After testing my Gossamer Gear The One tent out two weeks ago, I decided I was not 100% comfortable with the tent when a storm came through with 60mph wind gusts and hail. After the first hour my tent just blew over and I had to run over to catch it before it blew away!
During the same storm, a guy was starting starting out his AZT NOBO (north bound) thru hike at the Southern terminus into his first day when 3 feet of snow fell. He did those first 3 miles while postholing (when each step into snow reaches mid calf and higher) and he became too exhausted to continue so he set up camp right on the trail to rest. His boots became frozen to the point he could not put his boots back on and ended up signaling to search and rescue due to hypothermia and frostbite.
I am so happy this person was rescued and is safe. Thank goodness for bad storms like this because I realized that was not the tent for me… at least for now as I do not want to be in the same situation! I ended up purchasing the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 instead. It requires one pole to stand and does not require to be staked down to stand up like the Gossamer Gear tent. To really test it out I ended up backpacking part of Passage 18 along the AZT this week. Not only did I test the tent, but also tested everything!
Passage 18 along the AZT begins outside the town of Superior, AZ at the Picket Post Trail Head. A quarter mile down a dusty road I found the large parking lot that was already full on a Thursday late morning. After locating the site host’s RV parked in the corner, I walked up and knocked on the door and much to my surprise he was inside. I asked him if it was okay to leave my Jeep parked there over night since the gate gets locked sundown to sunrise and he directed me to park in the middle near the bathrooms so he knows who is intentionally staying overnight.
As I walk out of the parking lot start to heading North along the trail, I double check to make sure I have all my essentials: car keys, water, phone, GPS. When I bring up the Guthook app on my phone (this app is updated by users for trail conditions, water sources, trail Angela, trail maps, etc.) it suddenly says I am logged out. Great. I have one bar of service on my phone and manage to get logged back in only to see my offline map I had downloaded months ago it deleted. Great. So I find a shady spot behind a small tree and wait the 15 minutes it takes to re-download the map before leaving a cell service area.
The first mile was slow moving as I was warming up to the trail, the surroundings and the weight on my back. I read there was a possible water source 4 miles in and a reliable water source at mile 8 so I only carried 2.5 liters of water since the temperature was in the cool 60s and windy. Soon I picked up the pace while taking in the scenery and before I knew it I was at the mile 4 water source which due to the drought this year was bone dry. I took a little break there and sipped some of the water I already had before moving on and into the canyon.
The canyon crossed several time over the dry creek bed under the shade of large trees and rock formations for a few miles before spitting me out into direct sunlight and no wind. Before I knew it my 1/2 liter bottle was gone and I still had 2 more miles until the next water source. Not a big deal since I still had 2 liters remaining but I was unsure if there really was water win the cement trough like the app was telling me. Around 3:45 in the afternoon I found the windmill at mile 8 and followed the forest road a little ways down to the clearing. There I found four women on horseback taking a break and we chatted for a few minutes before they turned around to go back to the trail head.
There was a little makeshift picnic table under a tree so I took my shoes off , sat down and asked myself what I was doing and why I was here. I had no cell service, felt like I was in the middle of nowhere by myself and the sun was going to be setting soon and realized I needed to hurry up! I walked over to the cement trough with my water bottle and filter and took a peek inside. The horses had just drank from it but that part was okay with me. It was the green algae and all the black bugs swimming around below the surface of the water that I was unsure of. I ended up filling 1 liter and the water felt surprisingly ice cold so I was satisfied before headed onward to Reavis Trail Canyon Trailhead at mile 310.7 where I planned on camping.
My first experience with filtering from cement troughs.
From here I continued North West noticing quickly at mile 9 that not many people come this far because the trail suddenly became uncomfortable. As soon as I had this thought, I spotted a javalina not far ahead and froze as I watched a second javalina and its juvenile dart off into the brush and (thankfully) away from me! It’s pretty exciting to see these strange animals in the wild.
Just before 5pm I walked across the dirt Forest Road 650 and couldn’t help but to smile when I see a riverbed with running water AND noticed a Trail Angel stashed almost a dozen full gallon water jugs. What a delight! Even thought the sun had started to set behind the mountain leaving the area chilly, I sat down and soaked my feet for only a few seconds each. The water was freezing but refreshing. After filtering some fresher water (I decided to leave the gallon jugs for the thru-hikers) I continued up the trail to an area the Guthooks app said was good for camping.
This area was an old corral with a stone wall surrounding a perfectly flat area and offered a nice protection from the wind that was with me the entire day. Even though I just received the Big Agnes tent two days prior I was able to quickly set it up and unpack everything to get settled in. By this time, the temperature was dropping quickly and I started to shiver even with my hiking pants and puffy coat on. For dinner I heated up a packet of garlic mashed potatoes and enjoyed the scenery while I ate.
After cleaning up dinner and myself, I brushed my teeth, changed into my night clothes and tucked myself away into my sleeping quilt. The forecast called for a low of 39 degrees at the lower elevation so I figured it would be a few degrees colder up higher. I brought a few extra things in case I got too cold and thank goodness because I did use them! As soon as I was in my tent the wind completely stopped. Figures! Oh well, it was peaceful! In fact it was so peaceful there were zero sounds outside to the point it was almost eerie. Normally when the sun sets in Arizona you hear the sounds of quail, crickets and wild dogs but not on this night. I watched the sky slowly turn dark and the most amazing scenery came to life. Millions and millions of stars came out shining so brightly without the city lights drowning them out. I’ve never seen a more beautiful night sky before and I wanted to badly to stare up at them all night but the cold air became too much and was forced to shut myself into the tent to keep warm. Near midnight I finally heard the soft sounds of an owl and it eventually put me to sleep for a few hours.
When I wake it’s still dark outside and the air is cold all around me but I’m cozy in my quilt so I lie there until it starts to get light outside. I force myself to get up and grab my food bag which I stashed a couple yards away from the tent held down with a rock. Luckily no wildlife tried to get it! I crawl back in my bag and heat up some water for oatmeal and tea while watching the sunrise. I had nowhere to be so it was nice to enjoy it.
While I ate breakfast I shoved my hiking clothing into the quilt with me so they were warm when I changed into them after eating. I then cleaned up all my gear and packed all my belongings back into my backpack for the day.
TOP take aways from this trip:
UPF chapstick- regular chapstick did not prevent sun/windburn on my lips.
Use sunscreen in a resealable container- I only took a packet of sunscreen that didn’t reseal. What a mess!
Use my smart water bottle to fill the water reservoir instead of directly trying to fill the bag- the bag only allowed about 1 liter to be filled rather than the 2 liter capacity.
Reduce caffeine intake before another trip- after day 2 I had a massive headache behind my eye and it took a few days to go away.
Carry backup maps- I was lucky to be able to download the Guthooks map but it might not always be the case!
Drink more water than you think- even though the 68 degrees felt much cooler to me I was still sweating it all out without realizing and ended up with slight dehydration
2 hiking poles is always better than 1- it will save knees, toes and evens out balance! Also, it helps to reduce snake encounters with all the clack clack clacking against the rocks.
I am not sure how other people feel towards resupply boxes, but I found this to be the most challenging part in preparation. Trying to decide in advance what I would want to eat and what supplies I would need far in advance is rather overwhelming! I’ve read stories of hikers who pack the similar foods in each box and quickly growing tired of the monotony in variety. Even though the AZT is a much shorter trail, I did not want to grow tired of food! Additionally, how do I decide what trail town to send the box? It almost felt like throwing a dart at balloons at a carnival. In my mind, I won’t know how far I will hike for two days, let alone five or six, so how can I plan for 800 miles?! For these reasons, I changed my resupply plan multiple times. A few months ago, I joined the Facebook group ‘Arizona Trail Class of 2021’ and found two people post their personal plans (thanks Mac and Gary!). This was extremely helpful to me to understand how long a typical person can expect to be on the trail in between towns. I did some math (crazy right!?) and based on my easy day hiking mileage (14 miles) and my toughest (24 miles) I can do an average of 15-20 miles a day and hoping in an increase in mileage towards the northern terminus (where the AZT ends at Utah). Is this a stretch? Maybe, but I am stubborn.
Once I had the average figured out I was able to determine roughly how many days hiking at that average (20 miles) would take. For example, from the new Southern Terminus (mile 0) to Patagonia (mile 51) at 20 miles per day would take about 2.5 days. Again, only an example as I will not be hiking that far starting out!
So naturally as I am preparing my resupply boxes and finally decide on a plan and 90% complete the boxes, I find out about 33 miles of the trail (a section of the Four Peaks Wilderness between Roosevelt Lake and Pine) will remain closed through March due to the recent wildfires in 2020. Oh my frustration!! So I had a choice to make: do I hike to Roosevelt Lake and attempt to catch a ride around the 33 miles to Sunflower, AZ, or (thanks to Gary!) attempt a brand new route he created. Over the past two months, Gary scoped out the trails, added waymarks, and thoroughly mapped out the new “un-official” Cherry Creek Bypass Route. This travels East around the lake, a 130 mile trail that conveniently has three resupply areas, reliable water sources and follows roughly “45 miles of single track mixed with 90 to 100 miles of remote double track backroads”.
I’ve decided to go with the game time decision once I get closer to that area. You will notice I included these optional bypass towns on the resupply plan shown below, so I can have the box of supplies sent to either Pine, AZ or to Christopher Creek Lodge.
We started the epic day at 0600 following a 4.5 mile paved path from the town of Tusayan into the Grand Canyon South Village. Along the way I saw a bunch of elk and even one with its antler falling off. Once in the GC village we stopped at the Post Office ere I picked up my final resupply box. I don’t know what I was thinking with the last box because I had double breakfasts and only a single dinner and the heaviest bag of nuts you could probably find. That’s what happens when you resupply as a beginner I guess. I was kinda bummed I didn’t have any more refried beans because they are SO lightweight, require little water, and are really filling. I did however have a brand new pair of shoes with a new pair of insoles. I went back to my original insole brand because even though I had issues with my arch rubbing on it, I didn’t have the ridiculous amount of blisters like the ones I bought in Payson gave me.
I ended up going into the General Store and bought a couple ramen noodles for dinners and three snack bars and a grape Gatorade which I quickly drank. Before heading out I went into the bathroom and changed into my town shorts because the temperature was already warm and my pant/shorts are a heavier material and I didn’t want to overheat. By the time I was all packed up I could barely get all my things to fit into and onto my bag. This was going to be a heavy carry down into the canyon!
On our 2 mile walk to the South Kaibab trailhead we ran into Hammer and the Beast walking in so we stopped and chatted with them before continuing. The trail soon came out into a paved path with amazing views of the canyon. Surprisingly there were not too many people at the trailhead so we were able to take a few photos and grab a snack to eat before descending. At 10:40 we began and as we went lower and lower over the dusty railroad ties the sun felt warmer and warmer. Slowly people began clearing out as early as the first rest stop around one mile below the trailhead. There was a pack of mules hanging out there taking a break I suppose. Luckily we didn’t hit very much mule poop or urine on the trail which I was very happy for because it smells horrible!
Somewhere around mile 693 the trail hits Skeleton Point where most people who have gone further than the rest turned around. It was at this point where the switchbacks began with a vengeance and I was able to find a nice rhythm alternating between my left and right legs on the uneven trail. At mile 695 we hit “The Tipoff” which had another set of outhouses, non-potable water and a very nice shaded shack. The guys wanted to take a break so we sat in the shack for a few minutes and a cool breeze came through cooling us off a bit. There was a mother and daughter thru-hiker team who we found out would be camping with us at Cottonwood later that evening.
After our break the trail descended sharply towards the Colorado River and we picked up pace, seeing how close we were getting to the river. It wasn’t long before the tunnel to the footbridge appeared. The river was calm under the bridge as we walked across, passing two hikers going the opposite direction. The trail circled around and went under the bridge before connecting with the Bright Angel Trail. A half mile later we walked into the Phantom Ranch area and found three picnic tables under some trees.
We could no longer go into the Ranch and instead had to order outside from the window. They were sold out of most things and no longer offered beer (booooo!) so instead I just ate my own food and grabbed more water from their water spigot outside. There were several Kaibab Squirrels around and one of them crawled into Wayback’s hip belt, grabbed a bag of nuts and chewed a hole in it before he noticed what was happening. They were gutsy! Once we were all done eating and relaxing we started down the trail again, which really was all up from this point on. The trail followed alongside the Bright Angel Creek and fortunately “the box” (normally the hottest section of the trail) was in the shade by the time we went through.
Seven miles later we reached the Cottonwood camping area as dusk set in. There were two couples also camping out in the area but were not thru-hikers. Before setting up my tent I walked down to the water to filter 2 liters before it became too dark. Once done, I decided to set up my tent without putting the rainfly on. it was warm outside and I wanted to enjoy the opportunity to see stars at night. We all sat at a picnic table nearby and had dinner under our headlamps and it was near 9:00 before I was able to get into my tent to sleep.
Mile 705 to Mile 726 (21 miles)
Last night was warm and I slept great under the stars. They were pretty incredible to see especially in the canyon and hearing the river down below. We woke up at 05:15 and got ready without having to use our headlamps. The weather was warm and that made it even better. At 06:08 we left the campsite and the trail instantly began to steadily climb towards the North Rim.
It didn’t take long for my calves to feel the strain of the incline but I was going slow enough so as to not wear out before the day really got started. About a mile and half up the trail we stopped at the Manzanita rest stop to fill our water bottles and I used the outhouse they had before beginning again. I took out a total of 2.5 liters of water because the next pump house had the water turned off otherwise i would have only taken 1 liter. The trail changed from the last time I did Rim to Rim a few years back and it seemed like they widened it and added so many railroad-like steps, similar to the South Kaibab trail, that made it seem like a new trail to me. The drop offs were still there and in some places even I got a little dizzy looking down. I don’t know how Afterburner made it since he is terrified of heights but somehow he did.
I took my time going up enjoying the scenery and the weather was fantastic. The sun was just coming up and it wasn’t too hot nor cold. A couple of miles later I crossed a foot bridge and found Afterburner and Pulaski sitting there taking a break. I told them I was going to continue and take a break at the Supai pump house. Since we were on the North Rim prior to May 15 (the opening day for the North Rim) it felt like we had the trail to ourselves. We barely passed anyone except for a few Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim runners. Once I made it the extra mile of a very steep incline section I found the Supai Tunnel and just beyond passing through that was the pump house. I used the outhouse and then sat down and took my socks/shoes off and had a very early lunch as it was only after 0900 but all the steep climbing had my stomach growling. I wasn’t sitting there five minutes before I began to get very cold and start to shiver. I was sitting at 6,826’ after climbing five miles from 4,059’ and the air was much colder already.
I sat there ten minutes before the others showed up and once I was done eating we all took off up the trail again for the final two miles to the trailhead at the top. The scenery began to transform from rocky desert to pine trees and small patches of snow. We passed a field crew of National Park Service workers who were taking a break from trail maintenance. On the last half mile I really slowed down and took a lot of photos and just soaked in the beauty of the canyon and reality that I just hiked it with 25-30 pounds on my back and the realization that it was not the hardest climb I’ve had on the Arizona Trail!
At the trailhead we found the water spigots were turned on (hooray!) and we sat there drinking water, snacking, and just taking a break. While we were there four ultra runners came and then went back down into the canyon for their return run to the South Rim. I put my warm coat on and beanie before heading onto the trail. I was now at over 8,000’ elevation and was about to steadily climb for 11 miles to the highest point on the AZT. If the climb out of the canyon didn’t affect me, the next 11 miles sure did! It was a never ending climb through giant pine trees that went overall in a straight line with no fun views. My headphones died and so I was forced to do the rest of the hike with my own thoughts. I was in the back of the group and took my time as I kept stopping to catch my breath and to try and alleviate the cramps in my left calf. We took two breaks as a group but not for more than ten minutes before going back on the trail. We were trying to get over the high point and down a little before nightfall.
At around 4:00 we made it to the North Rim Park Entrance at mile 722 were we sat down on the ranger station front porch. Pulaski’s two other hiker friends were there so everyone was chit chatting about stuff but I laid down and closed my eyes to rest for a few minutes. I could have gone to bed and slept until the next morning! Reluctantly I got up though and we began the two miles to the high point which didn’t take long as we followed an old service road. I was disappointed there was no “highest point on the AZT” sign but we did go the extra quarter mile to the North Rim Lookout Tower. I believe it was an old fire tower that is no longer in service but you can still go up and look around. I waited until the other three came down before I went up. Wayback and Afterburner didn’t want to go with me. I counted 95 steep steps up this rickety old metal tower that I could feel moving in the wind and it made an unpleasant sound when it swayed. I’m not sure how that thing is still standing honestly but I made it to the top-ish. I didn’t go into the room on top because there was a small ladder to climb then you had to push the trapdoor up before continuing to pull yourself up. Up wasn’t the issue, I didn’t want to get stuck trying to come back down especially by myself. So I looked around from just below the ladder and went back down to the bottom. The views were spectacular!
Back on the trail we took off trying to race the time down the hill. On this section of the trail, there was still a lot of snow drifts and for the most part they were still frozen and I could walk right over them. The rest of the trail was sticky muddy and it wound its way through the forest before coming out into a clearing with pine trees on the hillsides on both sides of us. I felt like I should have been in Alaska with the way it looked! We followed this for almost five miles. At one point we crossed a dirt road and I couldn’t see how to get though the snow to the trail so I went to take a step down and both my legs ended up going down into the snow up past my knees. The unexpected force of it also knocked me to my butt in the snow like I was just sitting there. Once I got out of that the other snow patches were barely an issue.
Around 6:00 we finally found a small area surrounded by pine trees that we could camp at and began setting up our tents. The other three caught up to us and asked to camp with us- of course! So after I set up I went and joined everyone around a fire ring of rocks and warmed up some ramen (already sick of it) and hot sleepy time tea. Soon the temperature dropped and everyone kind of scattered into their tents. It is supposed to get down to 34 degrees tonight. BRRR!
Mile 726 to Mile 753 (27 miles)
So last night was cold and I’ve been cold ever since. I woke up with a very sore throat which I’m not sure whether it’s sickness or from my heavy breathing from yesterday’s hike but it hasn’t gone away all day. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so cold too even when the others are wearing shorts. Well we woke up a little after 05:00 and it was already getting light outside so I didn’t need my headlamp. I made coffee while packing and that warmed me up a bit and it felt soothing on my throat. After burner took off about ten minutes before us and once we left camp (before the other three hikers) we weren’t on the trail five minutes before we spotted him filtering some water. I joined in and grabbed 1 liter, just enough to get me to the next water source.
The trail continued following small washes that still had plenty of snow/ice patches that we stepped over and through. It didn’t take long before my shoes were wet from the icy snow and I began shivering from the cold wind that picked up. I could hear the wind hitting the large pine trees way above my head and seconds later I would feel it. I was happy when we soon climbed up and along the East Rim of the Grand Canyon because I could feel the sun as it was rising.
We took a breakfast break about 4 miles in along this rim and even in the wind it was still pretty to see as we sat there eating. Our break lasted about half an hour before we set out again on the trail. Less than a mile later I saw an AZT sign that said Utah was only 59 miles away- motivating! We then crossed several dirt roads and descended into a large valley and thank goodness the strong winds were to my back as we followed the trail down the middle of this wide open valley for over two miles. The wind just kind of pushed me along! I caught up to Afterburner taking a break in a slightly less windier area but I was still chilled as I sat there.
Once I began hiking the trail up into the thick wooded area it was now 11:00 and I could finally feel the warmth from the sun an less wind. I stopped to take off my base layer pants and shirt leaving my hiking pants and two shirts under my raincoat left. The trail was in and out of wind so often I didn’t want to put the coat away just to take it back out.
Eventually we ran into the other three hikers we were leap frogging who were sitting by Little Pleasant Valley Tank so we stopped and I grabbed 1 liter of water. When I went to scoop water I noticed a bunch of tiny red bugs swimming around so I put the piece of hose over the cup before scooping them I took the hose off and poured the water into my bag. I repeated this until I had my 1 liter. This way the filter doesn’t clog as much. After, I made myself a PBJ wrap to finish off my lunch selections.
After lunch the trail was pretty as it zig zagged along side the highway leading into the Grand Canyon and I was walking through the valleys and hills full of pine trees. Eventually the trail climbed up to ~8,800’ and we hit a previous wildfire burn area mixed with crazy strong wind. The burn area lasted nine miles! I was tired of hiking by 3:00 but there was no place to set up camp in that kind of area so we had to keep hiking until we could find a place.
