2020 – A Decade of Section Hiking Long Distance Trails . . . my podcast debut and resume

As I prepared for an interview with Jester on Section Hiker Radio, I took a trip down memory lane. I had many stories, tips, tricks, lessons to share, but 45 minutes just isn’t enough time. During a recent hike, I came up with this solution. Why not supplement the podcast with blog posts? So here is the interview, an introduction and the first of several posts to celebrate a decade of hiking (PODCAST LINK).

PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) Highlights:

Between 2010 and 2020, I’ve hiked about 1500 miles on the PCT.  Many of my stories and photos can be found on my PCT page (link).

AZT (Arizona Trail) Highlights:

Between 2010 and 2020, I’ve hiked about 500 miles on the AZT.  Many of my stories and photos can be found on my AZT page (link).

CDT (Continental Divide Trail) Highlights:

My time on the CDT has been mostly unintentional. It’s been a mix of being invited by friends to join for sections or coincidental as I hiked other overlapping trails. Here’s a link to my CDT hikes.

PNT (Pacific Northwest Trail) Highlights:

Like the CDT, I didn’t make a plan to hike sections of the PNT. Sometimes I found myself on the trail and only realized by looking at the map. It’s rare to find a trail marker.

Wonderland Trail:

I can actually mark this one complete. It’s the only long trail I completed in one go. I’m not satisfied though as there are so many side trails I’d like to explore.

What long trails await (map link)?

So many trails, only so much time. I feel my personal timeclock ticking. Whether I’m section hiking a long trail or exploring trails with WOW per mile, I’m happy with that pack on my back moving my home each night while chasing sunsets, sunrises, wildflowers and so much more.

 

AZ – Grand Canyon, North Kaibab Trail (AZT Passage 38)

I was excited to be in the right place at the right time to experience first day on the North Rim.

Rumors were flying about when the gates would actually open. I slept fitfully knowing I’d have a hard time waiting in a long line only to be in the parade of RV’s, trailers and travelers. I arrived at the Jacob Lake gate at 6:30am to find it open. What a wonderful surprise! I drove the next 20 miles without a vehicle in sight. I met this line of cars around 7:00am. The rumor said the park gate was scheduled to open between 8 and 10am. It opened at 7:30am, another win and great way to start my morning. 

I drove straight to the backcountry office in hopes of securing a walk-up permit. There was a near perfect 3-day weather window on the North Rim, which of course meant much warmer temperatures in the canyon.

I was second in line and celebrated another win for the morning, two nights at Cottonwood Camp.

I hadn’t anticipated getting a same-day permit thus needed a couple hours to pack. It worked out perfectly since I had a reserved campsite and only needed to descend 4,000 feet over 7 miles before dark. This was my first time hiking the North Kaibab Trail and my second time into the Grand Canyon. My previous visit was on the Grandview Trail (link).

Although the signs include warnings about not hiking from the rim to the river in one day, it’s become an irresistible challenge to not only hike rim to river but rim to rim (R2R) and for the really crazy R2R2R. As I descended mid day, I met many climbing out. Not only was the crowd a mixture of runners, hikers and backpackers, but conditioning ranged from being in awesome shape to serious regret. I wondered what systems were in place to assist those who found the feat more than they could achieve.

Check out the bridge.

Some stretches of the trail might make those with exposure and height concerns a bit nervous.

I met several crews working on the trail. With the amount of use this trail receives I’m sure it’s a constant battle. Although these trails were made for equestrian traffic, I saw the damage between the time I descended when they’d created beautiful new tread, to when I ascended and the tread had already been beat down and dusted up by mules.

Yay for trail maintenance.

With the amount of foot traffic on these trails I’m glad mule use is limited in both numbers and areas of travel.

Waterfall magic! Hearing the welcome sound of Roaring Springs waterfall was music to my ears although access was more work than I was willing to put forth.

On trail drinking fountains is a new concept for me. However, there’d been a break in the line during the winter and crews were busy trying to repair.

A helicopter was delivering supplies for the water system repair. That’s a skilled pilot!

I’m happier gathering my own untreated water fresh from snowmelt.

Restrooms were another luxury. These were the nicest I’ve ever used along a trail. Once again with the amount of traffic, I’m grateful for these accommodations.

I planned to hike to Ribbon Falls but with the bridge out and Bright Angel Creek raging, it was not happening this trip.

My view of Ribbon Falls from the North Kaibab Trail.

I hiked from Cottonwood Camp to the Colorado River and back my second day. It was a 17-mile round trip from Cottonwood Camp and about 3,500′ elevation gain.

Once at the river I hiked a loop crossing the Colorado first on the Silver Suspension Bridge and then the Black or Kaibab Suspension Bridge.

