Passage 26 – Highline

May 6-8, 2017

A key milestone for ATA through-hikers is the climb up the Mogollon Rim, 18 miles east of the Pine TH. After contouring below the towering cliffs of the rim the trail makes a sharp turn to the north, and quickly ascends the rim. Unfortunately, it follows a utility corridor for most of the climb. The ATA recently received a Recreation Trails Program grant from Arizona State Parks to dramatically improve this section of trail, moving it from the utility corridor across the East Verde River into the tall pines.
ATA volunteer coordinator Wendy Lotze organized a Volunteer Vacation work event to kick things off. Following several days of route layout and clearing, the main event began at Washington Park TH Saturday, May 6, 2017. The dirt flew as the volunteers spread out and went to it. The southern part of the route winds through old growth pine and fir trees over rather easy terrain, and the trail began to stretch into the woods. The end of day one found the crew nearly 0.4 miles into the project. Everyone convened to camp for refreshments, trail talk and Wendy’s dinner.

With a few crew member changes, day two pushed into the dense ground cover below Pieper Spring, across the river again and up into rocky terrain. The route is more difficult here, with steeper climbs, dense cover and many turns. By quitting time the trail was tantalizingly close to the end. Maybe tomorrow? That would be great because the forecast was for rain on Tuesday.

A few more crew changes Monday morning and everyone was off to the work site. Much denser cover, deadfall and rocks slowed the work but the end was so close. The crew followed the pin flags out of the trees onto a burned-over patch of open terrain, but the twists and turns did not let up. The trail has to be long enough to accommodate the steep terrain and resulting erosion, thus the continuous turns. And of course it had to go through one last pile of deadfall.

But by noon the trail – 0.92 miles of it – was open! Following lunch at the north end the crew loaded up on tools and started back. The southern 100+ feet had been left un-done to keep hikers from starting up a trail to nowhere, so the final task was to open this connection. A few stalwarts hung back and made short work of this.

Work remains on the new section – 15 fallen trees remain to be cleared, some drainage crossings must be built, a few rock abutments added to hold the bench and a few large boulders should be pried out of the path – but the trail is a beautiful walk through pristine stream-side forest.

Huge “thank you” to Scott, Tom, Elizabeth, Bill, David, Carl, Mike, Terry, Eileen, John M., Roger, Tim, Beau, Hanna, Linda, Patrick, John W., CJ, Tracy and Wendy.