Wednesday, March 16, 2016

East Curtis Spring- Aldo Leopold Wilderness

Doug Scott photo of me at East Curtis Spring

Apache Peak

Looking down to Las Animas Creek

I'm going to get all my warnings about this hike right out in front. First, FR 157 S, the North Percha Road is a reasonably well maintained dirt road for the 10 or so miles from the highway( NM 152) to where it crosses North Percha Creek. After that, it becomes increasingly rough. High clearance is an absolute and the going will be slow. The final few pitches, before settling down into Cave Creek and arriving at the trailhead  for FT 307 will require four wheel drive even in dry weather. If the weather is wet consider the entire stretch from North Percha Creek  a four wheel drive only affair.
 Second, FT 117  is good trail from its junction with FT 307 for about a mile until reaching the burn in Magner Park  where it disappears completely. There are a few cairns about,but they are easy to miss. There are no blazes distinguishable on the burnt trunks of trees. Furthermore, setting waypoints by the old trail line makes little sense because it unnecessarily diverted us around a knob on a hill to the south, and took us through some heavy oak and mountain mahogany brush . Had we continued to follow it, it would have put us on an extremely treacherous line on a near vertical hillside and through a gap in an enormous fin of rock that protrudes from the southeast into East Curtis Canyon.After that, had we chosen that route we would have been delivered  to a steep,rocky ravine ,which,were there any remnant of the trail to follow would have been completely washed out.
We could see the old trail traversing the notch in this enormous rock fin.
Maps confirmed that was the old route.

Third, this was not a pretty hike. Although the Cave Creek valley is still nice and green, and Cave Canyon and the ridge above are mostly unscathed, once we entered Magner Park, we were  in areas of high burn severity all the way to East Curtis Spring. The views into East Curtis and down to Las Animas are majestic,but are tempered by having much of the trip through thorny locust that has taken over where the pine forest once stood. We were poked and scratched so much I felt and looked like I was some sort of human pin cushion.Oh, and lest I forget, if you haven't figured it out already, the hike is almost completely without shade which wouldn't be so bad if not for the accumulated 2200 feet of vertical involved, and the fact that it was nearly 80 degrees out there in mid- March.
Cave Creek valley
Forest Trail 307

Now, if that  hasn't discouraged  just about everyone,let me just say that the pay off for the hike probably made it all worth it.What can't be known from a place name on a map is that there is a spectacular nearly 200 foot waterfall, about half of which is free falling, at East Curtis Spring.
 We had seen it, from across the canyon while we ate our lunches in the rhyolite cliffs. We could also spy the old trail impressions, which led us to invent our route that circled around on the ridge to the south and brought us quite safely down to the creek above the falls.
Above East Curtis Canyon

East Curtis falls is in the shadow at the center of the picture
Falls in the shadow
  Here was bedrock box canyon with one small falls and one quite higher one. My colleagues, who climbed around on the rocks  above  trying unsuccessfully to get a  look,  estimated it to be 30 or 40 feet.  I climbed over some rock on the other side  and saw what might have been a way to get down to the bottom to view it head on, but it was impossible to  completely see if the route was safe without gravity committing you to taking it anyway.

 We got out of the creek bottom where a brief debate ensued about whether to  go down to the bottom to see the high falls close up. I was of the mind that I had not come all this way through locust, brush,burnt trees and hot climbs just to have only seen these falls from a 1/2 mile away, so soon, we were rapidly descending 400 feet, at times using the old trail, its switchbacks still vaguely to be discerned.
 Even at the very base of the falls, the trees were burned,but that hardly mattered as we basked in the cool shadows of an immense wall of rock from which the stream of water arced out, plummeted a hundred feet in free fall, then splashed on a platform before turning into  a ribbon of white, cascading down another 100 feet into the shallow pool at its base. We lingered a bit, taking photos and such,but mostly letting this place bless us and strengthen us for our return journey.

The 800 feet  of climbing back up to Magner Park was slow going for me and my knee only gave me a few twinges on the way back down Trails 117 and 307. We were in good shape,mostly. My friend Doug had cut on his hand and his nose. Nate, a hiking friend of Doug's and now mine also, had his legs thoroughly scratched. I was dehydrated, hungry, sunburned and had the aforementioned myriad pin holes,but we were good.  We talked and recovered a bit at the Doug's jeep on Cave Creek. When we got back to my truck at Carbonate Creek, we talked and recovered a bit more,before finally parting. What a strange and difficult journey we had made to a magical spot, all in a day.
 In Hillsboro, as I drove home at dusk,six or seven deer  took their time crossing the road in front of me. I thought of the deer we had seen in the morning  back in the  forest of black trees,calmly looking at us in the same way. So many things seem like miracles on a good day. My green chile cheeseburger at the Arrey Cafe was another.


©CBVTV said...

I came up recently through N Percha canyon up behind Granite Peak down into East Curtis Canyon... like you said that thorny locust brush? Is terrible ... Just this last Thursday I was in East Curtis up at the spring still pretty cool there .. no water flowing but still water in the spring. I've been down the trail through Magner Park many times and ever before the burn it was hard to find in places now I bet it is almost impossible..

I enjoy reading your writings about these places.. not many of us use this area anymore.

devon said...

Thanks.How burned is North Percha?