The Arizona Trail

Passage 33/34 – What the FUTS!

Day 4 – 8/29/17

Schultz Creek Trailhead To Schultz Pass Tank

We had about 12 miles left of our hike at this point. We decided to split that 12 miles up into two 6 mile day-hikes with the cheap, $5 day packs we bought at Walmart. This way we could give our feet a break, recover a little, and not have to worry about rushing through the remainder while using the hotel as base camp. You know, enjoy ourselves a little more. It was all Agave’s idea, really. I originally wanted to hike Passages 31 and 32, around Flagstaff, which was why we ended up hiking part of Passage 34, because we left the Jeep at the end of Passage 32. The other reason I wanted to hike around Flagstaff was because a section of Passage 33 was closed off due to logging. So the Flagstaff bypass trail had a bypass trail, which was the Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS).

So, the last two days, we hiked the last little bit of Passage 33 from Schultz Creek Trailhead to where it intersected with Passage 34 to the Jeep at Schultz Pass Tank. Then the last day, from Schultz Creek TH to the Karen Cooper trail of FUTS back to the hotel. It was all a success in the end and we had a lot of fun. And that’s all that matters!

We woke early that Tuesday morning at the hotel even though we tried to sleep in. We had the continental breakfast down in the lobby where they had a machine that made pancakes with the push of a button. It was pretty amazing. I made sure to eat plenty of carbs and protein. And coffee. Always coffee.

My Aunt Janet lives in the area, so she had reached out to me and we arranged a time for her to meet us so she could join us on this six mile day hike. The more the merrier. While waiting for her to meet us, I lanced and drained my blisters again with a sewing needle from a sewing kit Agave got from the front desk. Dirty business, but had to be done.

My Aunt picked us up at the hotel and drove us to the Schultz Creek TH. From there we hiked northbound to my Jeep at Schultz Pass Tank. It was a lot of fun hiking with my Aunt, and educational. She’s knowledgeable of the local vegetation, and we swapped hiking stories, tips, tricks, and ideas as we made the relatively easy stroll through the woods.

There was little to no incline through this portion of the trail. We were right around 8000 feet the whole time and the much lighter backpacks we carried made it that much easier. The hike took us about three hours to get back to my Jeep. We started about 10AM and were finished by 1PM, which was perfect timing to go grab some lunch in town. It was actually a perfect hike, because as soon as we were done, it started to rain. We got the best part of the day. I drove my Aunt back to her car at Schultz Creek TH and then Agave and I spent the rest of the day eating, drinking and being merry.

At first we attempted to go to a brewery I’ve heard good things about called Wanderlust. They were closed, so we went to Historic Brewing instead. The one on San Francisco Street with the upside down table hanging from the ceiling. It was kind of a preemptive victory burger and beer. I had the aioli burger and fries, and the Joy Rye’d pale ale. After lunch we made a stop at Target so I could get a charger for my fitbit. It had died and I was missing precious steps! Then we went back to the hotel to clean up, hung out for a bit, had dinner at the Denny’s right next door, then turned in for the night.

Upside down table!

Before I turned in, however, I had to attend to me feet again. That little toenail, on the toe next to the big toe, that was protruding up away from the toe? Well it was worse after that day of hiking. Looking at it a little more closely, it wasn’t a dead nail that was falling off. A blister had developed between the toenail and the nail bed and was pushing the toenail up. I took the sewing needle and stabbed it between the toenail and toe and liquid immediately leaked out. It was instant relief as the toenail “deflated,” if you will. I eventually had to tear it off completely because it was only hanging on by the edges of the skin. But have to say, that was a first for me.

 

Day 5 – 8/30/17

Schultz Creek Trailhead to AZT Butler Ave Intersection

That Wednesday morning we woke up fairly early and had our continental breakfast. Oatmeal and protein. And coffee, of course. We went back up to the room and packed our stuff and loaded it all into the Jeep and checked out of the hotel. My Aunt came by to pick us up and give us a ride to Schultz Creek TH, where we would then head southbound back to the hotel where I left the Jeep parked with all of our stuff. She wasn’t able to join us that day, but that’s ok because she didn’t miss anything special. It was more like a walk through a greenbelt.

