We picked this hike out of Mike's copy of "Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau" by Michael R. Kelsey. From the description, we figured we could tackle the hike over a weekend.
The opportunity we had was late September, putting it after the monsoon season but while the weather was still warm enough that the swimming wouldn't be a problem. We'd park one car at the bottom and get into the canyon on Friday night, and be able to hike through it on Saturday and Sunday.
We packed everything we carried in ziploc bags (often doubled), Mike got some small innertubes (~12") to float the packs on. When Friday afternoon rolled around we left work early and headed out.
It's been said that no plan of battle survives first contact with the enemy. This hike proved that no hiking plan survives contact with reality. No sooner than we'd left the office than Mike said "I forgot to grab a patch kit and pump for the innertubes." I replied "No problem, they're already aired up and they're heavy rubber. They'll be fine."
We got out of town and made it to Camp Verde uneventfully, and only a little behind our intended schedule. We found our way to the Bull Pen Ranch campsite, (which was farther back than we anticipated, putting us a bit further behind schedule) , parked Mike's truck, and headed for the east end of the hike. Now things got interesting. Forest Road #142 either closed or so poorly marked that we missed it. We ended going to FR #144, turning Left at the 1st T, then taking the right fork. This put us onto 142 right near Calloway Butte where we wanted to be, but still farther behind schedule. A brief attempt to see where FR142 went back to the highway resulted in the conclusion that FR142 was so poorly maintained that we didn't want to torture the truck by taking it. We headed back toward the trailhead, taking FR142A and parking the truck about 0.5 mile before the road crossed back under the power lines.
We got our gear on and hit the trail, now about 1.5 hours behind schedule. The sun was setting as we dropped into the canyon, working our way down the steep hillside, bearing to the left. Suddenly I heard a hissing sound, along with a yell from Mike. He'd walked into a cactus and put a hole in his innertube. We pressed on, planning to try to patch it with the Therm-a-rest patch kit in the morning. We reached the bottom where there was a reasonably large flat area to camp on and pitched the tent in near darkness.
The next morning we got up at 6:30am and tried (unsuccessfully) to patch Mike's innertube. Despite the distraction, we were on the trail by 8am. The pictures of Mike and I standing on the ledge in front of the cliff were taken about 50 yards from the campsite.
At 9am we made the turn West and stopped to pump water and rest. I was wishing I had a pair of gators as we'd been rockhopping and bushwhacking, and I was getting a lot of scrapes. We restarted hiking just after 9:30.
Around 10:20 Mike wished for a pool to cool off in. Around the next bend was the first pool we had to swim. I put my pack on the innertube and floated it ahead of me. Mike undid his chest and hip straps and swam with his pack on, having adjusted all the low-density gear (Therma-rest, empty canteens, etc.) toward the bottom. We swam 5 pools before breaking for lunch at 11:45. (I didn't keep track of pools where we didn't have to swim) All the pools we swam were wall-to-wall water, and too deep to touch bottom.
We waited a bit to try and dry out our gear/lighten our packs. Several of the Ziploc bags had leaked, and even those that kept the gear dry trapped small amounts of water in every fold. This was adding a LOT of weight to our packs. In addition to just being heavy, the extra weight was not balanced, and made the rock-hopping we were doing more treacherous. I was doing better than Mike with my innertube, but the pack still spent a lot of time in the water.
About 1:00pm we got moving again. We crossed several more pools, including the biggest one which is about 100 yards long (You can't see the exit from the entrance) and at located at the bottom of the stretch where the the canyou runs North-South right before it turns west at Meadow Canyon. For one of these swims, Mike put his camera in his beef Jerkey bag, as it was the heaviest bag he had. Unfortunately, the bag leaked resulting in several of his pictures being totally ruined and the rest getting some interesting special effects.
Not long after clearing the biggest pool, we turned west again and came to where Meadow Canyon enters. Looking at our watches, we concluded we'd been averaging 1/2 mile per hour, and that unless the pace picked up a LOT, we'd not make it through by the end of the day Sunday. We fully expected that we could press on and make it, as we knew the bottom part of the canyon got a lot more open. However, Meadow Canyon would take us almost perfectly back to my truck, and represented our ONLY chance to bail out. We decided to make the safe (smart) decision, and bail out.
We headed up Meadow Canyon, which was generally a steady upward slope similar to that along West Clear Creek, but dry. At one point we had to scramble up a steep incline, but it wasn't too hard. Further up the canyon we came to an open area that had some good sized pine trees in it, and where you might be able to camp. Unfortunately, about 1/4 mile farther up there is a ~30ft vertical climb, which we did not have the equipment to tackle. We backtracked to the open spot, and began picking our way up the steep sides of the canyon. I was worried that we would reach the top in an area that had vertical walls, but we managed to find a spot that we could walk up. (although you definately didn't want to slip) The sun was setting as we reached the top, and we pushed as fast as our tired legs would go. As we approached the truck, we crossed a couple of Elk hunters who inquired if we'd seen any elk. We hadn't, but added the hunters to the list of reasons to not hike this area at this time of year. (or to bring Blaze Orange)
We made it to the truck, unloaded, and headed back to Camp Verde for Pizza and beer. I observed that I'd been hiking on that food since Mike suggested it halfway up Meadow Canyon. After dinner, we headed back to Bull Pen Ranch where Mike's truck was, pitched the tent and hung out a while before crashing. the next morning Mike headed home early. I spent a little while exploring the bottom of the canyon, but didn't go very far.
Mike and I definately want to do this again, although we'll make some changes.
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