Friday, March 27, 2015

The Social Trail - AZT Passages 4 through 7 (mile 117)

Update - all the photos from Passages 1 through 3 are up!  The photos from this post are below and currently uploading!

I'm sitting in Mike's kitchen typing this up - the same Mike that drove Rachel (officially Heart Breaker now) and I to the border!  He and his wife Judy are hosting us for a zero day!

Picking up where I left off, we spent the night in the hotel in Patagonia and hung around town most of the next day; I ate two slices of strawberry rhubarb pie in the park after an omelet breakfast at the local coffee shop.  As we were getting ready to go, we stepped inside the visitor center to see Glide On from the early days of my PCT hike!  He's getting ready for his own AZT hike and was dropping resupply boxes off by hand in all the trail towns. It was fun reminiscing for an hour or two and drinking a beer on the tailgate of his truck/home.  We shoved off around 5 pm and hiked 3 miles out of town on a dirt road to the national forest boundary.  That way we could camp for free on a ridge top under clear night skies - Heart Breakers official first cowboy camp!  As the sky darkened we heard the stuttering howl of almost too close for comfort coyotes.  They quieted down since it was a new moon and we could just make out the milky way between satellite passes and the odd shooting star.

View leaving Patagonia

The next day we kept walking the road into Temporal Gulch - a long canyon extending from Mt. Wrightson.  Mid-morning we ran into Rambling Hemlock, Beekeeper and Farwalker - three women doing a southbound section hike from Superior to the border.  I had read some of Rambling Hemlocks PCT blog last year and when I introduced me she said "oh YOU'RE the uncalcalcuted life" which was a first, must be getting famous, ha! We parted ways and kept the road walking for another 8 miles, getting passed by the odd bear hunter and various other pickup/jeep drivers.  The views in the canyon were interesting, including a quick look inside an old mine shaft that wasn't boarded up.  We didn't go in very far because of all the buzzing bees about 30 feet in.

The gravelly road climbed steeply up into the gulch and ended at the Walker trailhead, where an even steeper trail rose 1.1 miles and nearly 1,000 feet up.  At the top we detoured from the AZT to set ourselves up for a hike up Mt. Wrightson.  The trail we took was incredible - deep canyons carved out from the ridge filled with old burn and new growth.  That night we set up camp in some trees near the base of the climb to cut down on the wind.

The next morning we started the 4 mile hike up Wrightson from 7,000 to 9,400 feet.  Not long after starting a tall guy strode past me.  I'm no slouch and don't usually get passed like that, so I was a little surprised.  We talked quickly in passing but kept on trucking up to dry Baldy Spring where Rachel and I were expecting water.  I was almost out and we still had another 800 feet up to go, so I doubled back a quarter mile to a seep I noticed in the last canyon to fill up.  Rachel went on and beat me to the top but on my way up I stopped to talk with the speedy stranger on his way down.  Turned out to be a 2014 PCT hiker - Guthrie!  He hiked with Carrot Quinn a bunch so it was funny to meet him.

Top of Wrightson!

The summit views were fantastic and we passed through more new growth on the way up - something you rarely see in burn areas.  I think the summer monsoon season must help with fire regeneration, maybe you should try that California?  It was also busy on top, apparently the opposite side of the mountain is close to Tucson and a popular day hike.

We hiked back down, picked up our food from where we left it and connected back to the AZT on some forest roads - one of which had a baby rattle snake!  The trail now followed the path of an old hydraulic gold mining operation gone busy back in the 1900's.  Some rich guy built a series of tunnels and pipes to collect water coming off Mt. Wrightson to blast away dirt and gravel in Boston Gulch - 12 miles away.  That night we camped a few miles from Kentucky Camp - the HQ of the whole operation now restored by the USFS.

When we hit Kentucky Camp the caretaker let us know there were four (!) AZT hikers right ahead of us!  The two veterans we met in Patagonia and two newbie long distance hikers who were looking a bit rough.  Six hikers within a few miles of each other - we're officially the herd!  There are 10 to 15 AZT thru-hikers a year so this is pretty friggin huge.