The south side of this loop trail goes along the mid section of this rock face. If you look closely you can see the cut where the rock was blasted away to make the trail.

The views were WOW and I was so glad I’d decided to explore this loop. This is looking back at the Silver Bridge.

Looking toward the black bridge.

A closer look at Kaibab Bridge and the tunnel.

I was a little surprised to find these remains from the Ancestral Puebloan peoples. Interpretive signs explained the history.

The blooming Utah Agave delighted my senses. They were so Dr. Seuss-ish.

There were a few others flowers and cactus blooming.

The prickly pear cactus were at peak bloom.

I think mother nature is poking fun at love. Relationships are sometimes thorny and unbalanced but also filled with heart-filled love.

The butterflies were happy to find so many blooms. The caterpillars were happily munching away awaiting their turn to fly.

Are you the Kaibab Squirrel? Idon’t think so. You don’t have the telltale ears or white fluffy tail.

Don’t be scared little friend.

There are a lot of minerals in the these rocks.

After seeing people suffer on the climb out of the canyon I knew I wanted an early start to avoid the heat. I left camp at 5am. Within a short time I felt like I was swimming against the tide. Many R2R’ers start very early or even during the night. I’m sure I passed through at least a few hundred hikers.

If you zoom in on this photo you can see people on the bridge and on the switchbacks all the way up to the canyon rim.

This is from the opposite perspective looking back down at bridge.

This photo shows the switchbacks hidden in this section of the canyon providing entry and exit.

As it turned out I didn’t need to worry about the heat. I’d heard the snow came early to the North Rim. Those descending into the canyon relayed conditions. I was back in my car and heading toward Kanab by the time the snow got serious. It snowed until about Fredonia. The snow continued for the next few days. Perfect timing!

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 15-17, 2019

Tips:

  • A percentage of permits are retained for walk-ups. Be flexible and you might just be lucky. You might have to wait a day but the odds are in your favor if you arrive early. Ask about alternate parking. The North Kaibab Trailhead parking fills early.
  • The temperature swung considerably from the Rim to Cottonwood Camp to the river. It was 75 at 8pm my first night at the campground. Only dropped to 63 overnight. I heard it was over 100 at Phantom Ranch the previous day. With clouds, breeze and a little precip the next night dropped to 54.
  • Phantom Ranch offered shade and a bit cooler temps inside but best of all ice for drinks. The lemonade was fab! It’s a zoo though. So many campers and visitors.
  • Biting flies were a problem for the first couple miles starting from North Rim. I was glad to have repellent.
  • The campsites at Cottonwood Camp were a bit near the trail. Even with the creek noise you could hear your neighbors but more disruptive the middle of the night runners/hikers. I found earplugs to be helpful. There were few sites with shade so if you plan to hang out in camp I’d plan to arrive early to grab one of those few sites. The higher campsites and ones nearer the creek cooled off better in the evening as they got a breeze but were completely exposed to the sun otherwise.
  • WiFi, food, shower and laundry are available at the North Rim Campground General Store.
  • Shower and laundry are also available at the Kaibab Camper Village near the Jacob Lake Store.
  • The Jacob Lake Store is known for their bakery but I also found the hot sandwiches yummy as well.
  • There are plentiful dispersed camping opportunities off 89A.

Resources:

Links:

AZ – Arizona Trail Passage #41, Kaibab Plateau

I said goodbye to Utah and hello to Arizona with tears from the sky.

I landed near Jacob Lake and spent a day jaunting around “The Lake” and the plateau. What amazing terrain for going cross country. My loop included a few steps on the Arizona Trail.

Jacob Lake  . . . hmmmm, in my book that’s a pond. It’s not even accessible. It’s completely surrounded by a fence.

Included in my 10-mile jaunt was a stop to climb the 80 foot tall Jacob Lake Fire Tower.

Too bad it was locked.

I took time to have a chat with Smokey since the Ranger Station was still closed for the season.

My plan was to hike from the Orderville Trailhead (761.7) to Telephone Hill (mile 745.1) as an overnight out and back.

The first miles were through gorgeous forest. I didn’t mind the lack of views. The forest was alive with bird song and an occasional spooked deer or the famous Kaibab squirrel.

This passage is a mix of single track and old double track. There was evidence of recent ATV activity; there always has to be at least one who doesn’t believe rules apply to them.

There were a couple great water sources. This one which is a wildlife tank and looks to collect water primarily from snow and rain funneled into this catchment. It was clear, cold and yummy.

This was my first experienced with an underground tank accessible via the lid on a tank. It too was fantastic water.

