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Friday, November 23, 2012

Under the radar canyon hike

Tonto National Forest, Seven Springs Area

The seeds for this exploratory trek in the Seven Springs area north of Carefree were sown last year when we viewed the rambling course of Mashakattee Canyon from the summit of Humboldt Mountain--the prominent peak with the  big white "golf ball"  FAA radar station on top . From above, the sinuous juniper-lined sliver was a beautiful sight, and I vowed to someday get down into it.
Visualizing the route from our mountaintop vantage point, it appeared to be straightforward ---more or less, just follow the drainage, which cuts a downhill gash to merge with Seven Springs Wash.  And, we could see that the canyon bisected Cave Creek Road (FR24), so theoretically, access would be easy.   However, as with any off-trail trek, even the best-laid plans can be thwarted by unexpected kinks.
We showed up at the "trailhead" with my GPS loaded with NatGeo topos.  Turns out, we were the only ones in the area armed with such innocuous technology.  Everybody else had guns.  Kink number one.  As we knew that the area is popular with target shooters and hunters, we wore bright colors and planned our hike time frame to miss the prime dawn/dusk stalking hours. (I'm writing this, so, we survived).  Kink number two:  never underestimate the slowing down power of an off trail hike.  The entire length of the canyon is a major drainage full of boulders and slick rock.  The advantage of this is that the stone keeps scratchy shrubs mostly at bay, but also makes for a constant game of finding stable footing—taxing your stair-climbing muscles.  Kink number three: obstacles.  Toppled trees, boulder jams, cliff scrambles and a fence we had to crawl under, added elements of fun, but also slowed the pace considerably.  The canyon grows narrower and more cluttered as it approaches its terminus below Humboldt Mountain.  So, just know your limits and turn back when you've had enough. Still, for an under the radar station  kind of hike, Mashakattee Canyon is easy to follow, has great views, seasonal water and interesting geology.  

LENGTH:  2.35 miles one way
RATING:  moderate--100% on rocks with  obstacles. Sturdy footwear and hiking stick required.
ELEVATION:  3,517' - 4,256'
From Loop 101 in North Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess Road exit 36 and go 13 miles north on Pima Road to Cave Creek Road.  Turn right (east) and continue on Cave Creek Road (a.k.a. FR 24, Seven Springs Road) to FR 254 located just past MCDOT mile marker 10 on the right (0.6 mile past Humboldt Mtn Rd. FR 562).  If you have a high clearance vehicle, turn onto FR 254 cross the wash and continue 0.2 mile to a turnout on the right with a fire ring.  Park here and make an easy scramble into the canyon veer left and hike the gorge northeast toward Humboldt Mountain.  Alternately, you can enter the canyon where FR 254 crosses a wash at about 0.15 mile from FR24.  Those without high clearance should park along FR24 and make the short hike up the road.

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