The hiking after the camp was a lot of long beautiful ridge walks, sometimes on roads and sometimes on trails.  It was really enjoyable but getting low and dry.  We ran into the two newbie through hikers taking a seista that afternoon, they seemed nice but slightly overwhelmed.  Our next water source - a tank listed on the water report as unreliable but had an electric connection to a pump and was totally full when we got there, not sure what the deal is with that.  We caught up to the vet's and a few minutes after they left we saw the other two hiker caught up.

Southern AZ ridgewalking

That night we ended up looking for water in Schoefield Canyon - a dry wash at first that turned out to have pools of clear water behind a lush green little desert forest.  As we got camp chores done a hummingbird blitzed right between our heads - vvvvooommmf.  Turns out her nest was 15 feet away in a mesquite bush - a tiny fluff ball of grass and feathers.

The next days hiking was hot but full of tiny white, purple and yellow flowers, literally everywhere! Parts of the trail were buzzing for most of a mile because of all the bees!  Even some barrel cactus's have little bright yellow fruit on them (not edible sadly).  We entered a totally new ecology here, full of tall spiny Octillo, barrel cactus and even telephone pole tall Saguaro's!  The water situation was iffy for the first time on the trail so far; we got water from two "tanks" or man made dirt ponds surrounded by cow pies 8 miles apart.  Much easier than the 20 mile dry stretches on the PCT.  We ended up camping near one - duck tank - which was littered with shotgun shells as well as cow pies!

Yesterday we hiked the last 10 miles to Colossal Cave park where Mike has graciously picked us up and hosted us for a zero! We'll hang out here today and hit up the AZT festival tomorrow, hike out 5 or 10 miles in the late afternoon/evening camp just outside the park boundaries and then camp in Saugaro National park at Manning Camp - over 8,000 feet again!

Pictures are here!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Cold and Wet on the AZT (Passages 1 through 3)

If you like this post - check out my fundraiser to support the AZT, CDT and Te Araroa!

After a lot of last minute packing and my amazing Mom's help sewing the finishing touches on my quilt and umbrella-bug net, Rachel and I were ready to go.  We spent our last night on the east coast in D.C. with her family, out for dinner at a great BBQ place and a hockey game. We got back late, hit the sack and my amazing Dad woke up early to drive us to the airport at 5 am.  We almost missed boarding the plane because they now board 45 minutes earlier than departure instead of 30 minutes, sort of makes that departure time concept more and more arbitrary... 

The plane took us first to Minneapolis, then a long diagonal down to Tucson.  I noticed we cut an oblique angle to the snow covered Continental Divide in Colorado and the path I'll eventually hike.  I tried looking for the west and middle forks of the Gila River but it would be easy to mix them up with the spaghetti pile of rivers and canyons in New Mexico.

Our packs made it through to Tucson and Mike - yet another amazing person - a friend of PCT friend Cinco who you may remember from my blog posts in Oregon and Washington, picked us up at the airport to start the 2 hour drive to Montezuma Pass - the closest (dirt) road to the AZT southern terminus on the Mexican border.  We had some excellent Mexican food served from the insides of a former gas station on the way down, filled up 4 liters of water and pulled up to the pass around 4 pm.  The views on the way were stark contrasts to the multiple feet of snow still precipitously piled in Boston, the endless horse farms and suburbs of my parents house and the circular confines of air travel. It was also fun to reminisce about the PCT with Mike since we both hiked in 2013 but probably stayed less than a week apart the whole trail.  He finished September 17th and started April 22nd (I think) and I finished September 20th and started May 2nd!

Anyhow, Rachel and I were excited to get going on the 1.6 mile downhill hike to the border from Montezuma Pass and rushed to arrange our packs and get hiking before we lost more daylight.  We said our goodbyes and hit the trail, passing border patrol agents hidden away in some kind of giant seeing eye trailer.  The trail down to the border was steep and rocky but the views were excellent.  I always find our countries borders amusing since they're so debated but in reality just a barbed wire fence.  We turned around to officially start the AZT at 5 pm, with 4,000 feet of elevation gain ahead of us and 8 miles before the first water source - a bathtub. 

