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January Backpack

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Offline Robert

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January Backpack
« on: January 23, 2008, 12:26:05 PM »
The second week in January my hiking buddy and I did a three day mostly off-trail hike starting at Blue Creek Ranch overlook. As we were packing up to head out there was a Park Ranger who was finishing up a guided walk. He asked us if we needed water as he was emptying the bear box of left over water. He pulled out eight 5-gallon bottles dated from last  May!

The weather was great; clear blue skies, cool days, not too cold nights, and no wind. On the first day we planned on hiking east on the Dodson trail and then taking the first wash in the Smokey Creek water shed after getting to the top of the pass from Blue Creek. This is not the wash that the Smokey Creek trail uses (until much further downstream).

After a hiking only a short ways down the wash we came across a 20 foot pour off that had a slight trickle of water going over it. We skirted the pour off by going around on the right side up about 100 feet above the wash before getting around the rock layers and then descending back into the wash.. There was a nice view from the top to the valley below. It looks like you could get around either side and those with some climbing experience could probably get down by climbing up and over just to the left of the pour off where there was a rock ledge that dropped down to the slope below. This was one of those pour offs that you donít want to repeat. It was steep getting out of the wash and steep getting back into it and there was a ton of thorny plants.

Looking back up at the pouroff. You can see the possible short cut in the upper right.

Once past the pour off the wash opened up into a broad valley. The stream created several intertwining branches through the valley and we found ourselves hopping back and forth to find the one with the best footing. Once through the valley we entered another narrow canyon and after a while we encountered a flowing stream. This stream continued to where two branches of the Smokey Creek meet. We crossed under strands of barbed wire stretched across the wash.The other branch coming in from the left starts out above the corral up on the Dodson trail. The water continued along our way and we encountered a few pour offs that we could easily descend. I was expecting a big pour off where the wash cuts through the escarpment and the valley opens up but there was none and we camped near the spring marked 4230 on the topo. This spring was rather small but we were able to filter all we needed as it had a steady flow out from under a big rock before disappearing into the sandy wash.

The next morning we soon hit the Smokey Creek trail and we used it to go eastward to the next main drainage in the Smokey Basin. We descended into this wash and saw the signpost marking the spot where the Smokey Creek trail exits the wash for hikers coming from the opposite direction. Once in this wash we continued downstream. After a short distance we found another surprise, a beautiful spring flowing for hundreds of yards and a huge dead cottonwood lying along the side of the trail. I didnít know this oasis existed and will remember for future trips.

Spring below the cutoff for Smokey Creek trail.

Further down the wash it hits a section of tuff that creates another pour off to be avoided. There is a similar section on the Smokey Creek trail on the other side of Sugarloaf. This one is easy to get around on the left. Soon we were passing the southern portion of Sugarloaf Mountain and we could see the bluffs ahead where the trail enters another deep canyon. A pretty big side wash comes in from the left and another beautiful spring starts at this point and runs almost all of the way through deep canyon.

Once in the canyon I took this picture looking back upstream. Sugarloaf Mtn is in the middle left and I'm guessing that is Picacho Peak in middle.

Eventually we came across a big pour off where we could not see the bottom. This is the one that Jack wrote about. Once through this pour off we would be across the valley from Mule Ears. The only option was to go left. The slope on the left side was pretty steep and we had to go parallel to it so we went up it a little higher so that if we took a spill we wouldnít end up going over the side. But after a while we noticed a path closer to the edge that wasnít apparent when we started. So note that if you stay closer to the edge you will find a path that will save you some effort as this slope was covered in thorny vegetation.

After about a hundred yards or so the path comes to a point high above the wash and the trail fizzles out. It was a nice place to catch our breath and relax but we still didnít know how we were going to get down.

Looking down from the high point.

We decided to try a steep drainage further around to our left that cuts through the hard rock layers and we descended down that. We made our way down this slope to the bottom of the canyon but it was a slow careful slog as a misstep would be painful. There was nothing technical about this but plenty of loose rock, boulders, and spiny plants to navigate. Once we were in the bottom we encountered another pour off that we were able to easily climb down if we took our packs off and handed them down. Then after a couple of smaller pour offs we were out in the desert and hiked over to Smokey Spring for our next camp. Note: there was some water below the big pour off but the effort to get to it from the Mule Ears side is probably not worth it.

The next day we began by hiking over to the Smokey Creek Trail to explore the wash that runs below Goat Mountain. After a couple of hours of easy hiking we reached Mesa Bonita Spring. An interesting double pour off consists of a rock layer that creates an overhanging ledge where the spring trickles over. Under the ledge are some ferns. Above the ledge is another rock layer of volcanic rock. The way around is on the left but is not apparent until you get up to the spring. There is a talus slope just to the left of the ledge that gets you up and around. Once above this pour off there were some interesting sections of hard rock but nothing that posed much of a challenge.

Mesa Bonita Spring. The spring is dripping over the ledge (not visible) in the lower left with the boulder sitting on top of it.

There is another small seep, Goat Mountain Spring, a short ways upstream but not much running water. There is a huge boulder in the wash just past this that makes an interesting shelter as it leans up against the side of the canyon.

