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!