We slogged uphill lugging 5 days of food and 4+ liters of water for two more hours, making it to around mile 4 before calling it a night and setting up my square cuben fiber tarp on a windy ridge.  After dinner and just as we were settling into the first night we heard huffing and puffing and saw a headlamp. Was it a border patrol agent that had seen our lights in the dark from the valley below, or an immigrant from Mexico making a break for it?  

Turned out to be our first thru-hiker!  Mr. Furious (PCT 2011, 1000 CDT miles last year) had started an hour after us and was planning on getting to the next town in half our allotted time.  He settled in down the ridge from us and we got to talking the next morning.  Rachel and I slept in and were still eating breakfast when he was leaving, don't think we'll see him again. 

The next days hike was beautiful, the scenery is totally different from the PCT.  Huge open views of Arizona's Sky Islands - small mountain ranges separated by arroyo's, doughy folds in the earth, and vast desert planes rise up again and again far into the distance. The view into Mexico is even more stunning and the lack of city lights is a stark contrast at night.  We got to our first water source - a spring fed bathtub the next morning after passing trash left by migrants or filthy hikers and after taking a side trip up to Mt. Miller at about 9400 feet.  This is the first of several "optional" peaks that seem silly to skip.  We were both feeling the elevation but only as a loss of breath and no signs of acute mountain sickness. Rachel already had blisters on her heels!

We kept moving, another 8 miles that day past the tub and through the Mt. Miller Wilderness down into a shallow canyon on dirt roads.  There was plenty of water, even in unlisted sources.  The source we stopped near, called a seasonal pool, was a running creek!  Just as we made camp early, around 4 pm, the sky clouded over.  I debated setting up the tarp, reminiscing about cowboy camping on the PCT, but got over it when I felt a drop.  A good thing too since it poured for a few minutes before quieting down.  We spent the afternoon trying different solutions for Rachel's blisters and figuring out why her knees were hurting. 

The next day we hiked on and off single track and old washboard dirt roads.  The rain would start, putter out and then start up again.  Still, the views were stunning and made more interesting by the cascades of rain off in the distance.  We finished Passage 1 (there are 43 passages on the AZT) and started Passage 2 - the Canelo Hills East.  Each passage has a kind of notable feature, this and the next are the arroyo's - hills and steep valleys that gather water.  We would hike up and down them in and out of the drizzle all day.  Towards the end of the day it really poured and my umbrella got some good use but I left my wind breaker on the outside of my pack where it got drenched.  Rachel's rain jacket (no umbrella for her...yet)  soaked through and she started to shiver.  I was starting to shiver too and knew it was silly to keep hiking.

We set up camp at the first break in the rain in an area littered with now wet cow pies.  There have been a lot on the trail but only a handful of cattle.  We had plenty of water from a running stream in the last canyon and as soon as we got in our shelters the sky opened up and stayed open until around midnight.  

The next day we kept on pushing through on and off showers with wet feet.  The trail was a mix of rocky single track, muddy dirt roads and dirt roads covered in jagged rocks.  As soon as we though the sun would come out and we could dry our socks and tarps the drizzle would start again, sometimes with thunder.  Again in the afternoon it started to pour but we huddled together under my umbrella instead of hiking and getting soaked again.  This was not the Arizona I was expecting!

Once the rain slacked off we hit the trail again with even better views of distant mountains an plains.  Towards the end of the day we entered a narrow canyon, listed as having a spring 0.1 miles west but overflowing with water.  A few tenths of a mile later the stream disappeared into the sand and we made a poor choice to camp at the end of the canyon where it was windy, cold and full of condensation.  Hindsight is 20/20.

Today we made the last 8 miles to Patagonia (Arizona - not South America) in the warm sun, hung out in town and got our first hotel room.  We'll probably take all or most of tomorrow off and start the climb up Mt. Wrightson in Passage 4 on Sunday.  Better to rest and let blisters heel (I have two hot spots from wet feet) than push hard too early.

