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Gold Ridge Loop Day Hike
Mazatzal Mountains
November 16, 2014
by Bill Zimmermann
  GPS Map W 
  GPS Map E 
Rough and ready Trailblazers traverse the Gold Ridge Loop.
Dave, Stacy, Nancy, Bill, Chris, Linda

Brutal. Scratch this one off my bucket list.

Unlike Bill’s typical bushwhack hike it was to be just a long trail hike with lots of elevation. It was exploratory and Bill called ahead to the Tonto Basin Ranger District asking about trail conditions. They said they were both well marked.

Bill, Nancy, and Chris meet Dave, Stacy, and Linda at the trailhead. At 7:45 we were walking. I planed an early start to complete a moderate paced hike with amount of daylight available (10 hrs). So I did the math. 12 miles divided by 1.5 mph is 8 hours. No problem, right?

Stay outside of that yellow rope.
It’s a big climb, even at this elevation.
Onward and upward, brave hearts!

It was cool and windy. Skies were clear and the sun was low on the horizon, casting long shadows. We planned to hike up trail 47 Gold Ridge and down 46 South Fork. We started by following a newly graded road. Instructions said to stay off the road and outside of the yellow rope. Appropriate color?

The trip up was uneventful. We took photo breaks a several rest stops. The trail was easy to follow except for a few sections of over grown manzanita. At 11:15 we found a spot out of the wind were we broke for lunch. See “L.” We had gone 6 miles at a 1.7 overall pace and were still short of Forest Road 201. It was a good pace. However, Bill expressed some concern as exploratory always comes with a bit of apprehension.

The oak leaves acquired a brown sheen.
Prickly pears accentuate the jagged boulders.
Stacy, Dave, Linda, Nancy, Chris.
Look sharp, Stacy! You’ll be famous.

We walked FR210 toward Mt. Peeley looking for the South Fork trail marker. It was windy and had not warmed up. A roadside maple in full color became a picture-taking magnet. We found the marker and hurriedly started down to get out of the wind.

I think this is the trail. But there’s sure a lot of brush.
Another log to hop over.
Methinks we’d better stay near the creek.
Colorful leaves cheer us on the down grade.
A cairn! The trail must be this way.

Trail? What trail? National Geographic Maps #850 shows a trail. Dave’s new version GPS showed a trail. However, it was a half mile before we found our first cairn. See “C1”.

Continual climbing over and ducking under deadfall was required. Cairns were sparse. We encountered multiple rock hopping creek crossings. Soon we found a lean-to with an abandoned suitcase. Was it someone’s home? See “Lean2”.

Lean-to beside the trail.

Patches of red maples lit up this section of the forest. Water was flowing. Beautiful . However, any section that looked like a trail soon faded. We were not moving at trail pace. One section took us high out of the creek. Hopes of trail that we could motor on again faded. We pushed our way through #*&%* toward a distant hillside that looked free of deadfall with some open spots. As we darted in and out of shoulder-high bushes, Bill spotted the a clear section of trail down below.

Desert marigolds brighten our difficult passage.
Occasional clearings let us see the way ahead. [photo by Dave]
Brilliant colors in the waning afternoon sun. [photo by Dave]
Hackberry Beardtongue. [photo by Dave]

The bushes were thick and taller than our heads as we trudged down the steep hillside back to the creek. Photo taking took a back seat to the primary focus on getting out before dark.

We agreed to stay close to the creek. We kept on slugging. As the canyon widened, the route started to resemble a trail. Desert daisies were like little yellow candles in the dimming light. We were racing Mother Nature to finish before dark. We won ... barely. At 5:45 we were at the cars. Car lights were needed to read the GPS final numbers (14.7 miles 3980 feet).

Did I say BRUTAL?

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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated November 21, 2014