Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mount Baldy Super Loop - Greer, Arizona

This is probably the most scenic trail system in the White Mountains. I typically hike the area a dozen times a year. I enjoy starting out along the river and rising up above the valleys to be greeted by 100 mile mountain views. The wildlife is fantastic and for 9 months out of the year the trail heads are accessible.
Directions: There are numerous ways to access the trail heads. From Eagar, AZ take US260 west to the Big Lake turnoff (County Road 261), follow until you intersect with County Road 273 (Forest Road 113) turn right (west), past the Reservation Lake turnoff, you will first come to the East Baldy #95 trail head, continue for less than 3 miles and you will come to a new bridge known as Sheeps Crossing. This is the unofficial trail head for the West Baldy Trail #96, turn south and drive down near the old bridge to park. However, if you continue west another 1/4 mile, the official West Baldy Trail #96 trail head begins. From Greer, AZ take Northwoods Road to County Road 273, turn left (east) and after a couple of miles you will come to the new West Baldy #96 trail head just before Sheeps Crossing. From Alpine, AZ take Forest Road 249 (William Valley Road) west toward Big Lake, you will intersect with County Road 273 after the Big Lake entrance, turn left (west) and travel to Sheeps Crossing or up the hill 1/4 mile to the actual West Baldy #96 trail head - ths trail head has primitive rest room facilities, no water.
If you are going to hike the 18 mile Mount Baldy Super Loop I strongly recommend that you begin your hike at Sheeps Crossing. N3357.590' & W10939.495' - Elevation 9185'. Access the trail head from Sheeps Crossing on the West Baldy Trail #96 or from the actual West Baldy trail head just west of Sheeps Crossing. The reasoning is that you will keep your feet dry until the very end of the hike. However, there is now a rudimentary bridge across the West Fork of the Little CO River that can be utilized for the Crossover Trail - two ponderosas split in half and staked into place. From Sheeps Crossing simply head south down the trail and you will come to a gate. This gate signifies the "old" West Baldy Trailhead parking lot. Proceed through the gate and turn left on the trail. If you take the trail to the right you will be taken back to the actual trail head for the West Baldy trail #96. After a quarter mile or so you will come to a sign that says Phelps Cabin 3.25 miles - this is the West Baldy Crossover Trail and the Phelps Cabin was torn down by the Forest Service years ago. Continuing south on the main trail and you will be treated to a wide-open valley with the West Fork of the Little Colorado River as your companion for several miles. The trout fishing used to be good, but AZ Game & Fish poisoned all the trout....apparently to create a habitat for the native Apache Trout, but there really doesn't seem to be any species alive - a very confusing approach to wildlife management!!
After an hour or so of brisk fairly level hiking you will cross a small bridge and begin your ascent of Mount Baldy to the southeast. There is a nice rest area along the way with a big rock and nice views. The ascent will incline dramatically for a couple of miles as you negotiate a series of switchbacks. This is the most strenuous hiking on the Super Loop. The trail is well worn and route finding shouldn't be an issue. After one last U-turn switchback you will "top out" at close to 11,000' elevation. At this point you are approximately 1.5 miles from the reservation boundary pole. This section of the trail is unique since you are cruising along fairly level at close to 11,000'. The Reservation Boundary Pole is in a small clearing and is the intersection of the West Baldy Trail #96 and the East Baldy Trail #95. N3355.015' & W 10933.965' - 11,195' elevation. If you've made it this far you've just climbed a little over 2000' in vertical elevation! You may turn around and head back down the West Baldy Trail, but I recommend continuing your hike on the East Baldy Trail #95.
The East Baldy Trail #95 is in my opinion the more scenic of the two trails. It does not have as high of usage as the West Baldy Trail and offers fantastic panoramic views. Besides that, from the Reservation Boundary Pole you are less than a half mile from plane wreckage that adds a bit of mystery to your hike. The plane is easy to spot if the vegetation isn't too heavy. You will come to a clearing with a lot of rockfall. This is an easy spot to remember since you will be placing your feet very carefully to avoid twisting an ankle on the irregular rocks. On the far side of the rockfall look due south toward the mountain and you will see the wing and fuselage of an older model plane. Your descent will take you across a small-bridged creek and then a few switchbacks - you will then be rolling along fairly level trail. After a mile or so the trail will turn 90 degrees to the east and before you will be a scenic overlook. Take a few minutes to climb to the top of the overlook and you will gaze for over a hundred miles to the northwest toward Flagstaff and Mt. Humphreys, the Painted Desert to the north even Escondido Mountain to the northeast near Quemado, NM.
Picking up the trail again you will descend several switchbacks and the trail will turn in a northerly direction. After a mile or so you will come upon an open area of smooth volcanic rock for 200 yards or so. This is a great place to kick back and relax. The views are awesome and the dark rock feels great on your bare feet - usually out of the wind too! If you are not ready for a rest yet, you are only a mile or so from the best picnic area I've found in the White Mountains. N3355.535' & W10931.175' - elevation 10,170'. The area is composed of pyroclastic volcanic rock and there are numerous hoodoos (irregular pillars of stone - also my golden retriever's name). This is a fantastic destination with jaw dropping views and plenty of "butt-buckets" to sit down and relax. Once you descend and switchback through the hoodoos you will find yourself in a heavily forested area. The drainage for the East Fork of the Little Colorado River will be off on your right (south). The trail will wind through the woods for a mile, then open up into the valley itself. After another short stint of hiking along the river you will find yourself located at the trailhead for the East Baldy Trail #95 and Galbadon Campground less than 1/4 mile away to the northeast.

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