First we hit a water source – a cement trough sitting exposed high on top of a mountain. I grabbed a liter and walked to a slightly less windy area to filter. Everyone was sitting there talking but as soon as I was done I had to get up and move because my body was shivering with cold. Two miles later I hiked into the Murray Lake Trailhead where there were large pine trees to shelter from the wind and a bathroom! I got to work setting up my tent as fast as I could because it was now going on 6:30 and the sun was going down. I changed into as much clothing as I could and decided to eat dinner in my tent where it was a little bit warmer. All I wanted was to be warm for a while! The temperature is supposed to hit 30 degrees tonight and I’m not ready for it. I just hope I feel better by the morning.
Mile 753 to Jakob Lake to Mile 773 (~21 miles)
I slept good last night for about five hours then I was awake after 0300 but it didn’t seem to get as cold as we all had anticipated so I was happy for that. Wayback’s alarm went off sometime around 0515 and it seemed to take me a while to get my things together inside the tent. Last night I didn’t put my things where I normally put them inside the tent so it threw me off this morning trying to pack up. I barely stood up outside of my tent when Wayback came over with hot water for my coffee and all I could think was wow I must be really going slow today already. Without taking a sip of coffee I hurried to pack up my tent and once I finally did I looked over and saw Afterburner didn’t even start to take his down yet! So I had time to sip my coffee, eat a fig bar and even use the vault bathroom (which was surprisingly warm for a cold morning!) before he was done packing up.
At 0600 three of us plus Hammer Time started our long day of road walking towards Jakob Lake, roughly six miles from the trailhead. The road was easy to walk and follow due to the road being closed until mid May when the North Rim of the Grand Canyon opens. We had two cars pass us going to work (?) and that was it. The last two miles I had to walk through an area where the Forest Service was conducting a controlled burn so all the smoke wafted towards the road where we were walking. I had my buff pulled up over my nose and mouth trying not to breathe it in.
Ten minutes before 0800 we arrived at Jakob Lake and the restaurant/gift shop/convenience store didn’t open until 0800 so I took the time to empty out all my trash. I normally keep the trash organized but on this leg of the trail I literally just threw it in my bag for some reason. Anyways, once the place opened, the six of us (we caught up to Smokey and Pulaski at the restaurant) went in, stashed our bags in the corner of the room and sat at the only place there was to sit- at the bar. I asked Wayback to order me a coffee while I went to the bathroom to take off my base layer clothing.back at the bar, I ordered French toast and hash-browns with a large OJ. When the waiter brought coffee it tasted like French vanilla which awakened my taste buds and I ended up having three more cups! I also polished off everything on my plate plus two big snickerdoodle cookies from their bakery. I was still hungry.
Afterwards I took the opportunity to go back to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face before buying my small resupply in their convenience store section. I thought they were rather cheap compared to some of the recent places we’ve been. Once our bills were paid and everyone was finished eating we stepped outside and pretty much loitered out front. I drank a big Arizona Tea can and made reservations for a hotel at Page when we finish the trail while Wayback arranged a shuttle from the trailhead to the hotel for us, and Afterburner scoped out the remaining water sources for us. I must say we worked as a great team especially with full bellies!
Around 1100 we finally decided we should start walking so we took the road 2.2 miles down to the trail. The road was rather busy and it made me a little uneasy walking along it but I made it safely and when we made it to the trail we saw a posting about a section of the trail being detoured ahead due to fire damage. I quickly snapped a picture then took off without really studying it. A few minutes later I saw something falling and realized there were snow flurries! I stopped and put on my raincoat, gloves and hat to keep warm. Jen called me so I stopped off to the side to talk so I didn’t lose the signal before our descent and the others continued walking. By the time I was off the phone I tried to play catch up but they had to be almost two miles ahead of me at that point. I came to a sign in the trail signaling the trail closure and I stood there for a minute trying to figure out if everyone went left and took a shortcut along the roads or if they went the extra mile and then went left like the map showed. I ended up going the extra mile and it wasn’t long before I saw everyone’s footprints in the dirt. Good! I finally saw them sitting at a trail junction.
We all continued then down the detour route following forest road after forest road until we hit the longest one yet. This road lasted over five miles and once we were on it, almost on a ridge, the dark clouds rolled and and it began to first sleet then it turned to snow and finally rain. The rain continued for the next hour until my bag was soaked and weighed an extra few pounds. The trail changed from big pine trees to ashy remnants of the 2020 Magnum wildfire. The trees were completely burned, the ground was brown and black and there was no life. This co to use for the remainder of the forest road. I ended up waking 7 miles straight without a break because there wasn’t a single spot to sit without sitting in ash or with the ash blowing in your face with all the wind throughout the day. By the time I reached the trail junction that took us back onto the AZT my feet were done. We took a ten minute break then decided we would rather set up camp early so we walked another mile and half before finding a nice flat area sheltered from most of the wind and only two miles from the next water source.
We all set up our tents realizing this would be our last night on the Arizona Trail. We met in the middle of our six tents and ate dinner together with tiny black bugs swarming us and watched as some black clouds approached. Once finished with dinner I quickly cleaned up my pot, brushed my teeth, changed into my warm clothes and got into my tent at 6:30 just as the rain began to fall. It didn’t last long however and I hope that was it for the night. Tomorrow we finish the AZT!
Mile 773 to Utah (15.5 miles)
I did not sleep well last night. My sinuses were a wreck and I managed to go through an entire back age of tissues before 9:00. When I finally did fall asleep I woke up thinking it was already morning but when I looked at my watch it was only 11:45, slightly before midnight. I was wide awake and couldn’t fall back to sleep until after 0300. At some point during the night I heard coyotes getting excited off in the distance a few times. I finally woke up to birds singing at 05:30 so I slowly started to pack up as we weren’t in a hurry today. My tent still had some rain drops on top but everything else remained dry and in tact. It was a warm morning compared to the previous ones we’ve had and the sun was already starting to shine through the trees. Wayback boiled some water for our coffees and it was kind of a silent morning among the six of us- maybe realization it would be our last day.
We started in the trail shortly before 0700 and that’s when the cold wind picked up and my sinuses started again. The sun was hot but the air was cold making it difficult for my body to regulate. At two miles down the trail was a turnoff for the water source “Rock Creek Apron” located almost a quarter mile off trail. I filtered 2 liters of water, enough to last the rest of the short day. The water was clean and tasted great. Back on the trail I fell behind everyone, taking my time and soaking it all in. We only had 15 miles to the Utah border and our Trail Angel wasn’t coming to pick us up until 7:30 in the evening.
I took several short breaks but I didn’t have more than some flour tortillas, a half bag of plain-tasting nut mix and two bars so it seemed pointless to just sit there when I didn’t have a great view either. The trail climbed in a few spots but nothing major and wound its way through juniper trees and a variety of small cacti with mostly dirt as the footpath. I played leap frog with everyone and we all seemed to be in our own world today which is understandable- hike your own hike” as they say.
The trail eventually ran into more burn area and I followed it until about two miles from the trail’s endpoint. It was here on a ridge that I could look out into the horizon and see the red clay mountains that sit on the border of Utah and Arizona. The wind picked up here threatening to blow me off the trail especially when I’ve lost so much weight. I felt like one of those blowup things at car dealerships.
The final section of the trail had 27 switchbacks that seemed to never end. The hillside was exposed and I could see the green roof of the trailhead pavilion at the bottom. I started to feel a little emotional but pulled myself back together so I didn’t trip and hurt myself before finishing! Once at the bottom the trail flattened out and the sun beat down without any wind exposure. The trail had one last little rocky hillside to climb over (of course!) and down to a nice groomed trail that led a short distance to the pavilion. I spotted Wayback and Afterburner standing there without their bags on and asked if they could take my photo at the Northern Terminus monument. Then we took a group photo and I signed the trail register marking my completion!
The others filtered in and did the same then we all took our seats at the pavilion and shared leftover snacks with each other while excitedly talking about just being done. Pulaski’s friend showed up half an hour later and gave us water and a beer each then took a big group photo of the six of us since we finished out the last several days together. Slowly the excitement died down and everyone started to get sleepy and quiet as we waited for our ride for several hours with no cell service or anything else to do other than a vault toilet nearby.
Over the next several hours I transitioned from sitting at the picnic table under the pavilion to laying down on my pad to close my eyes in the sun, never really sleeping or even doing anything. I felt in limbo. Another hiker joined us in waiting for a ride and three others also left so four of us remained. We all did our own thing quietly, talking to each other every now and then. By 7:20 we were antsy and began to pack up as the sun was setting and darkness was falling. By 7:45 it was dark except for the moon and we were getting concerned the ride would not show. Off in the distance we saw car lights approaching but it turned out to be a camper and not our ride.
At 7:50 I climbed up to the top of a hill for cell service and called the Trail Angel (Ashely, aka-Detour) and when she answered she said she was running late. I told her no worries we were just glad she was on her way. So I went back to the pavilion and we sat there chatting away about everything until I spotted headlights approaching in the dark.
Ashley asked to take our photo in front of the monument (we were hikers #28-32 that she had helped so far this year) and then we loaded our bags into the bed of her truck and I hopped in the back in the middle with Wayback on my left and Afterburner on my right. She warned us she would be cruising on the back road for 15 minutes then the main road for about half an hour. Great! We couldn’t wait to get out of there and have real food. Wow did she ever drive fast on the forest road that probably should not have been driven fast on. I quickly began to overheat and took off both my jackets then I began to get car sick. To my side I could see Afterburner getting really sick also. He put the win down down and still was having issues keeping it together as the truck bounced and skidded along this road at almost 50 mph in the dark. When we made it to the paved road I was able to feel better and only wanted to eat!
Around 9:30 Ashley dropped us off at the Best Western in Page then drove away. I checked us in after getting Afterburner’s and my bag then when getting into the room he collapsed on the bed m. I asked if he wanted us to bring him some food and he said yes. Wayback and I walked a short distance uphill to a Mexican restaurant. The cool air and walk felt good and I hoped the hunger headache I had wild soon go away. We both ordered a margarita and I ordered a super veggie burrito and almost ate it all but I was so tired I just wanted to leave. On the way back to the hotel I stopped at the gas station to pick up sinus medicine and water before getting to the hotel. Once back I forced myself to get in the shower before crawling into the bed that kept calling my name. This was one slow but long day!
Yesterday was a zero day in Flagstaff. I spent most of the day lounging in my sleeping quilt on the floor of the hotel room. I say the floor because it was my turn to take the floor and the guys wash had a bed. I didn’t really mind though because I was warm and had indoor plumbing. I gathered some resupply items from the grocery store to include some ramen noodles, cliff bars, pro bars and PBJ. After I went back to the hotel room I had a little while to myself while the guys went to target so I iced my feet, ankles and knees while watching some tv. I had little motivation to do anything else and I really wanted to stay off my feet as much as possible.
This morning I woke at 06:30, happy to have slept better than the previous several nights. We all needed to stop at the Post Office but it didn’t open until 10:00 so we took our time getting ready, packing and even walking down to a breakfast diner. By 09:45 we left the hotel with our packs and walked the half mile to the Post Office where I mailed home a few things I didn’t need to try and save weight. My bag already was full from packing 5 days’ worth of food and barely closed as is so anything to shed a pound! While I was there I had several people approach me and ask where I was hiking, how long I’ve been on the trail and I was surprised by how inquisitive and polite they were!
Apparently the Post Office did not have Afterburners resupply box and told him to go to the other location so while we were all sitting on a bench outside an older gentleman approached us and asked if we were hiking the AZT then asked if we needed a ride anywhere so Afterburner took him up on that offer and drove him to the other location and back to where we were sitting waiting on him. It didn’t take long though and before I knew it we were hiking our way through downtown Flagstaff towards the trail. Not even a block away we had an older guy on a bicycle make his way over to us and said he was a trail Angel and he hiked the AZT 30 years ago before it was even an established trail. Pretty remarkable! While he was talking to us a younger woman approached us also and asked if she could offer help in any way. This town was blowing my mind! Finally we were again on our way.
Several miles up the road we took our first break under a large pine tree as it was already going on 12:30. I wasn’t super hungry but I ate a few handfuls of nuts since they weighed the most. While sitting there we decided our ending spot would be around mile 595 because that was the lowest spot on elevation (7,573’). Since we left town so late there was no way we could have made the climb up around Mt. Humphreys and down the other side before nighttime. The trail is around 20 miles to clear the mountain otherwise we would be camping between 7,500’ and 9,000’ which is way too cold right now! So for today we would make it a short day.
We took several smaller trails through the area, mostly biking trails so every so often we would have to jump out of the way of bicyclists. The trails were pretty though and we walked on soft dirt most of the time. At 4 miles later we finally made it to the official Arizona Trail again and we took another break. It was so early in the day we didn’t want to arrive at camp TOO early so we took our time. This section of trail steadily climbed and wound its way around and underneath large pine trees scattered for miles and miles. It was beautiful in a creepy way! I thought I would have seen wildlife but I saw nothing more than a few birds- so strange! We didn’t even see any other hikers!
At 4:00 we found a nice flat area settled amongst the pine trees and claimed that as our campsite for the night. I took my time setting up my tent and getting things organized. Wayback set his new tent up he bought at REI because he’s been getting too cold while cowboy camping in his bivvy. Once we were all set up we met in the middle and sat down. It was nice and quiet where we were and the sun was shining down on us through the tree branches so it was a perfect temperature.
I fired up my stove a little after 5:00 so I could be done with dinner and get cleaned up/changed before the sun went down and I wouldn’t be cold doing it! I chose refried beans with Sriracha and some Hippeas with a vegan pop tart for dessert. I had the beans because I didn’t have much water left and the next water source wasn’t for another 6 miles up the trail. I had just enough water left after dinner for a cup of coffee in the morning and a few sips for the 6 mile hike. It’s supposed to be near freezing temps at night so I normally don’t drink cold water in the mornings anyways. Not a huge concern… for now!
Mile 596 to Mile 622 (26 miles)
I slept about 4 hours but was surprised it wasn’t very cold for being up higher in elevation. I was able to pack up quickly and have my coffee with a ProBar. It was my first one and I found it to be delicious! Just enough to fuel me up for the morning. We started on the trail at 05:20 and followed the flat dirt trail for about 2 miles before it began to climb but it was not a difficult climb at all! In fact it was a gentle incline up to almost 8,000’ through massive pine trees before we took our first break 5 miles in.
We found the Alfa Fia Tank, more like a duck pond than anything but I was glad it was there. Up that high the water was ice cold and it was even colder sitting out in an open field with the wind blowing while I filtered 2 liters. I made some more coffee to warm up while I did that. After, we continued up to the high point on that section of the trail which topped out at a little over 9,000’. By then the sun was in and out of the clouds with the wind whipping around me. I had to keep my puffy jacket and beanie on most of the day. It was beautiful up there and I found myself surrounded by aspen trees. We hit smaller patches of snow going up to the top but it was cold enough to walk right over the frozen snow making it easy to deal with.
Once we started descending on the north side of the mountain though the snow came more frequently and as it warmed up I started to step on the snow and sink (post-holing). Pretty soon the snow was getting higher and I would sink lower with every step. At one snow patch I repeatedly post-holed up to my knees! Cold snow found its way under my gaiters and down into my shoes making my feet get wet. Luckily it wasn’t too cold to where the cold feet were an issue.
Where going up the mountain went quickly, the descent was 13 miles! It seemed to take forever to get down but it was very easy walking. I caught up to Wayback at 12:30 (Afterburner was far behind us) for lunch and realized we had hiked 15 miles by then! It didn’t feel like we had gone THAT far. I felt pretty good at that point. I sat down next to a slightly burned tree and finding it impossible to escape the high winds fought my way through lunch with a PBJ wrap, hippeas and a snack bar. As soon as we were both done we packed up anxious to warm up by moving. We still hadn’t seen Afterburner and assumed he stopped for lunch behind us somewhere.
1.8 miles later we arrived at Kelly Tank at mile 612.7. It was a large brown bear box that was maintained by “Trail Troll” and had over a dozen gallon water jugs; some fire specific people and others for public. I refilled my 2 liters and after a short break I continued down the trail. By then we had just left the mountain area and were now traveling down a pasture area that had previously been burned but looked like it was cleaned up. A dirt road ran alongside the trail separated for several miles by a barbed wire fence. The trail followed the rolling hills that were full of lava rock on both sides but didn’t touch the trail too often.
We followed the trail into Forest Road 416 for the rest of the day. It was a nice easy (mostly flat and not rocky) that zigzagged around juniper trees. My energy started slowing down around 3:30 and so I put on a podcast to wake up and zone out for a little while. Finally after leap frogging each other, I sat down to rest my feet for a minute or two while Afterburner and Wayback both went ahead. When I stated hiking again the trail began to get rocky and descend. I could see the plains north of me where I’d be spending the next several days trying to make my way to the Grand Canyon. If you e never been there before, there are a few mountains around the Flagstaff area, then the land becomes flat and boring with tons of juniper trees and a ridiculous amount of wind.
Speaking of, as soon as I was able to catch up to the guys, they had gone almost a mile north of where I told them would be too far as it wouldn’t have any wind protection outside of the tree area. But they found a large rock formation south and almost a quarter mile off trail. Once we got there though the wind came at us from all directions. There was a small wash just below the rock and although it was still windy, it wasn’t AS windy so we set up camp there. It was a struggle trying to put the tent up in such strong wind. I thought it was going to blow away several times so I hurried up and threw my gear inside to help keep it down then I stacked heavy rocks on the stakes to keep them in the ground. Once I was set up it was already after 6:00 so I just climbed in changed and made my dinner inside the rainfly. I was too sick of the wind today to sit outside with the guys (I don’t even know if they sat inside or out).
All in all today was a good day and I was able to walk 26 miles without much foot pain so I’m hoping tomorrow also feels good!
Mile 622 to Mile 644 (22 miles)
So my day started earlier than usual. At 1am we all woke up to the high winds. I felt a tent stake give up so I waited until the gusts slowed down then went out to restake it to the ground and secure it with large rocks. I crawled back inside as the sand and dirt pelted my face. I tried to lay down and go back to sleep but the gusts continued and once again I went out to restake another corner of the tent. When I went back inside I tried to curl up and go back to sleep, hoping it would be over by 04:30. A few minutes later I felt sand and dirt hitting my face as I lay inside and then whack! The entire side of my tent concaves and the top bar hits my head. At this point I am concerned. I don’t want my tent to rip so I make the decision to start packing up.
I brought my bag inside and carefully put my things away while trying to use my body to keep the side of my tent still. Once everything is packed, all I had left to do was pack up the tent. I tried going over it in my head and while there were steps I planned to take, I knew it would not go down pretty, especially in the middle of the night. As soon as I step out and walk around to the other side of the tent I hear snap! and I watch in horror as the head-side of my tent collapses after one of the poles on top literally snaps into two pieces, only held together by an inside bungee cord. There is nothing I can do at this point as the rest of the tent starts flapping in the wind so I quickly grab my rainfly stakes and pocket them except I can only find 3. Great. I take the rainfly off the top and since I can’t seem to fold it I end up rolling into a ball and shoving it under my bag to keep it down. Then I do the same for the tent and ground sheet. At this point I see Afterburner walking over towards me and asks if I’m calling it and I said, “well yes my tent pole broke so I’m just packing up now there’s nothing else I can do about it.” He said, “ok I’m going to pack up and maybe I can get a nap in later”. He goes and tells Wayback also to start packing. I now have 3 balled up pieces and I am able to shove 2 of them into the tent bag and the other one I shove into the exterior bungee next to my z-flex pad. That was exhausting to clean up with the sand and dirt swirling around my head. I turn my headlamp off and wait for the others. When I looked up it was so clear and dark out I could see the Milky Way and all the billions of stars. Then I see a shooting star!
Once everyone is packed up I turn my headlamp on and start to make my way back to the trail, stumbling with each step in the wind. I was in the lead and it was difficult to see the dirt road because the wind was kicking up so much dirt and my light caught it all. We hiked without talking to each other because it was near impossible to hear over the wind, cutting at us from our left side then directly into us. We walked slowly in the dark for 3 miles before making it to the Cedar Ranch Trailhead at mile 625. Here, we found a hiker box filled with gallons of water so we all topped off with me taking 3 liters total. Wayback made us coffee and I ate a fig bar for breakfast even though the wind was all around us still.
