Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Powderhorn Ridge Trail-(FT 82)-Aldo Leopold Wilderness

I parked my truck at the gate on the mesa top.The road continues down to the stream bottom.If you want to cut off 1/2 mile(round trip) from your hike, or if you're wanting to camp, driving this last section of road is an option. It's actually in good shape especially compared to horrendous 3 miles( see Forest Road 151 blog) leading up to this point. There is one stream crossing that might be a little dicey if the stream is flowing. Anyway,the forest trail sign pointed down the road, so that's the way I went,but it looked like the old trail goes straight ahead onto the ridge.This stream bottom trail is probably the only option if one is on horseback. The wide, grassy and shady valley of the South Fork Powderhorn Canyon is a more pleasant way to start and finish the hike anyway.

     After about a mile and a half of easy walking the trail quickly took me up to a small saddle on the ridge. I didn't see it on my way up,but on my way back down I saw the old trail sign indicating that Trail 82 does continue straight along the ridge. Thing was I couldn't see any of the old trail tread. Either it's been deliberately obscured here with downed branches and such,or it just hasn't been used or maintained in a while and is disappearing naturally.After this point the trail winds it's way up onto the ridge,crosses over it a couple of time before sidehilling far above the North Fork of Mcknight Canyon.There are couple of spots where I briefly lost the trail in this section.If you walk more than a hundred feet without seeing a tree blaze, a cairn or obvious tread, you will have lost it too, just go back and look for one of those three and you'll find it again like I did. There wasn't many places for the trail to be any way: I was on the top of a narrow ridge.After the somewhat exposed sidehilling section, I arrived at a saddle with large trees and a second sign. This is the junction with Trail 80, South Fork Mimbres River. Now the upper end of this trail appeared clear,wide and well trod,but I have read that the lower end is a horrible maze of burn downfall and brush. So even though it's only 2 miles from here to the Middle Fork Mimbres River(FT 78) junction, it may not be a good choice for hiker,backpacker,rider or fisherman.From here trail 82 switchbacks through some young aspens and eventually levels off for some pleasant walking through an aging aspen forest that is nursing the next generation of conifers. From the junction with the Crest Trail(FT 79) it's a short walk to one of the twin crests of Mcknight Mountain.
      The views to the south of Water,Pretty, and Flower Canyons were awash with the golds and reds of aspens and oaks.Hillsboro Peak and in the distance Cookes Peak were visible as well.Looking to the east and north, the Caballos and Vicks Peak are seen.This is wonderful place to linger awhile, the highest point for many miles around(10,165 feet).The hike is about 10 miles with a little over 2000 feet elevation gain and took me exactly 5 hours to complete. The middle section of the hike has nearly continuous views of the aspen covered slopes of the Black Range Crest and Mcknight Canyon. Except for the last section of the drive to the trailhead, I highly recommend it as Gila classic.Oh and for you wildlife lovers I did see a cute little bear run across the creek on the way back.IMPORTANT NOTE: Parts of this hike are within the Silver Fire burn area. Check with the Forest Service for conditions.

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