From Schultz Creek TH we made our way to the FUTS, which apparently was the Karen Cooper Trail, who was a City Council Member from 2000 to 2008. It was all paved, or maintained gravel, from then on. The trail took us through some nice neighborhoods with beautiful views of Humphreys right from their backyards. We followed it around Frances Short Pond and then down to Wheeler Park, which was a lovely little park inhabited with all kinds of vagrants, drunks, crackheads, and other useful citizens.

We then headed into the old Heritage Square area after rounding the new atrocity of the Hilton hotel they built down there. We found a brewery called Dark Sky Brewing. If you’re ever up that way, go to this place. It is worth it. We ordered some food from the food truck out back and sat inside and talked to the bar tender, the brewer, and some cool folks visiting from Prescott who there to collaborate with the brewery. I had the Blood of My Enemies IPA (because how could you not imbibe the blood of your enemies?), Ring Ring, Hello? and Cirrus NEIPAs. All delicious.

Once we had our fill of food and beer, we proceeded down to Route 66 and headed East towards our hotel. But we had to make another stop first.

AGAVE!

We had to stop at Agave on principal because it was a running joke for the past few days. It actually wasn’t a bad place. Your typical Mexican restaurant. I mean, it was no Taco Bell, but it was OK. We ordered margaritas, because we needed some girl drinks. Mine had jalapenos floating in it and I had to trade with Agave (Chris, not the restaurant) for his mango flavored margarita, because apparently I needed something even more girly. We ordered something called ceviche, which was shrimp cooked with the acidics from lime juice. It was delicious.

So that was it. We finally tried out Agave, walked back to the hotel, climbed in the Jeep and I drove us back to Chris’ car at Gooseberry Springs Trailhead. We said goodbye and drove home. I took Stoneman Lake Road, which was a pretty nice drive through the woods, especially since it just rained and there was a mist hanging over the meadows. I stopped at a pull off that overlooked Stoneman Lake Village and took some photos. It’s a serene little village that contours the lake and is surrounded by forested hillsides. I changed into a clean shirt and put on my sandals then drove home.

 

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The Arizona Trail

Passage 31: Walnut Canyon to Passage 33: Flagstaff

Day 3 – 8/28/17

Marshall Lake to Flagstaff

We only hiked 6.4 miles of Passage 31 from Marshall lake to the fork in the trail that connects to Passage 33 to Flagstaff.  We left Marshall Lake, the beginning of Passage 31 marked by a brown, steel AZT sign, after we ate and watched the Black Hawk Helicopters fly low over the meadow at about 11:30 AM. We had been hiking for about three and a half hours from Lakeview CG. By this point, my feet were in pretty bad condition, and I started getting pains shooting up from my left knee to my hip, I think because my pack was resting weird or I had too much weight on one side.

We walked in the cover of trees from that point to the base of Walnut Canyon. Dark clouds rolled in and as we walked in silence we listened to the thunder echo off the hills around us. It rained, but we only felt a few drops because of the thick tree canopy. We stopped at the edge of a meadow of long grass and sat underneath the cover of three large Ponderosas and ate lunch of tuna and jerky.

While resting there, I removed my shoes and inspected my feet. I had a blister on the ball of my left foot and could feel the start of blisters on the ball, heel and center of my right. I nearly lost the toenail from the toe next to the big toe from my last long hike from the border. It had turned black, but didn’t fall off. Over time, however, a new toenail was growing in underneath and pushed the dying, blackened nail out. What was left was a thin, translucent, soft toenail. When I inspected my feet there on the trail after we had lunch, that new, soft toenail was sticking almost straight up halfway from the cuticle. I figured it just had not healed all the way, and was falling off.

I took care of the blister I had and the potential blisters that were to develop. I wiped the affected areas with alcohol swabs. I then tried to poke a hole into the blister on my left foot with my pocket knife, but the tip of the utility pocket knife blade was rounded and dull and I didn’t want to tear the skin. So I flipped out the corkscrew on the the other side of the pocket knife and twisted the tip into a soft spot of the blister and let it drain.

I then wiped the area clean after it was flattened out and applied moleskin. Then I wiped the areas clean on the other foot for the potential blisters and applied moleskin there as well. Agave had a small roll of gray duct tape and let me use it to wrap around the balls of my feet and my right heel.

We put our socks and shoes back on and strapped on our packs. I could feel that toenail that was sticking up slightly rubbing against the roof of the shoe. Nothing painful, just a strange sensation every once in a while to remind me that my feet were screwed. Most of the time, the pain on the bottom of my feet took my mind off everything else.

