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Mazatzal Peak - Tonto National Forest

Summary: A semi-loop hike, on and off trail, to the highest peak in the Mazatzal Wilderness.
Note: Much of the area described in this hike shows considerable evidence of fire damage from the Willow fire which burned through the area in June-July of 2004.
Directions: From Phoenix drive northeast on State Highway 87 (Beeline Highway) for about 65 miles to the brown Forest Service sign for Barnhardt Rd (FS 419).  Turn left on this dirt road (a little bumpy, but ok for passenger cars if dry) and follow it 4.7 miles to the parking area at the end.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car
Navigation: Difficult
Length: 16 miles
Date Hiked: January 2006
Weather Conditions: Sunny and cold
Required Skills:
Hike Description: Begin walking on the trail (0 miles, 4220 ft) just past the large brown sign for the Barnhardt Trailhead (this sign is supposed to show some of the main trails in the area, though it doesn't make any sense to me). A couple feet past the sign is a junction (sign missing 1/06): Barnhardt Trail (#43) heads straight & the Shake Tree Trail (#44) heads left, continue straight ahead on the Barnhardt Trail. The path is wide and rocky at first as it heads through a stile then begins following the south side of the drainage of Barnhardt Creek through a scrub forest of emory oak, alligator juniper, scrub oak, one seed juniper & prickly pear. About 15 minutes later you will pass a sign marking the Mazatzal Wilderness Boundary. The trail continues to ascend moderately for the next several miles. Near the top of the climb, look for a narrow break in the rock on the left hand side - about 100 feet up this short drainage is a nice waterfall (when it's flowing, which it probably isn't). In the upper end of the canyon manzanita becomes more common, and eventually becomes the dominant plant species. The trail bends to the right around the head of Barnhardt Creek & shortly thereafter reaches a junction (marked with a cairn, though the sign seems to have burned in the '04 fire) with the right branching Sandy Saddle Trail (4.2 miles, 5960 ft), stay straight on Barnhardt. The trail for the next few miles is quite flat as it travels through manzanita corridors & in and out of shallow ponderosa pine filled drainages (all of which shows signs of fire damage) below the rounded humps of Mazatzal Peak. Hike approximately 1.8 miles from the Sandy Saddle junction to a saddle (GPS point, MP1, 6 miles, 6030 ft) where the trail bends out and around a prominent ridge (note: if you reach the intersection with the right branching Davenport Trail you've gone too far). This is the ridge you will follow to Mazatzal Peak. Leave the trail to the left at this point and begin following the ridge upwards. In the lower sections, the ridge is steep and occasionally brushy (with a few thickets of sharp thorns). As you gain elevation the terrain becomes rockier and the ridge narrows (the easiest route is to remain on top of the ridge as much as possible). The walking becomes easier as you enter an open pine forest, then gain a rocky escarpment that drops steeply away to your right with great views into the Wilderness beyond. Continuing upwards, you will reach the base of a prominent peak (a false summit). You can skirt this peak on the left, though a short, 5 minute side trip to the top is well worth the effort (and actually has better views than the actual summit in my opinion). The actual peak is visible beyond, and takes another 10 minutes of climbing to reach. Mazatzal Peak features decent views in all directions and a small register located inside of a jar and painted soup cans (GPS point MP2, 9 miles, 7903 ft). To get back down, you can either retrace your steps or make a loop that descends Suicide Ridge (be aware that the latter requires some route finding). To descend Suicide Ridge, the first order of business is to visually identify the route. While standing on the summit, identify the ridgeline you just walked up on the ascent. Looking to the right of this ridgeline, Suicide Ridge can be seen descending to the northeast. Note that the ridge features a few minor humps, then further down some steep cliff bands. Mentally trace your route down the ridge and note that you'll want to leave the ridge to the left before reaching those cliffs. OK - let's do it. Drop off the peak to the north, then skirt right (east) to avoid some thick stands of trees. Soon you'll be walking down a ridge with the large cliff of the Mazatzal front range on your right (with some good views of the valley and the Beeline Highway below). Continue to descend along the ridge over the minor hump of peak 7592, then down to a flat unnamed hump at GPS point MP3. Continue down to a saddle between point MP3 and peak 7403 (the next bump on the ridge). Leave the ridge to the left at this point and begin descending down a wide arm (Note: you are basically aiming towards the Sandy Saddle/Barnhardt Trail junction far below). Now the tricky part - do not walk straight down this arm, instead, work your way to the left until you can see down into a deep gully to the left of the arm you are on. Walk down the arm until it begins to form an identifiable ridge (Note: there are no steep drop offs or cliffs along the ridge, if you find yourself faced with a steep down climb or cliff, you are not on the right route). The ridge features more nasty thorn thickets as it begins to bend to the right. Eventually the brush abates as you descend through the burned pines into the burned manzanita. Stay on top of the ridge as you wind your away around the various obstacles in your path to a point where you can easily see the Barnhardt Trail about 200' below. Leave the ridge to the left (GPS point MP4) and route find down the hill through the burned manzanita back to the trail (GPS point MP5, 12 miles, 5917 ft). Turn right on the Barnhardt Trail and follow it the remaining 4 miles back to the trailhead and your car (16 miles, 4220 ft).

GPS Coordinates (UTM):
MP1 = 455871mE 3771686mN
MP2 = 457405mE 3769200mN
MP3 = 458047mE 3770066mN
MP4 = 457970mE 3771848mN
MP5 = 457836mE 3771954mN

Rating (1-5 stars):
The author completed this loop with a group of 3 at a quick pace in 8 hours. On the descent we spent a bit of time looking around for the correct ridge to safely follow back to the trail.
Books: A slightly different route is described in:
Hiking Arizona's Superstition and Mazatzal Country
 - Grubbs, Bruce
Maps: Click here for a map of this route.
Mazatzal Wilderness Tonto National Forest, USFS
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.

The ridge to the summit (note: the
highest point in the photo is a
false summit).
Further up the brushy ridge.
Mazatzal Peak from the false summit. View from the top.
Navigating the manzanita
bone yard on the descent.