The Hells Gate Trail lived up to its name this weekend for a pair of hikers who got so lost, they stumbled around the Tonto National Forest for three days until searchers finally located them in a canyon Monday afternoon.
Two men in their 20s from the Valley planned to hike the strenuous 11-mile Hells Gate Trail, which starts a half mile south of Little Green Valley, and return by Sunday afternoon, said Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Commander Bill Pitterle.
Their plans for a nice romp through the forest quickly fell off track when they lost the trail early on in the hike, shortly after leaving their vehicle at the trailhead Friday night.
“They got off the trail fairly quickly, but they tried to go to Hells Gate anyway,” Pitterle said. “They went into a canyon their map said would take them there, and like most canyons in this area, it turned into a cliff, so they had to backtrack.”
The pair spent the rest of the weekend and part of Monday traversing the forest, searching for the ridge. By Sunday, when they had not returned as planned, family members contacted the sheriff’s office.
Tonto Rim Search and Rescue was called out Monday morning and rescuers responded with four quads, which began searching several old jeep roads that the trail follows. Searchers were unable to find any of the men’s tracks so a hiking team was brought in that began searching some of the areas canyons.
“We have had a number of searches in that area before with people missing a turn on the trail,” Pitterle said.
By afternoon, the men had hiked up high enough to get a cell signal and were able to call one of their fathers and give him their GPS coordinates.
“If they had not called, we would have had to call in a helicopter because they were three-quarters of a mile from the nearest trail,” he said.
The men were escorted the rest of the way down the trail. Neither was injured, but both reported being tired, Pitterle said.