By the time we were finished the sun was starting to rise so we could then our headlamps off. The road took us another 4 miles with not a lot of trees to stop the wind. Luckily it was now at our backs and quite literally pushing us down the road. We reached a large metal cattle tank with a rancher working outside next to it. Wayback approached him and asked if we could use it to try and block the wind so we could finally rest and the guy was very nice. He even offered to let us sit in his truck. But we walked around the other side of the tank where the wind was less but still there. I grabbed my mat and sat down on the ground. I had a snack then laid down and tried to take a nap next to this huge round metal tank. It was useless. Even though the sun was now out, the wind still found its way around to us and with it, kicked up dirt and everything in its path. I laid there not even 5 minutes then decided to try and fix my tent pole instead. After I used my knife and a smaller shepherd hook tent stake to try and open the holes so the metal wouldn’t slice the bungee Wayback gave me a v-stake and I used that to stabilize both ends and wrapped it up with leukotape as I was out of duct tape. It seemed to work for now. After an hour of sitting in the cold wind we packed up and moved on.
As soon as I stepped out from behind the tank I knew today would suck. The wind picked up and I couldn’t even stand straight. As I walked up the dirt road I would lift my foot to take a step forward but would end up taking 2-3 steps to the side instead. I was stumbling my way up this road worse than a drunk trying to walk the line. The wind would catch my bag and whip the top half of me one way while my legs were trying to go a different way. It took my breath away! Finally after another 2 miles we reached an area a where it wasn’t as strong so I took a few minutes to rest and enjoy it before we pushed on again up to a trail junction which put us right on a ridge.
I was running out of energy quickly and was so happy when I found Afterburner tucked behind a tree eating lunch. It was only 10:00 but we had been hiking since 03:30. I sat down and enjoyed a PBJ wrap with the rest of my hippeas. I wanted to take a nap so bad but we pushed on. This time the wind was at its max as we dipped down into a wide open called with hardly any trees in sight. I could barely keep my feet on the trail and had to keep stopping and turning my back to the oncoming wind. Using my hiking poles were useless because the wind just pushed them aside so I used my other free hand to hold my rain jacket hood in place. This valley was almost 3 miles long and when we finally reached a slightly wooded area I saw a bench made out of rocks and just collapsed on it in the sun. The guys continued on but I didn’t care, I needed a few minutes! When I did catch up to them I was at zero energy but was happy to hear they needed a longer break so I was able to relax too and even made some cold coffee. This helped immensely when we started again as I had more pep in my step, my music also woke me up and the sun was nice and warm.
We had hiked 16 miles before noon and once we reached 19, we would hike 2 miles then sit and take a break and repeat. We were all tired from only 3 hours of sleep and pushing our way through the wind. When we hit 22 miles Wayback “called it” and found a sheltered area to camp in the trees. If one person calls it we all stop for the night, but none of us complained about this today even though it was only 4:00. So I carefully set up my tent, nervous still about the pole. We reinforced it by adding a second v-stake on the top and taping it again so the sharp metal wouldn’t slice through the leukotape. Once my tent was up I crawled in and relaxed for a while before making ramen for dinner. Then more relaxing time before an early night tonight in case the wind decides to play bully again.
Mile 644 to Mile 668 (24 miles)
Last night was decently warm and it didn’t get cold until we were two miles down the trail and the sun came up. Sometime during the night I heard an elk wander near our tents and making elk noises but when I asked the guys in the morning they slept through it. I told Afterburner, “he was literally on the other side of the tree you were cowboy camping next to!” I guess it was just for me then. After we started hiking all I wanted was some hot coffee and to warm up but I had difficulty catching up to Wayback as he is a speed walker! We were hiking through Babbitt Ranch and even though there were small hills and lots of trees everywhere, the path was relatively easy to hike on. The dirt was so fluffed up from yesterday’s winds that each step created perfect footprints.
At 4 miles into the hike I finally meet up with Wayback- only because he was sitting down at a dirt road junction- but that was okay with me because it was directly in the sunlight! I sat down and started to boil some water for our coffee when Afterburner caught up to us too. The coffee tasted delicious and I was sad to see it was my last one and I only had one more black tea to use for tomorrow morning. When I took inventory I also noticed I had just over one day of food and barely enough snacks also. I hoped we would make it into Tusayan by Friday (in 2 days).
As we were packing up a guy approached from down the dirt road and introduced himself as Stewart. He said he was thru hiking also and is trying to find the water cache at the next trailhead (Moqui Stage Station) 1.5 miles North of us. Us too. So he led the way and a quarter mile off the trail were 2 gallons of water and 3 bottles of Gatorade. I took a Gatorade and only 3/4 liter of water so others behind us would have some, then I crushed one of the empty jugs and attached it to my pack so I could throw it out at the next trash can opportunity. Then Stewart takes off though the woods and not in the trail. We joked about him taking shortcuts and I dubbed him “Shortcut Stewart”. After the next road junction we didn’t see his footprints in the path’s dirt anymore. Guess he is a road thru hiker. Is that a thing?
We followed the monotonous trail with no fun views or changing scenery which seemed so boring after the previous 600 miles and I had no signal to listen to music so I started to lose energy. I did see some deer and right before Russell Tank at mile 656 I saw a couple of wild horses right next to the trail. Pretty neat! When we approached the tank (more of a pond) we saw 4 more horses drinking at the waters edge. Then one started playing in the water while another one started to pee in it. All I could think was- gross that’s our drinking water! I’d have to say that after filtering 2 liters of it, that was the worst tasting water I’ve had on the trail. Even the cow pond water tasted better!
We then sat down along a down tree and had some lunch while watching birds swooping down around the water and the horses moved behind us to keep watch on us. After lunch we wandered across the trail to the other side where the Russell Tank Trailhead was and to our delight we found a vault bathroom (with toilet paper!) and a bunch of trash cans! So we all emptied our pockets and bags full of trash including the water jug I still had and took turns using the bathroom before heading out. By then it was already 12:30 and we had only gone 12.5 miles!
The trail was a bit squirrelly after the tank because it was a maze of different paths that crossed each other and there were no trail signs. Eventually we cut through and found the right trail. By mile 658 we crossed a road and onto the Coconino Rim Trail which led us up and down and around, well, a rim! Off in the distance I could catch glimpses of the Grand Canyon and it would make me smile. The wind had picked up around lunch time and the temperature had slowly began dropping so I put my coat and beanie back on to try and stay warm.
We followed the rim trail for about ten miles before reaching a trail junction to Wildlife Tank. We planned on camping in the area so we wanted to grab water for tomorrow’s hike. The tank was a half mile walk from the junction so we stashed our bags in the trees and only took our water filtering kits. It’s necessary to filter all water we find that isn’t in a store bought water jug. Most of the water tanks we drink in are filthy and could easily give us giardia (results in nasty Pooh’s) In fact, one hiker behind us had to get off the trail to deal with it for a few days. Anyways, the tank was easy to find and although it was somewhat clean water there were a lot of floaters in it. When we arrived back at our bags we decided to find a campsite first so we ended up continuing on the AZ trail for maybe a quarter mile before we cut off and walked though the woods to find a flat, no wind area. It didn’t take long.
I set my tent pretty fast as the air was getting colder. The weather said low 30 so I changed I’m my tent before having dinner. I ended up putting as much clothing on as I could. For dinner I mixed a black bean soup with my last refried beans. I didn’t realize how much food it would make and I ended up having 3 burritos plus a couple spoonfuls I order to finish it and that was after Afterburner gave me a Cliff bar. Then I made some hot sleepy time tea in order to warm up before bed. It’s cold nights like this that make me wish I could have a campfire. We normally cannot because of fire bans and my synthetic clothing would just melt if an ember landed on it. I hope it doesn’t get too cold tonight. Who am I kidding… it’s always cold on the trail!
Mile 668 to Tusayan (14 miles)
It took me a while to warm up last night but quickly fell asleep and slept hard! I woke to Waybacks alarm at 04:30 and realized it wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be. Maybe because I slept in all my clothes? We packed up and not two minutes down the trail we found the Grandview Trailhead where we took advantage of the bathroom and trashcan again before setting off down the trail in the dark. At around 06:00 when the sun first started peeking above the treetops I heard rattling and when I looked down I saw ice chips floating around in my plastic water bottle. Not five minutes earlier I took a drink from it and there was no ice!
Pretty soon I had to stop for a quick break and when I got back on the trail the guys had passed by and were now out of sight. I was hoping they would stop soon for coffee and breakfast (I always look forward to breaks apparently!) but the farther I hiked I did not see them. As the flat trail started to switchback down into a small valley I heard commotion off to my left and after hearing it several times I realized it was a turkey gobbling away like it had so much to talk about! A little over half a mile later I saw Wayback sitting on a tree log partially in the sun. When I got closer I saw he had water boiling in his pot. He had coffee and I ended up having black tea, my last bit of caffeine until I could get my resupply box. While we were sitting there I saw movement and identified a coyote crossing the trail ahead through the pine trees and quickly out of sight.
After breakfast I heard my phone ringing and was able to talk to Jen for a little while and by the time the call ended I was leading the pack down the trail. The caffeine had kicked in, my feet get okay, I had tunes playing in my ear and the sun was warming things up. I practically felt like I was skipping down the trail. When I reached a gate to go through I looked behind me and didn’t see them anywhere so I took my mat out and sat down in the sun. Looking at my app I only had 6.5 miles until reaching the trail junction to Tusayan. That went so fast! A couple of minutes later the guys show up and take a break too.
When we start hiking again I made it another mile before realizing I was getting way too hot so I stop to take off my base layer pants and then got back on the trail. I didn’t see the guys again for the rest of the way to Tusayan. Along the way by myself was pretty and I was able to enjoy the scenery at my own pace while listening to a podcast. Unfortunately I didn’t see any animals other than a blue jay but I did see a lot of bobcat prints in the dirt.
A mile later I made my way around a horseshoe bend and spotted the guys sitting alongside the trail at our turnoff. When I approached, Afterburner was on the phone and Wayback said we got the permit to camp down inside the Grand Canyon at Cottonwood campground! As soon as he was off the phone we cut down towards the small area of Tusayan and climbed over a barbed wire fence, walking into a local RV park where we spotted a laundry facility. Afterburner went in to the office and signed us up to use the one washer they had. Apparently they shut off the others and had a signup sheet for COVID reasons. Ridiculous. So we had two hours before it was our turn and we walked to McDonalds so they could get food then checked in at the 7 Mile Motel. I jumped in the shower and it felt wonderful to be clean before taking my clothes over to the washer. It was 3.50 for a load so we only washed them and hung everything up around the motel room to air dry. Once laundry was done I sat on the bed and had no motivation to do anything else for the rest of the day! We have two days off until our camping permit on Monday night.
This morning started early again at 04:30 and we were road walking from the motel in Strawberry to Pine by 05:15. We made stops at the gas station, the local market and then to the Early Bird Cafe where we had a breakfast before hitting the trail. By 08:00 we made the 4 mile road walk to get to the trail head. The Pine Trailhead was really nice and well maintained compared to many of the others. The trail itself was easy to walk on and we were surrounded by pine trees and fresh air. The trail slowly climbed and if I didn’t have so much food and 2.5 liters of water in my bag it would have been a very easy section of trail. Prior reports said this section was all mud but we hit it at a great time and the mud had hardened so it was easier to walk on.
Unfortunately this was not an exciting part of the AZT for me as compared to other days. There was not a whole lot of change in scenery. By noon we found a decently large river flowing near Geronimo Trailhead and I decided it was time to put my sandals on and cool my feet off in the river after getting water to filter. The water was so cold but so relieving! We had lunch and then took off again on the trail.
We arrived at the Washington Park Trailhead (mile 479) and Afterburner decided to take up the offer to stay at Recon’s family cabin for tacos, showers and laundry. Wayback and I continued down the trail to find a campsite. We ended up backtracking almost a quarter mile back near the trailhead to set up near the East Verde River. Wayback asked if I had signal and to text Afterburner where we would be to make it easier to find us in the morning. Not 2 minutes after I text him, I see Recon walking towards us with a Gatorade, a beer and chips and asking why we didn’t want to come stay with his family. He ended up talking us into going to the cabin with him and so we packed our gear into his SUV and we all head the mile down the dirt road.
When we arrived we saw Hammer and The Beast were there also so there were 5 of us plus Recon, his wife, 3 kids and 2 friends joining him on his thru-hike. Recons wife made everything for tacos and even made vegan options for a few people! The family was SO nice and they were all so happy and chill. We all ate until we were full and talked hiking stories until late into the evening. The cabin was amazing and Recon lit a fire in their fireplace which sat under Elk and bison mounted on the wall. Outside was the East Verde River behind the back patio. Wayback and Afterburner cowboy camped on the patio while I decoded to sleep on in my quilt on the floor beside the fireplace and Hammer and the Beast took the couch. Tomorrow we are all waking early again for breakfast and Recon said he would drive us to the trailhead so we can conquer one last big climb between here and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Mile 497 to Mile 499 (20 miles)
I woke up this morning to Recon and his wife Jill quietly making breakfast at 04:30. I changed and silently started to pack up my bag then went into the kitchen and they handed me a cup for coffee. Wayback and Afterburner came inside and got ready themselves and by that time the breakfast was ready. I had oatmeal with fresh fruit and walnuts and two cups of coffee. It was delicious! Hammer and the Beast were still sleeping on the couch so we all sat around the kitchen table quietly chatting until it was time to leave near 06:00. We loaded up into Recon’s white SUV and drove down to the same trailhead he picked us up from. Once there, Wayback realized he didn’t have his phone on him and must have left it at the house so he went back to the house to find it while Afterburner and I stayed at the trailhead.
As soon as he came back (he found it!) we started up the trail at 06:35. We crossed a bridge over the East Verde River and the trail slowly climbed as the temperature slowly dropped. After the first mile the trail came out to shortly follow a dirt road that acted like a wind tunnel blowing me down as I was trying to go up. The trail split up and we took the trail to the right that turned into giant switchbacks, avoiding the 1/3 mile straight climb over scree and up to the General Springs Trailhead (elevation 7,150). At the top we took a short break to catch our breaths and so I could put as many layers on as I could as it was freezing! Back on the trail we came up to the General Springs Cabin, formerly a ranger station that was now abandoned and only used by thruhikers during foul weather (there was rat feces on the floor inside and no door or windows).
As we went down the trail there were large patches of snow-turned ice and frozen water puddles. The trail went down into a canyon to follow a river for several miles and requires us to cross over multiple times. It wasn’t until almost 09:00 when the sun began to heat up the ground and thawing me out. We stopped along the river to filter some water and continued on. At one point the river was too high for us to cross so we were forced to go down river several hundred yards to find a spot we could safely get across. As soon as we crossed the trail went into switchbacks and up onto a high plateau where we were surrounded by more pine trees than one could imagine. The foot path was so soft under our feet, made of sand and covered in pine needles. It was a relief to all the miles of rocks we had to endure!
Once I made it to an AZT gate right behind Wayback, we decided to have a seat and wait for Afterburner. Normally we only wait for a few minutes if he has to catch up but we started to become concerned after ten minutes. Finally we saw him making his way down towards us and it turns out he had bad allergies and not feeling so well mixed with some medication he took he was experiencing very low energy for the day. He said he would catch up to us at the next water source so Wayback and I took off again down the pine needle path. It wasn’t long before the trail turned into an old forest road that was no longer in use and we followed that for almost two miles before we descended down towards East Clear Creek. This would be our last “reliable” water for over 14 miles so we were hoping it would be better than some cow pond water. As soon as it came into view I smiled and skipped down to it off the path. The water was SO clear and the path it made winding through the canyon looked picturesque. I shrugged out of my pack and replaced my socks and shoes with sandals and grabbed my water filter. I crouched down to the waters edge and scooped some water into my bag, completely shocked at how cold it was. Even the river water going into Summerhaven wasn’t this cold! Here I thought I was going to cool my feet off by wading around in the river but I could barely stick my toes in without gasping. Okay so I guess it’s better to sit and look at the water while I eat lunch that to be IN it.
While we were sitting there eating and filtering, several thru-hikers arrived too including Recon and his two friends and Bucha. When it was time to move on we had a dilemma. The river was too wide for us to make it across and far too cold to walk through it! Recon found a small log and threw it down into another one. When I tried to step on the first one, my left foot somehow slipped and the front half of my foot got wet. It didn’t take long to dry out however and I continued on up the trail.
Every two hours Wayback and I took a break to wait for afterburner to catch up to us only to lay on the ground and almost fall asleep. I felt bad for him not feeling well but it was also nice not being the last one all the time. By 3:30 we made it to a campground that was closed but I was able to throw my garbage away in a dumpster (Yay!).
Mile 496.7 brought us out to Highway 87 where we found Recon and his friends again by a pickup truck, tailgating! They offered us food and drinks but I only had a drink. We all talked for maybe 30 minutes before we needed to move on so we could get more miles in before the subs went down. We said our goodbyes and crossed the highway and into the forest. I was getting so excited thinking we would hit the 500 mile mark but at mile 499.4 I found the guys and Boucha to my right getting ready to set up camp. I could have continued on for several miles but I am also okay with just claiming my 20 for the day and hitting an achievement in the morning!
Mile 499 to Mile 525 (26 miles)
It felt like I slept more hours last night than I have since leaving Superior. I slept in until 5:15 and even though I thought it was going to be cold last night it was actually really nice and the sun started to came up and warm up the campsite even more. We had coffee and my breakfast fig bar then hit the trail by 6:15. Boucha was still sleeping in her tent when we left. Oh well. Some people like to wake up later.
We hiked 8 miles with minimal breaks until we hit our first water source “Foot in the Tree Tank” (who comes up with these!?! I saw no feet anywhere!) which wasn’t really even a tank at all but rather a very muddy market cow pond. Gross. But we needed water before our next source 11 miles up the trail. So we took the section of panty hose I carry and covered our water scooper (a water bottle cut in half) and proceeded to scoop water, take the pantyhose off, pour the water into the reservoir, put the panty hose back in and repeat. We did this until we each had 2 liters of water, then we filtered that water into our bottles. I had to back flush my filter every half liter because it is so backed up or dirty that now it only drips if I don’t squeeze the reservoir with a death grip. It shouldn’t do that. It took me half and hour to filter those 2 liters. While we were sitting there, Recon and his friend joined us in the fun cow pond. Once filtered the water was still discolored but did not taste bad at all. I’ve tasted water from plastic jugs that tasted much worse than this.
Once we had our water we started back on the trail. By this point we had hiked 8 miles by 10am and I just so happened to have a spurt of energy so I led the group and took off. The path today had been very easy compared to the rest of the AZ trail. It led me through cow pastures, through pine forests and even some rocky areas that didn’t last long. All this with only slight elevation, climbing all day but barely noticeable. So as I took off, I had cell phone service and put some music in my left ear and ended up going 4 miles in just over an hour. It was now 11:15 and we were at 12 miles and Afterburner and I decided it was time for lunch! We ended up walking almost another mile though because where the 12 mile marker was was in a wet windy field so we cut across the field and followed it up a hill and into the pine trees to get away from the wind. Wayback caught up about 5-10 minutes later.
After our short 30 minute lunch we saw a lizard laying on the path all flattened out and it took us a few minutes to realize it did this intentionally! Pretty neat to see. After lunch is when I normally slow down but we were doing so well with our mileage we took a break almost every hour or two for just enough time to take our bags off, rest our feet and drink some water or have a snack. I found a blister formed in the webbing between my big toe and the next one. It was uncomfortable but not painful like blisters normally are. I kept an eye on it all day though. We played leap frog with Recon and his friend all day but didn’t see any other people.
Once we began our climb up towards 7,000’ I began to see signs of elk. Primarily all the poop and hoof marks along the path- kind of a giveaway! At one point I looked up and saw almost a dozen cow elk nearby. They heard us and darted to my left an out of sight. That was so neat! A little further up the trail curved in that direction and once again I found myself stopping and just watching them off in the distance. The three of us watched in amazement at these creatures until we were spotted and they took off once again. After that I only saw one more but only briefly. By 3:00 we had reached mile 518 or Bargaman Park Tank and refilled our water bottles with running water from a creek that runs into a large pond. My filter was barely working so Afterburner offered to let me use his. What a delight getting the water filtered so much faster! Of course I back flushed his and cleaned it up best I could after using it.
From this point we planned on only hiking 5 more miles to Maxie Tank at mile 523. As we climbed up to our max elevation for the day at 7,700’ the air felt colder, there was snow still on the ground in patches and the rest of the ground was either muddy or tacky to walk on. At least we weren’t up this high during the snow storm like others were. After our peak we went slightly down toward a more cow pasture and cow tanks surrounded by mud. One of the tanks “Shuff Tank” looked large and clean from a distance but once closer all we could do was hear hundred of frogs! So we left that one go.
