This particular loop would start and end in the tiny community of Sunflower just up AZ87 from the valley. It was mostly a dirt road route first cresting Reno Pass, then dropping down into the Tonto Basin. Some fast miles would follow, then an 8 mile climb up El Oso rd to the backside of Four Peaks. From there I'd do a short OnB to the Wilderness boundary near Pigeon Spring. I saw this trailhead when Mark and I did our Brown's Peak Challenge a few weeks back. The route would continue the rest of the way on the AZT Passage 21 (Pine Mountain), the first 11 miles on dirt road and the final 8 on singletrack....condition of which was unknown.
I was able to round up 3 others to partake in this adventure and we met up in Sunflower at the start of the 'closed to motor vehicles' pullout on Bushnell Tanks rd. We were all getting set for the day and I noticed I still had my lights on my helmet from the South Mtn ride. 'Won't need these', so off came the lights and tossed in the back seat of the car. (For the record, that was a poor decision!) We left the cars around 7:30a and immediately dropped into this riparian area next to Sycamore creek. Big trees, a couple of water crossings and a jeep road that hasn't seen traffic in a few years unfolded beneath our tires. A couple miles later we turned onto FR22 which was more like a 4x4 route. It was more narrow, rockier and had more brush growing in the middle. FR22 definitely had a primitive feel about it. The road began to climb and we soon found ourselves in HAB mode on a few occasions.
|Yeah, this is a forest road. Photo by Caroline.|
|More HAB on our way up Reno Pass.|
|Beautiful clear cool day.|
|Tube swap time.|
|Not much of a road.|
|Lots of bright yellow bushes lined the road.|
|Mt. Ord would serve as our landmark to the west.|
|Caroline on the long downhill into Tonto Basin.|
|Looking back up towards Reno Pass.|
|Punkin Center, AZ What did you expect?|
|Ready to climb?|
|I'm making good use of my barends. Photo by Caroline.|
|Ezra working the SS.|
|Enjoying the view of Roosevelt Lake.|
|Side view of Four Peaks, leaves beginning to change at the higher elevations.|
|Ezra getting a short break from the climbing.|
|Matt chugging along.|
|Middle Spring & a good use for an old tire. Photo by Caroline.|
|Near the summit of El Oso.|
|Look closely, just right of center is a small white vertical line. The Fountain Hills fountain was blasting away, 150' into the sky!|
|Getting close to Four Peaks.|
|Pigeon Spring trailhead, finally a little bit of singletrack. Photo by Caroline.|
|End of the line for bikes. :( From the trailhead it was less than a mile to here.|
|See, there was a bit of nice trail tucked away.|
|Pigeon Spring, dry as a bone.|
|Roosevelt Lake in all its azure glory.|
|High above the Superstition Mtns & Weaver's Needle.|
|Big views all around.|
|More rolling forest road.|
|At the top of the final grunt climb of the day.|
|Ezra doing some trailside adjustments.|
|Caroline staying plugged in.|
We reached the turnoff to the trail and it looked daunting, a short steep scramble on an overgrown hillside awaited. What if we stayed on the dirt road? Drops us down the wrong side of the mountain. Back to the trail. Let's keep it moving and see how far we get.
|Matt pushes onto the trail.|
|The trail wasn't super steep, but very hard to see any hidden rocks and follow in spots.|
|Ezra was loving it, he rode most of the upper downhill, which IMO was the sketchiest section of trail. Kudos man!!|
|The golden hour upon us and views for miles.|
|There would be plenty of this.|
|My last shot of the waning light.|
I started seeing a flickering light about 20 minutes later and soon after that we were within earshot. Somehow my crappy cellphone reception actually had a signal and I let the homefront know what was going on. It was going to be a late finish. The four of us set up with Caroline out in front with her bright lights, then Ezra, Matt and myself with the camp light bringing up the rear.
The trail was incredibly hard to follow at night, even with GPS. Most of the cairns were covered in grass and catclaw. Oh, the catclaw, it was everywhere. We ended up HAB'ing the entire 5 miles out to the road. It took us 3 1/2 hours to cover the relatively short distance due to a multitude of wrong turns, a mid-calf crossing of Sycamore Creek and the wincing pain of countless catclaw encounters.
We could see the cars on AZ87 from a long way out, but it seemed to stay out of our reach. When we finally did come to the pavement we crossed under the roadway via culvert only for a required bushwhack through more thorny goodness on a off camber slope up to the smooth blacktop. It was 10p when we reached the car! Somehow I managed to save about two sips of water, but a few cold drinks were waiting inside the car.
I'd really like to see what this last 8 miles of trail is like during the day and after a good trimming. I bet it's pretty darn good. My shins may feel otherwise.
|Catclaw induced carnage.|