Halfway done with the Mazatzal Project, an ambitious and foolhardy plan that I sketched out earlier this year to hike every trail in and around the Mazatzal Wilderness. To be more precise, I've explored 148.2 / 252.3 miles (53.9%) and have completed 21 / 38 trails (55.3%) over the course of four adventures in 2016 and seven in 2017. The outings this year have included an ultralight backpack in the western grasslands, thirty-plus mile dayhike along the AZT, and an overnight on the banks of Fossil Creek. Right now I'm optimistic that completing this project this year will happen.
When Charlotte was born in February I dreamed a lot about hiking. Well, I wasn't doing much hiking for a few months there, so there was always that background thought process running about how this year would turn out with three kids and everything. Nothing on the scale of Isle Royale was going to happen, and I figured that the few weekends I would get permission to leave Katie with all of the offspring should be special. Last year sucked a lot for hiking, one failure after another, and I wanted to make this year suck less.
The Mazatzal Project clicked in a lot of ways. Keeping all of my hiking and planning to a single wilderness would simplify things, and the total number of miles was not outside the realm of possibility (I've hiked over 300 miles in a year before). Once I sat down and laid out some routes, minimizing overlaps and taking advantage of the few trailheads the van can handle, it looked like I could get the whole thing done in about twelve trips, half or so of them backpacks.
Sure, it would be challenging. There are a lot of trails that have not seen any maintenance or barely any traffic since the 2004 Willow Fire and information is scarce on this area. It sees a fraction of the visitors that the Superstitions do, and the few hikers that do venture to the Mazatzals tend to congregate on the Barnhardt Trail or stick to the AZT, which runs a straight line along the top of the main ridge from Sunflower up to Twin Buttes. An ambitious, challenging, and ultimately possible project that I could sink my teeth into, yet not take too much time away from the family. Perfect.
Halfway done with five months left in the year. If all things go well, I can get the second half in four backpacks and a dayhike, although the backpacks all clock in near fifty miles. The trails in the center are remote and lengthy beasts that demand a higher level of dedication. And of course, as I write this post it's pouring rain and thundering outside, deep within monsoon season, so those backpacks may need to wait for a now-rare break of clear forecasts.