2019 is known as the year of water. I would have been thrilled in 2015 to have found this water source. Now it’s not even listed on the app.

Or even this one as much better than green slime, cow slobber, cow poop water. Hard to believe, I know.

The many miles traversing through burned forest were disheartening.

There were a few remaining large patches of snow to traverse, which also came in handy as a cooling source.

Sunrise came early. I received this kiss at 5:30am.

The aspen were just beginning to leaf out.

My favorite finds were these two horny toads. Firsts for me!

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 12-14, 2019

Tips:

  • Shower and laundry are available at the Kaibab Camper Village near the Jacob Lake Store.
  • Nearest WiFi is in Kanab.
  • The Jacob Lake Store is known for their bakery but I also found the hot sandwiches yummy as well.
  • There are plentiful dispersed camping opportunities off 89A.

Resources:

Links:

AZ – Arizona Trail Passage #23, Mazatzal Divide

Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time. This was one of those times. In 2016, I remember hearing this was the worst section of the trail, with comments such as “it’s overgrown with stickery prickeries, the wind whips knocking you over, the sun bakes you, and you’ll be crawling over tons of trees crisscrossing the trail from the 2004 Willow Fire.” This area then became a focus of the Arizona Trail Association, with plentiful resources designated to bring this stretch back to life.  I met a few hikers at the Pine Trailhead who’d recently passed through and said it was great. Weather was perfect, I had a few days, so why not?

One of my challenges was efficient trail access give my time constraints. There are several trailheads from which to reach the Mazatzal Divide Trail. My goal was to spend as much time in the wilderness as possible hiking the ridge so I opted for the Mt Peeley Trailhead. I asked the AZT facebook group about road conditions and was assured it would be no problem for my car.

Well for this somewhat conservative driver, this road became my nightmare. It took me an hour to drive the 10-mile one-lane road with blind corners and few pullovers. I held my breath for what seemed like the entire time hoping that no one would come the other direction. It was a huge sigh upon reaching the trailhead. During the first few miles of the trail, you’re able to see the road and my car. I felt taunted and worried about my exit drive.

The beginning of this section marks about the halfway mark for thru hikers.

This was an out-and-back hike for me, so my goal was to hike as much of the wilderness as possible.

Mazatzal Peak at 7,903 feet was definitely the centerpiece of the wilderness. Each side has it’s own personality.

I slept under the peak one night.

My view looking west at Horseshoe Reservoir. Funny thing, I went to bed with a clear sky studded with stars only to be awoken at 12:30am with a little pitter-patter of rain upon my face.

The next morning I was greeted by the sun as it rose over Mazatzal Peak.

My day was filled with dramatic lighting.

I camped with a view to the south side of Mazatzal Peak one night.

Flower were just beginning to sing, it’s spring, it’s spring!

The lupine was just beginning to show color.

These monkey flowers were tiny, about the size of the tip of my little finger.

Slightly burned bark provides an interesting tapestry.

Nature’s cactus garden.

Part of what makes the Mazatzals special are the rocks; so many colors and textures. Can you find the ladybug on this one?

Smooth rock sections were a rarity. In some areas I walked miles upon miles over ankle twisting rocks. It was time consuming picking my way through the mine field.

Aptly named Rocky Ridge provided dramatic views.

Loved this little frog I found near Rocky Ridge.

There were just a few patches of snow lingering in shady protected areas. On my return trip, I was so grateful as it was uncomfortably warm and by adding a few handfuls to my buff I could either put on my head or neck which helped immensely with body temperature regulation.

There are several springs along this ridge. This one is Bear Spring. The pool seems to stay full from ground water. I was disappointed to learn that a wildlife camera had been installed by hunters at this location.

I camped one night near Horse Camp Seep where I found some beautiful flowing water, pools and a waterfall.

There was plenty of evidence of the 2004 fire, as well as Phoenix area smog.

I found several yucca plants in this condition along the trail. I asked a trail maintenance crew I met whether an animal ate the tips or if they were trimmed. I found out indeed it was part of their work creating a more hiker friendly trail. Another thing the Arizona Trail Association has done is create a Remote Maintenance Task Force whereby users are given tools to trim as they hike or ride.

I ended my trip the same way I started it . . .  with much anxiety about the drive. I survived both ways without encountering another vehicle. WHEW! Such a relief. In the future, I’d rather hike those ten miles.

This was another trip of about 45 miles with 6,500 feet of ascent/descent over primarily rocky terrain. This graph is from The Park to Mt Peeley Trailhead.

Ah, a nice way to end a trip.

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 5-8, 2019

Resources:

Links:

AZ – Arizona Trail, Pine Passage #26, Climbing to the Mogollon Rim

I continued my travels north after finding the Oracle area a bit too warm for my winterized body. I found myself in Pine, a place I remember fondly from an aborted hike in 2016.