From there to the decent into Walnut Canyon, the hike was relatively flat, or had a slight downgrade. We continued on through the trees, I’d slow way down, and eventually catch up to Agave, who would be sitting on his folding stool with his shoes off, studying the AZT app on his phone. So I’d take my pack off, unfold my stool, and take off my shoes and rest, then he’d be ready to go again. Don’t know how he worked through the pain so easily.

The trail noticeably dropped in elevation the closer we got to the canyon, and we got some great views of Humphreys off in the distance. At approximately 3.5 miles from Marshall Lake the trail starts to drop in elevation, and descends about 540 in just a little over a mile.  At points, the trail was made up of only large, jagged rocks and it was incredibly painful descending in these areas. The trail then follows the crest of the canyon for some time through beautiful, tall, green grass, aspen and pine and oak trees, with wonderful views of the Walnut Canyon walls and Humphreys.

I fell back behind Agave again to take some scenic photos. He was way ahead of me by the time I started the switchbacks down the few hundred feet to the base of Walnut Canyon. Again, by the time I caught up to him, he was sitting on his folding stool next to the trail underneath a large Ponderosa nursing his feet. To my right was a clearing of tall, green grass that lead up to the sandstone walls of the canyon that looked like the Spaceballs ran a comb back and forth across them.

We sat, rested, ate and drank for a minute.  I took more Advil. We were excited and elated to be so close to our end goal. So close to Flagstaff. Back on our feet and hiking along the base of the canyon, it was only a mile before we intersected with the Flagstaff route, Passage 33, that continues through the rest of the canyon and leads out to Flagstaff via road systems. The canyon walls of Walnut turn to hillsides and then fade away as you hike along the double trail out. The trail to the right was worn and beaten down and narrow, the ground on each side of it came up high, almost to my knees. Very difficult to walk with hiking poles since your hands are way above your head at that point. But the trail parallel to it was newer and shallow, so I switched over to that one. The ground on this portion of the trail was softer too, soft sand, and it felt great on my feet.

The further we hiked through this valley we could hear the traffic noise of I-40. Normally this would be annoying, but in this case, it was a welcoming sound letting us know we were close to Flagstaff. We passed signs pointing us toward the Flagstaff Urban Trail System which the AZT would intersect. We encountered a homeless man wandering around out in the forest like the Walking Dead, and then a woman in her thirties walking her Great Dane. We were definitely close to Flagstaff.

We rounded a pond and came to an asphalt paved trail that was S. Babbitt Drive that lead us into the city. It felt weird walking on smooth, flat asphalt and concrete after walking on the rough, jagged rocks of the trail for so long. We collapsed our walking poles and put them away. We followed Babbitt Drive to Butler Avenue, and there on the corner, in bold, neon lights that called to us in the waning light of day was the inviting sign of Taco Bell. Oh that sweet, sweet Mexican-inspired fast food chain.

Inside the restaurant we took off our packs and left them in a booth with our walking poles and proceeded to the counter to order food and drink. I got a beef Chalupa supreme and a large fountain drink, which I filled to the brim with ice and Gatorade. It was so delicious. Agave got a Mexican pizza. I mean, it was no Agave restaurant, the whole motivation for this detour, but it was like eating at a gourmet five-star restaurant. The employees and other customers didn’t seem to care we were dirty, smelly, sweaty hikers dining with them. Probably used to it.

While eating, we called an Uber. As we finished our food and gathered our stuff to wait by the front door for our ride, I heard an older couple say something about the Arizona Trail as we walked by. They were wearing cycling attire and their bikes were attached to their car outside. As we were loading up our packs into the Uber driver’s car the older man came outside and asked if we needed a ride somewhere, and even though it was bad timing, I found it to be incredibly generous and supportive. Here these people were, trail people of their own kind, noticed we were clearly hiking the AZT and wanted to lend us some support. It was heart-warming, and a clear sign of the support in the hiking community. We declined the offer, as our car was already there and we would have got a cancellation fee, but thanked the man anyway. That would never have happened in Phoenix, because Phoenix is filled with meth heads.

