Steep hike to West Clear Creek
Posted by Arizona Hiking
at July 2nd
West Clear Creek Wilderness
Contained within the striated walls of a remote canyon on the Mogollon Plateau is the most expressive example of what might happen if the powerful hand of Nature applied a sledgehammer to a mesa and filled the resultant wound with water.
Narrow and deep, the rough-hewn upper reaches of West Clear Creek are a maze of cracked and tilted tributary slot canyons scoured out of contorted layers of sedimentary rocks. From its headwaters on the Mogollon Rim, the creek rips through a riparian gallery forest before merging with the Verde River 40-miles downstream. The Tramway Trail #32, which offers the easiest access to this pristine wilderness, begins on the cliffs overlooking the canyon. Here, remains of a defunct cable tram that was used from 1942 to 1965 to stock the creek with trout, hangs in rusted knots from an enormous Ponderosa pine tree. The route into the canyon is a spider crawl along a thin trail that clings to the siltstone precipice like a rocky fire escape. For those who are not bothered by heights, this trail’s steep switchbacks, rock-scrambles and dizzying drop-offs deliver a substantial adrenaline-rush.
At the base of the trail, there’s a well-worn primitive campsite above a large pool of water where healthy tufts of Canada violets and ferns sprout from the loamy soil. Although the campsite marks the official end of the trail, adventurous hikers can pick their way along the creek through thick, wildlife-rich woodlands. At every bend in the stream, contorted, 800-foot-high canyon walls converge and seem to swallow up the sky only to release it as seldom-seen alcoves emerge from beyond the clutch of the stony precipice.
LENGTH: 1 mile round-trip (on trail) with exploratory options
ELEVATION: 6,650’ – 5,900’
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 150 miles one-way
From Phoenix, go north on I17 to the AZ 260 interchange near Camp Verde. Go east on AZ 260 (General Crook Trail) to the junction with AZ 87. From there, go north (left) and continue for 11 miles to Lake Mary Road (Forest Road 3). Go north (left) on Lake Mary Road and continue for 7.5 miles to FR 81. Turn west (left) onto FR 81 and drive 3 miles to FR 81E. Follow FR 81E and the “Tramway Trail” and generic “trail” signs for 3.6 miles to FR 693. Go west (right) on FR 693 and continue 1.2 miles to a fork in the road. Turn left at the fork and drive less than a half-mile to the trailhead. A high-clearance vehicle is required.