By mile 523 at Maxie Tank it was 5:00 but we decided to continue on 1.8 more miles to a forest road that reportedly had flat camping areas nearby. I was exhausted by now but gave it one final push and after 6:00 we found some flat areas at the edge of the woods by a large field. I got my tent set up and cleaned up (I love baby wipes!) and changed into my night gear before meeting the guys nearby for dinner. I had chili ramen noodles, some vegan Doritos and Afterburner gave me a plain bagel I smeared some almond butter on. We watched the sun go down behind the pine trees as the light reflected off the clouds from Orange to red to pink to purple.
As soon as the sun was down the cold kicked in and I hustled to clean up my cookware and trash. I still had to get my bed made! I put my foam pad underneath my inflatable mattress then snapped my quilt on over that. I use a sleeping bag liner that I’ve been putting over both the quilt and inflatable pad. This helps keep the warmth in and the frost off my quilt in the mornings. Genius! I only started doing this because the sleeping bag liner does not work well with my quilt. I finished getting everything organized in my tent and brushed my teeth and settled in for the night! I imagine it will be cold by the morning but we have a short 10 miles into Mormon Lake for a few hours then back out on the trail towards Flagstaff!
Mile 525 to Mormon Lake to Mile 546
I did not sleep well last night. I tossed and turned and by 03:30 the temperature had significantly dropped. By 05:30 I was shivering in my tent. We packed up camp quietly and started hiking at 06:15. The trail seemed to tease us because as the sun was slowly rising the trail would barely take us into the sun and then some place colder than before. This was the coldest morning we’ve had yet. I kept my puffy and beanie with heavy gloves on until almost 09:00.
Because it was so cold the top layer of ground was frozen but with every step I took I could feel the mud and muck move underneath almost like I was walking on a bog. Every now and then the wasn’t frozen and I would slide in mud. This continued for 3.5 miles until the point Wayback stopped in a partly sunny area so we could have breakfast and coffee. Finally! I was so exhausted and my stomach was growling all morning this was just what I needed. As I sat there Jen called me and that brightened my mood as well. After we were finished we packed up and our next stop was a side trail to take us to Mormon Lake, another 5 miles up the trail. The coffee kicked in and I took off in the lead, music playing in my left ear. The morning was looking up even as the frozen trail turned to icky mud.
We took the side trail down towards Mormon Lake and along the way I saw Aspen Recovery areas fenced off like it was Jurassic Park but to keep the wildlife including humans out. The one mile trail brought us out to the main road and we walked only a short distance to the General store where I was able to buy a banana, tissues, cranberry juice, some snacks and a mew water bottle flip cap as mine broke yesterday. I took my things out to sit on a bench out front and organize my bag. Afterburner and Wayback both had boxes sent to the post office so they too organized their treasures. We thought we were going to get a bite to eat at the restaurant but they weren’t open until 3:00 so I went back to the store to buy a PBJ and chips. We sat on the front for almost an hour, happy to finally be warm! Boucha walked into the town to grab her box from the post office and to my surprise, came and sat with us. She is normally a very quiet person but I guess she has grown comfortable around the three of us.
A few minutes later we packed up and began the trek back to the AZT when we noticed a bathroom/shower sign nearby. Well heck, I’d love to go to the bathroom indoors! So I happily went over and as soon as I walked in I felt a whoosh of warm air- the bathroom was heated! It had three pay showers and two toilets and was actually nicer than most locker rooms I’ve been in. I could have fallen asleep in there with the warmth!
Once back on the AZT we refilled our water bottles at the Navajo Spring and by then the sun was out and warm. I ended up zipping my pant legs off down to shorts and my t-shirt then tried to catch up to the others. For the rest of the day I tried to keep with them but I still felt completely drained from yesterday and my feet were tender as the trail turned back into rocks for most of the afternoon. The trail followed the pine trees over rocky hills and valleys of mud. By 2:30 we had one last short break. We wanted to make it another 6 miles to Railroad Tank at mile 545.9, so we could fill up tonight and apparently it was the last reliable water source for over 20 miles into Flagstaff.
At 3:30 my headphones died, I was at zero for energy, the trail was steadily climbing and I wasn’t sure how I could make it 4 more miles. I had a combination of the hiker hobble and motor functions that weren’t working right so I was a hot mess stumbling my way down the path tripping on rocks, pine cones and my own feet. Finally the trail seemed to flatten out and we walked beside an old railroad track. I was 3 miles out from
Our campsite and I did not see the guys in front of me anywhere. I noticed I had cell service so I decided to call my sister! It was nice talking to her and the family, plus it took my mind into a better place than focused on the negativity I was dealing with. Not long after we hung up Jen called and we spoke for a few minutes.
When I was done I only had a half mile left! Finally I saw Afterburner standing there waiting for me and I followed him to the campsite where Recon was already settled in! Apparently his hiking buddy had developed blisters on his feet and he quit after two days! We all filled up our bottles at the water tank that was more of a big pond then went back to set up our tents. Recon had a small flask of Woodford Reserve and passed it around to us, instantly taking some pains away from my body. Once my tent was set up we all met in the middle for dinner. I tried a red bean chili and decided it was really nasty. I won’t eat the second bag of it. Then I followed that up with a cliff bar for desert as we all sat around talking as the sun went down. I borrowed Afterburners water filter and filtered the 2 liters then got ready for bed. By the time I climbed into my quilt the temperature had dropped and I decided tonight is a down booties on the feet kinda night. Brrrr!
Mile 546 to Flagstaff (24 miles)
I woke at midnight freezing, realizing my body was flat on the ground and my sleeping pad had deflated. I figured it was due to the change in temperature so I blew it back up and went back to sleep. And hour and a half later I woke to the same situation. I repeated this 5 times until the alarm went off at 04:30. It was freezing cold and I was torn because I was so cold I wanted to get moving but it was so cold I didn’t want to move. I left my base layer on and pulled my hiking pants over them. I decided to make some hot coffee to warm my body from the inside while I pack up, which didn’t take long because I wanted to get moving! I was surprised to find frost covering my tent when I began taking it down. I’m not sure what the temperature was but it was cold! Thank goodness I always sleep with my filter and water bottles inside my tent. I was the first to be ready for a change but didn’t have to wait long. Recon was awake but still in his tent when we left guided by the lights from our headlamps.
Today I kept my hiking poles in my bag so I could walk with my gloves hands in my pockets to keep them warm. The path was relatively flat at first until the sky began to brighten then it had a gentle two mile climb to a forest road. An hour into the hike I began to warm up so I pulled off to the side and after the guys passed by I took my base layer pants off and put my hiking pants back on. I didn’t think it took me that long to do but once I started on the trail again I couldn’t catch up to them until I found them sitting in a field in the sun along the flat forest road. I set my pack down and threw out my z-flex pad to sit on. Wayback said he already started to heat water for our coffee so hurray I didn’t have to pull all my stuff out in the cold!
It was 6:45 and sun felt amazing while sitting there sitting on the ground sipping coffee even if it was next to cow poop (it never goes away!). After I finished I began putting a few things back in my bag and then brushed my teeth. Normally I do this first thing in the morning but today I was too cold. I noticed while I rinsed, my water bottle had ice chunks in it, which weren’t there when I packed them up from camp. They must have began to freeze while walking. As Wayback finished packing his things back into his pack, he started laughing, looking into his silicone coffee cup and said his coffee began to freeze in the short time he packed up! I would love to know what that temperature was this morning.
From our breakfast spot we hiked along 5 miles of dirt road which was awesome because we all walked really fast to pound out some miles in a short time before the trail cut off to the West and onto an actual trail (rocky of course). One by one the guys pulled over to do some business until I was leading the pack. I noticed I hike better in the front and somehow hike faster hit this did not last long however as I ran into a guy along the trail playing music on a speaker and drinking a beer and it was only 09:30! I stopped to say hi and it turns out he was Recon’s friend Craig who was bringing Recon some water for the trail. He offered some to me and I accepted so I would have 2 liters for the rest of the day instead of 1.5 (coffee took half of mine!). He was a nice guy and when we took off I was no longer in the lead but I didn’t mind because I was listening to music and feeling in a great mood while watching Mt. Humphrey’s in Flagstaff grow bigger and bigger.
A little after 10:00 Wayback stopped in the trail in front of me and declared 9.99 miles. I said let’s go beyond the gate and to the pine tree shade and that should be 10 miles. By 10:15 (06:15 was our starting time). Sure enough it hit 10! We sat for a few minutes under the tree munching on snacks as Afterburner showed up. He sat for a minutes then said he was too cold and continued on. I wanted a longer break but we had a lot of miles to cover still so I packed up and tried to catch them again. I never should have stopped because once I started hiking again my feet felt like someone was hitting the bottoms of them with a mallet each step I took. This continued for the rest of the day.
The trail passes by Lowell Observatory and descended into Marshall Lake which wasn’t really a lake but there were people there with RV’s. On one of the AZT trail signs was a hand written sign saying trail Magic ahead. Not much further under a large tree was a 5 gallon jug of water with a filter and two white styrofoam coolers: one with fruits and one with drinks. I chose an orange and a beer and sat down to enjoy those. While sitting there an white older SUV pulled up and a woman brought over 6 more gallons of water saying she saw the comments in the app asking if someone could provide water as the lakes and tanks were all dried up. What amazing people on this trail!
When we hiked out of the lake area Afterburner jokingly (?) said he’d meet us at the hotel and I assumed he was serious because he took off up the trail and I didn’t see him for another 12 miles. Wayback and I leapfrogged our way winding through the pine forests and I hiked 6 miles until I couldn’t stand it anymore and needed to sit down. It was 12:15 and I pulled out my lunch under a shade tree and took my shoes and socks off. Wayback decided to sit with me. Once I finished I stood up as almost fell back down. I began slowly hobbling my way down the hill behind Wayback, feeling pins and needles on every step. I was frustrated at the pain and couldn’t get my mind off of it. I sent Wayback a text saying I was going really slow and no need to wait for me at the trail junction into Flagstaff, I’d meet them there. Surprisingly, as soon as I was down off the mountain and into the canyon I could see him a quarter mile up the trail taking his time.
At the trail junction I decided I wouldn’t stop and sit down until I made it into Flagstaff because I didn’t think I’d be able to walk again. So I ended up walking these last 6.1 miles without more than stopping and taking my bag off to take a drink of water then continuing on. It felt brutal. I had no cell service so I was left with my own thoughts and decided this was my test. If I can push through this pain over 6 more miles then I can do more than I thought I could. Every so often I had to stop and kind of shake my legs out before continuing on. I wasn’t far behind Wayback so that was motivating too. By 3:10 I finally made it to the I-40 underpass in Flagstaff where Wayback and Afterburner were waiting. I was so relieved and I took the time to sit down! Only then they said it was two more miles to the hotel. Arrrghhh!
Walking on the pavement wasn’t too bad and we slowly made our way down the sidewalks and roads until we got to REI where we all needed a few items and it was on the way to the hotel. I needed a new water filter and warmer base layer bottoms. When I was checking out the woman at the register wouldn’t stop talking to me about my hiking bag, the hiking poles and everything else while I stood there shuffling from foot to foot to ease the pain. Finally she let me go and we walked another ole to the hotel. I was the first time to shower and it felt SO amazing! After 5 days with now shower I couldn’t feel cleaner after that. Wayback and I walked to get Thai food a half mile away and then I threw laundry in at the hotel.
After some chores were done, it was after 8:00 and I still had to see about my sleeping pad. I inflated it then submerged it into the bathtub full of water. It took a few minutes but then I spotted tiny bubbles near the air release nozzle. Darn it! Why couldn’t it be in an easier place to fix? It took longer than I would have liked but Wayback helped me to fix it. I will see tonight if it holds up or not as I’m the unlucky one at this hotel with only two beds and sleeping on the floor with my quilt.
Today was my favorite day on the trail! It started at 06:04 when I woke up and took one last shower for a few days only to come out and see that Wayback brought us back coffees from the lobby! I ended up going back down for seconds and an OJ before packing up my bag and filling my water bottles for the day.
Jerry the shuttle driver wasn’t picking us up until 08:00 so we had over an hour to relax on the sofa with the coffee while watching some tv. It was so hard to get going after being so relaxed! The guys wanted breakfast so Jerry drove us through McDonalds so they could get their sandwiches and I got an iced tea. After a 30 minute drive back to the trailhead we took the side trail a half mile back to the AZT and started our day at 08:45.
I was in front of the pack walking slowly looking for any snakes as it was prime snake weather but as soon as we passed under Highway 87, I couldn’t keep my eyes in the trail. The scenery was so pretty! The mountains were all around us and we were hiking on a small dirt path with minimal rocks (finally) over rolling hills. At one point I spotted something on the side of the trail and on closer look I saw it was a snake skeleton! So I was more diligent at keeping an eye out, just in case.
After 2.5 hours we came to a small stream and Afterburner found a perfect shady spot alongside it to take our lunch break and to filter some water. The day seemed so relaxing even while hiking because we were only going 12 miles today. This was because there was no place to camp after that for roughly 8-10 miles and a very long climb into over 6,000’ elevation. So we took our sweet time eating lunch and relaxing for almost an hour.
After our break we continued the climb up through a nice canyon that crossed several times over a small creek that was flowing in some parts and not in others. Even with the climbs legs felt strong and my feet felt like I was walking on fluffy clouds with my new socks and insoles! Hopefully my foot heals quickly with these. I hiked on for 5 miles up and out of the canyon and into the Mazatzal Mountains. Gorgeous!
Along the way I ran into a group of three, one of which said she thru-hiked the AZT in 2018 and this was her favorite section so she came back to do the section again and I agreed and the marvelous views. Soon we hit the top of the climb and had an easy three mile descent towards our campsite. We weren’t sure how big the area was going to be and we knew there was that group of three, Joe Dirt/Tweety/Sonic were behind us, and we literally ran into two females Fire Worm and Hi-ho sitting on the trail too.
We were the first to arrive at the campsite at 3:30 nestled in a small canyon alongside a river that only had small pools left and surrounded by huge pine trees. As everyone arrived we picked out our small patches of tent property and started the task of setting everything up. 8 of us met around a fire pit to have our dinners and we ended up sitting there for two hours talking about everything you could imagine.
At one point Sonic asked if we all wanted to do some stretches so we all formed in a circle and began following her stretching. It felt amazing! The woman. Who had previously thru-hiked came over and asked if she could take our photo and post it on the AZT Class 2021 site and we said yes. I could only imagine walking into that canyon and seeing us all stretching! Afterwards Afterburner said ok let’s all go see what’s in that cave across the riverbed. I walked over but wasn’t going to go inside as I had my sandals on but I ended up going in about 15 feet because it was freakishly interesting.
By 7:00 we all said our good nights and climbed into our tents and another two hikers Recon and Todd arrived just then. This was amazing because we have never had so many hikers camping at the same site as today! Recon came around to everyone and handed out nice AZT keychains he made. All in all, today was awesome meeting so many great people and I hope to run into them all again tomorrow along the trail. We start at 04:30 as we have an enormous climb to get to the next available campsite.
Mile 398.5 to Mile 420 (22 miles)
So last night maybe around 11pm I was just about to doze off when I heard the most horrific scream. It scared the heck out of me! I’m not sure what kind of animal it was but it sounded like it was being brutally murdered. Of course my first thought was ‘oh no there’s something in the cave and of course my tent is the closest to it so I’m going to get attacked first’. I didn’t hear anything for a while after that but I never did sleep good after that. Around 03:00 I heard rain on the tent for a little while but then it stopped. When the alarm went off I was able to pack quickly as it was the warmest morning we’ve had yet so it felt great. We left the campsite and the rest of the sleeping hikers at 05:15 and I led the group with my headlamp.
The trail started out going (surprise) uphill for two miles. Along the way I could feel a light drizzle and heard some thunder off in the distance but only saw lighting once. We descended into a canyon where there were small pools of water but we didn’t take any. On the way down I could feel my toes hit the front of my shoes with each step. I had the exact same model and size as my previous shoes but for some reason these are smaller and I feel it. We arrived at Thicket Spring at 07:00 and filtered 2 liters of water and I heated up a cup of espresso and had some breakfast bars as my stomach was growling over the last 3.6 miles.
After 45 minutes we took off for a 5 mile slow but easy climb higher into the Matzatzal Mountains. I guess my coffee and food kicked in because I was way ahead of the guys but felt like I was going slow. I had a podcast in one ear and kept stopping to look at my surroundings because I was so impressed by the beauty. If anyone ever had an opportunity to hike in the Mazzies-DO IT! You will love it! Once I made it to the peak I went a little further to a saddle/campsite and sat down for a snack at 10:00. By this time the clouds had parted and the sun was heating up the mountain so we took off again for another 3 mile climb up to 7,000’ elevation.
I remained in front of everyone until the descent on the other side and that’s when my body said no more! So I slowed down and let Wayback take lead for the next mile and a half when we took a side trail 1/4 mile down to a water spring. The spring was small but 4’ deep and smelled of sulfur even though it was clear. Afterburner and I just looked at each other like who’s going to try it first? He did. Once filtered, it still smelled like sulfur. It tasted fine but you had to burp then it smelled of sulfur.
We had lunch while there and I noticed my food supply was getting low but I still had enough for 2 more days. At 1:30 we were back on the trail and I was once again in front and climbing a small 1,000’ climb. Once I got to a fork in a saddle area I waited for Wayback and I’m not sure what happened but we started heading down the trail and a few minutes later he looks back at me and says we weren’t on the right trail. Great. So back up the hill we go and soon onto the right trail. This part of the trail descended along a mountain range with great views in the distance but all I could do was think about my toes hitting my shoes and no matter how I tried to change that nothing worked.
At 4:00 we took a quick break and assessed how much farther we could go. We decided another 4 miles to a pine tree-filled campsite was the winner. We hiked on for another 1.7 miles when we came to a sign that said, “Chilson Spring” and an arrow that pointed up to our right.
Sure enough ~50’ up a rocky terrain sat a metal tub in the shade. So we took our bottles and filters and left our bags on the trail and climbed up the rocks to the tub. It was clear with green algae inside but cold and clean! I filtered 2 liters and grabbed one more for the morning so I didn’t have to worry about it. It’s been a while since I’ve carried 3.5 liters total and my bag groaned when I picked it up. Or maybe it was me that groaned! Either way the bag slowed me down compared to the rest of the day and the tail turned into loose sharp rocks again.
I hiked the last 2.6 miles over the terrain and at long last I saw the sign for Horse Camp Seep (elevation 6,033’) and followed it down a short path and into pine tree wonderland. The guys were already there setting up their tents and another girl (Kumbucha) who also was setting up camp. Recon and Todd showed up a little later. I found my little spot and set my tent up and once finished grabbed my cook set and sat down to make black bean soup and ate a quest bar while I waited. Although there were mosquitos, we took our time eating and talking. Before we knew it the sun was almost down and it was time for bed.
Mile 429 to Mile 440 (20 miles)
I slept good last night and the alarm went off too soon it felt. We quickly and quietly packed up camp and headed up trail a mile and a half when the sun was starting to peek over the horizon. We found a rocky area to sit and have coffee and breakfast. I still had 1 liter of water so I filtered the rest of that and didn’t have to worry about water for a few hours. We continued up the hill through branches resisting us as we try to plow through them and over rocky terrain threatening to break our ankles. We finally reached the top and amazingly I could see the San Francisco Peaks (Mt. Humphreys is the highest peak innAz) off in the distance and it looked so small! When we started to descend we found the infamous tent at mile 422 that was left abandoned two years ago and no one has cleaned it up. I made the comment that whoever it was did a great job at staking it down because it hasn’t blown away even on a peak.
We continued our hike going down and up and down and up.. all day was like this. It felt very confusing to my legs! Many of the water sources that were listed as having water last week were completely dried up so we continued on. At one point we were about to descend a very rocky trail and I tend to go slow on this and Wayback said, “ok I’ll meet you at Brush Springs”. So I followed the two miles down and losing sight of him and Afterburner as they just seemed to not have any issues with the rocks.
When I reached the bottom I tried to locate them in several spots along the trail and for some reason just could not find them. I had been overheating in the hot sun (today was the hottest weather we’ve had yet) and my feet felt like they were on fire. So I continued to walk up the other side of the canyon thinking maybe they continued on. All I wanted was to sit in shade, chug cold water and rest my feet! Almost halfway up the hill I heard Afterburner yelling my name so I turned around and yelled back, “where are you?” I finally spotted him down in one of the areas I already checked. What the heck? I was so frustrated and didn’t want to hike back down the hill only to hike back up again so I popped open my umbrella and sat on the side of the trail. I sat there for several minutes weighing my options and feeling warmer and warmer the longer I sat. I looked at my water levels (1.5 liters) and the distance to the next water source (over 6 miles) and decided to be smart and hike back down to the guys rather than overheat and be thirsty.