Our Uber driver asked what the deal was with the packs. He just moved to Flagstaff from California, so we told him we’ve been hiking a portion of the Arizona Trail. He was not aware of it, so we told him it’s like the PCT, but not as long. He was a super nice guy, looking to buy property in Williams and played guitar at venues in Flag and Ubered for money. It was fully dark out by the time he got us to Walmart. We bought more water, cheap $5 backpacks for our day-hike portions the next two days, deodorant, pants, shirts, and underwear. People looked at us funny while we were in Walmart with a shopping cart full of these huge packs and we were limping around dirty as homeless men. Really, we should have fit right in with the rest of them.

We called another Uber to take us to the Holiday Inn Chris had booked on Huntington Drive. It wasn’t long before we were in our room living like civilized people once again. We used the laundry facilities to wash our sweat-stained clothes, ordered a pizza, watched TV, and bathed. So much dirt washed off of me and ran dark and black as it swirled around the drain. Best of all, we rested our feet and lied in our soft beds until we fell asleep watching TV.

The Arizona Trail

Passage 30: Anderson Mesa, Part 2

Day 3 – 8/28/17

Mayflower Spring Trailhead to Marshall Lake Trailhead
17.8 Miles

I slept fairly well that night. I left the rain fly off so it would be cooler. I was slower that morning getting up. My feet still hurt from the day before. I made the Mountain House biscuits and gravy for breakfast, along with coffee and Advil. Advil for dinner. Advil for breakfast. We refilled all of our water bladders and bottles, and left camp about 8AM.

It was tough getting up the switchbacks to the trail at the top of the mesa first thing in the morning. Agave! got ahead of me and was waiting for me at the top under a Juniper tree. That was the theme for the rest of the day. He’d get far ahead of me, and I’d hobble up to him later. At some points the pain was so bad I was taking baby steps. My feet hurt the worst if I stopped. Once I got going, they numbed pretty well and I could get into a rhythm, but once I stopped and lifted my feet, they would scream with pain.

We still had 16 miles to hike that day.

We had great views of Upper Lake Mary from the crest of the mesa. Moving north, we came to Lowell Observatory’s Perkins Telescope about 10AM. We stopped there and took some pictures and munched on some snacks. It was a nice place to stop because it was very quiet and we had an amazing view of Humphreys off in the distance past past Prime Lake. Prime Lake, and most of the lakes we passed, save for Mormon and Mary, looked more like swamps with tall reeds growing from them. If you didn’t know it was a lake on the map, you would have thought it was just a yellow meadow.

Upper Lake Mary from the crest of the mesa.
Astro Haven Perkins Telescope. Not sure of this is the actual telescope or what.
Another view of Humphreys at Prime Lake.

We passed the paved parking area for the telescope just before we descended down a wooded hillside and back into Ponderosa country. At the bottom of the hill, the trail has you cross FR 128, and shortly after that is the end of Passage 30 near Marshall Lake. This one big enough that it actually looks like a lake past all the reeds and tall grass around the edges.

Descending from the mesa down to FR 128.

We rested here and ate some snacks. There were campers off aways. Quiet. They must have been napping. It was pretty warm. As we were resting there, four Blackhawk helicopters flew low over the lake. It was very cool to see. We then donned our packs once again and continued on into Passage 31.

 

Blackhawk helicopters
The Arizona Trail

Passage 30: Anderson Mesa, Part 1

Day 2 – 8/27/17

Mayflower Spring Trailhead to Marshall Lake Trailhead
17.8 Miles

Continuing our adventure from the undistinguished Mayflower Spring Trailhead, we followed the trail into open fields and back into tree coverage, which was preferable for the shade. As cool and sparsely overcast as it was at times, once the Sun came out, it was pretty brutal. Chris brought some medical grade 50 spf sunblock that smeared on thick and made us look more white than we already do.

It was after this point we started seeing more obvious remnants of the old logging railroad that used to stretch across this mountaintop. Old, rotted cross beams still lay horizontal along the raised rock foundation of the railroad bed. There weren’t any steel tracks left, but occasionally we’d see an old rusted railroad spike on the ground. Kind of cool to see in the middle of a forest on top of a mountain.

The trail takes you through more meadows and clusters of trees. At one point when I had stopped to take pictures, Chris was far ahead of me, I found some sunglasses on the trail. They looked like Chris’ so I took them with me. When I caught up to him he informed they weren’t his, so I put them on the next carsonite trail marker I came across. Maybe somebody could use them.

