Day 6 – 5/12/17
Last day for this trip. I got up a little after 6AM and made my coffee and had the Mountain House granola with blueberries for breakfast. I still had plenty of water and was at about mile 10.5 of this passage. I had a long, committed climb ahead of me.
I wore my long sleeve shirt to start out the hike because it was still a little chilly in the morning. That went away very quickly after less than 30 minutes of uphill hiking, I stopped to take off the long sleeve and unzipped the bottom halves of my pants and then sprayed my pasty white skin down with plenty of sunscreen.
The climb to the top of this high point was pretty tiring and slow going, but I felt strong and energetic and just wanted to get to the Jeep. The trail/road was rocky and at points so steep the trail circumvented the slope through the trees. I made it to Walker Basin at about 8AM. At least, I think it was Walker Basin, or maybe Upper Walker Tank. I never really knew exactly where I was on the trail most of the time. It’s not like there were signs at most of the places coinciding with the maps. According to the sign, I only had a mile to go to the top!
Shortly after I passed through Walker Basin, I came to somewhat of a Y in the trail. There was a wooden post with one of the small, square, metal AZT arrow signs completed faded from the sun and hanging by a piece of cattle guard wire that someone had used to keep it attached to the post. But it was just dangling there. Someone had also scratched an arrow into one side to make up for the faded sticker. It was very confusing which way it was pointing. Another scarecrow pointing in opposite directions. So, I went left.
I hiked on for a while, maybe half a mile, before I second guessed myself and turned around and went back to the Y. I kept thinking I was on the wrong trail again. This time I went right of the Y, but that only led to a small camp spot encircled with Junipers about 15 yards up that hill. Turned out I was on the correct trail. So I had to triple back. But before I left, I built a pile of rocks to mark the correct way. I also noticed that there were sun bleached branches laid across the path to the camp site someone had put down so people like me could avoid going that way. I think I was too concerned with the mangled sign to notice the branches.
After that little faux pas of double guessing my pathfinding decisions, I increased my pace so as to make up for lost time. I finally reached the saddle that connects to Trail 136 at about 9:45AM. The high point of the trail! Approximately 6,560 feet. I could look back at how far I had come and see Patagonia, the Canelo Hills, the Huachuca Mountains, and Mexico. It’s hard to explain what that feels like, to see all those hills and mountain tops where you were traversing just days prior. The word accomplishment comes to mind, but that’s not right.
I sat here and rested for about 15 minutes, took off my pack and hung it on a branch on an oak tree and ate jerky and trail mix. I afforded myself in drinking a little more water than while hiking, because according to the rusted metal AZT sign, I only had 5.5 miles to go! That knowledge gave me so much energy. I was so excited to get back to the Jeep I didn’t even write down trail notes. I obviously took pictures though.
From here, Trail 136 will bring you to higher elevations at Josephine Peak and Mount Wrightson, but for the AZT it drops in elevation. There was much more pine on this side of the mountain as the trail descended and switch-backed down into Big Casa Blanca Canyon. I came to a sign marking Bear Spring (Hey! That’s on the map!). There is supposed to be a dependable water source here, but I did not see it, unless it was off the trail a ways.
The land evens out a bit after this and it was quite pleasant walking through the woods. I did cross over a few creeks that had water, but it was pooled and stagnant. By the second one I found I dipped my cooling towel in one that looked clean enough and wrapped it around my neck. It was becoming incredibly warm. I didn’t see any more water after that.
The trail seemed to be getting longer and hotter. I thought I was never going to finish this thing. I almost stepped on a small snake at one point. I was so exhausted and dragging ass that it was hard for me to stop my momentum, but the little critter slithered off the path out of my way and I had a mini panic attack. No rattler, so that was good.
I stopped at one point to eat a little and take a few sips of water near where the Casa Blanca canyon portion comes to an end. I was running low on water. I used too much when I tripled back on the trail when I was going the right way and thought I wasn’t.
After that, the trail whips around a hill and brings you to a historical sign talking about the old mining days in the Santa Rita Mountains. There was an old mine shaft beyond the sign. I took a picture from the trail but did not feel like exploring it. After that, the trail dropped down to the Tunnel Spring TH where it met with Gardner Canyon Road. The trail follows this road for the most part all the way to the passage 5 trailhead.
It was a nice walk in this area. A lot of campground sites surrounded by mature oaks. It was very shady and the road even, but after a short while the shade went away and I was walking in the sun again as the big oaks became sparse along the sides of the road. The trail left the road and followed the contours of the hills parallel to the road. I realized it was just adding steps to my aching feet, so went back to the road where it was a straight shot.
The road intersected with the trail again, and then brings you through some fenced off cattle grounds of grass and soft red sand. I saw some deer grazing in here, but no cattle. The trail comes back to Gardner Canyon Road and down to the next trailhead. I was so close. But I ran into a carsonite AZT sign pointing up more hills away from the road. For a moment I thought I was lost again, or that maybe I overshot where I parked and was a ways into the next passage.
I looked around and couldn’t see any other landmarks or signs. I would have thought the road would send you right back to the trailhead. I figured, I’d just stay on the road and keep going. I decided to follow the road and hoped to find Apache Ranch or other drivers. But as I walked about 50 more feet and crested the road a little I saw the back end of my Jeep where I parked it under some trees. The sun was gleaning off the back window and it looked almost black in color. Such a foreign sight in the surrounding wilderness, and it was beautiful.
I immediately went to the back hatch and shed my pack. I left a full Hydro Flask on the front seat with a clean set of clothes for my return. I had finished my Camelbak much earlier and was down to about a quarter of a liter in my Smart Water bottle. I finished that water and then drank about half of the Hydro Flask.
I took a victory selfie of the end of this 75 mile trek. I finished at about 2:20PM. I felt so good to have finished, but I was in a lot of pain, and sweaty and dirty and tired. I then changed into the clean clothes I had in the Jeep and fired it up and drove home. First gas station I saw coming back, I stopped and bought a Snickers, a coconut water, and the largest fountain drink of Powerade I could.
It was quite the adventure and a great learning experience. I have another long stretch of the AZT planned, but it will be in the north sector this time, in Flagstaff, due to the heat. But I definitely plan on coming back and picking up where I left off at the beginning of passage 5.