I know you're all wanting photos but rather than spend hours trying to fiddle with this blog to upload them I'll just be posting links to my google drive with each post and you all can check them out!  I'm playing with the HDR setting on my camera as well so there are multiples of a lot of shots.  Also it's Friday night and the upload speed at the hotel is really slow, so they won't all be there until Saturday afternoon (3/21).   I'll set a few up on the facebook eventually too but they get really compressed on there, this way you'll get them in their full glory.

Check out the photos on my google drive here!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Packed and Ready

After a small gathering of close friends, I went to work packing my Honda civic to the gills with almost all of my possessions and three remaining bikes on the roof rack.  Pam supplied incredible blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes and after breakfast helped load up the car with Rachel and I.  Around one pm I was finally ready to go so we said our goodbyes and I shoved off to my grandmothers house in Connecticut. You'd think I would be better at them by now but goodbye still feels kind of hollow. I spent the rest of the weekend with Grandma, weathering a new 6 inches of fresh snow. The piles in Connecticut paled in comparison to the confounding heaps in Boston, piled to the point of urban avalanches and tunneled out by cabin fevered hipsters.

The snow chases me to Connecticut
That snow Sunday night that delayed my Aunt and Uncle from visiting, which was a shame since they're definitely the most excited for my trip and the most adventurous in my family. We settled on brunch with Laura the following morning made from eggs anonymously donated by some of their 18 chickens and rescheduled dinner for the following week when I returned to Boston to get the fifteen or so stitches removed from my mouth.

That reminds me, three weeks before I quit I went in for a tooth cleaning.  My gums have always been receding thanks to an over enthusiastic childhood brushing habit but finally reached the point where I was risking the loss of three of my teeth if drastic action wasn't taken.  I scrambled to find a periodontist that could see me and perform the gum graft to slice and stitch gum over my exposed tooth dentin in the next three weeks.  Fortunately I found a good one and was able to get them stitched several hours before I gave a slideshow for the AMC on my Pacific Crest Trail hike.  The Novocain wore off about half an hour before I had to actually speak.

The actual surgery was a relatively painless but grim affair.  They numbed me up just enough so I would be able to give my presentation that evening but not feel much of the actual cutting and dicing.  Still, I watched the needle and thread make endless passes between my gums while an assistant vacuumed a mix of blood and spit from my mouth.  It took about two hours and I often closed my eyes, recalled hiking up Forester Pass, waking up to humming birds and falling asleep to coyotes. 

Back to two weeks ago, my time at Grandma's was nice although I can only turn down offers for muffins so many times.  I had a great lunch and REI trip with my Aunt Suzanne, she took us to this incredible Peruvian (?) restaurant where I had the best hot chocolate of my life! They bought me this awesome leatherman micra knife that I couldn't justify buying again and a sweet sleeping shirt with a hood. Thanks Sue and Grandma!

Monday morning I made my escape and finished the drive to my folks' house in Maryland.  There I unloaded the car and three bikes and began to take stock of the piles of food and gear I ordered and shipped to my parents house over the last six months - just in time for another snow storm!

Shoes, food and random stuff waiting for me.

I originally planned 18 locations to send food and other supplies to myself by mail to but trimmed that down to 16 or about 65 days of food.  I had a ton of awesome home dehydrated food sent to me by my friend Pat Grim and a bunch of extra store bought meals from my cousin Stephen in addition to another case and couple of large tins of Mountain House bought at huge discounts around thanksgiving.  I got a case of unfrosted poptarts online alone with a case of soba noodles and coconut milk powder.  That left a lot of lunches, snacks, breakfasts and dinners to get.  A trip to Costco, two trips to Trader Joe's and I had my food.

Next up was repackaging, separating and organizing the food into the boxes.  One trip to the post office quickly followed by a second when I realized I should have gotten some large flat rate boxes instead of all mediums.  