The Arizona Trail connects many existing trails including the bulk of this section which shares tread with Highline Trail #31.

There’s the Mogollon Rim. That’s where I really wanted to be but there’s still a bit too much snow and deep sole-sucking mud. Besides conditions and temperatures were perfect and I still had plenty of time for higher country. The Highline Trail reminds me a bit of the Pacific Crest Trail where you stay below the high point, feeling teased all the time to climb just a bit higher to walk the ridge. Dirtmonger wrote an interesting post (link) on the Mogollon Rim and how it runs from New Mexico through Arizona. Of course he hiked the route. I’d be really interested in traveling Forest Road 300 which traverses along the rim (link).

Mogollon Rim sunset tease taunting me to come visit.

Trail porn.

There was a great mix of vegetation. One of my faves was the Juniper Pine sporting alligator bark.

I don’t know the name of this tree but the orange really popped.

What are these called? Buds?

There was plenty of seasonal water along the trail so I didn’t need to use any springs or wildlife tanks and in fact didn’t need to carry more than a liter at a time. What a pleasure after hiking in 2015, a drought year.

Natural water sources rank high on my list of desires when selecting trails. I really hate carrying water. That 2 pounds per liter is a killer for my body. For me it takes the enjoyment factor from fun to drudge.

I’m always happy to find bridges. Water crossings are high on my anxiety list.

This was my most challenging crossing not because of the water flow but because it was hard to make the leap from the rocks up that eroded embankment, and no way was I walking the logs. The main reason I’m including this photo however is a reminder to watch for wildlife cameras. At a small stream, I’d taken off my shirt to wet it down when I looked up and saw the camera. I wish I would have taken a photo and looked closer to see if it had any owner identifying information. My understanding is that these cameras are not permitted on forest service lands. Furthermore it was along one of these small streams I saw what I believe was a coatimundi. I wish I could have gotten a better photo. It’s been confirmed that these critters can be found this far north.

This section of trail has several car friendly access points,  is well signed and easy to follow.

I eventually transitioned from the Highline Trail to the Colonel Devin Trail #290.

I did this as an out-and-back hike starting from the Pine trailhead, traveling through Geronimo and Washington trailheads before turning around at Forest Road 300 and the Battle of Big Dry Wash Historical Monument, which mark the end of Passage 26.

Climbing the two miles up powerline road was quite challenging. I was happy to finally see the AZT sign!

I was saddened to see this graffiti on the Battle of Big Dry Wash Historical Monument.

The view from the top from where I’d come.

There was a lot of amazing trail work along this section to prevent erosion by bike riders and equestrians. Even the hikers caused some deep holes hiking through the mud. There were several sections with giant ruts asking for a twisted ankle.

A nice example of what happens in this soggy red dirt. The good thing is that these ruts seem to crumble when dry allowing it to once again become smooth trail.

Nice trail work to reroute deep channeled sections. The rut on left will eventually fill in.

The Arizona Trail Association (ATA) has done an outstanding job raising funds to replace rancher gates with this much more friendly hiker, biker and equestrian gates. I was a little surprised to see the old gate lying on the ground rather than being removed.

I took a detour on the BSA (assuming Boy Scouts of America) Rim View Trail. It hasn’t been maintained in a long time and didn’t show use beyond animals.

The trail leads somewhere up there.

It eventually leads to the point left of the tree.

Follow the green and orange signs plus a view triangles and a few cairns. Was it worth it? Not really.

Where there’s Boy Scouts, there must be Girl Scouts? I actually met a group of Girl Scouts out for a night I believe on this section. It was a bit disappointing to see them being led by a male. Just a reminder we need to step up to mentor the younger generation.

I thought I was looking at the Four-Peaks but now I think this is the Mazatzals, which I hiked the following week.

Or maybe I’m right and those are the Four Peaks and these are the Mazatzals? I didn’t have sufficient battery to check my Peaks app nor explore more on Gaia. I read that in this passage you’d spend a lot of time looking at the Mazatzals.

Nature’s art. Loved this!

Look it’s a giant heart.

The rocks were sparkly and colorful.

Hard to capture the color and sparkle.

Nice of the trail maintainers to cut a seat while they were cutting the log.

The ATA has created a program called the Remote Maintenance Task Force which encourages users of the trail to help by carrying shears or a saw (which they provide) to help with trimming.

And YES, I found some early blooms.

Spring means ladybugs and butterflies.

There’s one place on trail where you cross a road near private property. As I was approaching this sign at first glance I thought it said, “Loaded Gun, Turnaround.” Funny what the brain sees.

