Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Mogollon Rim and Ensuing Roadwalks - AZT mile 463 to 583

In Pine Rachel and I got to meet Sirena who works for the AZTA, funny that I've now met their entire paid staff, her and Matt Nelson.  She took us to feed baby goats on our second day off, which was awesome.  Thanks Sirena!

We slept at the trailhead since B&B's cost money and sleeping on the ground generally doesn't.  Rachels feet were feeling better but not great.  Her shoes are too loose so if she tightens them too much they hurt the top of her foot but if not the heel rubs and she gets more blisters.  It's been a challenge to hike this far with so many foot problems but the plan is to get new shoes in Flaggstaff.

On our first day out of Pine, April 20th, we hiked the Highline Trail portion of the AZT - a 50 mile National Recreational Trail that the AZT follows for about 18 miles.  It had a lot of nice views of the Mogollon Rim (pronounced mog-e-on) as far as you could see in both directions.  We stopped after only 16 miles expecting a dry camp but finding lots of seasonal water running.
Still in flower country!

The next morning was the last of the highline and then a steep loose climb up to the rim.  The trail and the next five days were mostly road walks through open pinyon, ponderosa and juniper forest.  We saw many herds of elk, a herd of deer and some jack rabbits but mostly it was pretty bland hiking.  Definitely more wildlife than the rest of the trail though.  There was also a closed mile or two of trail near Morman Lake due to a prescribed burn.  Sort of eerie to be walking around it on forest roads while smoldering fires burn feet away.

The last two days were spent in a rain storm that occasionally turned to hail.  The water turned the clay tread into sticky mud that glopped onto your shoes, making them weigh 5 lbs until a giant chunk suddenly flew off and freed you.

Part of the Rim

Prescribed Burn near Morman Lake

om your sticky fate.  The temperatures stayed between freezing and 40 degrees, making for cold shitty hiking.  Fortunately we met Matt Roberts at the brewery in Pine who drunkenly offered to host us in Flagstaff so we weren't entirely sure how serious he was.  Matt is a trail steward for part of the Highline Passage and works for ACE - a trailbuilding nonprofit.  Not only volunteering but also working to build trails AND hosting dirty hikers!

Shit Weather approaching Flagstaff
We originally intended to do the long route around Flagstaff since its supposed to be more scenic, but the weather and Rachel's giant heel blister forced us onto the shorter route that goes directly to town.  I called Matt and he offered to pick us up at the Taco Bell near the trail - typical hiker trash hangout!

Matt and his wife Cass were incredibly generous hosts, picking our muddy stinky butts up and cooking us dinner at their beautiful straw bale home in a rural part of Flagstaff!  They even took us to REI and the grocery store.  The second night I cooked some Thai style noodles and stir fry for everyone.  We had a great time swapping stories and hanging out - thank you Cass and Matt!!

Not many photo's this time - mostly elk butts!

Mad as Hell in the Mazatazls and Section Hiking Friends - (Mile 300 to 463 - Superior to Pine)

We were warned of the Hachuchas, Rincon's and Santa Ritas but for some reason neglected to hear any our impending scratchy doom in the Mazatazls (pronounced like mad-as-hells with z's).  Leaving the tiny town of Superior was easy enough - a ride from a traveling chemical engineer familiar with the superstitions but nothing north of there.  We camped a mile or so beyond the highway due to Rachel's sore feet from the town pavement and the dimming light of dusk.

End of the Superstition Wilderness

The next morning we were startled by an angry rattlesnake on the flat approach to the start of Reavis Canyon.  There was plenty of water in the creeks and we climbed up and over some ridges to camp high up on Reavis saddle.  I was a ways ahead of Rachel and spent the extra time picking a protected campsite and gathering some firewood since I knew she'd be hurting and looking for a little boost.  Also, Pod and Gnar make campfires almost every night and kind of got me longing for the traditional camping experience when it isn't windy and there's already a fire ring.

