In our quest to hike the biggest peaks in and around the Phoenix valley, we decided to attempt Mazatzal (“Maz”) Peak, the highest point in central Arizona and the Mazatzal Mountain range. Maz measures 7903 ft / 2409m in elevation. My SAT’s (self-appointed trainer) GPS said that we hiked 12.4 miles / 20 km and gained 4185 ft / 1276 m. That GPS did not measure the large number of scratches, bruises, and overall pain we incurred during the hike. Let me explain…
When my SAT chose Maz Peak as our weekend challenge, he neglected to inform me or our friend Ian (our delightfully agreeable hiking buddy) that he did not read any of the multiple hike descriptions he found. Therefore, we all assumed that we would be hiking on a groomed trail and that we should be finished the hike by mid-afternoon. That was mistake #1.
We left Phoenix at 6:45am after picking Ian up and arrived at the trailhead at 8:17am (Maz Peak is near Payson, AZ). After organizing our stuff, we started the hike by 8:30am, choosing the “Y Bar” trail for the ascent portion of the hike. The trail was a bit chunky in sections, but was definitely a clear path. Views were pretty and we noticed A LOT of manzanita bushes along the way (this is foreshadowing…).
Around mile 4, we noticed that the trail just…vanished. My SAT checked his GPS (he downloaded a gpx track recorded by a previous hiker) and said that the route just goes…up. We looked up:
At this point, we had a LOT of climbing to do. Most of the climbing was bushwhacking, or forcing one’s way through manzanita bushes and thorn bushes. We also had to climb up little cliffs, like this:
It was very slow going. Because none of us thought to bring an axe, the bushwhacking part was just plain annoying. Good thing we all wore long pants and shirts. After 5 hours, we reached the summit. I think I almost cried, and not because of the views.
Now that we made it to the top, how do we go back down? We all agreed that going down the way we came up was NOT a feasible option. That left us with going down “the other side.” So, we started our way slowly — the word of the day — making our way through the snow and rocks and those dratted bushes. Our goal was to hit the other trail (the Barnhardt) before sunset. We kept moving down the gully over boulders and pine logs, instead of staying on the ridge as the online instructions directed (this was mistake #2). Because we were descending in the gully, we ended up stopping at a couple of points because we were “cliffed out” (i.e. when you want to climb down a mountain, but find yourself on the top of a cliff and have to find another way down). After much tedious work, we finally FINALLY reached the Barnhardt trail after only 3 hours.
Because I did not want to be dramatic or anything, I did not indulge in my first reaction upon hitting the trail (i.e. kissing the ground). Being on a trail again felt amazing. Realizing that we had another 2+ hours to hike back to the car was not as amazing, but hey, we made it to the trail with about an hour of daylight left. This is what we saw in the waning light of day:
We finally made it back to the car at 7:17pm, which meant that we were “out there hiking” for almost 11 hours! (Of course, we weren’t moving the whole time, as we took some breaks to eat, check the GPS, or cry (internally).) We thought about going for a celebration dinner, i.e. “We made it out alive!” dinner, but decided to go for something fast and ended up grabbing some Chipotle when we got back to town.
Final note: during the drive back, I read the hike description that Ian and I thought SAT read. Turns out that after my SAT read the first paragraph, he thought “hey, that doesn’t sound too bad! Since we’ll be on trail the whole time, we’ll just wing it.” THAT WAS A BAD DECISION. The first paragraph of the hike description says this: “This is a loop hike beginning at the Barnhardt Trailhead. It takes the Barnhardt Trail to about the 4 mile point, freestyle your way to the top, then a fairly direct route down to the Y Bar Trail for the return.” If my SAT read the NEXT paragraph, he may not have been so cavalier about the hike, because the writer indicates that 1) the Maz Peak hike is the most difficult he’s done, 2) there is a lot of route finding and bushwhacking, and 3) his accompanying GPS route is “possibly not the best.” And that route was the one we used. Read the full hike description for yourself for more detail on how challenging the route is (we actually ended up doing the reverse of the hike description writer’s route).
Next time my SAT plans a hike, Ian and I are not going to agree to do it so readily.