First signs of being out of shape. My poor tender feet suffered a bit. I haven’t had skin tears, rubs or blisters in years but always carry leukotape just in case. This was made worst by forgetting to let the leukotape fall off naturally.

I found temperatures perfect for hiking and backpacking. Chilly nights in 30’s to 40’s with daytime temperatures 50’s to 70’s.

Although this time of year, you really have to watch the forecast. This is mountain country.

LNT Issues:

Not quite sure how this big chunk of styrofoam got to this location. It was fairly remote. I didn’t carry it out.

Seriously, the campsite doesn’t need to be swept clean. Pine needles make for soft bedding and prevent a muddy mess.

By far the worst offender. It was full of something. Might of been leftover food, or garbage or  . . .

Seeing a thru-hiker leave this package outside the restroom at the Pine Trailhead was unacceptable. There were three vehicles with AZT hikers who would have carried it out. I offered to a group when they camped near my car and they accepted. I know another driver offered to a large group; sadly it was one from this group who decided to leave this gift for the trash angels instead. There is a large sign clearly stating no garbage service. If this area is abused like so many others, the forest service will remove this great hiker camping option.

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 29 – April 2, 2019

Tips:

  • The trail as shown on digital maps excluding the specialized Arizona Trails app, have not been updated to show current trail. I tracked my hike using Gaia with several map layers including National Geographic, USGS and Gaia Topo. None showed current trail.
  • Unlike the PCT and AT, the Guthook/Atlas Map app does not show campsites. They are fairly plentiful along the way and some are mentioned in comments for water or trail junctions, etc.
  • Yep there are bears in these mountains.I carried an Ursack.

  • Knowing we have missing hikers who like me don’t always leave an itinerary, this is one method to help SAR should something happen.
  • This was a challenging section. Lots of up and down. This denotes one way going north.The trip totaled about 45 miles and 6,000 feet elevation gain/loss.

  • Camping is allowed at the Pine Trailhead. The evening after my hike, I found these elk gathering.
  • Laundry is available in Pine but no showers without paying for lodging. THAT Brewery is known to be hiker friendly although service can suck. I had an awesome experience at Joy’s Sweet Shop and Espresso Cafe. They had great WiFi as well as good coffee, sandwiches and friendly staff; however they are closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. If you need a shower, I recommend hitching to Payson and visiting the Payson Campground and RV Resort. You can grab a shower for $10 and laundry for $4 (as of this writing), including WiFi. The place is extremely clean and friendly.

Resources:

Links:

AZ – Arizona Trail, Oracle Passage plus a visit to Tucson-Sonora Desert Museum

I said goodbye to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and headed east on Highway 86 where I found some delightful wildflowers including these Prickly Poppies. They were such standouts I couldn’t resist pulling over to photograph and see in person.

I was so near the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, I figured I’d regret not stopping by. I really didn’t want to pay the $24 entrance fee but I talked myself into not being a tightwad. I was concerned as the temperatures were in the 80’s when I arrived and since I was already suffering I worried about enjoying the experience. As anticipated I continued having signs of heat stroke or exhaustion even though I was wearing my hat but wishing I’d brought my umbrella. I made the best of my time although cutting it much shorter than the $24 fee warranted.

I especially liked the hummingbird room.

My friend Petra had given me maps and information for hiking the Santa Catalina Mountains including Sabino Canyon, which I’d hiked as part of the Arizona Trail (AZT) in 2015. I was excited about these possibilities until I saw 93 degrees registered on my car and the forecast for continued increasing temperatures. It was time for this winter acclimated gal to find higher elevation. As one who avoids traffic I found myself on the wrong side of the mountains. Waaaa

I drove and drove and drove way more hours than I like trying to find cooler temperatures. At least I found a sunset.

I eventually found myself at Tiger Mine Road Trailhead near Oracle where I have some of the best memories from when I hiked Passage 13 with Joan in 2015 (link). This is when we made our funny gear shakedown video which still makes me laugh.

I saw these flowers blooming when I hiked this section before but wasn’t able to identify with my wildflower app.

I was glad to find a few blooming beauties along the trail.

Firecracker penstemon.

Mariposa Lily.

The trail has become so civilized.

So inviting. Love this photo!

Too bad it’s dry.

I liked how this wallflower intermingled with this yucca.

This wallflower stood tall as the standout.

Mixing things up.

I’d love to see this cactus in bloom.

Wild rhubarb.

Wildflowers sure cheer up this normally dry grassy terrain.

Near the end of my hike, I was overheated and thankful to take a break in the shade of this underpass.

Bad LNT 😦 Yes, I picked it up although usually TP is where I draw the line.

