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Monday, February 1, 2016

The Mazatzal Mountains

With snow all around Flagstaff and a rainy snowy mix likely for Sunday morning in the Grand Canyon, Jacob and I headed south to the Mazatzal mountains just outside of Payson.  Snow covered the ground for a long time leaving Flagstaff but once we hit the trailhead, we took off on bare ground.  The warm breeze that soon started up joined us as we climbed up trail 44 into the mountains, occasionally looking back toward the Mogollon Rim on the horizon.  We hiked up the first few miles crossing  numerous small creeks caused by the runoff from the recent snow.  Soon we hit some snow, but the travel was easy as someone had already broken the trail.  Stepping footprint to footprint, we made our way up toward the pass.  After cresting the pass we took off to the north on a bare trail that was a little overgrown in areas.  Soon we turned around a ridge and found ourselves on a north-slope hiking through snow.  The trail we were planning to take turned off to the left up a snow covered ridge, but I quickly realized that we needed to reassess our plans and try to stay on the snow free trails as much as possible.

The Mongollon Rim
Our first dose of snow
One of a few beautiful peaks
Some north side snow
We continued on the main trail and found it progressively more overgrown with brush.  The problem in central Arizona is there is a lot of manzanita and shrub live oak(manzanita with sharp leaves) and apparently no trail crews.  This really made me appreciate the work of Ed Willson and the Waldo trail crews he organizes who put in countless hours clearing the trails around Willamette Pass. We continued pushing through brush, occasionally finding chances to run open stretches, and then hiking through snow on all the north facing slopes.  Eventually we passed trail 43 which we intended to head out on.  We pulled out the map and there was no easy loop available so we realized we'd have to hike up the trail that afternoon and back down it in the morning, or head down trail 42 to another trailhead then follow trail 288 along the foot of the mountain range to get back to the car.  Even with the other trail as an option, we wouldn't be able to make any kind of loop as I intended.  We continued until around 4:30 and made dinner and prepared for the night.


We camped by this creek
Our socks were wet from all the snow so we tried to dry them as we boiled water, but that didn't work.  Over dinner we planned to make our way out as quickly as we could as the trail seemed to get progressively more overgrown and snow covered.  As we set up our bivy sacks, the setting sun brought on a rather chilly breeze that made us realize we were in for a cold night.  I knew it would be pretty cold, so I suggested that we build a fire.  After checking the forest regulations on the backside of the map, we started to gather up some pine needles and scratch out a place for the fire.  We built a quick a ring and then lit up some pine needles with the lighter and carefully coaxed them into a flame.  We slowly added more until we got a pine cone burning and then went in search for wood to pile on.  As darkness settled in we got a good sized fire going which was putting out a bit of heat.  We scooted the bivy sacks up close and headed to bed around 7 (its dark early and there's not much to do when its dark).  At 11, we were both cold and woke up so we restoked the fire, talked, warmed up and headed back to bed around midnight.  We piled up a bunch on pine cones for future use and loaded them on at 3 when we woke up again.  Fortunately this lasted us until 6 when we got up.

Getting the fire started
You gotta love a good fire
Especially at midnight when its keeping you warm
After a quick breakfast, we headed off in search of trail 42 which we thought we passed shortly before we set up camp.  We turned onto trail 42 and soon expected to crest the ridge and head down.  Only we continued to wind along the hillside.  Eventually we crossed the same creek we had camped by farther upstream.  This wasn't good so we pulled out the map.  We soon saw we must have walked by trail 42 so we turned back and headed back in search of trail 42.  With lots of snow on the ground we explored a few false starts but soon realized we weren't going to find trail 42, so we resolved to head out on trail 43.  We hiked along pushing through brush and crunching through snow, which with the warmth of the day was now in perfect condition for postholes.  We reached trail 43 and turned down the canyon hoping to get out quickly.  I expected trail 42 to head down the canyon but in contoured along the hillside for a long time before finally descending.  The north slope we hiked along was mostly snow coated with and icy crust on top, so we punched through every step a layer of ice before sinking in a foot or so.  I wasn't too happy because this hard on the shins and really slow going.  After endless snowfields, we eventually made our way into the canyon and out of the snow.  With the Mongollon Rim on the horizon and the parking lot in sight below us, we ran down the last couple miles to the car.  We were planning to head out early and maybe sneak in a run on the Highline Trail(Zane Grey course and south facing), but by the end we were thankful to be able cruise in the last few miles and get to the car.  The Mazatzal Mountains were worth seeing, but sadly the terrible trail conditions(snow excluded) will probably keep us from heading back.

Starting through the snow
Some beautiful morning views
So much fun!
Winding down the last descent
Looking back up the trail
A nice falls just a few miles from the car

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