My first 20 mile day! We took off earlier this morning at 6:30 for a 7 mile road walk until we hit single track. Luckily it was overcast because there was not a lot of tree coverage. at mile 5.5 we took a quick break to hydrate and have a snack before ascending.
It was an almost torturous 4 mile ascent to 6,500 feet along mostly steep rocky forest roads that seemed straight up. The higher we climbed, the colder and windier it became with light drizzle in places. The rocks under my feet were ankle breakers and every step seemed to be with caution. The last mile seemed like the longest mile of my life. Even seasoned thru hikers were saying how hard it was for them. Finally I made it to Bear Saddle and put on my rain coat to keep warm for the descent. I don’t know how other people were in shorts and a t-shirt! At mile 66.4 we all took a break at Bear Spring where we resupplied some more water and I made a refried bean burrito with vegan cheez-it crackers. The warmth felt so good in my cold body!
We made it to Tunnel Spring Trailhead around 4:45 and decided to go further to look for a campsite. Splash, another female hiker joined us and we continued another 1.1 miles to a campsite that looked big enough for all of us. We were all (except for two who cowboy camped) tucked away in our tents by 6:15. I mainly wanted to get out of the wind and into my warm quilt!
Mile 71.1 to Mile 94 (23 miles)
Wow last night was SO cold. I could barely keep warm and I had all my cold gear on. I poured some of my water into a bottle and it started to freeze! So instead of hanging around the campsite we all hustled to pack up and head out so I warmed up some hot coffee to get my blood flowing while packing up my tent. At 7:02 we took off for the rising sun and warmth! I warmed up within the next hour and was then able to eat my fig bar (it froze during the night). We hiked about 5 miles to Kentucky Camp, an old mining camp. Here we ran into several other hikers, some we met along the way, some new faces. We took a small tour of the building, had a snack, refilled our water bottles at a makeshift sink from a spring they had, took advantage of throwing out trash in a dumpster AND the vault toilet (yay!). After almost an hour we took off again and went over two smaller passages that had beautiful views. With those views came high winds and cold air so I had my rain coat on most of the day. At around 1:30 we were stopped by the water cache at a trailhead when a cute yellow lab Cooper and his dad came up from the parking lot. He said his tailgate is down and there is pizza, cookies, beer and other things and to help ourselves. My first Trail Angel! The four of us shared an entire pizza and I had a bud light and we all seemed to perk up after that. For almost three hours after that we hiked down the mountain to the next water cache only to see someone slashed all 5 of people’s water jugs 😦 luckily we all still had about 2.5 liters left for the next 12 miles. On top of that, I also realized I was getting blisters on the arches of both feet. Yikes, too soon! Instead of camping there like we planned we decided to go another mile and half to get away from that road area. We ended up camping just up a hill from a wash, almost on a cliff but a little safer and it was flat right before sunset. We made do. I went to bed with extra clothing on because we heard it was going to be in the 30s so I planned on not much sleep. At least my belly was full from another round of refried bean burrito and cheese it’s!
Mile 94 to Mile 114.3 (20 miles)
I think I figured out my cold sleeping technique finally. Last night was really cold again but I was able to keep myself decently warm thanks to my sleeping bag liner which I ended up putting around my sleeping pad and quilt, used my down bootie for the tootsies and kept the quilt cinched closed at the top so I could keep all the warmth inside and it didn’t escape near my head. In the morning I made a hot cup of tea while putting my camp away and we started out at 7:07 for another 23 mile day and I had phone service so I got to talk to Jen! It was a rather easy hike compared to the previous days as we came down out of the Santa Rita Mountains and into the Tucson area. Along the way were mountainsides filled with prickly pear and ocotillo cactus.
We hiked most of the morning and we’re going to refill our water at a source called Twin Tanks but as it turns out, there were no tanks. It was one giant cow pond gross enough to pass up and hike another 6 miles for a water cache. A quarter mile later we all needed a much needed break but there was no shaded area to be found so we sat at the intersection of a dirt road. I took my shoes and socks off and tended to my blisters, ate a lot of my food supply (apparently my stomach has been hungry the last two days) and relaxed under my shade umbrella.