So glad this rattlesnake sang loudly as I approached and that it wasn’t too close to the trail.

The Arizona Trail Association is to be commended for doing such an outstanding job growing this trail into one that many now desire to hike as either sections, day hikes, or long thru-hikes. It’s a multi-use trail for hikers, bikers and equestrians.

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 25-26, 2019

Resources:

Links:

 

AZ – Wildflowers and Cacti Blooms along the Arizona Trail (Passages 18-19)

I found these beauties while hiking the stretch of trail between Roosevelt Lake and Picketpost the third week of March 2016. I’ve done my best with identification, but I’m no botanist so chances are I could be incorrect. Please note corrections in the comments. Thanks!

Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus)

Prickly Pear/Cactus Apple (Opuntia engelmannii

Tufted Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa

Santa Catalina Mountain Phlox (Phlox tenuifolia)

Doubting Mariposa Lily (Calochortus ambiguus

? Plains Blackfoot (Melampodium leucanthum

White Tackstem (Calycoseris wrightii) OR New Mexico Plumeseed (Rafinesquia neomexicana)

Creamcups (Platystemon californicus)

Desert Rosemallow (Hibiscus coulteri)  

Melon Loco (Apodanthera undulata)

Gordon’s Bladderpod (Lesquerella gordonii)

Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata

Fiddleneck (I’ve been trying for this photo for years)

Desert Mariposa Lily (Calochortus kennedyi

Globemallow/Desertmallow (Sphaeralcea)

? Meadow Flax (Linum pratense)

Blue Flax (Linum pratense)

Phacelia

Chia (Salvia columbariae)

Fendler’s Horsenettle (Solanum fendleri)

? Trailing Windmills/Four O’Clock (Allionia incarnata)

Tansyaster 

?  Chinese Lantern (Quincula lobata)

Mariposa Lily 

? Phlox

Penstemon

Thistle

Are you a bloom? 

Leaves can be just as cool as flowers!

Resources:

Links:

Arizona Trail – Post Trip Report – Myths, Perceptions & Realities Unveiled

I lived in the Phoenix area for about 5 years, back in the late 80’s. I didn’t like anything about Arizona at that time in my life, except maybe the novelty of mild winter temperatures. Yes, it was fun to wear shorts on Christmas and share cactus-themed holiday cards. For about a year, I traveled to many rural areas around Arizona and clearly remember describing to others the barren ugliness of it all. I wasn’t a hiker back then, but always appreciated scenic landscapes and was extremely homesick for mountains, big beautiful west coast mountains.

It’s been from this perspective that I’ve described Arizona and desert environments. Certainly not a place I had any interest in revisiting, except maybe Sedona, although much too touristy, and the Grand Canyon where I’d previously enjoyed day trips. So thanks to Sirena and Joan, I had an opportunity to reconsider my perceptions of this harsh landscape by hiking 300 miles of the Arizona Trail in March 2015.

Myth 1: It never rains in Arizona (except during Monsoon season)

We had rain at least 4 out of 24 days, plus the day before we started the trail. It’s March, not July or August when monsoons can be expected. It rained hard one night and for a short period one day while hiking. We were glad to have our double-duty umbrellas and rainproof outerwear and shelters.

Myth 2: It’s a “dry heat”

With all this rain, we definitely experienced humidity (and mud).

Myth 3: It’s always at least 100 degrees

We experienced wide ranging temperature variations, from freezing to HOT! It’s important to come prepared for both extremes.

Myth 4: There are no trees or streams in Arizona

There are REAL mountains in Arizona with REAL trees, vegetation such as ferns and natural waterways.

Myth 5: There are no REAL mountains in Arizona

During this 300 mile segment, the low spot was about 2,500′ and the high 9,400′. We spent most days either ascending or descending REAL mountains. This trail is not for out-of-shape hikers, nor those looking for flat easy fast terrain.

Myth 6: There are no flowers in Arizona wilderness (except cactus)

I was astonished by the number and diversity of wildflowers we found. We were a bit earlier for cactus blooms and only got to see one, but friends who were a couple weeks later have seen both wildflowers and lots of cactus flowers. There are many wildflower photos within my Passage 1-17 posts.

Myth 7: Illegals and drug runners are everywhere

The only evidence we saw was Border Patrol, and one small pile of debris obviously discarded by illegals.

Reality 1: Only a small portion of Saguaro NP has wall-to-wall saguaros

I was expecting Saguaro National Park to be packed with a fantastic display of saguaros, but within the 17.5 mile segment of trail which passes through the park, only a couple miles include wide-sweeping views of saguaros, the rest is either forest at high elevation and desert at lower elevation. This was the first saguaro we saw, 11-12 miles from the northern boundary.

