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West Fork of Oak Creek
June 27-29, 2020
by Michael Humphrey

We start with 11 persons on day one, 8 hikers and 3 drivers. Without the drivers we could not have done this hike, so a very deep thank you to Joe, David and Kevin. The hikers were Michael, Debbie, Li, Tom, Lin, Janet, Carolyn and Chris. This is a very hard hike as shown by the Forest Service sign at the start.

USDA warning sign.

This sign is not beside the road, so you have to know where the trail is to even get to see the sign. We start the trip by having lunch at the Wandering Donkey, this is our last good meal with running water in the restroom. We then continue towards Flagstaff and take the airport exit and start the adventure. It is all dirt roads from here.

We do a short hike at Rogers Lake to get the kinks out of our legs and then on to our first camping spot. We still have the trucks and Joe’s RV for this site. We have a good potluck dinner, because after this it will be freeze dried food only. Kevin and David take us to the trailhead after breakfast. Joe and Kevin will be camping until we exit and David will return to his house in Munds Park.

The 8 hikers pass the FS sign and start this off-trail 18 mile hike.

The hike begins.

This trail is not maintained, so there are plenty of fallen trees to go over and around, plus rocks and bushes.

Plenty of rocks and bushes.

If you did not have to cross the creek multiple times this could be a 14 mile hike. This is the upper Oak Creek canyon so many great views of cliffs. We soon get to our first deep pool and our first swim of the trip. This is a short swim. I just leave my pack on and just cross.

Our first swim.
We blow up an air mattress and float some packs and persons.
The first crossing is done!

We continue with our hike. There are still many trees to go over and under, with many boulders to cross. We come to the next deep pool and you can see where a past flood has left a tree trunk.

Past flooding has left a tree trunk where?

There is still some daylight left, so we continue on.

The going doesn’t get easier.
The canyon is plenty rugged.

We get to the next deep pool and this one is a little larger, so I get out my air couch. It can hold a couple of packs, plus we can attach a rope to it and pull it across the pool. It can also hold persons.

Michael’s air couch.

It is now getting late so time to find a camp site. We find one between two pools and we “cowboy” camp.

Where we’ll spend the night.

This is the end of the first day of backpacking. We heat water and have our freeze-dried meals and soon after dark, everyone is asleep.

We wake up heat some water and have breakfast. This last day is the hardest, but easiest. This is an 11 mile segment for today, so we will get out late. Once we are past the next deep pool, the trail is relatively easy to follow and the stream becomes easier to follow. This deep pool is the deepest and longest of all the pools. It is a couple of swimming pools long and over 8 foot deep. It takes us almost 3 hours to get everyone across, but the air couch gets everything across.

The wind is less today, so the air couch is only full enough for one pack per trip. Once past the last deep pool we have a trail to follow.

The trail continues along the West Fork of Oak Creek.

We continue on and find a shady spot for some rest.

A shady spot.

We continue and get to a place where the creek has under cut the cliff.

Hanging gardens of Oak Creek.
This is where the cliffs close in and start to make this into a slot canyon.

There are still plenty of places to get your feet wet. You also have to watch out for the brown slime on the creek bottom, it is very slick. Everyone has poles to help steady them, so no falls.

Watch your step!

It is getting later in the day so we continue to push to get to the main trail before sundown. There are still plenty of bountiful rocks and creek to see.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
One more pool to cross. This one is only waist deep.

We get to the maintained trail about a half hour before sunset. By the time we change out of our wet shoes and socks the canyon is in deep shadows.

We call our drivers and tell them we are about 2 hours from the trailhead, so they can make their way there. It is slow going with just headlamps, so it takes us more than 2 hours to get to the trailhead. Everyone is safe, and can start the drive back to Phoenix.

My boots are dry after about 2 days, because they have been in water 2 days straight. This is a very hard backpack with no cell phone coverage, so take heed of the Forest Service sign.

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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated May 25, 2022