April 10th was a nice hike in the forest to Reavis Ranch - some old ruins of a ranch with springs and creeks along the whole way.  We hiked out of the area and down towards Roosevelt Lake.  Just as we were leaving the Superstition Wilderness Rachel saw our first Gila monster of the trail! I was a little ways ahead and missed it, which was a bummer.  Just after the wilderness boundary the trail switched to some old washed out dirt roads that were incredibly steep and covered in walnut to peach sized pointy loose rocks!  I call them Arizona Slip-n-Slide's!  I could actually scree-ski some of them when the rocks weren't too big but Rachel had a tough time and took it slow.  We camped just past a beautiful riparian creek full of magically huge oak trees and stick bugs.

The next day was 5 miles on shitty rock strewn trail to the Roosevelt Lake Marina - a tiny store that takes packages literally floating on an artificial lake created by Roosevelt Dam. We even got a ride on a golf cart down the long gangplank to the store!  Our packages were all there so we dumped food into our bags, ate some snacks and got out of there in a few hours.  The big question of the day was whether the seasonal Buck's Creek in 10 miles would have water or not.  If dry, our next water would be almost 8 miles further. No one ahead of us has been updating the AZT water report (but I have and so has everyone behind...) so that was no help.  Instead, Rachel searched Sheriff Woody's incredibly detailed blog and found an entry from a few weeks ago saying there was a ton of water.  Still a risk so we took just enough to dry camp but not enough to comfortably get to the next source - a dry morning would not mean the end of us.

Roosevelt Lake!

Leaving the marina we took a short cut on the highway that removed a mile or two of trail  since the tread sucked and we had 6 days of food and 3 or 4 liters of water on our backs.  We rejoined the trail just past a huge bridge and the start of a steep rocky climb up to Inspiration Point - a popular day hiker destination.  We saw lots of them on their way down but none headed up.  This was fortunate since after inspiration point we saw our second Gila monster! These are incredibly rare to see in the wild so I waited for Rachel to catch up while the Gila "hid" in a bush.  She loves these things and wants one as a pet but I'm pretty sure it would bite/kill her since they are one of two poisonous lizards.
Gila Monster!

We continued climbing and had a beautiful ridge walk through the open grassy foothills of the Four Peaks wilderness until yet another steep and long climb to a still higher ridge that lead to Bucks Creek.  On the way up we met three day hikers, one of whom claimed the trail was dry all the way to the far water source.  At first I was alarmed but reminded myself that day hikers are generally not aware of things like water and pushed on.  I reached the creek ahead of Rachel and immediately found a slow clear flowing spring just downhill from the green grassy trail - you could literally smell the water!  When Rachel came around the bend I shouted "Hey - watch!" and dumped the water out of my bottle with a grin to sarcastically show that there was plenty of water at our campsite.  Not only that but there was a beautiful flat spot, although filled with spiders, just next to the stream.  I made a second campfire and we enjoyed a beautiful cowboy camp under the stars.

The next day continued our theme of steep rocky climbs but now with brushy overgrown trail! The views of the four peaks - four giant granite peaks on a huge treeless ridge - were worth it.  I tend to be mile focus on long resupply stretches like this, since doing too few miles early on leads to long days or hungry days at the end of the stretch.  I misread the map and was flustered thinking we only did 4 miles by 10 am when we really did 7 - oops.

We looped around the four peaks and enjoyed a little waterfall at Shake Spring, near the end of the passage.  We even scrambled up to see the source of the water and poke around the waterfall. We decided to fill up at the last water source in the passage - Pigeon Spring but it turned out to be a gross stagnant pool instead of the wonderfully clear streams the sources just a mile or two back were.  Damn!  To add insult to injury the route turned into an 11.5 mile long dirt road walk filled with jeeps and speeding ATV's that almost ran Rachel over.  There were some nice views though and we camped at an established site near dusk.  No fire tonight, too footsore and tired from the roadwalking.
Four Peaks!
The next morning we awoke to a fox eagerly checking our campsite out, he even came right up to Rachel looking for food.  The asshole off roaders must be feeding him so we chased him off.  We finished the roadwalk and descended on faint trail through open meadows and forest to Sycamore Creek, where we skinny dipped at a deep pool just downstream from the trail.  After our swim and sock cleaning party we crossed highway 87 for the first of many times to find the tread turning to a pot-marked dirt road from a couple of horse riders out for a ride when the trail was still muddy.  It sucked to walk on and made easy hiking a chore.  We kept following this crappy tread past numerous ranches and up into the start of the Mazatazls, losing the trail when it turned into a cow pond.  We somehow missed a turn that looped around the pond which wasn't listed on either of our maps.