Apparently when I went into that area to look for them initially, they had walked down the side path to grab water at the same time I was looking there. Normally we leave our packs and just take our water reservoirs and bring the water back but for some reason they both took theirs! So I finally had my water, lunch and rest for my feet for half an hour. Then we packed up and headed back up! It wasn’t as bad now that my body felt cooler.
At the top of the hill was the moment we had all been dreading- almost 3 miles of steep descent towards the Verde River. We took a quick water break then Wayback again looked at me and said, “I’ll see you at the river” and quickly took off down the path! The path was not bad but my toes hit the front of my shoes with every step and I now had one blister on the outside of my heel on both feet. It took me 2.5 hours to get down to the river and I wanted to cry my feet hurt so bad and all I could think was, I hope they are still there and we don’t have a repeat of lunch!
When I reached the river I could see them in bare feet, sandals and shorts walking down to the river and on my left was a random brown horse on its back rolling in dirt. For a moment I stood there thinking I lost my mind! Then I realized there were several horses around as some were by the water and even Hammer and Beast were there. We haven’t seen them since we left Oracle! So I grabbed my water filters and put my sandals on and walked down to the water. I saw the girls must have went in the water and the guys were now in the water and also washing some of their clothes. I stepped into the icy water and felt immediate relief on my hot feet. I walked over to where a stream was flowing down into the river and filled my water reservoir then following suit, I dunked myself into the water. Well more of a sitting position because it was so shallow but it felt great to wash the salt and dirt off my clothing and body. When I was done I was able to put my town shorts and another shirt on while my hiking clothes were drying. As I sat there filtering my water I watched the horses roam around and go in the water upstream a ways.
All too soon we realized it was already 5:30 and we still had a hill and 2.5 miles to get to camp. I packed up my clothes and hung my still wet clothes off my bag and with my sandals on, I crossed the river with my things, put my shoes on and took off towards camp. At 6:30 we made it to the campsite, just a small area under a wide farm tree surrounded by pasture and of course cow poop. I popped my tent up, laid my clothes out to dry in a nearby tree and made some dinner. You guessed it, Mac n cheese and dehydrated refried beans with some tortillas on the side and a big Lenny and Larry’s peanut butter chocolate chip cookie (a whopping 440 calories) cookie for dessert. The sun was set for a while as we sat there in the dark eating dinner so we cleaned up and went to our tents. I did some foot care and laying down to write this I head crickets! I haven’t heard them in so long and it makes me happy to have some kind of relaxing noise.
Mile 440 to Pine (20 miles)
In the middle of the night I heard coyotes getting excited over something. They sounded quite close but I was so tired I immediately fell back to sleep. By 04:30 we woke up and since no one else camped with us we packed without having to be quiet. Afterburner and Wayback were ready before me so I told them I was right behind and would catch up. They took off into the darkness guided by their headlamps and I was surrounded in the quiet morning. Once I was ready I threw my back over my shoulders, clipped in and took off following their direction. As I was walking I sent my gps location and checked my phone app as I do every morning. This morning I noticed I was not on the trail. This meant the guys were also not on the trail and Hammer and Beast who passed us last night were also not on the trail (H&B did not have the app or a gps). I turned around trying to find the trail. It was a very confusing area because we were in a pasture in the hills so there were animal paths everywhere. After a few minutes I decided I’d go try and catch up to the guys but luckily when I started in their direction I could see their headlamps coming towards me. They figured it out and came back and we all set out on the right path that was on the other side of a barbed wire fence.
After 1.5 miles we came to the only reliable water source for 13 miles and as we filtered 3.5 liters we had breakfast and coffee. I decided to go fancy and mixed a Starbucks via with a Taster’s Choice and wham! Energy! It kicked in as I climbed up the first hill surrounded by rocks that looked like skulls and prehistoric skeletons. A short time later the trail leveled out and I was once again walking through cow pasture but in a very rocky area. The sun was just coming up, the weather felt great and even though my feet had blisters and it was difficult to walk I was in a great mood! We stopped at the bottom before a slow climb and once we started up again, we were hiking in a ridiculous amount of rocks for miles and miles all uphill. If I tried to look away for a second I tripped or stumbled so I let my eyes on the rocks and ground in front of me for several hours.
Finally the rocky trail ended and came out into a dirt road as the sun was getting hot. Today I had decided to unzip my hiking pants and make them into shorts to keep cooler than I was yesterday and so far it seemed to work. The uphill but smooth dirt road ended all too soon as the trail cut East and followed power lines for 6 miles. Up in this area I had cell phone reception and was able to listen to some music for a change. At noon we pulled over under a large shade tree and had lunch. After I ate I realized I only had two handfuls of trail mix, some sour patch kids and pitted dates. We were still about 5 miles from town but I would be okay until then.
After lunch the trail steeply descended into a valley and alternated from rocky to so steep I slid down and every step down I took I could feel my toes hitting the front of my shoes and I would wince. Nothing I did could relieve the pain so I tried my best to ignore it. Once on the valley floor I thought I would run into the other guys but they must have continued up the other side so I followed. The sun must have been cooking the hillside all day because the heat was emanating off the rocks and I could feel it in my feet and on my body. I went up the hill slowly, stopping frequently in the shade to cool down or to grab a drink of water.
When I reached the top after a mile I thought I could relax for the final 1.5 miles to Highway 87 (our pickup location to get into Pine) until I started to descend once again on the hill of rocks. The rocks just wouldn’t end! All I wanted was to take my shoes off and put them in an ice bucket! At one point I saw a small pool of water to the side of the trail and I couldn’t resist- I stepped in socks and shoes still on and sighed in relief. The water felt ice cold on my feet and SO soothing! I stood there for a minute before stepping out and back onto the dirt (finally) trail, feet sloshing with each step. I didn’t care though as I felt immensely better.
I was a half mile out from the Highway and walking along a dirt road when I looked at my phone and realized I was not on the trail. Rather, I was on the road parallel to the trail. I tilted my head up towards the sky and just exhaled, closing my eyes. I did not want to walk back down the road to go back up the other side so I decided to go straight for it! It was much faster! As soon as I got back on trail, Wayback called my phone asking where I was and that Afterburner scored us a ride into the town of Strawberry where our motel was (a few minutes ride outside of Pine). As soon as I walked out to the the highway our ride arrived and pulled over. What perfect timing!
Bill, the driver and father of another thru hiker drove us to our motel and when we arrived we couldn’t seem to find the motel office. Afterburner called the main number and was instructed to go next door to the Saloon to check in. What is it with these small towns! So interesting! So we all walked into the saloon sweaty, smelly and carrying our bags and everyone turned and looked at us. We decided to have a beer while we were checking in then went back to the motel and got settled and showered. Across the road was an Italian restaurant so I had some zucchini, a salad, a side of soup and spaghetti and ate way more than my stomach wanted but I managed to get it all down! We decided to take a zero here to rest and allow my feet to recover until we head out to Mormon Lake.
Pine Zero Day
I got to sleep in until 06:30! I slept great and when I woke my stomach was already growling. We took our time getting ready and gathered our dirty laundry then started the 3 mile walk to Pine for the laundromat. About a mile into the walk and holding thumbs out for a ride a big white pickup truck pulls over and we get in. It was a nice woman driving and she nicely dropped us off at the laundromat. once our clothes were in we walked across the road to the Early Bird Cafe where to our surprise was a cafe full of hikers we knew. The staff were friendly and I ordered coffee, OJ, French toast and hash browns. While we were all chatting the food came quickly and disappeared into my stomach just as fast!
Once we finished breakfast I put my things into the dryer and walked to the Post Office for my resupply box and took it back to sit and wait for the dryer to finish. I realized I needed some tortillas and bars so I walked across the road again to the market and back again. By then my clothes were dry but the guys were waiting on theirs to air dry so I sat outside and watched as other hikers arrived too. It turned out to be a hiker mingling and I sat there talking to Ghost Hiker for a while and drinking my V8 and PowerAid. She told me she has hiked all the long trails (that’s a Triple Crown: Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail) and some of the smaller ones but the Arizona Trail has been the hardest due to the days-long stretches of rocky terrain. I wasn’t really surprised.
Soon the guys said they were ready so I gathered my things (or so I thought) and we walked almost a mile to THAT Brewery. I wasn’t really hungry even though it was now after noon but I ordered a beer and a salad. Another hiker, Stamps, joined us and we sat there until after 2:00. We didn’t really want to walk back to the motel but we gathered our things and set out anyways. Not even a half mile into the walk a red truck pulled over that I’ve seen yesterday because I remembered the “MERC M” AZ plate. Gary (aka Mercury) was starting the trail next week and kindly gave us a ride back to the motel.
Once back I began to clean my gear, organize my food bag and pack some things up. It was then I realized I failed to grab my hiking pants that were hanging in the laundromat. Great. I didn’t want to walk the 6 extra miles, but luckily Afterburner had Ghost Hikers phone number and called her up. She said she was in the area and would grab them for me. I got ahold of Tim, the motel owner and he gave me a ride into Pine to pick my pants up from Ghost Hiker. Thank goodness for nice people!
***DISCLAIMER*** I type these entries into my phone each night in my tent. I understand there are issues with typos, grammar, punctuation, etc. I am normally half asleep when typing these so please bear with me!
Superior Zero Day 1 (0 miles)
I slept pretty good last night having my sleeping pad inflated with my quilt on the hotel floor and one of the hotel pillows. I woke once around midnight but was able to fall back to sleep until 06:30 this morning. It felt great being able to take a morning shower. When I got out of the shower Wayback came back to the room with coffee! The hotel room didn’t have a coffee pot, microwave or fridge so the coffee tasted amazing to me. I haven’t had a large cup like that since Tucson.
At 9am we walked the half mile to a local grocery store Save Money Market so I could get flour tortillas, some snack bars and coffee. Then on the way back we stopped at Family Dollar to get a couple gallons of water to refill our water bottles with fresh water. Once back at the hotel we took all our gear out, cleaned it up, shook out the bags, and put everything back. Then I worked on the blog for a few hours and watched tv while having a beer. At noon we walked down the street to try out a Mexican place Casa Dona Lola. Luckily we could sit down and eat it there. Guess what I had… a bean burrito with rice and guacamole! From there we walked down to the Circle K gas station as I was looking for a specific size bottle I can carry on my left shoulder strap and ended up finding one finally.
Along the way, we made a pit stop to the “Worlds Smallest Museum” so of course we just had to check out that little gem! I was able to walk into this small building maybe 10’ long and 3’ wide with miscellaneous items filling shelves behind plexiglass on both sides.
I ended up spending most of the day though relaxing in the hotel vegging out, relaxing the body, working on the blog and making some planning preparations for future trail sections. All in all it was a good day!
Superior Zero Day 2 (0 miles)
From my lack of doing anything yesterday I didn’t fall asleep until after midnight. I was wide awake and couldn’t get comfortable. This morning Wayback was again very kind and walked down to buy coffees around 07:00 and then we sat in the hotel and watched morning news and relaxed. Around noon we walked “downtown” Superior to a cafe for lunch. On the way we ran into Tweety and Joe Dirt whom we haven’t seen since the morning after climbing Saguaro National Park. They were there with a few other thru-hikers I haven’t met before. We caught up for a few minutes then continued to the cafe. This town is so surprising because at first glance it seems like a very poor and uncared for town but when walking around I can see the art displayed, the amazingly fresh foods they create and the friendly atmosphere. I hope they continue in their growth! I ate a veggie sandwich with iced tea, chips, and…shhhh… a freshly made delicious cinnamon roll!
After lunch we walked the street of their downtown looking at the art and murals painted on the buildings and the interesting architecture before heading back to the hotel when it started to lightly rain. Once back we again sat and watched tv (I can’t remember watching so much tv in my life right now!) until we were both nodding off. Suddenly Wayback asked if I wanted coffee-umm YES! So we fired up his small stove with my gas canister and tested out some coffee packets he bought at the Family Dollar. While Tasters Choice could be good in an outdoor pinch, Folgers beans is better but not as good as my Cafe Bustello!
For the rest of the afternoon I alternated between watching tv, reading a book, downloading some podcasts and internet browsing. I hand washed a few items of clothes for tomorrow’s hike and hung them to dry. What a print day right?! I felt like I was wasting time that could have been spent out on the trail but I also knew my body and joints needed the rest and stretching. I was also able to talk to family on the phone. Near 6pm we walked next door to an Italian restaurant and I had Angel hair spaghetti with olive oil, broccoli and garlic. It was delicious! Then when we came back I sat outside the room and watched the sun set while sipping cheap wine out of my cooking pot, listening to music while watching the sunset and feeling a sense of peace. Tomorrow Afterburner returns to pick us up and to start hiking towards Lake Roosevelt and Payson.
Superior to Mile 317.3 (17 miles)
This morning I woke up at 06:30 and took one last shower before having some coffee and breakfast. Wayback and I packed our things and sat around until Afterburner came to pick us up at the hotel. We arrived at the Picketpost trailhead and headed out on the trail at 10:30. It felt good to be back on the trail as I was getting bored and anxious sitting at the hotel for so long. The day was warm for a change and since we had a late start we planned on going about 10 miles to a campsite (the same one I camped at during my previous test trial).
We ended up going 7 miles in only 2.5 hours but I didn’t even feel it. We stopped at 1pm to eat some lunch in the shade of a giant rock wall along a dry riverbed then took off again. We leap frogged a few thru-hikers we haven’t met before during the day and most of them were friendly. At 3pm we arrived at the mile 310 water source, once a flowing river back in February, now just small pools of stagnant water. At least it didn’t look or taste gross! I filled up 1.5 liters to give me a total of 2.5 to last for another 10-ish miles. Since we arrived at our campsite so early we decided to push forward after much debate.
Originally we were going to wake at the campsite (elevation 2,927) tomorrow at 04:30 and head up Montana Mountain (elevation 5,400) but then decided to get ahead of the hiker rush behind us and push on and climb the mountain in the evening. I mean we climbed up and over Saugaro (Mica Mountain) in one day so why not this? So we hiked on and up and up and up over so many false summits it was getting ridiculous! The trail was so steep in places I couldn’t even use my hiking poles to dig in because they would just slide down past me and not catch. From bottom to top it was a 5.5 mile climb and I arrived on top at the saddle after 6pm. The entire time I was sweating in the heat even with a breeze and my stomach was growling from hunger. I kept debating on whether to stop and eat or to push on and get the climb over with. I chose the latter. My calves were screaming!! I felt like I just did the Grand Canyon north rim.
Once at the top I finally took the time to relieve myself, catch my breath and get some water before continuing on to find a campsite. The sun was already starting to set and at that elevation the temperature was dropping quickly. I found some comments in the Guthooks App that said there were a few nice campsites just north of mile 317.3 (elevation 5,263) another mile North of the saddle so we hurried along the bumpy forest road that led us to it. I could tell we were all exhausted and sore from the climb by the way we were all walking.
It didn’t take long and before I knew it we were setting up our tents under some foliage protecting us from the wind. We sat in a circle on the cold ground and made our dinners under headlamps. I decided to have my soy ramen noodles to replace all the sodium I had lost during the climb. What better food for that than ramen noodles!? I had that with a side of Oreos 😊. After my belly was warm and full I brushed my teeth, cleaned up with a baby wipe, changed into my sleeping gear and got comfy! It’s almost a full moon tonight so I’m curious as to what the night brings other than a spotlight on my tent! Tomorrow we wake at 05:30 and plan on hiking around 20 miles so we can get to Lake Roosevelt earlier the following day.
Mile 317.3 to Mile 335.5 (18 miles)
Last night I slept maybe three hours. Between the full moon, wind, people walking by or driving by in their ATV’s and cramping in my legs I fell asleep near 03:00 and the alarm went off at 05:30. At least it didn’t get cold or damp! However my shirt was still somehow damp from yesterday’s sweat. Yuck. With no other choice I pulled it on and started packing up inside the tent while making hot coffee. While I was sitting there eating my fig bar and drinking the coffee a hiker we ran into yesterday (Trooper) was walking by and said they camped on the first saddle we had to climb to yesterday (elevation 5,400’) but the wind was so bad it knocked over Ghost Hikers tent and so at midnight she packed up and hiked on to find a better spot. That explained the random person walking at night. And Trooper pulled the plug at 04:00 and packed up to get out of the wind. SOO glad we didn’t try to camp there with them!
At 06:40 we started our day. It was nice this morning, mostly downhill first along a forest road then a pretty path through the woods. I took lead and next time I turned around to check on people they were nowhere to be seen. I decided they stopped to filter some water so I did the same. I only took 1 liter since there were several opportunities along the trail today and we had another hefty climb coming up soon. By the time I finished and put my pack back on, Wayback and Afterburner came around the corner.
At 3.5 miles into the hike the trail began to climb up three miles and 1.000’ in elevation. I guess my coffee and light pack kicked into gear because I made it to the top in an hour and actually waited on the guys! The terrain was nice and not too steep so I could settle in. Once at the top I had a snack and the three of us sat there talking to a group of 6 women who were section hiking and then Trooper and Ghost Hiker arrived. After almost an hour we took off descending through beautiful pine trees and a small stream. This was about the time I hit my wall.
Everything was uncomfortable. Everything hurt. Everything seemed to take a massive amount of energy even though I was now walking on flat-ish ground. I’m not sure if the hike was so easy my mind focused on everything else to torment me or if I really did feel this way. Even my left trap was screaming in pain and I had to keep taking my pack off. I only had a quarter of a liter left so by mile 326 I found a cute little stream with cloves growing in it so I stopped and grabbed 2 liters but because I had taken so much time with all my stops I chose to wait until we stopped for lunch to filter it. What a dumb move.
By this time the sun was out and heating the trail up. We went from cool pine trees to open fields with the sun beating down on us and the trail climbed steeply for a mile and I was out of filtered water at this point. Luckily when I got to the top of the hill I saw Afterburner pulling off in a shady spot! I took the time to filter all the water, reorganize the things in my bag because the weight balance was off then eat some lunch. I ended up having a cup of cold mashed potato’s, a protein cookie and some nuts.
At 12:45 we took off again knowing we had two more climbs in the day and we were trying to get to 18 miles. At lunch we were only sitting at 10. We followed the trail down a very rocky trail until we hit a small water source 2.7 miles away. The water looked a rusted color and smelled funny but water is water and can easily be filtered water! I took a total of 2.5 liters out of there after chugging some beforehand and even having a small cold coffee while I was there. I needed the energy! From there we followed the trail across a lot of open fields and eventually we reached the top of the last big canyons to climb down then up. On the app it didn’t look TOO bad but as soon as I was looking down at the trail, my stomach dropped.
All I could think of was if the trail was covered in snow I’d be skiing a black diamond. The tread in my shoes is almost completely gone and so for the next mile descent, I would gently take a tiny step down and slide on the scree then catch myself with my hiking poles. I did this over and over and over. By the time I got to the bottom, the guys looked just as exhausted and in pain as I felt. We took a ten minute break to relax our muscles and hydrate then we loaded up for the exact same thing but going up. It took me about an hour to climb the 1.5 mile ascent with the sun beating down. I could feel my clothes and hair drenched with sweat. I had to keep stopping every couple of feet to catch my breath as the trail almost went straight up the mountain.
Finally near 4pm we all made it to the top and wow did it feel great to have that behind us. I could see Lake Roosevelt off in the distance and the Four Peaks in front of us. We took a quick break there before continuing on three more miles to get to our campsite. Those three miles took forever! Up and down, up and down. My legs felt like rubber. Finally at 6pm we made it! The damp site was pretty neat, it had several little levels to choose from with some privacy at each. I chose my site and just sat down not moving for several minutes. Wayback asked if I was okay and I said yes I’m just done I have no more today.
I got my tent set up as Ghost Hiker and Trooper arrived. They set their tents up and climbed inside and we didn’t see them again in the evening. We were able to sit on. I’ve rocks to heat up our dinners and chat about random things as the sun went down. I ended up having more random stuff including half a refried bean burrito, Cheetos, Oreos and a fig bar. I didn’t want to use all my water for the mashed potatoes because I need water for several miles tomorrow until we can get more. I think that’s my favorite part of the day is dinner time and being able to forget the hard parts of the day and to climb into my tent to finally relax surrounded by peace and quiet. Tomorrow we arrive at Lake Roosevelt where I will have to haul 5 days of food in my bag and then climb up the mountains.
