Mogollon Rim Trail day 9: wherein Clear Creek Canyon is incredible and kicks our asses


Mileage: 14.5

122.5 miles hiked

I wake up in the dark, my bag wet with dew. Frost glitters in the moonlight. I’m cold. I cinch the hood of my sleeping bag, bringing its warming powers up to level 10 and curl on my side, thinking about the dark busted cabin we’re camped next to. Were the people who lived there cold this time of year, like I am now? In the wee hours of the night when the fire in their woodstove died out? Did they wake up to things glittering with frost? Were they lonely?

I wake again just before it’s light and we shiver as we eat breakfast, stuff our wet sleeping bags away, pack the shelter that’s icy with sheets of frozen condensation. Before leaving camp I push open the tall, narrow front door of the cabin and walk through the small high rooms, being careful on the old, soft floorboards.

It is decrepit, but it is also beautiful. So many ghosts, old and new.



Muffy and I had agreed to meet for lunch in Clear Creek canyon, which ends up being at the bottom of a jarringly steep trail, full of slabs, hot in the sun.

We both pull off our clothes when we reach the bottom, where Clear Creek pools into deep swimming holes at the base of the cliff. We walk barefoot across the hot gravel and try to lower ourselves into the beautiful water but it’s so bitingly cold we can only laugh, and scramble back up the bank, and crawl into the shade of the forest where we lie naked on the pine needles, letting the air dry us.

Our next task is to walk 1.3 miles up this canyon, before exiting on another trail. I know that this can mean all sorts of things- there could be animal trails along the banks to follow. The water could be shallow where we have to cross. The going could be easy.

Or, it could be not.

It’s not. But it is a lot of fun. Imagine this- a narrow canyon, with a creek in the bottom and bits of forested streambank. And then! There is a wet winter. A wet spring. Oh the flooding! So much flooding. Debris is pushed through the canyon. Debris piles in the forest. Trees along the bank are bent downstream. The water pools higher than normal. Animal trails are obscured. What a mess! A beautiful, chaotic, transcendent mess.




We’re picking our way so slowly through this jumbled debris along the banks. We’re wading through crotch-deep water. The sun is hot, our legs are rife with scratches, the water feels soothing and nice. The water is too deep, we’re back on the bank, wrestling with the brush. Now and then we see the small tracks of animals- we’re going the right way. Our bit of forest ends- we’re cliffed out. Now we’re scouting the shallowest spot to wade back across, plunging into the cool water. We’re climbing up and over some huge boulders. Above us are the sheer rock walls of the canyon, slicing light and shadow. We’re laughing. We’re having so much fun.



It takes us 2.5 hours to traverse the 1.3 miles of Clear Creek Canyon to the cleft in the rock where a bit of forest spills in, the bottom of the trail that will take us out. We sit on the rocks and eat snacks, mute with fatigue. My feet are sodden, blistered, swollen, beaten from being twisted on all the varied terrain. So fun though. So, so fun.

The climb out of Clear Creek Canyon is essentially an old streambed. A very steep one. Any steeper, and it would be a waterfall.

Working our way up these rocks gets our blood moving and I whoop with delight when we reach the top. Now we’re back on the Mogollon Rim as it exists above six thousand feet- the land of gentle logging roads and open ponderosa forest. Where the air is cool and shade is plentiful. A wonderful world.

We gather water at a cattle pond and walk through this forest to a perfect campsite, where we pitch our shelter on the flat ground, soft with pine needles. We put on all our layers against the coming cold and cook our dinners in the gloaming.

The full moon rises, filling the shelter with silvery light, just as we’re drifting off. The hoot of an owl ripples through the still night like a pebble dropped in a still pond.

I’m using these blog posts to help raise money for Francis, an El Salvadoran refugee who is raising funds for an asylum appeal. You can view his fundraiser here.

Francis’ fundraiser is currently at $1,845- day 10 from the MRT will go up on this blog when his fundraiser reaches $2,000. Let’s help Francis get the support he needs! Click here to check it out. And thank you! 😀