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Sunday, June 17, 2012

What goes around, comes around on Lake Mountain

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
Lake Mountain lookout, built in 1926

If you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all, you’ve probably figured out that I have a penchant for hiking up volcanoes.  So, when I read about Lake Mountain--an extinct cinder cone with a water-filled crater near its summit—game on.  A little research showed that both a road and a good hiking trail lead to the summit. Using White Mountain Trail System (WMTS) online maps, we planned a loop hike using Los Burros Trail #631, Lake Mountain Spur and the lookout road.  As the system trails are very well signed, this plan was working well 
The "lake" is the volcano's crater--dry on June 16, 2012
Lake Mountain spur trail
Which way??
until we encountered our final junction where there were just waaaay too many signs.  A wooden forest service sign pointed right while of slew of WMTS blue diamond markers were tacked all over the place creating a confusing and seemingly contradictory conundrum.  As we puzzled over our maps, two friendly bikers---Keith and Bob---stopped to help.  We pointed out the Los Burros trailhead sign that had arrows pointing in opposite directions, and they suggested we head left as the WMTS signs indicated.  Sounded like as good a plan as any, and besides, I could always deploy my “return the way we came” tactic if we got off track.  We headed left but soon found that the abundant blue diamond trail markers suddenly disappeared, so we made the decision to turn around and hike back to a dirt road where we knew there was a trail sign. Then, two seconds before I was about to implement the backtrack, we heard a truck rumbling down the road---- Keith and Bob.  Having realized they had suggested the loooooong way back and that we’d probably be confused by the missing signage, they aborted their ride, tossed their bikes in their truck and came back to find us!  Talk about good guys!  WOW!  They even gave us a lift back to the trailhead.  This is just another example of how profoundly nice trail users can be.  I can’t tell you how many times my hiking pals and I have shared water, food, maps, rain gear, jumper cables and even helped haul fatigued hikers off the trails.  Truly, what goes around comes around. 
Hiking pal Julie poses with Bob and Keith--Thanks, guys!

Hike directions:
From the Los Burros #2 trailhead, cross the road and pick up Los Burros trail #631 heading north. Follow the blue diamond trail markers 0.5 mile to the lookout road (unsigned).  Turn left (west) here and hike 0.5 mile up the road to the lookout.  Here, there’s a wood sign that serves as the trailhead for both the Lake Mountain Spur trail and the 1-mile Lake Mountain Rim Trail loop. Do the loop, return to the trailhead, then head down the 0.25-mile spur trail to visit the “lake” and reconnect with Los Burros trail. At the bottom of the spur trail, continue right and hike 0.75-mile to a 3-way junction with a sign that reads “Los Burros trailhead 3”, go right here and hike 2 miles back to trailhead #2.

LENGTH: 5-mile loop
RATING: moderate—route/map reading skills required
ELEVATION:  7,800’- 8501’
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 207 miles one way
BEST SEASON: April - October
From Pinetop-Lakeside, travel east on AZ260 to Vernon Road in McNary between mileposts 360-361. FYI: this road is also known as FR224, AP3140, Vernon-McNary Road, and N. Cady.  For reference, it’s located across from the McNary store and has a small green sign that reads “Vernon”.  Turn left (north) and continue 7.9 miles to Los Burros trailhead #2 (located at the 8 mile marker) on the right. The road turns into maintained dirt after 0.4 mile, passes thru the White Mountain Apache reservation, then enters the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest at the 5-mile point. 
INFO: White Mountains Trail System

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