Friday, June 23, 2017

Rim Trail, Heart Attack Canyon to Atkinson Field( FT 105,9629) - Lincoln National Forest

I've been chipping away at my goal of hiking all of the Rim Trail section by section for many years now. The parts closer to Cloudcroft, I did many years ago.  I did the section from Alamo Peak Road to Atkinson Field as part of loop using trails 111 and 109 a few years before starting this blog.  In 2011  I hiked  around 3 miles of the trail that winds around the heads of Nelson and Sawmill Canyons.Two years ago I did a section in the southern segment from Apache Point to the Moonshine Trail.Last year we did a loop involving the Cathey Canyon trail and the Rim Trail, which we extended to the San Andres Trail intersection. And three years ago I did the Heart Attack , San Andres loop using the Rim Trail( really FR 640) as the upper crossover. So, what's left? Mainly, it's the section from the southern trail head up to Hornbuckle Hill and on to the Moonshine Trail( a 6 or 7 mile hike one way that I'll split into two walks), and then two very short sections that total less than 2 miles.
 This was a pleasant little 4 to 5 mile out and back. It was probably nearly 85 degrees even over 9000 feet,but this section was shady enough to keep it fun. I parked along NM 6563 (Sunspot Highway) in a spot barely wide enough get my little Corolla all the way off the road. FT  9629 is not signed,but there was a path through an old downed gate threading through the trees by the highway and then a second old gate where the tread disappeared. It was easy enough just to walk up the open meadow( a small tributary of Rice Canyon) bearing northwest. It was an uphill third of a mile to the saddle and a sign marking the intersection with the Rim Trail, FR 640, and the Heart Attack Trail. FR 640 turns back to the east here, and  I  headed north on the Rim Trail( FT 105).
The next 4/10 of a mile are probably the least appealing part  of  this little hike. The trail is mostly wide( so open to the sun) and rocky as it makes a steady 400 foot climb to a flat topped little peak which afforded us our first and only open views to the west.

From there the trail becomes a rustic single track ( a rarity in the Sacramento Ranger District)as it descends and  then winds around the upper end of the west flowing Cherry Canyon.  The forest here is mostly firs with a few pines in the sunnier spots. There is quite a bit of new conifer growth. The aspens all seem to be very mature, although I did see a few sprouts here there, that have avoided being consumed. Oaks are filling in where they can. Most maps show the trail directly on FR 640 through part of this route, but it really follows it's own  way mostly as single lane hiking path as it passes a trick tank and some large aspens on its way to the intersection  with FT111 and FT109 and Atkinson Field,  a huge open meadow that's slopes toward the center where a small ephemeral pond forms after rains and spring snow melt. It does cross a long abandoned road which may be FR 2023 where there is sign pointing to FR 640.

It's always a bit  hard to tell when hiking on a week day,but it seems the entire 2 mile section I hiked receives only light use. It had no bike or motorcycle tracks, or even footprints( except the wapiti kind) that I could see,but recent rains could've erased them.  A small group of elk, and a couple of turkeys were my only fellow travelers on this trek.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Dark Canyon Trail loop hike( FT 5700,FR 223)- Lincoln National Forest

This hike was on the Dark Canyon Trail and shouldn't be confused with the off-trail hike I did a couple of years ago in Dark Canyon itself. Overall, I would definitely recommend the canyon hike over this one, which, despite its name stays high on a ridge with nary a peep to be seen of its namesake canyon below. The reasons are several. Unfortunately, the Dark Canyon Trail, like many trails in the Sacramento District is really a retired timber road. It is wide and open to the sun,something my black dogs didn't appreciate.  I think I've finally learned after this outing, that  an ambient  temperature of 75 degrees doesn't really count for much if you're nearly continually in the sun wearing a black fur coat. Of course the canyon hike is open to the sun as well,but the cattle/wildlife path you follow( where you can find it) provides a much more intimate and natural setting for your walk. Even when you come upon an old road at the bottom, it's so overgrown with grass, that it hardly detracts. The  Dark Canyon Trail  on the other hand, has seen relatively recent logging activity so unsightly slash piles are common. This is especially true once the trail reaches a point on the ridge and heads back to the west, now above Wilmeth Canyon.
 We detoured for bit in upper Wilmeth to get in some deep shade provided by some of the few massive Douglas- firs there. I was hoping to find an errant spring,but we were already well above the ones that I visited a couple of years back. Which brings me to the  biggest  advantage the canyon hikes( Dark or Wilmeth) have on hiking up on the ridge: water. Both canyons have several perennial, strong springs. Even though I lugged along plenty of water for my dogs to drink( and my shoulders are feeling it now), they really need some water to get into to really to cool down. That all being said the last couple of miles of our trek were a bit of trial.
After  our detour we easily rejoined the  road a bit further up the valley,but then came upon a sign indicating we were on  FR 223F. I had never seen anything that would even vaguely lead me to believe we  had gotten off of, or that there was even an option of getting off of  FT 5700. But, I thought, wouldn't it just be my luck that there was a fork somewhere in the short section of trail we had bypassed to walk in the canyon.  I really didn't need the hike to any longer,but we backtracked to check and be sure.  None of us were happy now.  I was especially displeased with the Forest Service for leaving what I decided had to be an old sign from before the trails were renumbered and signed. Then despite being overheated and tired Seamus took off up a hill after something I never did see. I always panic when he does this, sometime it's bad,sometimes it's not. This time was a little bid bad but luckily, he returned quickly, so the duration was mercifully short. He did it again soon after, I was calmer, and he came back even more quickly the second time.
We rested in the shade for quite a while at the southern( Wilmeth) trailhead, and then rested frequently in the patches of shade along the last leg of our loop on FR 223, arriving back at the 4Runner after a  three  and a half hour hike. The main thing this walk had going for it is that it was relatively level, which is a rarity in the Lincoln, where most of the trails run from valleys up to ridges.
 Here are few recommendations if you choose to do this one despite the preceding tale.
 Hike real early on sunny summer days or when the sun has gone behind the ridge. Overcast days would work too, unless t-storms are coming, and then the huge, open to sky corridor you're walking in is not a good thing at all. Otherwise, don't bring the four legged friends. Finally as you may have guessed, this is not great foot trail,but I think it would probably be great beginners trail for ATV riding, or mountain biking.