We then descended into some washes but trail crews were in the process of replacing all the signs.  Nice new wooden posts were up with blank spots for the actual signs so we had to guess what junction was what based on mileage and cardinal directions.

The washes remove most signs of the trail tread every winter due to annual flooding so we had to keep our eyes peeled for small cairns marking where to go.  We missed one and backtracked to the trail which turned into a clean bedrock wash - no tread and no AZT markings, something the trail has never done before.  I had to check the GPS on my phone to verify this was actually the trail!  We learned later numerous hikers before us got lost there and followed flagging for a reroute that will be completed in a month or two but were SOL when the flagging ended.

The bedrock wash climbed steeply up to a ridge, then steeply descended to the Mt. Peely trail head which suddenly transformed the trail into beautifully manicured switchbacks! We enjoyed the climb up to the side of the mountain in soaring ponderosa pines (and the soft needle strewn tread) as well as the long ridge walk that ensued.  Yet again I was a little ways ahead of Rachel when a giant burst of brown spotted wings exploded from the trail feet ahead of me!  An endangered  Mexican Spotted Owl had been snoozing on the side of the trail and flew to a perch on a burned tree! The trail did a U around the tree with the far side getting within 15 feet of the owl so I snapped some photo's and waited anxiously for Rachel to show up, hoping the owl would stick around.  She sat on her perch, head turned 180 degrees around to stare at me, only looking away when she heard Rachel's approach a good 5 minutes before her arrival.  We hung with the owl for a while and slowly walked the trail around, taking photos as we went and leaving her in peace.

Endangered Mexican Spotted Owl

The ridge walk continued but the trail soon became overgrown again and we fought the brush as a windstorm leading a cold front blew in, easily gusting to 50 mph.   I tried to set up the tarp but the ground was rotting shale - impossible to put stakes in and there weren't enough rocks to use in that much wind.  We ended up cowboy camping in the bushes for a windy and cold night out but with epic views of the enormous Mount Mazatazl right in front of us.

The next day the trail was constantly overgrown and rocky, it torn up my legs pretty good and made for slow going.  The views were plain and we pushed through it, ending the day in another steep and loose rock filled descent.  Instead of the usual solitude I heard voices and we ended up camping with two other thru-hikers - Jen and Ash - two women who told us about their lives as traveling van-dwellers while I made a camp fire. The work when they need to as seasonal employees or for Amazon during the holidays and spend the rest of the year travelling and seeing new outdoorsy places, totally independent in their van - a very appealing lifestyle to Rachel and I. They were going to stay at LF Ranch the following night, just 7 miles away so we would be passing them on the way to Pine.  We didn't know much about the ranch but found out you needed to call in advance to get $15 meals or a $20 bunk - not bad after all the overgrown and rocky trail in this last chunk.

Leaving the Matazals
The next morning was a long descent to LF Ranch and our fording of the East Verde River - Arizon's only designated Wild and Scenic River.  It was about calf deep and there was an awesome spring a mile uphill from the river.  The ranch was an eclectic collection of junk, rotting buildings and peacocks.  The owner was out working on her backhoe so we didn't bother her since we didn't plan on staying or eating.

The trail turned into still another steep, loose and rock filled climb up to White Rock Mesa.  We suddenly popped out from the climb and oak tree filled river valley to an open green grassy mesa with rounded juniper trees spread out every fifty or hundred feet.  Very startling!  The white volcanic rocks had smooth holes in them from gases released during their cooling a million years ago, making them look like shattered bones.  We continued up past this Mesa and then up another rocky climb to Hardscrabble Mesa with more junipers and the ground covered in their berries.  I met a hunter along the way out scouting for his elk permit in September.  We had some confusion and ended up camping past out last water source of the day, so I had to run back a most of a mile and grab water for us the next morning.

April 17th, our last day of this section meant lots more road walking.  The roads did a triangle so we bushwacked  the hypotenuse to cut off half a mile or so.  A little ways later we could see two tiny figures way off in the distance on the straight road following a powerline.  I noticed one of their footprints were almost identical to mine!  Odd since these Altra Lone Peak shoes are a little rare and usually only used by crazy thru-hikers.  We steadily caught them - they turned out to be Pam and Jamie, two section hikers from the Phoenix area.  Pam has even read my blog!