It is along this portion of the hike, after Mayflower Spring and before Pine Grove Campground, that you’re high up enough that when you come into one of those clearings you can see Humphreys and the San Francisco Peaks off in the distance. They tower over all of the landscape, yet they look so far away, and they remind you that you have a long hike ahead, because it is at the base of these peaks where you must go.

The trail eventually intersects with FR 82E then continues north and parallels the road for a while before turning north towards Lake Mary. Instead of following the trail, we followed FR 82E, which took us over a large wood bridge and crossed Forest Highway 3 (Lake Mary Rd) and leads you up a committed climb on a maintained  gravel road to the top of the mesa. This climb was the only time I saw Chris struggle on the whole hike. He had hit a wall and needed to stop a few times.

There was a camp ground at the top of this hill, just a little south of the Horse Lake Trailhead. Our intention was to inspect Ashurst Campground for a reliable water source, however, it was not a maintained campground, so no water. There were a lot of campers spread about up there for large groups, people riding around on their ATVs, hunters on RZRs. We stopped there for about an hour to eat lunch and rest our feet. After eating, I laid on a large log in the shade and took a power nap.

We left there about 1PM and headed north to the Horse Lake TH and back onto the AZT. Chris was navigating us with his AZT app. Our aim was to get to Lakeview Campground by 5:30 because they had a reliable water source. He was doing such a great job plotting our course I named him The Navigator.

Up there on the mesa, we were in much more open space, and cattle country. We followed a Jeep trail around two watering holes with fenced off herds of cattle, most likely Horse Lake Tank. We had a clear view of Humphreys. The foliage around us turned from tall pines to wide Junipers. We stopped and ate for a bit to get off our feet, which were in immense pain. I think my pack wasn’t sitting right either, because I had a lot of pain in my left hip. While sitting there, The Navigator pointed out a cloud that looked like Yoda.

We eventually made it to Lakeview CG via the Lakeview Connector, a fairly new trail that connects the AZT to the campground to the west. The connector takes you to a steep decline from the mesa down a hillside with switchbacks. I was limping into camp and had just run out of the three liters of water I started out with that morning. We had hiked 16 miles since Double Spring CG. We planned to get there by 5:30PM, but made it by 6:00PM instead. Not bad.

We grabbed a spot between an older couple with a camper and dog, and a young, German couple with a pop-up tent. We were right across the road from the latrines and water. We set up camp, refilled our bottles, drank water, and made dinner. I had the Mountain House beef stroganoff, with a side of Advil. It was pretty good. I then used the latrine to clean up a bit and wipe myself down with body wipes.

It was dark by the time we finished dinner and no one had come around to collect payment for the site, and I didn’t see a drop box, so I asked the German couple where to pay and they said at the end of the campground. I took my inflatable lamp and limped down there. There was a nice, old couple in a camper watching tv and eating dinner. I paid them $22 for the night and they gave me the slip to put on our post, and then I hobbled back.

The Navigator and I stayed up talking about changing our course. I thought we had enough time to continue on the passages I planned out, but he needed to be back to work Thursday morning. Plus there was the question of having enough water to make the easterly trek through Walnut Canyon and up and around Elden Mountain. We decided on taking the Flagstaff bypass where there would definitely be water, and also, The Navigator said he’d get a hotel for us if we went that way. And more importantly… Agave!

There was a Mexican restaurant right along the trail through Flagstaff called Agave. This was now the motivation to take the Flagstaff bypass, and also, The Navigator would then be referred to as… Agave!

The Arizona Trail

Passage 29: Mormon Lake

Day 1 – 8/26/17

Gooseberry Springs Trailhead to Mayflower Spring
14.8 Miles

The ATA website has Passage 29: Mormon Lake down as 14.8 miles. The book, Your Complete Guide to the Arizona National Scenic Trail, which I’ve been relying on heavily, has the trail distance at 33.9 miles. For some reason their book combined the two passages, 29: Mormon Lake and 30: Anderson Mesa. The mileage for each and every passage does not match up between the two sources either. Not sure why the same trail association can’t get the details straight for all of their resources, but I’m going to reference the website from here on out for passage lengths and maps.

The trail is rated as “easy,” and for the most part it was.

I met Chris in Flagstaff that Friday evening on the 25th. We met at Oregano’s for dinner so we could carbo load on pasta before the big hike.