For this trip I'll be using an alcohol burning stove that can burn Esbit/solid fuel on the lid of the stove.  The esbit takes longer to boil water but only weighs half an ounce per 16 ounce boil and gives another 3 or 4 minutes of boiling time.  It also makes shipping easier since I don't need a container for the alcohol for each box.  I'll be bringing a cleaned out screw top sorbet container to cold soak ramen and couscous for lunch or if it's too hot to cook for dinner.
AZT and GET boxes
CDT boxes
I also had to sort, separate and add all the maps and guides to the boxes.  Yogi and Worldwide were awesome enough to send me a free set of Ley maps for the CDT.  I contributed to the 2015 PCT guide but they're generally just really great people if you talk with them on a personal level and ignore all of the PCT facebook drama.  Worldwide also helped me with the Tapon Teton Route by providing suggestions on where to go in Yellowstone. The Ley maps are ordered North to South which made sorting them into South to North heading boxes kind of a brain twister. 

The whole process took me about three solid days.  I honestly don't know how people do this for an entire trail, what a pain in the ass! I'm sure I will appreciate all this when I roll into a town, dump the contents of the box into my food bag and roll out but it took a lot of time and effort.  This was on top of the other life pause button tasks like cancelling car insurance, signing up for MassHealth and doing my taxes!

All of this time I still wanted to spend some time with my folks since I won't see them for 6 months.  My Dad and I spent the day in D.C. visiting the National Museum of the American Indian.  It's a pretty amazing museum - you really can't appreciate the incredible number of first nations all with unique culture, art and music without a visit.

Sunday my folks wanted to see the flower show in Philadelphia and I wanted to get some slushy mountain biking in with my friend Cat.  We could barely stay on our bikes for the first hour or two, except on hills where the soft snow didn't give enough grip to pedal up.  By the time we turned around the snow had softened even more and riding was impossible.  It was still a good time and I got a brief visit a few more friends before my time crunched parents took me back.

Monday I spent finishing off the boxes and dehydrating some pasta sauce.  Tuesday was the start of my return to Boston and the 4.5 hour drive up to Connecticut for a second visit with Grandma and excellent dinner with aunt Laura and uncle John.  It's actually been great seeing my aunts and uncles and grandma outside the usual chaos of the holidays where everyone is bunched together. Normally it's one or two big conversations and you don't get to focus on a few people for long or it's too distracting to focus.

Wednesday meant another 3 hour drive to Boston to pick up the last of my possessions from my old apartment, one last walk around still frozen Jamaica Pond and the drive up to Rachel's parents' house for her going away party.  I noticed the snow is now about 2 feet lower than its peak just below the 5 foot tall fence in my old backyard before finally meeting her parents prior to kidnapping their daughter for at least a month and got to meet some of her friends!  Her Dad actually reminds me of my Dad, I think they would make great nerdy Dad-friends if they ever met.  Sadly her paternal grandfather died the previous week and the funeral was this (Friday) morning.  Her folks left early to beat traffic while Rachel and I slept in to make my 12:00 dentist appointment to get all the thread in my gums removed which took all of 5 minutes.  We then made the 8+ hour drive down to Maryland again with a quick stop at Grandma's for tea and snacks.

I dropped Rachel off at her grandfathers funeral this morning; it didn't seem appropriate for me to go since I just met her parents, didn't know her grandfather and was basically kidnapping their daughter. I've spent the day unpacking the last of my stuff, cutting up the AZT guidebook and arranging gear (along with writing this insanely long post).

Anywho, the plan is to fly to Tucson on Monday, get picked up by a fellow PCT hiker friend and dropped off at the trail around 2 or 3 pm.  Hopefully that leaves enough time to hike a mile to the border monument plus another six miles to the first campsite. The first day starts at over 6,000 feet and rises to just over 9,000 feet - after dropping down to 5,000 feet to the border!  We're taking it slow though and budgeting 5 days for the first 52 miles.  If we time it right, we'll hit our second town stop in time to catch an AZTA event at Colossal Cave!

I want to keep trail phone use to a minimum so I'm not willing to type out blog entries from the trail with a little keyboard like a lot of other hikers. That means I don't really have a good way of posting photo's and long updates without a real computer, but hopefully I can do some quick updates from my phone between library stops.  This time I'm keeping a little paper journal so I'll take notes on that to make the library updates more coherent.  I also have an SD card that can emit a wifi signal to upload photos to my phone.  From there I can upload to facebook or my google drive so look for those as well.