In an effort to get into better hiking shape and also do hikes closer to home, I decided to begin hiking the many nearby forest trails, starting with Mill Fork Canyon. It’s the first Forest Service trail accessible from the bottom of Huntington Canyon, and climbs about four miles and 2,800′ to the ridge on East Mountain. After a 45 minute drive from home I was hiking up the trail. The lower section of trail appeared to be an old road, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of ponderosa pines along that stretch. A capped drill hole in a clearing explained the road-turned-trail in the lower part of the canyon. There weren’t many aspen carvings down low, but one of the first I encountered was also one of the oldest I saw in the canyon, dating back to 1925. Two creek crossings gave me pause, but having waterproof shoes proved valuable for each. Between the creek crossings was an interesting quakie carving by Max H. from 1989, when he apparently rode a Honda XR350 dirt bike up the trail.
Just beyond the second creek crossing was an elk carcass with the antlers sawed off, and part of it was right in the trail–yuck. There were many more aspen carvings (the oldest was from 1915), including another from Max telling about the time he rode a Yamaha XT600 up the trail. I noticed a few large rocks that had been turned over–I assume from a bear looking for a snack.
I encountered a fence with a gate, and beyond that was an overgrown pile of scrap lumber from a sawmill that was in operation probably more than a hundred years ago. Although the Mill Fork Canyon name was derived from the sawmill, I’d wager that nearly every canyon in the forest had a sawmill at one point in history. Eventually I came to a trail junction with a sign pointing to the left across the creek. I knew from looking at both the 1979 and 2001 USGS topo maps of the area that the “official” trail had been re-routed at some point, though my original plan had been to follow the older trail since it was the only one visible in the satellite imagery. However, I changed my mind at the trail junction and began to follow the newer trail, which proved to be a mistake.
I spotted another huge pile of lumber scraps, indicating that the sawmill had been set up in at least two locations in the canyon. The new trail appeared to be very freshly cut, likely within the last year or two rather than pre-2001 like the topo map showed. It climbed to the south, making several switchbacks but never getting closer to the main ridge of East Mountain. I had to climb over or bypass many downed trees and snow drifts along this stretch of trail, which grew tiresome. When I realized how much work it was going to be, and that I wasn’t making progress toward my goal of the main East Mountain ridge, I turned back. I reached the trail junction again after having hiked one mile total on the new trail section. Damn…if I’d stayed on the old trail I would have made it to the ridge in only a mile. My legs were too tired to continue up the old trail so I reluctantly headed back down.
There were a few tree carvings that I’d missed while hiking up the trail. A couple were a little racy, and some made me laugh out loud. The heat increased noticeably as I descended and I was weary when I reached the trailhead. I’d been on the trail for just over six hours, and though my GPS read 7.9 miles total, it was closer to seven miles after correcting for the poor signal in the dense forest. Not making it to the ridgetop was a bummer. I was very surprised when I returned home and looked at my GPS track, realizing that the new trail section doesn’t even match the newer topo map! There’s a road on top of the ridge, so later this summer I’ll drive up there and complete the upper section of the old trail, as well as hike more of the ridge north of where the road ends.
Photo Gallery: Mill Fork Canyon
GPS Track and Photo Waypoints:
[Google Earth KMZ] [Gmap4 Satellite] [Gmap4 Topo]