After our 30 min lunch break we took off again and hiked down to a trailhead that had a little sun shade structure made out of old ocotillos so we sat there and rest our feet again while chatting with a few other hikers who were already there. A Trail Angel showed up and gave us some gatorade, bananas and oranges. What a delight!
We made it to the I-10 underpass by 4:15 after battling strong winds that threatened to push me over. Since it was getting late we decided to eat dinner at the Gabe Zimmerman trailhead on a picnic table (classy!). I’ve really been wanting to eat my bag of Idaho potatoes but settled for another night of refried beans with hot sauce in a burrito and cheese-its since I have another resupply the next day.
We hiked almost 3 more miles before we were able to find a spot of land for the four of us to set up for the night. I was able to get my tent up right before a beautiful sunset. Falling asleep I could hear a train off in the distance and coyotes calling out to each other.
Mile 114.3 to Mile 124.5 (10 miles)
When I went to sleep last night it was decently warm for what it had been but during the night the temperature dropped. We had an easy day this morning so we slept in an extra half hour and Wayback and Speedy Tuna both had ice on their sleeping quilts. We didn’t know it would be that cold otherwise we would have slept with our water filters and stoves again (to protect the O-rings inside from cracking). Luckily they all were fine. Since we were in no hurry today I took my time heating up some hot tea while still in my tent and we all enjoyed standing around sipping hot beverages while the sun rose in the sky. Eventually we were packed up and took off for a 5 mile hike to the Colossal Cave mountain park where three of us had resupply boxes waiting. It felt weird hiking slower but I was able to enjoy the scenery of the saguaro cactuses and could smell rain in the air even though it never hit the ground. The weather shifted from cloudy and chilly to clear and hot all day.
Myself and Wayback took the trail all the way to the dirt road crossing that leads back towards the Colossal Cave gift shop. As we were waiting for the other two to show up behind us a couple of younger weekend campers in their campsite offered us some hot coffee while we waited. They were so nice! After half an hour we decided they went a different route so we road walked back towards the shop. Along the way a girl driving a security pickup truck stopped next to us and offered a ride to the top. Yes! So we cruised into the parking lot at the top feeling so much better knowing we didn’t have to hike that last bit of hill! We met up with Tik Tok and Speedy Tuna who were already there with a group of other thru hikers. I grabbed my resupply box and played a game of Tetris trying to fit it all into my bag. It took me probably a half hour to figure it out! Tik Tok bought everyone drinks so I enjoyed a beer while we were sitting there. We had a few hours to kill so we all hung out and talked for another hour until we decided to go find the Trail Angel at mile 123 grilling out for all the hikers.
We made it to mile 123 quite quickly and were introduced to Jim Hugo (the passage steward) and were offered food, beverages, and a chair for a while. If it wasn’t chilly I probably would have taken a nap. I have been sluggish the last two days, probably from all the walking?
We had to get back on the trail for another three miles to catch our ride into Tucson from Speedy Tuna’s uncle so we took off again. We still had almost an hour before pickup when we made it to the rendezvous point along a dirt road and decided to make ourselves comfortable and chit chatted for the remainder of the time. When his uncle Big Dog showed up in a big white pickup I was relieved to get out of the sun and wind as my body was so confused over whether to be hot or cold at the same time. We had a 25 minute ride to our hotel and I wanted so badly to take a nap. I got checked into my hotel room and the three of us threw our laundry in the oddly expensive washer and I walked across the road to CVS in the only clothes I had left: a pair of sandals, my town shorts and a rain jacket. I bought a few things and headed back to my room to relax and have some dinner. The next day we are having a Zero which means we are hiking zero miles that day (a while day off!) before trying to tackle Saguaro National Park.
Zero Day in Tucson
Thank goodness for a day off! My body needs to relax and I’m so happy to have missed the bad weather right now. Tomorrow morning we set out to conquer Saguaro National Park and up towards Mt. Lemmon. Wish us luck!