We had a great time chatting away the road walk and ensuing trail.  They even fed us their extra food! This was awesome since we were each down to a handful of snacks and stuck rationing them against our hunger on the 14 miles to town.  The other great thing about meeting section hikers is they have cars!  They were both insistent on ferrying us and the really fast thru-hiker that caught us, Birdfood, around town until all our chores were done and we had a place to stay.  It was so amazing and really made Pine easier since there are not a lot of good options for lodging.  They even picked us up and took us to the towns new brewery for dinner! Thank you Pam and Jamie!  Also sorry I fainted on the way to the bathroom, I think it was the beer + a bit of dehydration.

Rachel and I ended up staying at the Beeline B&B where the owner Patrick slowly warmed up to us.  He seemed gruff and offput by two stinky hikers but I think we gave him and his husband a great impression, especially since he had no guests our first night and his husband Bob drove us to Payson for resupply and the local outdoors store.

I tried to upload photo's at hte Pine library but had a kerfuffel using a new site so nothing got uploaded.

Here's the photo's from the last post.
Here's the photo's from this section - Pine to Superior.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Smell of Death and a Change of Plans - AZT Oracle to Superior (mile 200 to 300 Passages 14 to 19)

April 4th, after our zero day with Pod and Gnar, Marneys husband Jim (?) drove us to the trailhead and met us 8 miles later with our food bags and water for the rest of the day.  This was a fairly uninteresting section so it was great having two new hikers to chat with as we hiked.  The ground was littered with wild flowers of all types and the cacti were starting to flower which was a nice plus.  They also kept our pace a bit higher and Pod is an entomologist so we kept asking her bug and plant questions.  During the day the soon to be winner of the AZT 300 mountain bike race passed us and stopped for a chat, seemed like a nice guy for having just pedaled over 200 miles in 28 hours without sleeping!

We decided to shoot for a campsite 12 miles past where we got our food and water, making Rachels first 20 mile day!  We camped near a steel water tank full of fish just off trail with a campfire made by Pod and Gnar surrounded by old cow pies.

Our second day out made Rachel's first 26 mile day!  We decided to push on after the Freeman Road water cache to the broken windmill the other AZT/GET/CDT thru-hiker told us about.  Pod and Gnar had gotten ahead and waited for an hour for us to catch up at the cache so we ended up night hiking to the windmill.  It was hard to find since we had to come off trail on a dirt road in the dark surrounded by low mesquite trees.  I stumbled around in the brush when we were close and came across a recently dead cow carcass, probably from drinking from the water tank which had bloated a dead squirrel in it.  Fortunately the windmill let us access the well it pulled water from so Gnar and I lowered cooking pots 20 feet down on string to get clear groundwater.  We camped a ways down from the cow but each time the cold wind blew from that direction in brought the stench of death.  The wind seemed to alternate with a warm wind from the other side that brought back the normal desert smell of dust and pollen.

Our third day out from Oracle with Pod and Gnar brought more low desert flowers and some small climbs.  The plan up until now was to separate from Rachel after the next town but I offered to continue on the AZT with her if she would do the CDT with me!  So I now cut out the Grand Enchantment Trail and will continue up to the end of the AZT!  Thru-hikes are never what you expect and this is a perfect example.  To me it was either hike slower with an awesome partner or go solo into the abyss.  I decided I liked hiking with Rachel too much to abandon her, instead of obsessively going after a huge hike.  I think hiking with another far more experienced couple cinched it for me, since Pod and Gnar seemed to get along so well.  I called my folks and had them reroute a resupply box to Roosevelt Lake Marina to match Rachel's resupply plan and it was set.
Desert Flowers

We trucked on through to the cache at the Kelvin Bridge Trailhead (a mile uphill from the bridge) and ordered pizza to be delivered to the bridge!  We met the delivery woman at the bridge and ate the first of our two pizza's.  A bunch of AZT 750 mountain bikers caught up and decided to do the same thing!  I carried our pizza over the railroad tracks to a nice campsite down by the Gila River and yet another fire by Pod and Gnar.  We could hear a bridge popping and creaking at night and I explained it was the thermal contraction of the bridge cooling overcoming friction in the joints.  We also had another science experiment when no one believed me that a plastic bag full of water will not burn in a campfire.  I tried to take bets but must have sounded too confident...
Desert sunset