Mile 335.5 to Mile 352.5 (17 miles)
I fell asleep as soon as my eyes closed last night and I slept great! I woke to the alarm at 05:30, packed up and started the trail by 06:20. After three minutes of walking the trail climbed 900’ in a mile and definitely gave my body a good warm up first thing in the morning.
We stopped three miles in by a spring and filtered some wonderful water that was clear and cool. I took 2.5 liters and had a snack. We descended into a nice canyon that cut back and forth over a river (some areas bone dry, others flowing nicely). Of course today as we are now less than 5 miles into Lake Roosevelt there are water sources everywhere! The last three miles were waking along a dirt forest road that seemed to snake down then up and around all while the sun was heating up. Finally we found the cutoff trail that led down into the Roosevelt Marina.
I took my pack off and went inside to purchase a V8 and to grab my resupply box I had mailed there. With box in hand I found a couple picnic tables underneath a large shady area by a small shack that held all the hiker box things that people either don’t want need or have room for. I opened my box and exploded everything onto the table to organize and pack away to include 5 days worth of food, some hygiene items and a brand new pair of shoes! I took my old shoes off and saw both of my socks had holes in them from the plastic in the heel rubbing on them. I ended up putting leukotape on both heels to protect my skin from rubbing.
As soon as I packed my food up Afterburner and Wayback came over and said they were going to eat at the restaurant out back and he ordered me some fries. So I gathered my things, threw out all my trash and went to meet them. There were a few other hikers there too but we sat at our own table to wait. I bought a beer to go with my fries and both seemed to fill me up.
After lunch we filled our water bottles (3 liters for me) and decided to walk the road 2.5 miles down to the trail instead of going back the way we came. We saved about and hour an half by doing this. The road was hot under our feet as we creeped along with our heavy bags. Mine was squeaking and I couldn’t get it to stop! Finally we made it to the trailhead alongside the road and took a few minutes to cool down in the small shade area we could find. Wayback reserved a ride for two days from now into the town of Payson and then we started up the climb out of Roosevelt.
While this was a hard climb because of the heat it definitely wasn’t my hardest one. I put my podcast on and listened to that until I reached the top over an hour later. The top was windy and sparse due to the wildfire. I finally had cell reception so I was able to call Jen for a few minutes. We still had a few miles left until we got to the campsite so we took off and hiked until we found said campsite.
It was located on a saddle between two larger mountains and had the BEST views all around! It was open with no trees. It had a few prickly pear cactus around. This would have been a perfect campsite if it wasn’t for the tiny black bugs. They. Were. Everywhere. I set my tent up then I shooed the bugs away and quickly threw my things inside and repeated for each item. I decided to eat dinner first and then to make my bed afterwards so I didn’t have to open the tent more than necessary. It was a beautiful sunset and so glad I did things backwards otherwise I would have missed it!
Mile 352 to Mile 372 (20 miles)
Today started dark and early at 04:30 by packing up camp, having coffee and two breakfasts since I knew we were climbing up to 6,000’ today and then we start out on the trail. And then my headlamp dies. Well it started flickering like a strobe light and started getting dimmer and dimmer so I just shut it off. Thanks to the full moon I was able to see the path pretty well and I actually enjoyed it and it felt easier to walk. It didn’t last too long though as we were hiking along a ridge and the sun came up earlier. I could see Lake Roosevelt behind me, the Four Peaks in front of me and Canyon Lake to my left.
At 2.5 miles in we came to Mills Ridge Trailhead and found a stash of water. I took 2.5 liters to last 9.4 miles and with over 2,000’ of elevation gain. I was mentally prepared to be hiking up all day so I just settled in to low gear and slowly went up the mountain. Surprisingly I lasted over a mile before running out of steam and I found Afterburner taking a break too so we waited for Wayback to catch up shortly after and all of us tore into some snacks. My stomach was growling halfway up so it was pleased to be fed again!
A few more miles up we came to the most amazing view of the Four Peaks! I couldn’t believe I was getting to see this and I couldn’t help but to smile for the next two miles. That is until we started the long creeping trail alongside of them that never seemed to end. Afterburner is terrified of heights and he was going very slowly as to not slip because it was straight down on our right. We had to plow through brushes and downed trees, over multiple sections of rock slides that moved every step we took, and even had to hoist ourselves up with our hands in some sections. It was the most beautifully scary part of the trail we’ve had yet. I just wish I could have seen it before the big wildfire this last year.
By the time we found ourselves off the side of the mountain we were all pretty tired and thirsty. There was a spring (Shake Spring) that flowed through the trail so we stopped and quickly filtered some water and continued on as it was already past noon and we only had 11 miles in. Two miles later we ran into our last opportunity to filter some water at a nice cold stream (Pigeon Spring) that had a tiny little waterfall so I ended up leaving there with a total of 3 liters. It seemed like my bag was just getting heavier and heavier rather than lighter without some food. After this I put my headphones on and listened to a podcast to turn my brain away from body pains and to finish off the evening with 20 miles.
Pretty soon I hiked out into a dirt road and the three of us walked this road for 4 miles! It was the nicest dirt forest road I’ve seen in Arizona. We did take a side road then and it became bumpy but still in great condition. Along the way we hit Mile 20 and almost right away we found a campsite just off to the side. It was not the best campsite as it had a lot of rocks and surrounded by some burned areas and it was on a saddle at 5,890’ elevation, but it was a campsite and my feet screamed YES! After 12 hours of hiking we took our time setting up camp then sat in our little triangle and cooked up some dinner. I selected the top of the line Soy Ramen as I needed the extra sodium and something warm in my belly before a cold night.
Tomorrow we descend 14 miles to get to highway 87 where a guy named Jerry will pick us up and drive us into Payson where Afterburner and Wayback have packages at the Post Office. I am super excited to have a shower after 5 days of sweat and dirt! I’m at that point now where I am highly offensive to myself. I also need to pick up new socks because mine have holes in them from my old shoes rubbing.
Mile 372 to Mile 386
The wind started at 03:00 this morning and Afterburner and I didn’t hear Waybacks alarm for once. We woke to him saying “it’s 04:45 are you guys gonna get up?” Well I suppose if I have to! The wind made it difficult to pack but I did and I wasn’t even I. The mood for food or coffee so we pushed on at 05:25. We continued along the forest road climbing higher to over 6,000’. By the time we reached the top we could see the sun barely starting to rise looking back at Lake Roosevelt. We followed the road twisting down the mountain for two miles as the cold air and wind ripped at us. After mile 3, we found a calm area alongside the forest road in a wildfire burned area.
We heated up some water for coffee and I had a fig bar for breakfast. While it wasn’t the most comfortable or scenic place I’ve stopped at, it got the job done. Afterwards we continued the road until it climbed up and over a small mountain and eventually after 7 miles of rod walking over the previous night and morning we reached the turnoff for the trail. Somehow I ended up as the lead and descended the trail down into a valley off in my own zen world. By the time I reached the bottom of the hill I looked back and saw two hikers but not the people I’d been hiking with! They caught up to me and introduced themselves as Erica and Tanner who looked about as calm and comfortable as if they were in a magazine. Super nice people out thru-hiking. After chit chatting for a few minutes they took off and I didn’t see them again after that.
We followed the trail through the canyon, plowing through thick bushes and through other burned areas. At times it felt like we were hiking though a cow valley area but inhabited only by birds and large ants everywhere. It was near noon when I started to slow my pace and vegan tripping and stumbling (normal for me around this time) so I pulled off to the side and sat on a rock. Wayback and Afterburner continued on but I didn’t feel bad about sitting for a few minutes. When I finally took off and caught them, they told me no sooner did I sit down and they rounded the corner they stumbled onto a large snake crossing the path! I felt so good about my choice to sit! I probably would have screamed so loud the snake would have jumped!
At 12:30 we made it to Sycamore Canyon where we found a nice stream to collect water. This was the first one of the day as the rest were dry. I took my shoes and socks off and noticed a bad patch on my right foot from rubbing against the insole- no wonder it’s been hurting so bad. I ended up filtering only 1 liter as Wayback had been trying to find a ride for us from the trail and into the town of Payson (a 30 mile drive) and the guy Jerry said he could be there in 30-40 minutes. Well great, we are still two miles out plus a climb in between so how will this work? We packed dip very fast and hiked the fastest hike we could hike and when we came out into a gravel road 2.5 miles later it felt great knowing we had a ride soon that would take us to a shower and clean clothes!
The driver, Jerry picked us up at 1:30 and talked the entire time into Payson and dropped us off at the hotel. What a nice hotel too! We checked into the Comfort Inn in a suite so we each had a bed to sleep on. I haven’t slept in a bed since Kearny so I was thrilled to have this! Afterburner and I walked a half mile to a runners store and I bought new insoles and a pair of socks to replace the old ones. Then I walked to Walgreens to refill some food supplies. When I got back to the hotel they had already showered and started to relax so I jumped in the shower. What a heavenly feeling! I just watched the dirt stream off my body and down the drain. By the time I got out of the shower the guys were gone so I took the time to call my mom and Jen and go through my bag to clean, trash, reorganize and restock. The guys came back two hours later with our clean laundry and their own food resupply. Once we all finished up loose ends we walked next door to El Rancho for some Mexican food for dinner. Yum! We plan on Jerry picking us up at 08:00 to head back to the trail and onward and WAY upwards towards Pine.
I’ve been on the Arizona Trail 300 miles so far and during that time I’ve been able to determine what gear works the best and what may lack in some areas. Prior to starting this trip I did endless research on gear and what might work the best for me during my time in the desert and mountains and so far I think I’ve nailed it! The only piece of equipment I have not needed and sent forward on the trail is a pair of microspikes I picked up in Tucson during a snow storm. I used them on the trail and didn’t want to carry the extra pound through the desert portion. Other than that all my gear has been used for some reason or another.
Since the time I first posted my Final Gear List I have made several changes including a different tent, quilt, bag and sleeping pad. This is why practice runs are essential prior to a long distance backpacking trip! No one should want to buy everything and set out on an adventure only to be unhappy or uncomfortable with their equipment. So listed below are a few items I want to share with you and the pros/ cons I have experienced so far.
First item: My Tent!
Originally I had a Gossamer Gear The One and I did not feel confident with it after it blew away in a windstorm in my backyard. Instead I found the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 and so far I LOVE it! It weighs about 1 lb. more but is more durable. The drop cloth is super light and so far has done a great job at protecting the tent floor.
PROS: I have not yet had condensation inside and withstands crazy windstorms, rain, snow/sleet and even cacti! It has great vented overhead pockets that allows me to store clothing and equipment and I can even fit my backpack in it sideways under my feet (only when it rains I do this). It is super easy to set up and take down and extremely packable in its stuff sack.
CONS: I noticed in the mornings when it’s cold I have a difficult time popping the snaps off the cross bar on the roof. They are similar to a ball and socket joint. Second con is the rainfly door. It has two zippers, one on each side and in order to keep it up I have to roll it all the way up and attach it with two small toggle and loops. What can’t I sweep it to the side and only unzip one side? And last, I have a tear in the stuff sack already but it’s not a huge deal. I’m hiking around a LOT of cacti and thorns so it’s bound to happen to most of my gear! I just slapped some tape on it so it doesn’t rip further.
I was unsure which stakes would work best in the Arizona soil so I decided to bring two different kinds and I use all 8 of them every night. t
PROS: The Gossamer Gear stakes came with my previous tent and I found them to be easier getting them into the different types of soil and rocks and easy to pull out with the strings. The Zpacks stakes are super lightweight and pack up very well.
CONS: I have no cons yet with Gossamer Gear stakes. I found the Zpacks stakes are harder to get in to most soil I’ve set up camp in. I did have one bend slightly already. Once in the ground I also noticed if it’s windy at night the wind will spin them around and the rainfly will pop off of it and start flapping in the wind. I’ve had this happen three times so far.
I’ve had this for several years now and really enjoy it’s flexibility for use. On the AZT I use it every couple of hours and during the night.
PROS: It is lightweight, versatile and a great cactus catcher! I use it during my breaks and when I stand up I normally find cactus sticking to it instead of me. I pick it off and inspect it each time for more thorns. At night I use it underneath my inflatable Thermarest Neoair Xlite as extra protection and warmth.
CONS: Although it is lightweight, it is bulky and I had a hard time finding a place to put it on my pack. I moved it around several times over the past few weeks trying to find its home.
PROS: I love these poles! They are so lightweight and easy to use and the cork grip is very comfortable. easy to lengthen and collapse. I use both of them all day because they help with balance, putting less joint stress on descents and I can use them to pull myself up the mountains too!
CONS: They are very expensive for hiking poles. Wayback used a pair from Costco for $30 and loves them but I wanted a solid lightweight set. At times I need to double check they are tightened because I have a tendency to turn my wrist as I use them causing them to loosen and collapse when I put weight on it (normally my right one).
For food storage I decided on the Opsak large odor proof bag. Since it’s cooler weather right now there aren’t a lot of critters out at night. The first night out I was paranoid and strung it up with someone’s Bear bag but that was too much work for every night and kind of pointless. Now I just make sure it’s closed and set it right outside my tent and under the rain fly. If a critter comes in I’ll be able to hear it and scare it away but so far that hasn’t happened yet.
PROS: It’s held up pretty good so far. It holds up to 5 days of food for me. The size of the bag allows me to slide it right in the backpack near my back so during lunch I can open my bag and reach right in for the food. It is see-through so I can view what I’m grabbing without having to dig around. It is lightweight, waterproof and the cost is cheaper than bear bags.
CONS: The zipper part can be difficult to zip together but once secured it will stay shut. I made the mistake of putting my spoon inside if it and the edge cut a slit in it so I just threw a piece of duct tape on it and it’s good to go.
After much research I decided on this set up. I wanted to be able to have coffee in the mornings and dinner for one in the evening so I only needed a smaller pot and stove.
PROS: They are all pretty cheap to buy. The BRS 3000t stove is extremely lightweight but sturdy enough to boil 2 cups of water on it. The Toaks 550 ml pot holds 2 cups and boils fast. It comes with a lid that also helps it to boil fast. The Toaks long handle spoon is able to get into those hard to reach areas, is lightweight, comfortable to use. And has a hole I can use to hang on my bag with a clip.
CONS: When collapsing the stove I found I have to turn the fuel adjusting knob I order to get the arm all the way down. Not a big deal but I learned to turn the knob back after losing some fuel once when connecting it with it turned on. During cold nights I sleep with the stove in my pocket to keep the tiny O-ring from cracking. With the Toaks 550 ml pot, I have only boiled 2 cups a handful of times because I just don’t need that much hot water for my meals. When I have brought 2 cups to a full boil I noticed the pot starts to shake and the lid rattles. If I don’t catch it in time I’m afraid it will fall off the stove. The spoon has surprisingly sharp edges in the handle. I used to keep it in my food bag until the end of it sliced through and created a hole. Not I keep it in my waist pouch.
Originally I was planning on using the BeFree Katadyn filter and the HydraPak 2L shown below but on further research on the Arizona Trail I found out the water is typically too dirty for that filter to handle it and normally stop working quickly. That made me decide to go with the Sawyer filtration system. I purchased the Sawyer Mini and the Evernew reservoir that fits together. In the photo I also have a half plastic cup I use to scoop water out of tanks without stirring up silt, to reach the hard to get to drips of water, and to fill the bag completely full of water without submerging it. Additionally I have a section of panty hose I cut off that I put between the Sawyer filter and Evernew bag. This helps to catch the smaller particles before they would get to the filter to keep the filter cleaner and last longer (a little tip I found on YouTube!).
PROS: The Sawyer filter is lightweight, small enough to pack into anything (including my pocket on cold nights. I’ll explain below), easily screws onto the Evernew bag or one of my liter Smartwater bottles. I have used it in to filter some pretty nasty water and the water has come out clear and quite tasty! The Evernew bag is also lightweight and I can roll it up when I’m not using it. It’s compatible with the Sawyer, holds 2 liters and I can even pack it full into my backpack.
CONS: Had I known the difference before this trip I would have purchased the Sawyer Squeeze instead of Sawyer Mini. The mini takes twice as long to filter the same amount of water as the squeeze (Afterburner uses the Squeeze). So I sit there holding the bag upside down and drip drip drip until it finally fills the water bottle then I need to sit longer to fill the next. It’s not a bad product in my mind but when your out trying to beat the heat on the trail you don’t want to take up more time filtering water than needed. As I mentioned previously, I often sleep with the filter in my puffy coat because there is an O-ring inside that is notorious among users for cracking if it gets too cold. I take no chances! The Evernew bag seems like cheap plastic that could easily puncture (hasn’t happened yet though). I wish there was a handle on it or an easier way to roll it down as the water level goes down. I get tired of sitting there trying to keep it upright while it drip drip drips! When it is full of dirty water I have to put it into my pack like that because there is no other way to transport it so I hope it keeps its integrity inside my bag. All in all they are both great products and the system works for me aside from the nitpicking!
I brought this along with me because I wasn’t sure how much water I’d need to carry and so glad that I did! I use it only for fresh water or filtered water, never dirty water.
PROS: This bag is light (just not as light as the Evernew) and durable. I love the tabs on the side of it allowing me to hang it from clips on the outside of my bag rather than shoving it inside the bag. It easily holds 2 liters.
CONS: This is a charcoal color bag I clip to the outside of my bag in Arizona sun. It gets hot fast! Since I hang it from its side, I hear it sloshing around unless it’s completely full. I wish the screw-on lid had an attachment to the bag so I don’t have to worry about losing it. It can be difficult to pour water from the opening into the smaller opening of my Smartwater bottle. Again, I am nitpicking and overall it has worked wonders for me when I need it.
PROS: When it’s cold at night I slip these on over my socks and my feet never get cold! They are packable and super lightweight for all the warmth they provide. I did have to wait almost two months before they arrived in the mail from China but worth the wait!
CONS: The bottom of the booties supposedly are made for walking around but I refuse to wear them outside as the material seems like it would easily rip.
If you love adventure I’d recommend getting one of these. What a life saver!
PROS: Even when I don’t have cell service, I can send/receive messages on this. There are three preset messages (quick text) that are free to send after setting it up on the website and updating on the gps. It can connect to my iPhone via Bluetooth and I can easily type out messages (for a small fee) to send to phone numbers pre-downloaded. I can even receive weather updates. It tracks my movement that others can view via a website so they can locate me on a map and if worse comes to worse I can send out an S.O.S. I even take this on road trips in case I break down and have no cell service. It’s user friendly, the battery lasts me two full days and nights and notifies you when messages are sent and received.
CONS: Hmm.. well it IS a little pricey at 350.00 plus a monthly fee (when your using it). You can cancel at any time. For sending preset messages and other messages, the phone numbers or emails have to be loaded onto the gps prior to using it by connecting it to the laptop. Other than that I have nothing bad to say about it!
I had a very hard time trying to decide what power bank to use. From what I read online, most people used 10,000mah (not sure exactly what that means) but I wanted one that would last for long sections of the trail without worry.
PROS: This lasts me 5-6 days after charging my iPhone nightly, gps every other day, headphones twice and headlamp twice. It takes about 6 hours to full charge which was better than many of the other brands I reviewed. It can charge 3 USB cords at the same time. It was relatively cheap at less than $40 and it even survived the cold and damp nights in the mountains.
CONS: It is rather heavy at just shy of 1 lb.
I received this product in a monthly subscription of Cairn Here and it arrived with a big adjustable Velcro strap. I replaced it with a bungee cord to lighten it to 1 oz.
PROS: This little thing is super lightweight, with an adjustable knob to brighten the lumens and features a red light I use at night so it’s easier on my eyes. It charges via cable and does not require batteries. In 3 weeks I’ve only had to charge it once and I use it every night and morning.
I decided to purchase the inflatable mattress because I’m often a side sleeper and sleeping on the Z-Lite by itself is not comfortable to me.
PROS: It weighs in at around 1lb., had insulation to help keep me warm in colder temperatures, easy to inflate and deflate. I find it very comfortable no matter how I lay on it. I do put it overtop of my other sleeping pad to help reinforce it from punctures and so far it has worked.
CONS: It was pricey at $140 but worth the price tag for all the features. It has a reputation to easily get punctures.
I purchased the Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20 degree quilt. I was hesitant to purchase a quilt over traditional sleeping bag but so far have found it enjoyable so far!
