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Monday, August 22, 2016

EAST FORK TRAIL #95

EAST FORK TRAIL #95
Pasture at the base of Mount Baldy
If you drive down State Route 373/Main Street, through the town of Greer to near road's end, you'll find yourself at the banks of the West Fork of the Little Colorado River and the trailhead for the East Fork Trail #95.
Yup, the East Fork Trail begins at the West Fork and this woodsy stream side spot is the most popular place to begin the hike that rambles through alpine meadows sprawled out between two creeks that originate on the slopes of Mount Baldy. Although the drive through town is scenic, it's often crowded and parking can sometimes be a challenge. Couple that with the fact that accessing trail #95 here requires an immediate creek crossing that might cause unprepared hikers to turn back before even starting.
Mooooont Baldy cows. 
There's a work around, though. If you start the hike from the Gabaldon Horse Campground at the edge of Mount Baldy Wilderness, you'll avoid the traffic and parking headaches.
East Fork Trailhead in Greer on the West Fork of the LCR

The southern terminus of Trail #95 shares space with Railroad Grade Trail, a 21-mile route that follows the repurposed track of the defunct Apache Railroad. This first section follows a raised cinder bed through a canopy of spruce and aspens that gradually spills into an open alpine meadow with see-forever views. From June through September, abundant moisture and dappled sunshine provide perfect conditions for wildflowers.
East Fork of the Little Colorado River near Colter Reservoir
Take time to appreciate the delicate lavender harebells and dainty clustered blooms of Autumn Dwarf Gentian that pop up among swaying forbs and shrubby cinquefoil. At the 1.5-mile point, the trail encounters Colter Reservoir. More like a giant stock pond than lake, the trapped water is a favorite bovine gathering place. Sometimes, the cows congregate on the trail, but when given their space, they'll usually move aside. Pass a cattle gate (leave it open or closed as found) and make an immediate right turn onto a cow-trampled single track marked by posts and carins. From here, the trail follows the twisted trickle of the East Fork of the Little Colorado River for awhile before ascending into the hills. Over the next miles, the route passes among dewy cienegas and patches of fir-spruce forest. In places, evidence of the 2011 Wallow Fire manifests in charred tree trunks that stand like fragile matchsticks doomed to succumb to the next winter storm. But the forest is renewing itself as fresh growth is springing up from the ashes. As the trail approaches Greer, take a last look at White Mountain vistas from Amberon Point before scrambling 600 feet downhill to get your feet wet crossing the West Fork.
Harebells

LENGTH: 7.5 miles one way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 8200' - 9350'
East Fork Trail #95

GETTING THERE:
Gabaldon Trailhead (as described here):
From State Route 260 17 miles west of Eagar, turn onto State Route 273 that's located just past milepost 377 and signed for Sunrise Ski Area. Go 11.9 miles south to the trailhead on the right (0.4 mile past the East Baldy trailhead. Park in the turnouts before entering the campground. To get to the trailhead, hike 0.2 mile up SR 273 to Forest Road 409, turn left and make a left onto the unsigned red cinder trail just past the cattle guard. SR 273 beyond the ski area is not plowed in winter and may be closed due to snow between October and May.
Greer Trailhead:
From State Route 260 9.6 miles west of Eagar, turn onto State Route 373 (Greer) and continue 5.5 miles south to the trailhead on the left. Parking is limited to 5 cars and there's a restroom. There's an immediate crossing of the river that's easy in low water, but may require wading.
INFO: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest