The upper end of the South Fork Trail viewed from above. Photo by Dexter Kopas.

Written by Lauren Renteria, Assistant Field Crew Leader.

Welcome, reader! It’s Lauren here to tell you all about our chilly-yet-fun return to the South Fork Trail in the beautiful Chiricahua Wilderness. 

This hitch, we focused our efforts on the last mile and a half of the trail before the junction with the Crest Trail above. This is the last section of South Fork that needs restored before our mission is complete. With this goal in mind, we decided to move our base camp from our beloved Happy Camp to a new place, High Camp, to be closer to our work site.

It was quite the slog up to High Camp, which is about two miles further up the trail from Happy Camp that’s about 4.5 miles from the trailhead. With our packs full of food to carry us over for a week, our winter gear to keep us warm at 8,200 feet and the second half of the trail being the more challenging bit, the hike up to our new home was one heck of a quad buster. 

This week we picked up where we left off last week about 6 miles into the trail in gorgeous Cave Creek Canyon, restoring old, hardly-visible tread into a walkable surface. Over the course of the week we cut six-tenths of a mile of fresh tread, sawed through 30 logs clearing the deadfall from High Camp all the way up to the Crest Trail and brushed a good portion of trail ahead to prep for our tread train that’ll make its way back next week to complete our mission.

We even saw two backpackers already taking advantage of the fresh tread. It was a treat to see a glimpse of human life outside our Wild Stew world and watch the first couple of hikers using the trail we just cut. 

This week didn’t come without its challenges, though. With fall in full swing, the first half of the week was almost unbearably cold in the morning, so treading was a more-than-welcome task to keep us warm. We also lost some crew members for a couple of days throughout the week — myself included — to an illness I’ll call the crud. Though some of us were bed ridden for a day or two, all of us made a good enough recovery to get back out there to sling tools through some frozen dirt! And, an added bonus, no one had to be sent home! 

Before/after of the South Fork Trail. Photos by Jonathan Patt.

I know, we make it sound so easy.

A tremendous transformation from virtually no tread left to a luxuriously wide trail. Photos by Jonathan Patt.

Despite the challenges, we did enjoy being back on the trail, especially over the Thanksgiving holiday. Of course, we celebrated the best way we could in backcountry fashion, with a miraculously unbroken 3-pound chocolate bar (that we crushed half of in one sitting), plenty of s’moreos (s’mores sandwiched between melted oreos instead of graham crackers), more chocolate treats, and mazapan de la rosa. 

Although it was cold — too cold at times, in my desert-person opinion — and remarkably windy we couldn’t complain too much about the weather. Most of the crew cowboy camped since the sky was clear the whole week. And, when it was too cold to bear, we cooked up a nice morning fire to start the day and ended the same way after work. 

Also, big thanks are owed to our project partners, the National Forest Foundation, Chiricahua Regional Council and Friends of Cave Creek Canyon for the funding that makes this awesome project possible.     

Next week, the crew gets to do it all again — hopefully without any illness but with all the treats — to cut the last half mile of tread up to the Crest Trail junction!