying us and the really fast thru-hiker that caught us, Birdfood, around town until all our chores were done and we had a place to stay.  It was so amazing and really made Pine easier since there are not a lot of good options for lodging.  They even picked us up and took us to the towns new brewery for dinner! Thank you Pam and Jamie!  Also sorry I fainted on the way to the bathroom, I think it was the beer + a bit of dehydration.

Rachel and I ended up staying at the Beeline B&B where the owner Patrick slowly warmed up to us.  He seemed gruff and offput by two stinky hikers but I think we gave him and his husband a great impression, especially since he had no guests our first night and his husband Bob drove us to Payson for resupply and the local outdoors store.

I tried to upload photo's at hte Pine library but had a kerfuffel using a new site so nothing got uploaded.

Here's the photo's from the last post.
Here's the photo's from this section - Pine to Superior.

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