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

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