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Monday, January 25, 2016


Tonto National Forest, near Payson
Y Bar Trail on the edge above Shake Tree Canyon
Woe be to my judgment when I equate a trail's greatness with how much I want to puke while hiking it. I mean that in a good way. Trails that have lots of strenuous elevation gain and dizzying exposure are personal favorites. Heights, cliffs and edge-hugging bends all provide an adrenaline-fueled euphoria that can sometimes muddle decision making skills. While learning to conquer fear and build confidence are perks of the sport, it's important to crank up the brain cells when approaching the thin veil that separates exciting from stupid. Agonizing but ultimately wise hiking choices I have made include missing a summit because of an ear-infection-induced case of vertigo and abbreviating a recent trek on Y Bar Trail #44 when my group encountered more ice and snow than we were prepared to tackle safely. Next time. Although tame in comparison to some other notoriously arduous Arizona hiking trails, Y Bar still has several opportunities to pause for thought. The trail is steep, rocky and requires traversing of talus slopes and narrow, cliff-clinging turns with deep drop offs. On days when it's clear of obstacles, this challenging trail within the Mazatzal Wilderness is achievable by most well-conditioned, adequately equipped hikers. Do not underestimate the slowing power of constant elevation gain and unstable footing. Bring along extra water and food as this hike will likely take longer than you estimate. Even the most athletic hikers will want to allow extra time to soak in the scenery.
The hike begins with a moderate climb through juniper, oak and agaves with big views of the Mogollon Rim and Highway 87 a thousand feet below. After a series of switchbacks, the trail swings west, heading deeper into the wilderness where it dips into Shake Tree Canyon then moves up along the jostled terrain of Cactus Ridge to emerge on a magnificent, windy saddle. Here, 7,903-foot Mazatzal Peak towers above a craggy back country of rock pinnacles, scorched trees and fathomless scoured basins. The trail ends at the Windsor Saddle where it meets up with Mazatzal Divide Trail that's also part of Arizona Trail Passage #23. Unless you've researched and geared up for one of the marathon loop treks returning on either the Barnhardt or Rock Creek Trail, make this your turn around point.
LENGTH: 4.6 miles one way
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 4,200' - 7,100'
Barnhardt Trailhead:
From Shea Blvd. and State Route 87 (Beeline Hwy.) in Fountain Hills, travel 51 miles north on SR87 to Forest Road 419. This road is located just beyond the sign for Barnhardt Trailhead roughly 0.25-mile south of the town of Gisela. Turn left and go 4.8 miles on FR 419 to the trailhead. FR 419 is a rutted one-lane track. Although sedans are frequently sighted at the trailhead, a high clearance vehicle is recommended. Trail heads left at a sign a few yards up the Barnhardt Trail.
INFO: Tonto National Forest

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