Reality 2: Water can be disgusting and sparsely available

The water report was key and even more important was learning how to use both the report and the resources. Cattle troughs and tanks all require special skills. I included some tips in my Passage 14 post. Joan wrote a very helpful and detailed blog post.

Reality 3: The vegetation is not human friendly

Everything was stickery and prickery. I was glad to be wearing full coverage snag resistant clothing, and even so experienced several painful pokes and pricks.

Reality 4: Navigation can be challenging

The Arizona Trail is still considered young when compared to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) or Appalachian Trail (AT). As such, signage is inconsistent, sometime confusing and non existent. By joining the Arizona Trail Association we’d downloaded the trail track and waypoints to our GPS phone apps which was extremely helpful. Additionally we had the databook, which we used extensively, and paper maps. Joan wrote a detailed post about navigating the AZT.

Reality 5: It can be a lonely trail

There were days when we saw no one, others when we might see a few comrades. The number of annual thru-hikers is still small, most likely totaling less than 25. This is a shared trail, with plenty of day and section users, especially bikers and equestrians but you’re likely to see more cows or ATV’ers than our friends on two feet carrying small backpacks.

YES, my perceptions have been changed forever! I will never again describe Arizona and desert environments as barren ugliness. In fact, I look forward to completing the remaining 500 miles of the Arizona Trail. I’m also reconsidering my previous decision to skip the first 800 miles of the PCT. This trail opened my mind to so many other possibilities such as the Grand Enchantment Trail, the Hayduke Trail, the Continental Divide Trail which all contain long stretches of desert.

Relevant Links:

Tips and Resources:

Arizona Trail – Post Trip Report – Food, it’s a Balancing Act

Overall, I was extremely happy with my food choices and my decision to go stoveless. Comments about my experience are in italics.

Breakfast:

  • Granola, cold (Nature’s Path Pumkin Flax and Hemp Plus varieties held up well)
    • VERY happy with this option, especially once I added a little of my cold coffee to moisten the granola
    • Dry cereal took much too long to eat
  • Coffee, instant (Nescafe Vanilla is my preference)
    • Found I quite liked cold coffee

Snack/Meal Options:

I packaged these mostly dehydrated meals in snack-sized ziplocks and ate 4-6 per day (more variety would be preferable). *For recipes & dehydrating tips see this link

  • Hummus* and Doctor Krackers
  • Sweet Potato/Black Bean/Quinoa Salad*
    • My personal favorite
  • Chili*
    • My least favorite option cold
  • Turkey/Rice/Vege Teriyaki*
  • Fiesta Chicken Salad*
  • Pasta with Sauce*
  • Trader Joe’s Superfood Pilaf
  • Trader Joe’s Spelt Risotto
  • Trader Joe’s Quinoa Duo with Vegetable Melange
  • Sweet Potato Mash*
    • Extremely refreshing and filling
  • Pudding with Nido and Chia Seeds (made these into mini-meals and ate a couple servings per day)
    • Oreo pudding was an on-trail favorite (least favorite off trail)
    • Nestle dark chocolate was good, but would have been better with a little mint
    • Greek yogurt pudding was a surprise find at Walmart

Town food options included items such as:

  • Tortillas, flat bread, or fresh baked bread
  • Cheese
  • Avocado (repackage without peel & seed)
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Tangerines (repackage without peel)

I usually kept my pack pocket full of munchies such as these and packed out enough for about 1-2 cups per day.

  • Bars
    • Really liked the Pro Bars, I’d break them into bite size pieces
  • Sweet
    • Nibs Butter Rum hard candies
    • Dried tangerines
    • Sweet Potato Leather*
    • Mixed Berry Leather*
  • Salty
    • Pretzel bites
    • Veggie chips (I was surprised at their durability)
  • Sweet & Salty
    • Pretzel M&M’s
  • Pizzazz
    • Wasabi Peas

To help with not so tasty water, I used a variety of flavor additives such as these and depending on water conditions figured on 2-6 liters of flavored water daily.

  • NUUN tablets (electrolytes)
    • These didn’t really agree with me
  • Crystal Light, etc
    • I’m not much of a sweet drink person, so I used 1/4 to 1/3 package per liter of water
  • Coffee
    • I much preferred slightly sweetened cold coffee to the artificially sweetened drink additives

Tips:

For people like me who’d rather not carry more weight than absolutely necessary, it’s important to evaluate the additions of town food.

