November 4, 2018

Four Peaks Bikepack

The topic came up once again last year about possibly changing the AZTR750 near the middle of the route. There's a long stretch of pavement though Tonto Basin and the AZT looms high above in the Mazatzal Mountains. Not all of the trail up there is in Wilderness, some is open to bikes. I had done a few bikepacking & day rides in the area and finally came up with a viable route. Scott & I chatted some more about it and we decided it should be fully scouted to see if it was in the spirit of the rest of the route.

This past April, Mike and I were helping other AZTR riders get to the start & moving vehicles around when a plan was hatched to do a scouting ride in the fall. The time had come, the weather cooled down and we dropped a vehicle at the Deer Creek trailhead, south of Rye. The scouting ride would then cruise down AZ188 to Jake's Corner and rejoin the current route, but how would it get there?

The route was a combination of two previous rides: The Chain of Lakes Loop & the Pines & Spines Loop. We'd start near the north end of the Jacob Crosscut trail by the Superstition Mtns. head over through the Goldfield Mtns, around Saguaro Lake and up Four Peaks Rd. At the top we'd rejoin the Arizona Trail and take it to Sunflower, then a bit beyond before connecting into FR201. This road climbs back up into the Mazatzals where the Goldridge Trail awaits. This is the final piece, descending down to the Deer Creek TH. This option would add 22 miles to the current route, 2000' of gain and limit the resupply options. Sounds like an adventure!! The main goal was to add more official AZT to the route and of course delete pavement when possible. We just had to see how it all rode together.

That's the backstory, now the details.

I got hung up at work longer than I wanted, and by the time we reached our starting location at the base of the Superstition Mtns. we needed our night riding setup.
Pink hues light up the sky over Four Peaks.

I wanted a pic of this sign near the trailhead. I hadn't yet pedaled the bike, so I didn't notice my assembly snafu...

Mike looks pretty excited to dodge any rabid foxes we may encounter.

The Supes fading into the night along the Jacob Crosscut trail.
I noticed fairly quickly that something wasn't quite right with my bike. My feet kept hitting the front tire when I'd turn. I stopped to investigate and started chuckling. Mike asked what was up, 'Oh, my fork is on backwards!' How the hell you ask? This was the bike I used for the Tally Tango in Florida back in early October. I had it shipped home but hadn't re-assembled it, didn't have the time or need. That changed in the days leading up to the bikepack. My other bike, Motobecane, had an issue with the pedal insert on the cranks, so it was a last minute no-go for this ride. I came home from working both jobs on Wednesday and hastily slapped the Havok together. At first glance everything was cool, no tangled cables, etc. I didn't test ride it either since it was going on 11p and I had an alarm blaring at me everyday at 4a. So, this was the first time I had been back on the bike in over a month. At least I knew it was an easy fix, but it could wait until we found a campsite.
Our goal for the evening? Get far enough into the desert to squelch any traffic noise.

I took this picture after I realized my fork issues. The Facebook hive enjoyed it!!
Three miles from the truck, we found a suitable campsite. We could see the Milky Way, the outline of the Superstitions and Phoenix city lights. Neato. I took 5 minutes or so to fix the rig, ate some dinner and by 9p we were crashed out.
Sunrise treat - glowing pink clouds to the east.

The Goldfield Mtns are primitive, rugged, a bit overgrown (I'll work on that) and incredibly beautiful.

We have to ride all the way up there!! Today.

Stunning views every which way you look out here.

Mike pointing out the entry to Bulldog Canyon singletrack, we missed it the first time through.

As most trails tend to go, starts off great, then things get dicey.

Up we go, only to find out this isn't the Bulldog Canyon singletrack. Should've stayed down in the wash. Retreat!!

Now, that's what I'm talking 'bout!! Ooh, look!! Water in the desert. Need photo.

Moar chunky, sandy wash ahead.

By this point in Bulldog Canyon, we knew the singletrack portion would NOT be part of any 'official' route. There are much more rideable jeep roads around this area.

Here's an example. Heading down Bulldog Canyon.

It should be a bumper sticker or t-shirt for the AZ section: The Great Western's Western.

After a few chundery descents, Bulldog Canyon begins to mellow out. The scenery doesn't.

Things are beginning to open up.

If you look on a topo map and wonder why there aren't more dirt roads in the area, this is why.

That's a new one.

We were surprised to see a couple of touron mobiles heading up the canyon. This crowd was rather enthusiastic!!

All types of trail users were out on this day.

The GWT does has nifty signage.

Crossing over the Salt River.
Our first glimpse of Saguaro Lake.

We took the slight detour down to the marina to check out the resupply options.

Not bad. Water fountain on the right was broken, but scheduled to be fixed.

The desert lakes of the Salt River are simply amazing. All of them.

Restaurant and snack bar.

Decent variety for a small snack bar.

Some other offerings.
It was a bit warm so we took the opportunity to grab some cold drinks and a snack. This would be our last chance at supplies until Jake's Corner. The Four Peaks climb was looming...

A short stint on pavement brought us here, a fast rip down to Butcher Jones Rec Site on the north shore of Saguaro Lake.

Four Peaks starting to feel a bit closer.

No camping allowed at Butcher Jones, but there's plenty of picnic spots.

Then the sand begins. It's about 1 1/2 miles worth, some rideable, some not. It was a bit toasty here.

We could see this hill coming from miles away. It's not until you're on it do you fully appreciate its steepness.

