Dim ridges and cliffs reached high above Cherry Creek, towering above me at the humble Leisure Canyon Trailhead. I was parked about a mile away from the Sierra Ancha Wilderness, near the southeast corner, and I was trying to convince myself that climbing Moody Point Trail with an over-laden backpack was a good idea. My plan had felt ambitious at home, back when I was sitting at my comfortable desk surrounded by maps and data. Now it just seemed ludicrous.
This was my first backpacking adventure since the fabled 50 mile overnight in the Mazatzals, along rough trails through remote lands, so I planned a relatively easy 30 miles to 'ease back in'. I also relaxed my strict ultralight regimen, bringing extra sleeping insulation and various luxurious, and decided to haul a ton of fluids, an extravagant 6+ liters plus Gatorade, for a total pack weight over 30 lbs. Standing at the trailhead this morning with the pack digging into my shoulders I wondered if climbing 5000' over 8 miles with no water sources was dumb or dangerous.
Well, I was here now. I leaned into the trekking poles and quickly found the trail a few yards away from the parking lot. It was unmarked yet easy to make out, a wide cut through thorny growth leading down to Cherry Creek. Along the descent it swung through a few mesquite groves, handful of cairns marking the twists, and it spat me out on the bank of the wide, muddy, and cluttered creek bed. Pushing through the mess was annoying and difficult, especially navigating around the piles of debris. When I did meet the flowing creek I picked a spot where the water split into multiple channels and crossed each one without much issue, helped by a few rocks and my poles.
Once on the west bank I clambered up, hitched over a barbed-wire fence, and saw a steady footpath marching north. This led uphill for a bit, an unwelcome prelude to the coming climb, and mostly followed the fence along Cherry Creek, and then dropped into a wonderful little campsite under full trees. Moody Point appeared to fork right before the campsite and start the steep march west. With a sigh I started into the rocky climb.
70 minutes, 1600' gain, and 1.5 miles. By the time that passed I was a tired, sweaty mess. Most of the climb was well-defined, big cairns and beaten tread, with a few sections of head-scratching hunts. Along the way I walked through two flat sections long enough to catch my breath and enjoyed huge views of the cliffs and hills around me. Still, I was beat. I half-stumbled along the flat lands below a prominent cliff band, looking for a convenient spot to cut off trail and take a more direct route.
This trail is more than a punishing way to climb from the lowest parts of the wilderness to the highest. It also goes right past one of the more accessible ruins in the area, Moody Point Ruins. Well, it passes within 500 yards. Once I got directly below the cliffs I cut a straight line up, pausing every twenty steps, aiming for where I had glimpsed (or imagined) old rock walls, while trying to ignore the burning in my calves and quads.
My route was steep and true and took me right to the northern corner. I hopped along the front, occasionally taking photos, surprised to see wooden braces and preserved fingerprints in the mud. Some of the rooms had degraded to mere outlines while others still had sections of roof. The view down to Cherry Creek below was great yet had me wondering how these ancient dwellers gathered food and water. Did they really haul everything from the land below?
After exploring the ruins and a quick breakfast it was time to loop back to the trail. There was no way I was about to lose the elevation I had fought for, so instead of hiking back down the way I came, I followed the edge of the cliffs south, and, once the suspected break showed up, I scrambled up the crumbling rocks to the top of the ridge. There was a moment or two of anxiety that was quickly replaced with relief once I re-discovered the trail. Plus, the western views were amazing.
The Sierra Ancha Wilderness is like a giant cake, with layers and layers of cliffs, and every ascent just exposes more rugged terrain. It was terrifyingly beautiful. I drank it up and tried to ignore how much elevation was left to gain. For now the land was flat and the trail easy, so I celebrated the little wins and headed north.
I passed the junction with Deep Creek Trail and immediately lost my way in the thick brush, failing to track Moody Point as it meandered through thick brush and scattered forest. Things only got worse as it entered a burn area, manzanita and small cedars hiding the tread, and I had to keep glancing at my GPS to stay on track. On the far side of the saddle things cleared up for a brief respite, and I even got a great view of Devil's Chasm to the south, and then the trail became hellish.
Manzanita covered the steep hillside, occasional deadfall forced huge detours, and the cairns were of little to no assistance. I battled and pushed my way uphill, slipping and falling back down in the rougher sections. A half-mile in I checked my time and realized that I was behind schedule by an hour. Some quick math showed that there was no way I could make it to my campsite by nightfall, and missing that meant no water, and that didn't sound like fun. Plus, with how rough this established trail was, I couldn't began to imagine how bad Coon Creek would be. It was time to bail.
Returning back down this steep trail with a heavy pack did not sound appealing. Once I got back to the junction with Deep Creek I stopped, ate a bunch of food, and dumped out 3 liters of water. My shoulders were much happier after that. I stayed to the trail this time and avoided the ruins, finding some decent switchbacks and a possible water source along the way.
A tweaked knee slowed me down and it took me almost as long to return to the trailhead. The views were nice, at least, as I got to gaze out over Cherry Creek and the lands beyond instead of the hillside in front of me (when I wasn't watching the rocky trail below my feet, at least). After the drop and the creek crossing and reaching the vehicle I took one last look at the rugged terrain, now fully lit in the hot sun, and promised to return soon. I don't give up on remote trails easily.