PROS: This quilt is very warm and comfortable! It buckles underneath the sleeping pad to keep the cold out and warmth in. I can sleep on my side comfortably and it has a drawstring near the neck I can pull on to cinch it down keeping it even warmer inside!
CONS: Again this product was very expensive (but worth it). I have to be careful not to put my face underneath it at night or condensation forms on top making the quilt damp quite quickly. The material is not made to be wet due to the grey duck down insulation. Once wet, it can be difficult to dry.
Made by the same company, the Enlightened Equipment Torrid grey duck down puffy coat is simply amazing! So far I use it once I get to camp, I’ve have slept in it all but one night, and I wear it around camp in the morning and sometimes for the first cold hour of hiking.
PROS: While it feels too light to be effective, it is ridiculously warm! There are two zippered pockets that are big enough to keep my iPhone, water filter and a pair of gloves in them. The hood easily cinches down to keep the hood up and the heat in. While it comes with a price, there are numerous coats either much higher prices so I am very happy with what I paid for this!
CONS: Similar to the quilt, the jacket does not do well when wet. This is why I normally don’t hike in it unless it’s very cold outside because I don’t want to get sweaty in it! It does not come with a stuff sack so I normally shove it in my bag, stuffing it in and around my gear.
This morning I woke at 6am and we all packed and somehow fit 4 days of food and 4.5 liters of water into our bags which was ridiculously heavy after carrying light for the past few days. Tik Tok was able to get ahold of a nice woman named Carol who picked us up at El Rancho Robles and drove us the couple of miles to the trailhead. Thank goodness because I was not looking forward to walking the road to get there!
Tik Tok ended up getting a ride from Carol to the Tucson to fly home afterwards because unfortunately he had to get back to work. I was sad to see him leave because the four of us had a great hiking system going and I really enjoyed the stories he would tell us on the hikes! So for now it will be just the three of us.
The first couple of miles was really nice and easy and had a very nice footpath without all the rocks and steep inclines so we were able to knock out those miles rather quickly. The trail had become all desert with few trees around and the sun was heating up fast. Around 9am we walked into a water source where the Oracle State Park dropped off dozens of cold cans of water! It was so delightful so we paired that with some snacks from our bags and continued on our merry way.
An hour and half later we crossed below highway 77 and were able to cool off in the shade of the overpass. The heat was kicking it up especially after us dealing with cold for so long. We ate and drank more, keeping an eye on our water levels as the day had us at an almost 20 mile stretch with no guarantee of water. I still had 3 liters by then. From there we had a two mile dirt road walk to the next trailhead and it was starting to feel like we were now in the middle of nowhere but surrounded by mountains far off in the distance. At the trailhead we were surprised to find a cache of water so we cameled up as much as we could and filled our bottles again. I was shocked at how cold the water was just sitting in the metal container in the sun.
By this time it was a little after 10:00 and we had only gone around 8 miles. Not good! I took out my sun umbrella to keep the sun off my body and cool down some as I could feel it burning. That only lasted for a little over a mile then I had to switch it out for my second hiking pole so I would stumble. It seemed like the day was dragging and we were getting nowhere and then I spot Afterburner sitting under the best shade tree he could find- surrounded by cow poop! It is what it is so we all sat down and had lunch in the small shade with him.
I think we were all starting to wear out from the heat because we sat there almost an hour! But it seemed like it was needed because the next few hours and miles flew by and before I knew it we were only 4.5 miles away from our water source and hopefully a campsite! However as soon as I realized this, my ankle starting having sharp pains then Wayback took a slide in the dirt and lost his reading glasses and Afterburner looked…done.
We took one last break to regroup, hydrate and push on the final 3 miles. Finally at 5:30 we found the water source a quarter mile off the trail and oh my it was a huge tank completely full to the top with ice cold water! I mean there were dead bugs floating on top and tiny ones swimming around in it but once filtered it actually tasted better than the hotel water we’d been drinking all day.
Luckily there was a perfect campsite a few hundred yards from the tank. It had a fence on the backside and prickly pear on the other sides and an amazing view of the mountains in the distance. We set up camp in the daylight (hurrah!) and sat down on the ground to make dinner. Of course I had the refried beans mixed with Mac n cheese burritos again-so delicious after hiking all day! By the time I finished and cleaned up and changed the sun was down and it was time for bed!
Mile 219 to Mile 239.5 (20 miles)
This morning we started on the trail an hour early at 6:15 to try and push some miles out before the sun became too hot and slowed us down. We packed up camp using our headlamps and still managed to have a cup of coffee and a fig bar. The first three miles were amazing as I got to see the sun slowly rising and the colors of the desert change before my eyes. I love the smell of the desert first thing in the morning too, it has such a uniqueness about it. We saw a couple of rabbits, jackrabbits and a ton of birds but no animals other than that.
We managed to get 4 miles in by 8am where we planned on refilling at ‘Cow Tank’ but when we went through one of the AZT gates there was a stash of gallon water jugs so we were able to camel up and sit for a snack for a few minutes. After that we took off and had several miles of dirt road walking. I was having a great morning just walking along looking at all the cholla and prickle pear cactus around me. We were surrounded by them all day! We were also leap frogging four women who were out section-hiking Passages 14 & 15 most of the day. We could hear them chatting away so many times during the day (maybe that’s why I didn’t see more wildlife?).
Three miles later we came down the road and into a canyon where there was a windmill with a huge water tank and surrounded by a little cattle holding area, also known as ‘Beehive Tank’. This one lived up to its name as there were SO many bees in that area! At first thought, we were thinking we would have another cache coming up in three more miles but on closer reading we realized that was old news and we weren’t sure when we would get water again. That’s an uncomfortable feeling! So we made the right choice and decided to grab a few liters from the tank. The directions were strange and we tried to put the wires together inside the small shack. Supposedly once you do that, give it one minute, fresh water would come out of the pipe and into the very icky murky water tank. However, this did not work. Great. So I climbed a pile of wood to get to the top of this tank and scooped out the nasty water and into all of our water reservoirs. Wayback then tried to filter it and it kept clogging! 45 minutes later we all had gross water. Mine looked like I was carrying a bag of ice cold urine-gross!
This water delay set us back in our mileage for the day as we were hoping to get at least 12 miles in by noon but we were only at 7! So we took off out of that canyon and climbed a smallish mountain under the beating sun and no breeze and 4.5 liters of water. It wasn’t until we crossed its’ ridge and started to descend that we felt any kind of air movement. It felt amazing! It was then noon so we decided to find a shade tree and have a quick lunch then head out again. This is easier said than done! We were hiking through cactus central and there were no trees around us! We hiked almost a mile further to an AZT gate and decided we had enough and just needed to sit down. So we sat on a dirt road with me under my sun umbrella trying to cool off as best as I could while eating lunch.
We hit 10 miles by lunchtime and after putting some food in our stomachs we took off! I must have been in the zone because I barely noticed we hiked three miles uphill in the afternoon sun. The trail came out on another dirt road that led us two miles to Freeman Road Trailhead at mileage 234. That two miles is where I hit my wall. Everything hurt and I had no energy, I was hot….. or possibly I was just really dehydrated! The last mile took forever in my mind. Wayback was hoping there would be water in a hiker box at the trailhead and when we finally got close enough to see a box, I did NOT go to it. Instead I went to the shade area, threw off my shoes and socks and laid there on my back with my legs elevated. Afterburner came and joined in. Wayback, bless him brought over two gallons of water for all of us to fill up on.
We sat at this shade shack for an hour, cooling down, hydrating and snacking on food yet again. By 4pm we had five more miles to get to our campsite so we replaced our cow water with fresh water and begrudgingly took off down the path. Luckily I was once again feeling my trail groove because I was leading the pack and no sooner so I realize we hit three miles in under an hour! So two miles after that we find campsite 239.5 (not really a campsite but a flat spot of ground big enough for tents) and set up. For dinner I tried the soy sauce ramen noodle with a mixture of dehydrated veggies I added, powdered hummus I added water to make, and veggie chips! I wasn’t a big fan of the ramen because I kept burning my mouth on it trying to finish dinner before the sun set. I did enjoy the hummus though! After a long day all I want is to craw into my tent and get comfy! The plan is to wake up at 04:30 and get an earlier head start so we can get into Kearny for a resupply tomorrow!
Mile 239.5 to Mile 264 in Kearny (24 miles!)
I slept pretty good last night. Heard the coyotes every couple of hours and it got slightly chilly so I had to put my beanie on. The alarm went off at 4:30 and we packed up under the light of our headlamps, had some coffee and hit the trail by 5:30. I enjoy hiking by headlamp because everything feels so effortless and no distractions. We knocked out three miles in an hour, stopped to take a drink of water and put sunscreen on then continued on another three miles. This continued until we hit 10 miles at 9:30. We found a great spot to have lunch under a tree and near a random hole in the ground that looked like a meteor or something created it. I ate my last tortilla with peanut butter and dehydrated apples, realizing I was almost out of food. I can’t believe I ate all of that in three days but I was still hungry.
At 10:15 we took off again on the trail, a long stretch of forest road that was relatively flat in the desert and allowed me to settle in and relax and enjoy the scenery without fear of stumbling everywhere. We eventually parted from the road and back onto the real trail and followed it up a hill and then back down into canyons with little wind and a lot of PUDs as Wayback calls them (Pointless Ups and Downs). At mile 251.9 we crawled up a side road to get to our water source, a small tank sitting out under the sun. This was our last water for 12 more miles so we filtered it and took a break- me under my umbrella for shade- and then continued back on the trail, headed for a couple hundred feet climb.
By then it was noon and it was so bright I felt like I was under a magnifying glass and heating up quickly as we descended into a canyon and walked along a wash area for half mile. After one last quick stop under a shade tree we went up the ‘big hill’ and surprisingly it was very windy! I was happy I wasn’t dying from the heat but the wind made it difficult to walk along the steep path. It was a mile and a half climb to the top with incredible 360 degree views. At the top we all just sat down and talked about random things for half an hour, not wanting to move. We must seem pretty lazy with all the breaks we take!
At this point we only had another 7.5 miles to get to the Kearny Trailhead by the Gila River. We thought it would be all downhill from here but we were so wrong! I should know by now that in order to go down you must always go up! Over and over and over again! Eventually we made it down 5.5 miles into the Florence Kelvin Road Trailhead where it was rumored to have water, beer, and snacks. To my delight they actually had beer! It was warm but it was there, but it was probably still there because someone put tuna packets into the box and everything inside smelled of spoiled fish. So gross.
While there I tried to call the General Kearny Inn where we had a room reserved for the night. On the phone app they supposedly shuttled hikers to and from the trail but no one answered the phone. They Afterburner tried to call a trail Angel but he was busy. We divided to go the extra two miles to the Gila Trailhead and try calling from there. Once we arrived there though there was no Verizon phone service. Way back had T-mobile so he tried calling the hotel too and left a message but no one called back. We walked up to the highway to see if we could get better service but no.
The highway was pretty desolate especially at 5:30pm on a Sunday so there no hitch-hiking was happening. One last attempt was to call Old Time Pizza who regularly deliver pizza to thru-hikers at the bridge where we were. Wayback asked if instead of ordering deliver if they could pick us up and we could come eat at the restaurant. Can you believe the woman in the phone said the owner would come and pick us up?!
15 minutes later a red suv pulls up and a wonderful woman named Jodie (the owners daughter) drives us the 5 miles back to Kearny. When we arrive at the hotel the sign says they are closed and to call a number for after hour assistance. Hmm. Way back calls and leaves another message. We are all just hanging out waiting for a call back that never came. Jodie then calls the manager at her home and get ahold of the person who was supposed to show up. 10 minutes later a car pulls up and a girl gets out in sandals a T-shirt and shorts. She doesn’t say hi or anything friendly but unlocks the door and holds it open for me. I walk inside and she verifies my room and credit card, has me sign then hands me an actual key. No sooner this is done and I walk outside she’s back in her car again and leaving. What in the world?!
We find our room, dump our bags and head over to the pizza place. I am so hungry by then I eat all but one slice of a 10” pizza and an order of French fries not even caring it’s not vegan. Afterburner ate all but two slices of his medium pizza! We all sign the AZT board and head back to the hotel room.
Since it was so late by then (8pm is too late as we are normally asleep by then!) we decided to forgo laundry and I took a few pieces into the shower with me and hand washed them. We will by in Superior in a few days and will really get everything clean then!
Kearny to Mile 276 (13 miles)
I slept like a rock last night and it felt amazing! I slept in until 7am and laid there for a while not wanting to move. When I stood up in the morning I could barely stand up straight as all my leg muscles were so tight. I got to talk to Jen this morning and that made my day already. At 8am the three of us walked over to the local IGA and I purchased one avocado (for my refried beans!) some flour tortillas and new water bottles. While we were there the manager said coffee and donuts were on the house so we helped ourselves to that Magic and the coffee was delicious! We sat inside the cafe until the Post Office opened so I could pick up my resupply box.
A little before 9am I walked over to the Post Office and waited a few minutes before they opened and just to my luck the woman working there said my box just arrived this morning. Great! So I happily carried my prized box back to the hotel to rifle through it and get myself organized. Once I packed up my food, I cleaned up my cooking pot, spoon, flushed out my water filter (it had a lot of green algae in it from the cow tanks) and managed to wedge and shove everything into and on the outside of my bag.
I finally went to lay down on the bed for a few minutes while we waited for Wayback to get his resupply box he had mailed to the hotel. As soon as I laid down I realized I didn’t see my avocado. I searched back through my bag, the grocery bags, my box and everything and I did not find it. I was so disappointed because I was looking forward to eating that with dinner. Booo! I think the woman at the grocery store was talking so much and perhaps she didn’t put it in the bag or I dropped it somewhere. Who knows.
Once Wayback had his stuff organized we loaded up and met the hotel manager (Bill I think his name was) for a ride back to the trail. Bill was a older cowboy who talked with a thick twang and was a really nice guy. As soon as he pulled off the side of the road we all see a sign that says drinking water above a pipe with a handle. Bill said did you guys need water? We said no we filled up in the hotel room. Bill said, “I’d recommend dumping that and refilling here, it’ll taste a lot better”. Yikes! So we did just that!
So the trail takes you down and up and down and up for about 3.5 miles and it runs alongside railroad tracks. We three decided to walk the railroad track instead of P.U.D.s. I mean why not? I’ve always wanted to do this so I had a blast for those two miles. I felt like The Boxcar Children or in Stand By Me! We even had to cross over a small river that ran below about 20-30 feet. Right before the railroad crosses to the other side of the Gila River, we cut up to the AZT located about 50 feet off to the side. We hiked for a total of just over an hour when I found a nice shady area and declared I was hungry. It was already past noon so we had a quick lunch and took off again.
A few hours later we took another break by a giant rock along the mountain we were skimming by and I decided to try out my new Bluetooth headphones I picked up at IGA. My first pair worked for half an hour then stopped working right, so I’ve been hiking the last 200+ miles having to listen to my own singing. NOOO! So I listened and got lost to a podcast for a little while before turning them off. It was nice for a distraction during the windy area but I enjoy hearing everything around me.
We ended up only doing about 13 miles today. When we were a little over a mile out from the campsite I heard a cowbell off in the bushes only to see this black and white bull skittishly take off down the path in front of me. I went around the bend and he took off again down the same path we were taking! Instead of just crossing the path and going a different route he continued this for that mile! I couldn’t help but to laugh at this goofy bull.
So picture this: Our campsite was on the left side of the path with a barbed wire fence behind it and the trees and river behind that. To the right of the path was a rock wall with some cactus scattered along it. We were just starting to set up camp when we hear this grunting noise down the path. This enormous bull comes slowly walking by then let’s out the angriest moo I’ve ever heard! A few minutes later more cows come walking by like we are camped out along Cow Highway!
Once camp was set up we ventured down a small side path that led to the water (clearly a cow path) and found the Gila River. Middle looking with a fast current. We are filling the water bags when the same black and white bull with a small brown cow had followed us down to the river. He stands there staring at us then moos and walks away. I said, it may be a long night! Even though the water looked yellowish in my dirty water bag it filtered through clear and actually tasted really good.
I made my refried bean burrito without avocado and some granola for dinner then got settled in to my tent and relaxing listening to the river nearby. I noticed a couple hot spots on my feet and hoped it wouldn’t become any worse tomorrow with a big climb from 1657’ to 3759’. We plan on waking up at 04:30 to get an early start on the day to avoid any possible heat.
Mile 276 to Mile 293 (17 miles)
I slept awful last night. I woke up every hour, had crazy dreams when I did sleep and the temperature dropped much lower than I anticipated. The alarm went off at 04:30 and I hurried up and packed in the chilly morning under the light of my headlamp. The stars were so bright and SO many were visible! Wayback made coffee for us and that helped to kickstart my energy mixed with my fig bar.
We hit the trail at 05:30 and walked a little slower since the terrain was a little rocky by the Gila River. We followed it three miles before passing through an AZT gate and walked a forest road up to a trailhead. From here the trail continued up over the next 11 miles. I was nervous approaching this long stretch but realized I was foolish because it was an enjoyably moderate but steady climb. The views were unbelievable and I kept stopping to look in awe at the beautiful mountains and really taking in what I was doing and accomplishing so far.
On any other day I believe this section would have been difficult if not brutal. We lucked out and had cloudy skies with a nice breeze, making it cooler than it normally would be. I was able to carry only 2.5 liters of water instead of the dreaded 4-5 liters. About halfway up I decided I would listen to a podcast on my new headphones and they lasted almost two hours before dying. I forgot to fully charge them when I bought them but was extremely happy they worked!
Just after 12, we made it to the rainwater collector and mile 288. It was installed there by the Arizona Trail Association due to the notoriously hot and long stretch of trail without any water. The funds were provided and they built the amazing tank that has cold water atop the mountain! Today however, the clouds and wind were strong on the mountain. I filled my water bag and filtered into my water bottles and ate a PBJ burrito with half a bag of chex mix and a Quest bar. I took the time to take my shoes and socks off and inspect my feet noticing my big toe on the right foot is larger than it should. I didn’t see a blister and it didn’t hurt too bad so I’ll keep an eye on it. Other than that they both checked out. When I was packing up it started to lightly rain and the temperature dropped so I put my rain coat and beanie on and stayed like that for the rest of the hike.
We planned on hiking 18 miles today followed by 10 tomorrow to put us at the Pickepost Trailhead but we found a discrepancy on the Guthook app. The mileage on the app doesn’t add up to the miles they are showing so we ended up hiking 17 today and then it’s only about 6 miles to the trailhead. We were scoping out a campsite 2-3 miles up but when we sat down to take a break the rain and wind picked up and that site was on a saddle. I knew it would be too windy up there. We saw a decent area a quarter mile back the trail so we turned around to get to that site.
It was not a campsite but a small pull off area by the forest road but it was good enough for the moment. As we are starting to set up the rain picks up slightly so I hurry to erect the tent and put my bag under the rain fly. I had to redo some tent stakes because the wind kicked them out of the ground then I crawled inside and set everything else up. It was still early, 4:30 so we sat in our separate tents (Wayback under his tarptent) and talked strategy for upcoming resupplies, water sources and various other things for an hour. As I’m sitting in my tent in the daylight I see how dirty all my things have become, including the inside of the tent! All this setting up in dirt has it on everything! We plan a double zero in Superior so I can try and clean up things for another long haul and hopefully wash all my clothes since they haven’t had a good wash since the night in Oracle. Stinky hiker trash! For dinner I tried a vegan dehydrated meal Wayback gave me called Bibimbap and it was pretty good but I picked out the shiitake mushrooms. The flavor was good but didn’t fill me up as well as my usual meal so I put some of it on small tortillas to add some calories. The weather called for 10% chance of rain all night and I just hope my tent stakes stay put!
Mile 293 to Superior (7 miles)
It rained off and on all night. Eventually I was able to fall asleep very soundly and woke to the 05:30 alarm and I didn’t want to get up but I did after a few minutes. I had gone to sleep with my pack inside my tent under my feet to keep it dry so I ended up packing everything inside the tent before getting out. The ground was so muddy my shoes were sliding around but it had stopped raining at least. I finished packing up my dirty, wet tent and had some coffee before hitting the trail at 06:40.
The first few miles were slow moving as it was slightly uphill and the ground was still soppy. The day was a short hike of only 7 miles to the trailhead so we took our time getting there and taking in views of the mountains and fresh earth.