We stopped in the Walgreens there and picked up breakfast for the morning and bottles of water. Then we drove up to the Schultz Pass Trailhead and dropped off my Jeep, then drove down to the Mormon Lake area because there was no camping allowed at Schultz Pass TH. We drove to Double Springs Campground that lies just west of Mormon Lake, and we camped there for the night. I didn’t sleep well because my pack pillow deflated in the middle of the night.

The next morning, the 26th, we broke down camp, packed up and drove to Gooseberry Springs Trailhead. We ate our meager breakfasts of Starbucks Double Shot Energy coffee, and muffins/donuts on the way. At the trailhead, we geared up, took a few photos, signed the forest service trail register, and set out on the trail at 8AM.

It had just rained for the past few days before we got up there, so the ground was soft and a little muddy in some places, but it made for easy walking. Shortly from the trail you pass Forest Highway 3, and shortly after that you pass the first of many cattle gates. We stopped for our first break about 9:45AM in a very quiet, cool, and peaceful spot.

I noticed my GPS was saying we were covering more miles than we actually were. I think I need to calibrate it or fix something in the settings. It’s still new to me, so still learning about all of its features. Chris, however, had the Arizona Trail app on his phone and it turned out to be very useful and accurate, for the most part.

From there we made our way to Mormon Lake Lodge. There were a lot of people camping in the area, all the way up to where we ended. Popular area and time of year for it. We hadn’t seen any wildlife except for birds and reticulated squirrels. I remember we came to a spot that smelled somewhere between rancid and pungent. There were all these mushrooms on the ground and they looked like they were melting. Some nasty fungus.

Later we found a pile of sun bleached bones on the ground, like someone went out collecting them and dumped them all next to the trail. Elk ribs and spinal disks and a squirrel skull. Kind of weird.

Squirrel Skull

Somewhere near FR 219, we somehow got off the path. We ended up following a dirt road for a while where a caravan of trucks, RZRs, and kids on ATVs passed us before we cut through open land to make our own way to the gateway community of Mormon Lake. We ended up at the south end of the Village and got to the Mormon Lake Lodge about 1PM, where we had burgers and fries for lunch.

From town there, we connected to the Navajo Springs Trailhead at about 2PM, which connected us to the AZT west of there. It was a very rough trail of large, jagged rocks. This was the point where my feet were really starting to feel every little pebble on the ground. Because I have the feet of a true princess, apparently. We came across a line of what looked like concrete troughs with rusted poles sticking up from them. Not sure if these used to be for cattle, or something to do with the logging industry 100 years ago.  A mystery, for now.

I felt kind of silly, because we ended up stopping at Double Springs CG again, and got the exact same camp spot for a second night. The trail runs right through the campground, and if we were smarter about it, we could have just left all of our heavy gear at camp and only carried water and snacks. I thought we would have gone further that day, but by the time we reached Double Springs we were very tired and hungry. Which we wouldn’t have been if we left all of our stuff there, and packed when we came through camp and marched further on. Oh well. Live and learn.

It was probably good we stayed because my lower back and feet were hurting, and I was chaffing in all the wrong places. We set up camp at about 4:30PM and took it easy the rest of the night. I slept better that night because I sealed the air in my pillow better.

I woke up about 5AM, relieved myself, then took out my pack to start making coffee when it started to rain. It didn’t rain hard at first, just sprinkles, but then got heavier. I put everything away, threw my pack in my tent, grabbed Chris’ pack (he had left it out on the picnic table all night, partially wrapped in a garbage bag) and tried shoving it under the rain fly of is tent. Then the rain stopped. All of my frantic racket woke Chris, of course, so he got up as well and we started our day.

I had oatmeal, coffee, and Advil for breakfast. We headed out at 7:30AM, and somehow immediately got off track. Not by a lot, but were somehow hiking parallel to the trail for a while. The Advil did wonders for my feet and we covered some ground very quickly.

I can’t tell you when or where we passed Mayflower Spring, because there were no signs indicating such a place. Somewhere on our second day of hiking, shortly after leaving Double Springs, we finished Passage 29. I’m guessing the passages in this area were reconfigured at some point, but the ATA did not update their website. Chris’ AZT app didn’t show that as being the end of Passage 29, nor does the book. But the website, and hikeaz.com shows it as the end. Anyway, let’s say we finished Passage 29: Mormon Lake that morning.