Once past the boulder the canyon walls started to get shorter and eventually the wash opened up as we were heading back up towards Blue Creek. There was no water past Goat Mountain Spring. Just as we were about to reach the low point between the Goat Mountain wash and the Blue Creek drainage the wash became totally choked by vegetation. So we climbed out on the left side and once at the top of the ridge we could see the ranch house in the distance. So then it took probably 45 minutes to get back to our car.

I usually read on this board about how the NPS staff will stonewall you on water information. While I did not ask for nor receive any specifics I had two different conversations with Rangers who, after asking if we had enough water with us and what our plans were, proceeded to tell us that we should be able to find water in the Smokey Creek drainages. 

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Offline sleepy

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Re: January Backpack
« Reply #1 on: January 23, 2008, 03:39:57 PM »
Love the cross country action.  Good pics, too.  Post more if you have them. 
You obviously are familiar with the area.  Did you rely on maps mostly, or did you use GPS?


It's never too late to be what you might have been-Geroge Elliot

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Offline randell

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Re: January Backpack
« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2008, 03:48:07 PM »
All that water!  Sounds like a great time.  Makes me want to go back already.
There's nothing like a good quest to get you intimate with a place. - Tom Clynes

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Offline mule ears

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Re: January Backpack
« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2008, 05:33:10 PM »
Robert, great report.  I have been around the big pour off just as you described except I think I stayed higher and more to the left instead of going down the steep side wash, it does take some side hill work.  I am very happy to hear about the wash east of Goat Mtn.  I want to use that route on my next trip to get from Mule Ears spring to Blue Creek.  Was there water at Smoky spring and could one get water from Mesa Bonita spring?
« Last Edit: January 24, 2008, 07:54:25 AM by mule ears »
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
http://40yearsofwalking.wordpress.com/

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Offline trtlrock

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Re: January Backpack
« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2008, 06:09:32 PM »
Cool trip; sounds like you had a great time!
John & Tess

"...and I'll face each day with a smile, for the time that I've been given's such a little while..." - Arthur Lee

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Offline homerboy2u

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Re: January Backpack
« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2008, 06:35:01 PM »
Robert...tell me those are NOT the only pictures you have for us.
Stay thirsty, my friends.

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Offline Robert

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Re: January Backpack
« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2008, 09:38:12 AM »
I'll see if I can post more pictures later when I get more time. I do have a correction to the caption of Mesa Bonita Spring but I couldn't get the page to load after hitting the modify. What I meant to say is that the spring is just out of the frame to the lower right.


Here's the spring. It was just a trickle over the ledge and went right into the sand.

Goat Mountain Spring has some water but I didn't see any pool that looked big enough to filter from.


Goat Mountain Spring

Smokey Spring was flowing about the usual amount. If you follow the water a little ways downstream (there is a social trail about 75 yards down from the campsite) it enters a slick rock portion and there is a pretty big pool you can filter from. Problem with Smokey Spring has always been the algae and shallow depth and this pool was the best chance to keep the filter from clogging.

We used topo maps and a GPS (as anyone who has read my exchanges with Badknees already knows). I use the GPS as a backup to the map and is especially useful in washes where you can't see any reference points and hiking up washes where you have several side washes splitting off and you have to pick the right one. I also like the Tracks feature that enables you to upload to your PC and see where you went on the map. I didn't realize that each track (up to 1,000 per day) records your speed, bearing, and timestamp.

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Offline TheWildWestGuy

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Re: January Backpack
« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2008, 05:32:14 PM »
Great trip report Robert,  you must be my long-lost brother as you seem to enjoy bushwacking in the Sierra Quemada's as much as I do.  How many were in your party?  Were they newbies or seasoned trail companions?  I have been on segments of your route before but never below the trail junction north of Sugarloaf.  Now I have some good ideas for a future hike.  Another great route is to go over "Jacks Pass" to Dominquez Springs and then loop around to the Dodson Trail (either by way of Elephant Tusk or the high dry unnamed pass ENE of Sugarloaf) and back to the Mule Ears area.  My legs usually look pretty bloody and well-punctured after a few days off trail.   Sometimes I find broken-off cactus spines under my skin weeks (or even months) after a trip.  But that's OK - it reminds me of my trip and the Park.. TWWG

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Offline MJ

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Re: January Backpack
« Reply #8 on: January 25, 2008, 06:32:58 AM »
great report - thanks - look forward to more pictures

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Offline mule ears

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Re: January Backpack
« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2008, 03:56:56 PM »
The next day we began by hiking over to the Smokey Creek Trail to explore the wash that runs below Goat Mountain. After a couple of hours of easy hiking we reached Mesa Bonita Spring... There is another small seep, Goat Mountain Spring, a short ways upstream but not much running water. There is a huge boulder in the wash just past this that makes an interesting shelter as it leans up against the side of the canyon.

Once past the boulder the canyon walls started to get shorter and eventually the wash opened up as we were heading back up towards Blue Creek. There was no water past Goat Mountain Spring. Just as we were about to reach the low point between the Goat Mountain wash and the Blue Creek drainage the wash became totally choked by vegetation. So we climbed out on the left side and once at the top of the ridge we could see the ranch house in the distance. So then it took probably 45 minutes to get back to our car.
Robert,
I know this is an old thread and you may not see this but how long did it take you to walk from Mesa Bonita spring to Blue Creek ranch?

Thanks,
Mule Ears
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
http://40yearsofwalking.wordpress.com/

 


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