11.08.2014

Montana Mtn via FR172

This Saturday is the AES Picketpost Punisher event and a few of us decided we should go trim back some catclaw on the Arizona Trail (AZT) portion of the route. This also gave me an opportunity to check out a different route to the top of Montana Mtn. A westside approach up FR172. Either way, FR172 or FR650, there's a bunch of climbing. We were hoping the west approach would at least be on a better riding surface.

The regulars showed up, Jeff/Nancy and I would be riding up FR172, while Ray & Bart took some bikepacking gear up FR650.

It was nice and cool for the start just after 8am. A couple miles of AZT led us to Hewitt Station rd where we quickly rattled off 4 mostly downhill trending miles to our turnoff. The elevation profile pretty much said it all, gradually climbing from mile 6 to 15, then the road turns towards the sky. How much was the million dollar question.
We were immediately greeted with fantastic views of the Superstitions.
Nancy & Jeff on Hewitt Canyon rd. aka FR172.
Mashing away near a cool outcropping.
Before we knew it 15 miles were behind us and off in the distance we could see two dirt roads. One wound it's way to the left and looked enticing, the other slanted up to the right. We watched as most of the vehicle traffic that had passed us went up to the right. We came to a consensus that we too, would be heading to the right.
Still a long way to go to get up there!!
The early miles are contoured well.
Nearing our split.
That's our route angling upward on the far hillside.
Per usual, when the road kicks up Nancy is gone!! I was spinning away in granny gear, but eventually the pitch made all us walk a bit.
Almost looking down on the Superstitions.
This was the final push, a good bit of HAB.
Four Peaks make an appearance.
Onto the AZT for the last couple of miles before the singletrack.
At the singletrack juction we ran into a couple out pre-riding the Punisher course, they opted to not take the singletrack down and skip the event altogether. It's quite a challenging route even for the heartiest of riders.

It ended up being 21 miles from the Picketpost trailhead to the top of Montana Mtn. via FR172, took us just over 3 1/2 hours. By comparison FR650 is 17 miles to the top and about 3 hours, but the road is rougher and the views, while good, aren't as good as FR172. I guess I can't really say one route is better than the other, it's about even, maybe a slight nod to FR172 for omitting the multiple AZT crossovers creating a more defined loop.

We took a nice lunch break soaking in the views from high above.
The Superstitions are recognizable from any direction!!
Less dust to the east.
Town of Superior & Mt. Lemmon in the dusty haze.
It was now time for the task at hand: Kill the Catclaw!!! The plan was simple, ride down the trail and trim as we go. Only a few minutes into our clipping Ray & Bart came up behind us. Now armed with 5 sets of clippers, the catclaw stood no chance.
Top of Montana Mtn in the scrub.
Ray & Bart making their way down a series of switchbacks.
There are a few breaks in the action on the descent.
Somebody is happy to have a working bike!!
The trail may be a bit primitive, but the scenery is world class.
We follow the wash below out of the canyon.
Clip, clip, clip.
It was getting rather warm down in the wash and our progress was slow due to the overgrowth on the trail. Jeff, Nancy & I decided we'd take FR650 back to the trailhead instead of remaining on the AZT. Los Hermanos was calling. The other two were now debating the merits of spending the night, but opted to at least stick with the AZT a bit longer. They too would bail to FR650 at the second crossing after running low on water.

Back at the trailhead we met a very nice older couple who were thru-hiking the AZT from Utah to Mexico!! They had begun their journey on Sept. 15th and were targeting the end of Nov. for a finish with a two week break earlier near Pine. Hopefully our tips on finding some desert water caches was helpful and they are continuing the southbound trek.
Picketpost Mtn.
Our work was almost done for the day, an alternate route up Montana Mtn was explored, the AZT corridor was mostly cleared of thorny bits, all that remained was to crush some Mexican food.



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