The fourth day out brought a shortcut I planned to take from the beginning on the Grand Enchantment Trail which used to be the old AZT, now rerouted to follow the Gila River further west.  This would cut 8 miles and cut a 22 mile dry stretch to 15 miles.  Unfortunately our luck with short cuts continued as I mistakenly told the rest of the group it was 3.5 miles to the dry wash where we leave the AZT, in reality it was 6. I was a little ways ahead and Pod and Gnar stopped at the first wash, adamant I had missed it and then they left the AZT early!  Rachel disagreed, hiked on another mile or two to where I was and told me our friends were now wandering in the desert, lost, with terrible maps and only a liter or two of water!  We were worried but there was no way I could catch them by back tracking so we hiked on and hoped the CDT veterans would be alright.

We came across what seemed like the right wash but it ended in a cliff, instead of continuing as a dirt road like the map said.  Instead we took Walnut Canyon - a soft gravel road that made for super slow going as we entered a draw that slowly turned into a narrow slot canyon!  We were out of water and the lack of wind made for a hot day so the giant pools of water in the canyon were a welcome sight.  Past the end of the canyon we ran into a famous female hiker doing the GET - NotAChance
Walnut Canyon

We got turned around but made it to the water source on the old AZT around 3:30 only to find a note from Pod and Gnar! They had made it there two hours before us!  We were pretty sure this was the last we would see of them since we could only make 4 more miles that day on the incredibly steep and rocky old AZT/GET.  Still, the views of the White Canyon wilderness at dusk were absolutely stunning - the best of the trip!  We camped up on the ridge just as it got dark and made our way to Superior the next day for a quick resupply and then back on the trail to get our boxes at Roosevelt Lake in 43 miles.

Photos are HERE!

White Canyon Wilderness

White Canyon Wilderness

Big Climbs and Great Views - AZT Colossal Cave to Oracle (Passages 7 to 12, mile ~100 to 200)

So I finally got to a computer in town and am updating the damn blog already!

I left off at Colossal Cave - which we never got a chance to tour but it's probably like most caves.  It was either miss lunch or catch the next cave tour since the cave was 2 miles away from lunch! We hitched a ride by standing on the side rails of a jeep on the way down, so that was fun. There was an AZT Association event on 3/28 so we got to meet the famous Matt Nelson in person who is even friendlier in person than over email. The trail days event was mostly a meet-n-greet with various trail organizations including a local raptor trust showing off a tiny elf owl! The woman said she weighed the same as 10 pennies! 

The event included a Greek dinner from one of the local trail stewards who owns a Greek restaurant at the campground about 3 miles down trail.  Rather than actually hike it, we left our packs at the campground, got a ride with one of the AZTA folks back and hiked with just a water bottle back to the camp.  After the awesome dinner and some beer we hit the trail in the dark to get closer to the Rincon mountains - a 5,000 foot climb up to 9,400 foot Mt. Mica right in Saguaro National Park.  Mountain bikers at the trail event told us the next creek was flowing so we didn't have to carry much water - a huge bonus at the start of a 6 day section! 

During the night hike little flickers of light were scattered all over the trail - the eyes of dozens of spiders!  I even spotted a huge tarantula before it skittered away into its hole!  Rachel was not happy about this...

We made camp two miles from the creek in a nice sandy wash, talked to some locals out for a quick dawn hike and hit the trail early.  The climb was long and hot but there was water flowing at every possible source so we stayed hydrated. This also meant lots of annoying gnats! The Saguaro forest started well before the park boundary and we were quickly surrounded by telephone pole sized verdant cacti with none to dozens of huge twisted arms among millions of tiny yellow and purple wild flowers.

We finally reached Manning Camp 18 miles later just as the sun was setting.  The campsites were scattered and hard to find but we got to a nice one and settled in for the night with my tarp as a wind break.  The next morning I made a small fire and sent Rachel for water but gave her bad directions and she wounded up going half a mile down trail to the last water source instead of 100 yards to the giant roaring spring near the camp.  That does not make a happy girlfriend, especially when the fire burned out by the time she got back!