 

Prepping

Gearing Up, Again

Improvements and Adjustments

I will be hiking another long portion of the AZT next week. I’m super excited and have been itching to get back on the trail. I haven’t done anymore passages like I had wanted since my initial start of the first four passages. I wanted to have done a passage every other weekend in between then and now. Like it happens to everybody, life got in the way. I’ve been going through some personal relationship stuff and addressing some car problems, which are always just so fun.

I did do a few hikes since Temporal Gulch. I hiked Mt. Baldy with my brother and some friends back in June, and took a day trip up to Kachina Trail a few weeks ago, which was a good thing I did. Kachina trail is very close to where we will be ending this portion of the AZT and it gave me a good idea of the terrain. It’s beautiful.

We, my friend Chris and I, will be starting at Passage 29: Mormon Lake and hiking through Passage 32: Elden Mountain, which ends at the base of The San Francisco Peaks Wilderness (also referred to as Kachina Peaks by the local Natives). I would have liked to continue where I left off at Passage 5 so I could go in order, but this has been a very hot summer, so we decided to go up north where it will be bearably cooler. I will hopefully get back down South in September or October.

The first four passages were a huge learning opportunity for me. When I started Passage 1, my pack weighed 41.6 lbs. I now have my pack down to 34.2. Still has room for improvement, but much better. I can now make better decisions on what I need and don’t need. I’m sure after this portion of miles I will reassess my supplies again.

I will be carrying less water this trip. Three liters instead of five or six. I needed to carry that amount last time because of the area and terrain, and I’m glad I did seeing as how I nearly ran out of water twice. There are about four dependable water sources just in Passage 29. we can refill, and we’re bringing extra empties just in case.

These passages we will be hiking are rated as easy and there elevation gains and drops are within 2000 feet. No drastic ascensions or descents. I think we will be able to hike through this fairly easily.

So, improvements. My last long hike, I really wished I had a GPS unit to pinpoint where I was and how to get back on track whenever I was lost, so that’s exactly what I got.

I haven’t put it to the test yet, but from what I’ve read about it, and who I’ve talked to about it, this will be a pretty good little tool to have while I’m out there. I mainly want to use it for questionable areas, or if I get off track again. I’m hoping this will also give me a better idea of how far I hike each day, and I can make better reference notes for when I write about the hike later. Of course, I’ll have a my maps. I took screen shots of these passages of the AZT so I’ll have those on my phone, but I also made sure to get an actual paper map.

I also got a new pack. This is an important change as I will be going from my external frame pack to a frameless pack. It’s the REI Mars 80 liter I got from my brother since he upgraded to a different pack as well. It’s about a pound heavier than my High Sierra, but already feels more comfortable and can hold a lot more. I’m sad to let go of my trusty frame pack because I have been on many adventures with it, but I’m looking forward to using this new one.

Another adjustment I made was with my camera case. The little case I have is almost the perfect size for my Nikon, but I had to either sling it around my neck or attach it to my belt on my pack. It was annoying and heavy around my neck, felt like it was pulling my head down, and it kept sliding to my crotch when I had it on the pack belt. I also had to remove the camera entirely every time I wanted to take the pack off and it became cumbersome.

This time around, I got a binocular harness from Cabela’s and hooked the ends of my little camera case to the harness clips. This keeps the camera secure in its case until I need it, keeps the weight centered at my chest, and the harness keeps the weight on my shoulders, not my neck. Most importantly, it is independent from my pack system. So I can take my pack off, but keep the camera attached to me. Again, haven’t put it to the test yet, but looking forward to trying out this method.

One thing I did not improve on which I really wanted to was a new camera lens. I would have liked to get a 55-200mm so I could zoom in on wildlife and just get better, scenic photos. But, that will just have to be acquired at another time.

I also got new socks recommended from my brother. Smart Wool Phds. I used them on my Mt. Baldy hike and they felt great. Not a single blister.

I learned a lot from the last passages I hiked. I’m sure I’ll run into new problems or issues on this stretch, but I feel I’m a little more prepared this time around. I’m looking forward to it.

The Arizona Trail

Passage 4: Temporal Gulch, Part 2

Town of Patagonia to Gardner Canyon Road Trailhead
21.8 Miles

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!

Walker Basin

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.

What the shit is this?

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.

Notice the branches across the path? I didn’t.

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.

Old mine shaft.

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.