View from the top of the hill. Superstition Mtns. in the distance, Weaver's Needle poking skyward and the refreshing waters of Saguaro Lake down below.

We'd be riding up the left shoulder of Four Peaks. It's roughly a 16 mile dirt road climb, some steep sections, some fast downhills and a whole bunch of work.
I think it was sometime around 1p when we finally reached Four Peaks Rd. We had been making slow progress in the afternoon heat. It was only in the low 70's, but it felt much warmer to both of us. Perhaps a side effect of being out of shape? At least we were both in the same boat. Time to climb.
Our progress was slow at best and the warm temps were beginning to exact a toll.
Mike was battling through some cramping issues and I was beginning to strategize a Plan B. I had originally thought we'd be making camp up at the Goldridge trailhead...then pushed that thought aside and figured we'd make Sunflower. It was getting late in the afternoon, we were getting worked over and still had 6 or 7 miles of climbing ahead of us before another rough 15 miles or so on the AZT.

Since it was Saturday the OHV traffic was steady. Considering the volume of motorized users, they were very courteous, slowing down when passing by. I did make a comment about not one water or beer offer!! That was a little surprising and as each one passed by us I think we each were hoping for a hand-up.

We took a break in the shade on the side of the road, probably looking completely shelled, when a 4x4 came by. He slowed down and asked if everything was ok, I said sort of and asked if they had anything cold they'd be willing to share. He immediately stopped, hopped out and offered us ice cold water & Gatorades!! Score!! While this was going down, another 4x4 stopped and they gave each of us two more bottles of cold water. Hell yeah. It was so cold is was almost difficult to drink. Almost.

This act of kindness did wonders for both of us. I felt re-energized and thoughts of turning around never came up again.

4x4 trail magic. Glorious.

Still climbing as the shadows grow long.

Sometimes the Peaks disappear, the road winds on and you realize how big this area really is.

Great overlook before a fun downhill portion.

I had heard the peak names before, but couldn't remember the order of Brother / Sister Peaks. There not official names, as they don't appear on topo maps. Not sure on the story behind the names. There is a large Amethyst mine near Amethyst Peak, so that one makes sense. Brown's Peak is the only officially named peak as far as I can tell.

Another dead snake sighting this year.

Vegetation getting more dense.

The Sun beginning to put on a show that we'll not soon forget.

Four Peaks Wilderness boundary, making the turn towards the top.

Shadow hike-a-biking.

Golden hour taking hold.
I asked Mike if he wanted to camp down El Oso Rd. at Middle Water Spring and take the easy, dirt/paved route back to the car in the morning. We were so far behind schedule, there was no way we'd be able to cover the necessary miles AND do brush trimming in a reasonable time. He agreed and a sense of relief set in for both of us. Now, we just had to get to the top of this darn climb!!

The slog was eased each time I peered over my shoulder.

New meaning to riding off into the sunset.

The lights of the big city beginning to glow, the deep reds/oranges transform to indigo. Sublime.

The glorious rumble of a cattle guard signals the top of the Four Peaks Rd. climb, with it brings a junction to the Arizona Trail. (Dirt road for 10 miles heading north)

Yes. Protect OUR public lands.

I made my way up to an overlook, sent K a text with our updated itinerary and snapped a shot of the sprawling metropolis below.
We coasted down to Middle Water Spring and set up camp. My burrito was well earned. It didn't take long to fall asleep on this night.
Packing up camp, ready for some downhill.

First glimpse of Roosevelt Lake.

El Oso is well maintained dirt.

Looking back, the tower is the carrot climbers chase on the way up El Oso.

Looking east towards Roosevelt Lake.

Pinal Mountains were the label that jumped out at me, those are next to Globe a long ways off.

This is a part of Arizona I'm very unfamiliar with. Only Strawberry Mountain was familiar.

Keep left, avoid the boards.

El Oso translates to Bear or Dirt Serpentine, whatevs.

More unknown peaks, looking north towards Salome Wilderness.

Looking west, Mt. Ord is the signature peak.

Down at the bottom, ready for breakfast!!

I feel like I was just here...

Butcher Hook for a sit down breakfast.

Luxury sled.

Time machine gas pumps.

We took advantage of a sweet 2-track next to AZ188. Moar dirt, less pavement.

Mt. Ord, Reno Pass and the Park Trail #66 reside here.

AZ188 is a nice cruise through the basin.

Plenty of ranches in the area.

Jake's Corner has everything a weary bikepacker  could ever need.



Some AZ pride on the other side.

All kinds of stuff to gaze at here.

How you doin'?

Jake's Corner celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2016 as a stage stop, still an important resupply to the locals today.

It looks more touristy than it actually is.

Closing in on the mighty Mazatzals and my car.

Deer Creek trailhead just ahead.

We made our way back to Jake's Corner for a hearty lunch.

Mike had never been on the Apache Trail, so that was our route home. Roosevelt Bridge at the AZ88 split.
Although we abandoned our initial route, it was still a fun albeit hard ride. The country around here is simply stunning in every direction. It's a small price to pay. We have plans to head back and finish our route, probably as two day rides due to time/scheduling constraints.

The portion we rode up to the AZT and the stuff we skipped will be added to next year's AZTR750 as an optional route for those looking for a bigger challenge, see new terrain or ride more official Arizona Trail.

Great riding with you, Mike. Let's do it again soon.


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