 Later that morning we summited Mt. Mica (2 tenths of trail) and headed down down down a steep rocky descent back into the low desert full of jumping choya and prickly pear cactus.  Rachel is slow on the descents so I had to wait a half hour every hour I hiked and my patience was wearing a bit thin...  We camped just past "The Lake" a cesspool of a cow pond that night and I had to get 2 liters from it.  Not too bad after filtering but its hard to rehydrate when you know what you're drinking! The two mosquito's buzzing around my face that night didn't help either.

View from the back side of Mt. Mica

Looking down the descent from Mt. Mica

The next day, April fools day, we made a wrong turn immediately after a creek and went up a dirt road to a ranch.  We realized our mistake in 3/4 of a mile but I saw a rattlesnake on the way back! I almost jumped out of my shorts when I heard that rattle!  We kept hiking over some 1,000 foot climbs and descended to a USFS campground where supposedly the host would give us water from the forest service. That was not the case as the host made a big fuss about it and claimed there was no water in the area, despite the large pools of clear water 20 yards past his trailer... We filled up and headed up through an old Japanese internment camp but there was little information about it on the trail.  As the sun fell we descended into the Pusch Ridge Wilderness in the Santa Catalina Mountains - absolutely stunning cliffs of white banded gneiss and granite shone in a brilliant orange and pink dusk display.  We didn't make it as far as originally planned due to the steep descent but camped in some tall grass recently depressed by a small herd of mule deer.  It felt so natural to lay in the same spot as wild animals had the night before. 

Pusch Ridge Wilderness

The next morning we made it to Hutch's Pool  - an Olympic sized swimming pool of ice cold water in the Sonoran desert!  I swam but it was too cold for Rachel.  It would have been a nice spot to camp but was kind of over used - I preferred to sleep after the deer.  The hiking was pleasant in the shaded riparian oak trees until we started climbing out of the canyon.

Hutch's Pool

We climbed over several ridges that day and up the insanely steep, loose and rocky Mt. Lemmon trail to the Wilderness of the Rocks near Summerhaven - a rich peoples summer house community with a tiny grocery store and pizza place on the slopes of Mount Lemmon.  We were extra motivated for pizza and pushing hard to get there before the restaurant closed at 5:00.  To cut off some road walking we decided to take a side trail directly into town instead of the AZT to the road and then 1.5 miles up the road to the pizza place.  Unfortunately this started off a series of badly chosen short cuts as the trail was through a recent burn area, covered in blown down trees, narrow or washed out trail and probably cost us more time than it saved.  I ran off ahead of Rachel and made it to the Pizza place at 4:32.  Too bad they shut off the ovens at 4:30 and there was no pizza for us...

We got some snacks at the store then wandered around town looking for somewhere to sleep.  I asked the local fire station when we stopped in for water and they pointed us just down the trail to some camp spots off the road.  The wind was insane since we were at the top of Oracle Ridge - it turned my tarp into a sail and blew sand into our faces all night but we were too tired and foot sore to go any further (not that there were any decent campsites on Oracle Ridge anyway). 

Start of Oracle Ridge - half road, half over grown trail

The next day we were tired and cranky but had only 14 miles to the town of Oracle and the incredibly hiker friendly Chalet Village motel.  We reserved a room the night before and made it down the over grown, steep and rocky descent. One of the owners, Marney, picked us up at the trailhead minutes after we got there and swept us away into an awesome little A-framed motel room.  We learned some other thru-hikers came in an hour or two after us but didn't meet them until the next morning when we all went for Mexican breakfast.  The local place made burritos the size of a small child for like $6!  Marney and her husband were so friendly, they gave us a discounted room and the other thru's (Pod and Gnar) their big RV to sleep in since the motel was full!  We spent our second zero day of the trip watching bad movies and hanging out with Pod and Gnar.  We had a panic about the water situation for the next 100 miles - Marney got a text saying there was a 40 mile dry stretch.  Fortunately my maps had more information and a fifth thru-hiker also heading up to the Grand Enchantment and Continental Divide Trails (guess I'm not so original...) told us about a broken windmill with water in the well.  Two public water caches would also make it easier and our longest dry stretch would only be about 15 miles.

Pod + Gnar in the RV

Marney + Jim

Our humble abode!