We arrived at the trailhead a little after 10am and sat at the picnic table for a few minutes waiting on our ride from Afterburners mom. She arrived soon and next thing I know I’m sitting in a warm vehicle and heading into Superior. Wayback arranged for a hotel room for Thursday and Friday night but tonight was no guarantee on where we would stay. When he went to check in, the manager Sam said she was able to get a room together for us for the night but it wouldn’t be ready until noon. That’s fine with us! So we all went to Los Hermanos for lunch before taking us back to the hotel. We ended up with a one queen size bed so I said I’d take the floor since Wayback reserved it. I was just happy to get a shower and wash clothes! She put us up in their [backup] room that under normal circumstances I would never step foot in but right now I was happy for it.
After getting into the room and showering we walked across the street to family dollar to pick up a few things then headed back to the hotel to relax a while while waiting on laundry to finish and watching the rain come down from inside the room. We are in Superior for two full days so tomorrow I will complete my resupply and will post an update to everyone on my gear- how it’s all holding up and pros/cons for it.
I woke at 5:45, got ready, packed my bag and was out the hotel door at 6:50. Jimmies uncle Big Dog gave us a ride back to the trail and we started off hiking at 7:35. Our spirits were high with clear skies and sun in the forecast. We entered onto Saguaro National Park property oohing and aahing at all the cacti and beautiful views. We began our ascent up a 2 mile stretch and gaining around 1,500 feet in elevation. We took a quick break before the next 2.5 mile section that goes through Grass Shack campground (it only has 3 sites).
I could feel my ears begin to blister from the sun so I took my button down shirt off and wrapped it over my head and wore it like that for the next couple of hours. The climb was a shock to my lungs and legs and I had to take breaks every so often but it was a nice day and I felt good. I was the first one to arrive at the campground around 12:30 at 5283 feet with an ice cold stream flowing next to it. Soon the others arrived and we took a quick lunch break, filtered some water from the stream and did some stretching before the next grueling part of the day (or so I thought).
On the map the trail climbs from 5,283’ to Manning Camp at 7,937 in just 5 miles. Not bad, it’s doable! However, around mile 2 leading to the camp, snow began to appear on the ground. By mile 3, the snow was slush and the trail was a little river running downhill surrounded by snow on both sides. I tried to keep my feet dry but it was impossible and they were soaked through as were everyone else’s. The last mile to the camp became very cold and windy, making my feet even colder. By then we were all pretty tired from hiking up almost 5,000’. When Manning Camp finally came into view at 3:45, there wasn’t a soul around, only a lot of snow and wind. We took a 10 minute break to catch our breath but it was so cold we had to hurry back on the trail again. We still had another 1.5 miles to the summit before making our descent.
It was around this point that things began to shift. It was now 4:00 and the sun sets at 6:30. We were climbing to 8,594 and still had to get down below 6,000 and out of the park before dark. The higher we went the colder it was. I had in my hiking pants, altar trail runners, a rain cot over my two shirts and winter gloves I had purchased the day before. This was. It suitable for the weather we were walking in. The snow became 4-5 inches on the ground and was starting to freeze to my already soaked shoes. I started to worry about frostbite because my toes were SO cold and painful. Even Tik Tok looked at me several times and said, “we need to get the hell off this mountain”. I agree! We were not in a good spot at that moment.
Finally we reached the summit and I was in such a hurry to get down and out of the snow, I started following other peoples footprints I had been following all day. The suddenly it didn’t look right so I checked the app and sure enough the tracks were all going in the wrong direction. Grr! So we cut through the woods slipping and sliding through the snow and were soon able to locate the actual trail. Whew! We hiked as fast as we all could given the circumstances. When I checked the app again we were still at 7,000’. Why was this taking so long!? The sun was starting to set and we were still too far up! So I put my phone back in my pocket and focused only on the trail in front of me, stepping carefully, and getting down quickly!
By 6:00 we made it down to 6,000’ and were able to relax a little. We were all exhausted and my knees and ankles sent shock waves through my body every time I took a step down. I was able to locate a possible campsite at 5,500’ and at mile 145.5 right as the sky turned dark. There were two other campers tented up already- Joe Dirt and Tweety- who were supposed to have reservations at Manning Camp but were also forced to run down the mountain.
I set my tent up pretty quickly in the dark with my headlamp and then made a hot barley soup for dinner which I shared with Jimmie because he didn’t have a stove or hot food and I felt bad. I paired that with a 460 calorie vegan protein cookie. That hot the spot! By 8:00 I was in my sleeping quilt amazed at the days turn of events but proud that we all were able to conquer Saguaro N.P. in one day!
Mile 145.5 to Mile 164.2 (19 miles)
I finally got smart and last night I grabbed my clothes and put them in my quilt with me rather than wait until morning to do it. This way I didn’t have to get cold just trying to warm up my clothes. Ta-Da! When I woke in the morning it was 25 degrees outside and I’m so glad I put my wet shoes into my tent with me and wedged the toes between the sleeping pad and quilt because even though they were still damp, they weren’t frozen. I even took the insoles out and put them in one of the tent’s overhead compartments to air dry. So the morning wasn’t half bad!
We hiked down a mile to an ice cold pool of runoff water and filtered for a 5 mile hike to the next water source. While filtering, we ran into a handful of other hikers who were forced down from the cold mountain the day prior just as we had. From there, I found I was moving like molasses. In fact, everyone voiced they too were completely drained from yesterday and we still had a long day ahead of us. Luckily we were primarily hiking between two mountain ranges: the Saguaro N.P. and the Catalina Mountains so for the most part we were walking up and down small ridges.
We stopped and took several breaks (mainly from exhaustion) and made our way to mile 159 where we took yet another quick break before forcing ourselves up a 1,000’ climb that had amazing views all around. Too bad each step was up to my knees and in some parts I had to use my hands to leverage myself up. Oddly though we did have three bikers flying down that same hill passing us! How they managed to ride that trail amazes me. It took me an hour to climb that 1.5 miles and through an AZT gate before a mile descent into Molino Basin where I could suddenly see and hear the busy Catalina highway.
At the bottom of the hill we found a cache and filled up our water before crossing the highway and into the campground where we planned to eat dinner. When Wayback and I arrived I saw the other two already getting their dinners ready so I sat down at the picnic table and fished all my cookware out. It was chilly and windy in that spot but it felt good to sit and eat. I boiled a cup of water and made two refried bean (with hot sauce) and Mac n cheese with peas burritos. It probably sounds disgusting but it was so flavorful and warm in in the belly! We were all finished eating soon and took advantage of the campground trash cans and bathroom then took off once again for 2.5 miles into our campsite.
It only took another hour to get to our campsite at Gordon Hirabayashi Campground and at first we were all alone, set up in a group area near the horse stables. Supposedly the campground is closed September to May but several… interesting people decided to pull their vehicles in nearby and camp out. All I could hear were them coughing and coughing. But it was nice to slowly set up camp in the daylight and not have to rush around in the dark. Tomorrow is another BIG climb so more relaxing is better!
Mile 164.2 to Mile 171.1 (7 Miles)
Oh my…what a day. It seems as though this leg of the AZT has it out for us! When I went to bed last night it felt decently warm- at least compared to what it’s been- then sometime after midnight the wind kicked up and by 6am I was afraid of getting out of the tent for fear it would blow away. So I started to pack things up while inside the tent for a change.
By the time I was done the wind calmed down so I got out, stretched and looked around. The clouds were zooming by! The wind took three of my tent stakes out of the ground but fortunately I was able to find them all! Terry and I had just finished packing, and Tik Tok and Afterburner (previously known as Speedy Tuna) were just getting out of their tents when it started snowing. Wet snow. So we all made the decision to wait out the weather and see if it improved because we couldn’t imagine the weather at higher elevations if this was happening at 4,000’. So I quickly set my tent back up and crawled in, already shivering from the drop in temperature. According to my In-Reach it was 25 degrees and it sure felt like it! Terry said his gps was forecasting sun at 11:00 so we had a few hours to kill.
I mostly just laid in my quilt and tried to stop shivering. By 9:30 I was hungry so I made peanut butter and jelly on a tortilla and finished off my remaining Hippeas and pretzels. After I finished I laid back down and actually fell back to sleep. By the time I woke up the sun was in and out from the clouds so at 11:00 we all packed up slowly and took our time going to our new goal of Hutch’s Pool at mile 171. The 7 miles continued to be cold and windy and had breath taking views as we descended on switchbacks. With the snow on the peaks of other mountains I felt like I was in the Alps!
We arrived at our campsite at 3:00- my earliest day so far. It was next to the Sabino River and had plenty of room for several tents and was blocked from wind by enormous boulders. On any other day a campfire would have been amazing! We took our time getting set up and I filtered 2.5 liters of icy water so I didn’t have to do it in the morning. For dinner we all sat around the empty fire ring and talked while we ate. I was slightly embarrassed by eating an entire package of hot garlic mashed potato’s for dinner and then a snack bar for dessert but it was so warm and I had been so cold all day. Plus, I’ve noticed I have to tighten my belt just a little bit more so consuming more calories is okay with me!
After cleaning up I was getting ready to get into my tent to change for sleeping when a hiker walks into our site to grab water. He said he was only out for a few days but he was heading NOBO (northbound) on the AZT trail and camped out at Romero’s Pass (5 miles and 1,000’ up from us) the night prior. He was caught in the snow storm and his tent collapsed. Then today he ended up turning around due to snowfall. Great. Here I was thinking a warm place to sleep is only a day away and now this.
So after a lot of humming and hawing and checking weather conditions we all decided to continue NOBO and hope that the higher temperatures from this afternoon and tomorrow will help melt it all down. I really hope so. I don’t want a repeat of Saguaro N.P. I’m so sick of being constantly cold. Here’s to crossing my fingers to a decent night and a good day tomorrow!
Mile 171.1 to Summerhaven (13 miles)
It was chilly last night but better than it’s been an zero wind. I slept hard from 1am to 5am and so happy to have had that! The sun surprisingly hit us earlier than expected so it warmed up quite quickly. We took off at 7:18 and the trail zig zagged up through the canyon and through a lot of previous wildfire burn. Overall the trail was not difficult and after three miles we made it into a more forested area with oak trees and juniper- it smelled so fresh! We took a break an hour later to catch our breath and swig some water. Even though the trail was not difficult we were still climbing the entire time to get out of the canyon.
At 9:30 we came to a trail junction and took one more quick break before ascending almost 1,000’ in two miles. The views were unbelievable! I had to keep stopping to look around so I wouldn’t fall off the trail as it was very sketchy in areas. The ground was unstable following the wildfires and rain/snow and I was focusing so hard on where I was stepping my eyes began to dry out- or maybe it was from the wind! After 1.5 miles we made it up to Romero’s Pass. I was a little tired but ready to get out of the mountains so we pushed on- or rather up.
The next section after Romero’s Pass took me an hour and half to go 1.5 miles. Not only did it climb up to 8,000’, but the trail was hard to follow, there was scrambling over large boulders and avoiding fallen trees. Towards the top we hit snow, only a few inches, but because we were hitting it in the afternoon the sun had already turned it to slush. We were slipping everywhere so I put on my microspikes and they seemed to work for a while but then I noticed they were getting heavier and heavier. When I looked down I saw the slush was freezing and sticking to them so I decided to take them off so I wouldn’t run out of energy!
We were heading in towards the small town of Summerhaven where there was one restaurant open only until 4pm. We were still a few miles out and not going to make it before they closed so Afterburner volunteered to take off ahead and zoom into town to order food for everyone. We were all pretty tired of the slush at this point. Our shoes were sloshing around and every time we would cross a stream, one of us would end up with a foot in the icy water. Still not as bad as going up to Manning Camp!
When we finally reached the summit we were all feeling a little happier knowing we were close to a warm meal and a cabin to sleep in. Unfortunately the slush continued all the way down to the trail head. Wayback and I would slide every couple of steps- and of course every time this happened our feet would slide in a different direction. I slid into a little bit of mud but I didn’t care by then. At 3:30 we reached the trailhead then realized we still had a mile walk on the road UP into town. Cars were driving way too fast on the road and we had to keep stepping off to the side and playing frogger. Finally I saw Tik Tok and Afterburner at the restaurant waving at us and I felt such relief! I got to eat a nice spinach salad and half of Waybacks French fries.
Afterburner and I walked down to the general store after dinner and ran into two girls we’ve leap-frogged since Saguaro N.P. (Hammer and Beast) and they said they were going on a little further to find a campsite. We went in to buy a few supplies and I went back out to talk to them. By the time Afterburner came out he said he had the OK from the cabin owner to invite them to the cabin for the night. They were so excited when he asked they because apparently they have been sleeping in their tent the entire time since starting out at the border. It took us a while to find the cabin we were staying at but once we did.. oh my! I was able to finally sleep 8 hours and not once wake up even sleeping on a couch!
Summerhaven to Oracle
We had a lazy start this morning! We are so used to rushing to pack up camp that now when we are inside it seems we have so much time in the mornings. I had two cups of coffee and updated the blog and we all sat around and talked for a while, so nice! We left the cabin around 7:45 and headed towards the town of Oracle ~13-ish miles up the trail. Most of the trail was what was left from the wildfire but it still had amazing views. I felt great when we first started out full of energy, but as soon as we had a climb back up to 8,000’ I lost it all. I fell far behind the entire group! I’m not sure if it was the previous day, altitude or just the trail but I was so lethargic and lightheaded so it took it all out of me to make that first climb. And the second.
After the second climb, it was all downhill for 7 miles. By downhill, I mean extremely downhill! We were following a forest road that I’m surprised even existed because it was so steep. To top that off, it was full of sharp rocks and was a mixture of mud and slush/snow. My knees and ankles felt every step down. At times it felt like I was on a mud slip and slide! I would take a step, slide a foot, catch my balance and take another step only to slide down again! After two hours of that I decided enough was enough and I wanted a lunch break. So I found a nice shady spot since the lower we were getting the warmer it was. I took a half hour to dry out my socks and shoes and we took off again.
We didn’t have too much farther on the forest road before it turned into a real trail with a somewhat gentler downhill. We were able to pick up the pace a bit and as soon as we came out into a ridge (still in the wildfire burn area) I was able to see the valley and all the mountains around and I took a deep breath and relaxed. I didn’t realize how tense I had been for the last couple of days up in the snowy mountains!
The relaxation didn’t last too long though as there rocks appeared under my feet once again, making my knees and ankles hurt but I pushed on eager to make it to Oracle sooner than later. We ended up taking a side trail to get into town, another forest road that eventually came out into a paved town road. Right before then I happened to look up and saw a big javalina cross right in front of Tik Tok and Wayback, and then two smaller ones that looked like bear Cubs because they were so hairy. That made me smile and boosted my spirits! It seemed like most of my hike I have yet to see much wildlife like I thought I would so this certainly was a delight!
Once onto the paved road we walked .9 miles to the Post Office where I would get my resupply box. I miscalculated this leg of the hike up and wasn’t sure I would get it in time but thanks to Jen, I did! Also, I received a surprise motivational card from Sue! Thank you! While I was getting my box, the guys happened to talk to a woman standing there and she offered us a ride to El Rancho Robles. Heck yes a ride!?! Yikes… be careful what you wish for! We walked over to her van and surprise surprise she had just came from dumpster diving she said so her van was full but she would make room. No no no! And so I find myself sitting backwards in the back of her van next to Afterburner with Wayback behind me and this lady driving like she’s never driven before. We were thrown all over the place! BUT we didn’t have to walk the several miles so hurrah!
After checking in we all showered unpacked and threw our laundry in the free washers they had before waking a mile down the road to a pizzeria. Unfortunately it was to-go orders only but we made do! Wayback and Tik Tok walked across the street to Circle K, bought some snacks and beer and we sat outside the restaurant and ate and had a beer and just a great time! Tomorrow Tik Tok stays behind and the three of us will get a ride back to the trail to continue on to Kearny.
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!
I started my trip a day early to avoid some weather and so glad I did!
Arriving at Montezuma Pass at 8 am, the weather was cold and very windy! I connected with Jim on Facebook two days prior and planned to start both of our first time thru hike together this morning. After I said my goodbyes to Jen and Quartzi, I started on the trail. Up! and more up into the cold and along a path that was surprisingly narrow in places. It took a couple hours to get to the summit at Miller Peak at 9,090 feet. We ran into two guy who were stopped there who introduced themselves as Tik Tok and Terry, both from Washington. We didn’t stay up there too long because it was getting even colder so the four of us took off down the North side of the mountain.
Not long after we hit our first spot of snow, slush and ice. It was difficult trying to not fall off the side of the mountain in places and in between ice patches and in other areas I had to walk through mud, often sliding in it. My feet became cold, wet and muddy by the time we reached Bathtub Springs to filter some water. After filling up we continued down down down. Along the way we saw two deer. At around 5:30 we found a nice spot to camp at around 6,000 feet in elevation at Wilderness Boundary and parking. I set my tent up underneath a large tree with some some soft dirt underneath. By the time I got my tent set up, had some food and got ready for bed it was already dark. I slept about 4-5 hours off and on, often waking up to the wind and coyotes howling in the distance. Around 4 am it became very chilly and it was hard to keep the warmth inside my quilt.
Day 2: Mile 16.6 to Mile 35
While packing up camp in the morning a guy was hiking past and introduced himself as Jeff (aka Hawaii Fast) who said he was planning on completing 40 miles today. That put him in Patagonia in only two days! I didn’t see him anymore today. We started hiking day 2 at 7:30 following some dirt forest roads along some really pretty trees and I saw two deer miles in.
The trail started off so nice just following some dirt roads and gentle terrain through grassland. Such a nice break after yesterday. We stopped for a few minutes at Passage 2 Trailhead while we ate a snack and hydrated for the water source coming up. The next water source was Parker Lake Creek and it was actually cold running water! Even though we still had a ways to go for the day I wanted to soak my feet for a few minutes and it felt amazing. I filled up with 5.5 liters of water since we had a plethora of miles before the next opportunity. After wards it was up, up, up and it was getting warmer with each step even though we were going back up to 6,000 feet. For some reason this climb seemed just as hard as day 1, but probably because I was tired. At the top of the mountain I ran into tik tok and terry and we all took a nice lunch break and caught our breaths. I was so thrilled to have that climb done and over with… until I saw we had another one.
After the lunch break, I think I spaced out. The sun was getting to me and the constant pain in my left trap from carrying the heavy bag. Every hour I had to stop and take the bag off for a minute to relieve the pain. Then I’d hike again for another hour and repeated this process for hours. The sun was slowly starting to go down and we had one last climb for the day and into the sun. Although it was only a 1,000 foot climb, there were not a lot of switchbacks and I kept my eyes focused ahead until I made it to the top. The other three took off on the way down as I slowly made each step since my legs were so tired. The last mile seemed to take forever but finally I made it to camp! I wasn’t planning on eating because I was so tired after a 19 mile day but as I was setting up my tent my stomach had other ideas so I had two dinners! I somehow fell asleep to more coyotes and Tik Tok snoring away in his tent.
Day 3: Mile 35 to Patagonia
This morning we all woke up at 6 am, packed up camp while having coffee and a bagel. At 7:20 we took off on a cool cloudy morning. I oddly felt refreshed after getting a couple hours of solid sleep in between howling coyotes and took off down the path at a good speed. We had one small hill with switchbacks then all downhill and through some beautiful grasslands. The hike was fairly easy for the first 10 miles with small ups and downs. I still had to take my bag off every three miles but the cool air made it better. We stopped at a water cache in the middle of cow poop central but the water was ice cold and not too bad after filtering it. The cow there was nice enough to let us get our water before she had her turn. The guys had a light snack but I was too grossed out to eat in that area! The rest of the day had two climbs that seemed straight up but it was far easier with only 2.5 liters on my bag instead of 5! Again I fell behind everyone but I was sliding all over the dirt and rocks on the steep decent. I caught up to them about a mile later at the trailhead. They had a trail angel stash some water for them there and offered some to me..hooray I was thirsty! Once full we walked three painful miles along the paved road into the town of Patagonia. I was able to get my first resupply box at the post office and checked in to the town hotel.
Once in the room all I wanted to do was shower and relax but that didn’t happen. I had to unpack my trash, clean out some of my gear, restock my food and other various things. Then I showered! Jim was able to talk two girls into driving us to the laundry mat down the road and thank goodness because I had my sandals on. Apparently it was only a one way ride though and had to walk the half mile back. Ouch! But I had clean (still wet) clothes. In the evening, Tik Tok and Terry were so kind and bought us dinner. By 7:00 I got back to the room in time to finally get this posted for everyone!
Tomorrow we all head towards Colossal Cave, about 60 miles away. Our target day of arrival is Friday or Saturday and I’ll update when I have WiFi again! Thanks everyone for reading 🙂