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Monday, August 18, 2014

OSPREY CONNECTOR to ICE CAVE


OSPREY CONNECTOR to ICE CAVE
Pinetop-Lakeside

Crossing of Porter Creek

Of all the wonderful routes in the White Mountain Trail System, Ice Cave Trail #608 is a hiker favorite.
Known for its easy tread and cool, pine-juniper forests, the trail's big attraction is the eponymous lava tube located mid-way along the path.  Because of its popularity, the trailhead fills up quickly, which is why the Osprey Connector #636C is gaining recognition as an alternative access route. A relatively new addition to the 25 trails within the system, this one was built to link the Timber Mesa and Blue Ridge Mountain clusters of trails.  But to view this woodland traipse as just a means to an end is to miss the point---it holds its own as a standalone hike. Passing through the gorge and surrounding wetlands of Porter Creek, the trail makes a steppingstone-assisted water crossing before ascending along the ridgeline above Scott Reservoir. 
However, as visiting the White Mountain ice cave is a hiking itch that must be scratched, here's how to use this route to get to the prize. Begin by hiking 0.5-mile on the Timber Mesa Trail #636, turn right onto the Osprey Connector and follow it 2.5 miles to the Ice Cave Trail junction.  From here, it's 0.5-mile to the cave.  Despite the hype, (and to the chagrin of many hikers) the cave itself is little more than a glorified sinkhole--with no ice. The forest service has fenced off the cave for preservation (the gate has been open on all my visits) and it's smart to avoid climbing into the potentially dangerous abyss.

Scott Reservoir viewed from Osprey Connector

LENGTH: 7 miles roundtrip to the cave and back
RATING: easy
ELEVATION:  6350' - 6890'

Trail signs correspond with online maps

GETTING THERE:
In Pinetop-Lakeside, go south on AZ260 (White Mountain Blvd.) to the Porter Mountain Road traffic light at milepost 350.  Turn left and continue 2.2 miles to the Timber Mesa trailhead or 2.4 miles to additional parking at a gate along the road. Parking at the gate cuts 2 miles off the roundtrip distance.

INFO: Pinetop-Lakeside TRACKS
http://www.tracks-pinetop-lakeside.org/
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