Arizona Trail – Passage 9 – NOBO SOBO Meet & Greet

Dates Hiked: March 14-15, 2015 (Days 12-13)
Direction: Southbound
Passage 9: Rincon Mountains (including Saguaro National Park)
-Italian Trap to Hope Camp
-Miles: 21.6
-Elevation: Low Point 3,130′, High Point 8,601′

Direction of Travel: Right to Left (Southbound)

Climbing is not my strong suit. I have asthma, exacerbated by exercise and altitude. My legs are strong, as someone recently said I have bikers legs, but even with my wonder-drug inhaler, I suffer. Joan floats up the climbs, she loves climbing, she float walks, she’s in endorphin heaven. I on the other hand plod or trudge, slowly making my way up, but like a tortoise I eventually conquer each summit.

This section was particularly difficult because there weren’t a lot of visual distractions (aka breathing photo breaks) and we had a fierce wind which at least kept me cooled during my uphill grudgefest.

Sweater Cactus

Saguaro National Park is a 17.5 mile section of trail. Camping is limited to either Manning Camp or Grass Shack Camp and ONLY if you obtained a permit in advance, otherwise you can camp just outside the boundary on the north and/or south ends. Originally, we had a permit for Manning Camp but had heard it was windy and exposed, thus we’d changed it to Grass Shack Camp once we were able to gauge our expected arrival date.

My biggest mileage day on the AZT thus far was 16 miles. I was doubtful I could make it the 17.5 miles through the park knowing a big climb was included. However, with our timing off, it seemed unlikely we’d want to stop at Grass Shack Camp. Restrictions such as these make it very difficult for long-distance hikers who prefer to hike until they’re tired or until dusk, then set up camp.

Joan and I implemented a strategy to (1) make the climb fun for Joan (2) make the climb tolerable for me and (3) make it possible for me to make it through the park in one day. Joan made camp early in a hammock-friendly area, while I attempted to reach the park boundary.

I found a little hideaway protected from the strong winds about a half-mile below the south boundary gate, and enjoyed a scrumptious dinner (eating away at some of that pack weight) while being treated to spectacular views and a grand sunset.

I set my alarm for 4:30am to get a jump on Joan who I figured would be starting around 6am.

These were the last AZT trail signs we’d see until we were near the northern boundary. The signage within the park was very confusing and I was happy to have the AZT track on my phone app.

After 150ish miles on the Arizona Trail, I was shocked at the condition of the northern section of the Saguaro National Park. The trail had significantly more debris and many down trees than the AZT. It looked completely unloved and neglected. My brain couldn’t process why dispersed camping was not allowed. Furthermore, where are the saguaro? I was so confused . . . maybe it was the early morning hour and lack of sleep the previous night.

The long shadows of the morning kept me company.

I’d happily conquered the climb by the time Joan caught me at Manning Camp around 9am. We found a beautiful clear stream to replenish our water supply and eat up more of that Trader Joe’s pack weight (yes, I was cursing my decision to replace all that dehydrated food, in the future I’ll try to remember MODERATION).

We reached Grass Shack Camp before noon, much too early to considering camping . . . 

FINALLY, around about 11 miles from the northern boundary, I saw the first saguaro, and a lonely one at that!

It was sad to leave the forest as we dropped in elevation.

But then I started finding my friends . . . 

Who do you suppose lives in this nest?

And then, saguaro finally appeared in mass.

Joan was showing this saguaro some love. Nothing like a prickly HUG!

Just as I settled into enjoying the saguaro, I was treated to this prolific wildflower display.

Thank you Joan for capturing me among my beloved wildflowers.

With about 1/2 mile or so between us, Joan and I both missed this junction, taking us down another trail and making my long day even longer. BEWARE southbounders!

Hope Camp is not an approved camp area, an anomaly that needs to be changed.

SMILE, your being recorded!

Looks like I made it to the other side . . . and will live to hike another day.

Being tired has consequences of carelessness. In this passage, I had a run in with a pear cactus and a yucca, plus sliced my finger while cutting open my avocado.

Sharing the Trail:

  • Joan met Sheriff Woody on the PCT. We were looking forward to this date when our path’s would intersect. He’s hiking with various partners and on this section it was with Bill Murray. They are a big miles team, beginning their northbound (NOBO) quest on 3/7 whereas we began on 3/3. He saw a couple gila monsters on this section the previous day, sure wish one would have made an appearance for me.
  • Slugger
  • Jules, she’d planned to spend the night at Manning Camp in Saguaro NP but said the wind was unbearable and her timing was off. She was hurrying to lose some elevation before dark.
  • Sandpiper, was freezing and exhausted after a miserable night at Manning Camp. She said the wind was unbearable and she’d had a sleepless night. 
  • Twix, Olive Oyl and Salsa.  Here’s a link to Olive Oyl’s AZT Journal and to Twix and Salsa’s AZT Journal. Salsa and I share ascension tortoise syndrome.
  • Met a Park Ranger. She asked to see my camping permit and since we wouldn’t be staying, I gave it to her asking her to pay it forward to anyone she finds without one rather than ticketing.
  • Met a section hiker with a companion. He was interesting as he biked the sections open to bikes and was hiking the rest to fully complete the trail.
  • Also met two mountain bikers just outside the gate, taking the alternate route.
  • Saw a group of 4-6 backpackers heading to Manning Camp with large heavy packs.

Tips and Resources:


5 thoughts on “Arizona Trail – Passage 9 – NOBO SOBO Meet & Greet

  1. I still can’t believe that I didn’t notice those logs in the trail, or the poor trail conditions, on the climb. Glad you took photos so I can see. Weird what being on an endorphin high does–I would have sworn that trail with the switchbacks was the prettiest section. My mind sure does play tricks on me.

    • Perspective is such an unique and personal experience isn’t it? I think our differences will improve our future awareness, especially when we are leading hikes.

  2. I’ve been following sheriff woody. His photos and blog are great too! So nice you all bumped into each other on the trail!

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