A sweet treat is a morale booster

I’d NEVER say NO to pizza

or ice cream . . .

or leftover smoked chicken and parmesan from a Caesar salad

But giving up all my dehydrated options for heavy town food before a long steep climb was tasty but not worth the weight penalty. (P.S. this is food for Jan and Joan)

A welcome relief to dehydrated food

Moderation is a much better option for me

When in town, it’s time to EAT, EAT, EAT just like drinking (aka cameling up) at water sources. This is not the time to diet!!! I use town to make up for calories I didn’t want to carry and obtain nutritional I’ve been missing. Yogurt, fruits, vegetables and especially salads are high on my list, plus calorie dense foods such as ice cream of course.

My new favorite!

Tips and Resources:

Arizona Trail – Post Trip Report – Learning to be a Long Distance Hiker

As a newbie to long-distance hiking, I learned many helpful tips from my much more experienced comrade, Joan.

Preparation:

  • I already covered information on our planning in my introductory post, so I’m not going to repeat it here.
  • Basics – maps, data book, GPS track and way points, water report with the knowledge base and experience to use them.

Goal Setting:

  • Establish your start and end dates
  • Determine your daily/section mileage
  • Map out your plan (using a calendar worked best for me)
    1. Record start and end dates
    2. Determine resupply locations and mileage between them
    3. Determine whether resupply locations will be NERO or ZERO stops

Action Plan:

  • Mail resupply and/or bounce box packages (see below for tips)
  • Make motel/camping/transportation reservations and/or obtain permits (revise later as needed)
  • Deliver water to caches (include your name and ETA, add date available for public use, take out all empties)
  • Check weather reports
  • Check water reports

Daily Hiking Strategy:

  • Review profile (I’m slower on long climbs and drink more on climbs and in heat)
    • Tip: Keep a log of elevation per mile hiked and water consumed per mile until you know your requirements
  • Locate water sources
    • Tip: The AZT uses a scale of 0-4, with 0 being unreliable and 4 being reliable; you’ll learn what part of scale is applicable depending on time of year and recent weather
  • Determine mileage between water sources
    • Tip: Keep a log of miles hiked and water consumed per mile to determine your personal needs. The goal is to carry just a little more than you need, but not to be wasting energy by carrying excessive amounts.
    • Tip: Plan to drink a liter at the water source.
  • Review maps and estimate camping location
  • Schedule routine breaks (for us it was every 2-3 hours)
    • Sit and rest
    • Stretch
    • Shoes/socks off, feet inspection and maintenance, soak if possible
    • Eat, drink, hydrate next meal, filter water, etc.
    • Watch clock to manage break time and miles
    • Best to break in shade, better near water
    • Laundry
    • Water gathering

Town Strategy:

  • Retrieve resupply package
  • Shopping (make list while on trail)
  • Laundry
  • EAT!!!! and DRINK!!!!
  • Body & foot care
  • REST!!! (if taking a ZERO)
  • Recharge electronics
  • Check for water report updates
  • Check weather report

Resupply Tips:

Although I don’t care for planning in advance, I’ve found I prefer the weight and taste of my own food; although I’d love to learn to resupply from a mini market. I supplement my resupply with fresh food and snacks purchased locally. I use a flat rate box (regional is best rate) and recommend shipping to a local business (i.e. motel – call first) vs post office (with restrictive hours).

What’s in my box?

  • Breakfast (cereal, coffee and vitamins)
  • Dehydrated meals (packaged in snack size bags, I figure 4-6 per day)
  • Drink additives, including electrolytes
  • Refill items such as ibuprofen, lotion, feet ointment, wet wipes, dry wipes, eyeglass wipes,
  • Plastic bags to repackage town purchases
  • For town stops:
    • Oxiclean (unscented) for presoaking and washing laundry
    • Personal care items such as Q-tips and fingernail cleaner
    • Denture tables (for cleaning water vessels, water filter, toothbrush, etc.)

Bounce Box:

I might send in addition to my resupply box or bounce ahead every couple weeks. I use a flat rate box (regional is best rate), and if it’s not opened it can be forwarded to next stop at no charge. I recommend shipping to a local business (i.e. motel – call first) vs post office (with restrictive hours).

What’s in my box?

  • Batteries
  • Sunscreen
  • Medications
  • Fingernail clippers
  • Plastic baggies
  • Repair items (i.e. for air mattress)
  • First aid kit resupply items
  • Emergency preparedness resupply items
  • Toiletry resupply items (i.e. floss)
  • Items that may be needed in near future (i.e. mosquito head net, mosquito repellent)

Tip: many items can be ordered online (i.e. Amazon) and delivered timely to your next town stop. It may be cheaper than shipping forward in a bounce box (i.e. shoes). Amazon Prime is a great investment for long-distance hikers with their two-day free shipping on most items. When we need something, we need it now!

Helpful Links:

Tips and Resources: