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Trip Report Pt1: Arizona National Scenic Trail

Cacti, Mountains and Water! Oh My!
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My flight out of Toronto was a nightmare. Arriving at Pearson International Aiport at 4am I was greeted with swollen lines of spring break travelers and understaffed customs booths. It took over two hours to clear USA customs and almost every USA flight for that morning was delayed by at least an hour. This meant that all connecting flights were also thrown into disarray. Upon landing in Dallas Fort Worth Airport and after running across three terminals I had still missed my second flight to Tucson. I was put on standby and after four hours and missing one more flight due to lack of seats, I finally was on my way to Tucson. Upon landing my awesome shuttle driver was still there to pick me up even though I was way off schedule. One quick trip to Walmart to get four days of food and then being dropped off at the visitor centre right of the start of Joe's Canyon Trail, I began to hike up to the Arizona Trail.

Miller Peak Looking towards Mexico

Minutes into hiking I was laughing and hollering with joy as I was not only in a mountain range, but climbing up mountains for the first time in years! My breathe was shallow as I huffed and heaved but still loving every moment. The sun was already setting so I raced to reach the southern terminus marker before it was dark. It was extremely windy when I got to the border wall and now the sun was gone. There were not any camp spots around and I had seen border patrol vehicles in the area so I was trying to think how I'd spend my night. Climbing back up 1mi(1.6km) to where Joe's Canyon Trail and the AZT intersect I found a large boulder to be my wind cover and I cowboy camped right on trail. Hoping that border patrol did not see me or would be to lazy to hike up here to question I dozed off in anticipation of starting my AZT thru-hike proper the following morning.

AZT Southern Terminus

Waking up at 5:30am and full of excited energy I was off. The date was March 17th 2022 and I was wondering how many hikers I'd run into in the first sections. I felt like I was starting late as the more typical start date was around March 8th but this year the temperatures were around 10F(-11C) at that time...

Top of Miller Peak

The wind was still blowing weakly and with the sun not yet risen it was fairly cold on my way to Montezuma Pass. At the little parking lot there I walked right behind a running border patrol truck expecting to be questioned but no one says anything to me. The sun begins to light the opposing mountains across the valley and I head up to Miller Peak. There are bits of trail covered in crusty snow and after a 0.5mi(0.8km) detour to the peak I can no longer feel my hands as I eat my first snack of the day and take in the views. Coming back down and rejoining the AZT I meet my first hiker, Ween! He's a former hot dog cart owner from Oregon and we hike together for about an hour.

Bathtub Springs

I come across the first water source of the hike: bathtub springs. It's fairly straightforward but definitely not what I expected. Nearby to the tub are two campers. One sticks out there heads to chat, Samwise. He's an ambassador for Six Moon Designs, which is the company that makes my tarp and bug net, as well as a being a hiker diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Woah, one tough dude! He tells us that he friend was rescued yesterday off the trail by SAR yesterday evening. Apparently this friend had planned the hike for three years and had barely made it three miles, that must be heartbreaking. We share our condolences, wish him the best of luck and head on.

Mountains

I leave Ween behind and start to run into a bunch of other hikers. I meet a father and son duo, a couple from Calgary, and couple from California. As the day progresses I begin to descend down the other side of the mountain range amidst pine forests and down to dry riverbeds. I spook some white-tailed deer and fill up a little bit of water from a well placed cache. I end the day early by 3pm and having done ~22mi(35km). I chat with a hiker who had done the PCT in 2019 like I did and we swapped stories about the insanity of the Sierra Nevadas covered in snow. Later in the afternoon while resting in camp I had a chance to share a few words with a women who was attempting to break the FKT for the AZT as she took a moment to get her bearings. The night descends on the first day.

Waking up at 6:30am I was surprised to see that my water had some ice crystals in it. I had slept soundly without realizing the temperature drop. I pack up and race off, doing 12mi(19km) by 10am. Originally I planned to take it easy but I already was antsy to do big miles so I decided I would get to Patagonia, the first resupply town, by the evening.

Desert

The day was way hotter than the day before as I continued to descend and climb and descend and climb all day. Eventually the trail ended and there was a short road walk into the town. I headed straight for the pizza restaurant that was supposed to be really good. I was not very impressed at all and especially after realizing I had spent something like $40USD for a medium pizza and a salad...

After chugging a bunch of water and charging up my electronics at the pizza joint, my plan was to grab my resupply and walk out of town to camp. As soon as I leave the restaurant I bumped into two hikers I had met just a month ago on the Florida Trail, Nugs and Flush, along with another hiker Spoons. They leave town as I grab my snacks and I race out of Patagonia after them. The road walk out of town is a little longer but not as trafficked and eventually I catch up to the party. I meet another hiker, Gabby, and the five us eat dinner and chat into the night. The moon is almost full as we break up to go to our respective camp spots and I cowboy camp under the stars.

Road out of Patagonia, Arizona

Wanting to stick around these friendly faces, I don't rush away in the early morning. I take my time packing up so I can link up with Spoons and Maggie for the morning hike. Thru-hikers are a special breed and it seems like for the most part you can become good friends with any other hiker within a few hours of conversation. We chat incessantly about our lives, our travels, and our future.

Before a climb Rocky canyon walls

As the day progress the AZT has us climbing up and down sparsely vegetated hills with the occasional cacti and many manzanita trees. Finally we are spit onto a ridge walk and we are faced with a gorgeous canyon wall on the opposite side. After a tough climb I start to chug water from one of my bottles and realize it was dirty water. I begin to panic internally and worry if this will cause me to contract a stomach illness similar to what happened to me on the PCT. I quickly give up on the idea of trying to manage dirty and clean bottles and from this point forward just assume everything is dirty and filter all liquids.

Bear Creek Tub

We take an extended break by Bear Creek Tub to wait for Nugs and Flush to catch up. In the process of getting water I managed to disturb the spigot and am unable to put it back on. After about an hour of waiting Maggie and I head off to leave Spoons to keep waiting for our other friends. After a few more up and down we reach Kentucky Camp. The host is super friendly offering us beer, clean water, a pit toilet and the option to sleep indoors! We spending the evening relaxing and talking with two bike-packers who are spending the night camped on the premises. Eventually Spoons arrives and mentions Nugs and Flush camped early. We all settle in for the night by picking a room in the old building and passing out.

Cloud cover

Another slow morning start as I leave camp with Maggie. Spoons will once again stay behind to wait for Nugs and Flush. The day is fairly mild but windy as we see a massive storm system building ahead of us on some mountain ranges in the horizon. We come across some trail magic as we cross a dirt road. There is a large container full of hygiene and self-care products, two coolers filled with cold drinks and snacks, a garbage bag and camp chairs. I grab a cola, a slice of apple pie, two hard-boiled eggs, a banana and a camp chair to relax.

Trail magic Pie

After a good break we start heading out again and move towards our next water source. It ends up being a green looking cow float tank, but after operating the mechanism the water that comes out seems to be crystal clear. While setting up my lunch I accidentally pour some dirty water into my container... I'm having the worst luck.

Cow Float Tank Maggie My prom date and I

The day continues as clouds continue to swirl over us and in the distance. The wind begins to pick up in the evening and it becomes clear that we will be dealing with a storm ourselves tonight. I try to setup my shelter on patch of dirt as the wind roars. I break one stake while setting up and after using a bunch of heavy rocks to secure the rest of the tie-outs I hunker down. The wind whips dirt under my tarp and all my gear is covered in a layer of dust as the rain and lightning begin to fall. The storm goes on all night and despite being a bit sandy I manage to keep all the important bits dry and am able to get some sleep.

Storm brewing

The morning was not pleasant as my shelter and groundsheet were still damp and sandy. I roll everything up and keep it on the outside of my bag so I can deal with it later when hopefully the sun is out and I can dry it off.

Maggie and I head out once again into the cool morning and we spot many rabbits hopping along the trail with us. The goal of the day is to get to Vail for resupply and maybe some lunch. We push onwards passing the 100mi(160km) mark and get to a trailhead around the early afternoon. We try to hitchhike into town but without much luck. I am able to request an Uber ride so we do that instead to a little plaza with a Safeway and a bunch of fast food.

Landscape and clouds

We do our resupply at the Safeway and I buy some hot food from the deli. After lunch we walk across the parking lot and start to spread out our gear in true hiker-trash fashion. Today's sky is perfectly clear and blue so within fifteen minutes all our gear is dry! Packing up once more we head to Subway to charge our electronics for a few hours. Maggie spends some time tending to her self as she has been suffering quite a bit under the sun with multiple rashes and chaffing :(

Snake tunnel

Eventually we take another Uber ride back to the trail and continue on. The next section is beautiful as we begin to see saguaro and are brought down into lush valleys that have small twisting streams of clear water, reminding me of the Mission Creek section of the PCT. We continue under and over railways until we are back in the foothills surrounded by saguaro. We find some spots to setup on a saddle as the sun descends, Maggie in her tent and me cowboy camping for the night.

Another day done

The night sky is lit brilliantly with stars as I spend a few hours gazing before dozing off, even seeing some satellites whizzing across the sky. In the morning Maggie and I say our goodbyes as she intends to do a smaller day to take care of her rashes.

Saguaro

Alone now, I speed off to complete at ~30mi(48km) day. The frequency of saguaro increases and I enter the Saguaro National Park. I climb for most of the morning and afternoon up Mica and the sun is out in full force. I take an early lunch at Rincon Creek since there seems to be fairly good water pools that I can draw from. Continuing on I pass some crews doing trail maintenance as well as a mule train going down the mountain.

Near Manning Camp

Despite the steep climb I maintain a 3mi/h(4.8km/h) average until midday where suddenly the desert disappears and I'm in a pine forest. Not only that but there is also snow covering the ground and sections of the trail! I continue to climb and pass two hikers, Robert and Lumos, and then spend lunch with a group of day-hikers just at the crest of the mountain along the AZT. They grill me with questions for awhile before I head off and begin the descent all the way back down the other side. The descent is snowy and sketchy at parts with the trail being barely a foot in width. I run across Bam, Anton and then Lumos again. Once near the bottom of the climb I start to look for a spot to camp as a I begin to pass tons of hikers. After passing probably like twenty hikers I camp with a view of Tucson in the distance.

Descent from Mica
Early morning sunshine

Waking early and blasting off once more the morning is completely exposed to the sun. I pass the hikers 5lb and Mule and then at the top of a big climb I meet an elderly thru-hiking couple with a service dog: Joe, Kerry and their pup Felix. On the descent a few mountain bikers pass me as I walk from a trailhead through a campground back to the trail.

This area seems fairly well trafficked as I pass many day hikers and bikers. Eventually I find myself in canyon with lots of running water. I take a wrong turn and walk almost 2mi(3km) the wrong way before realizing I was off trail. After turning back around I'm feeling the heat of the day getting to me so I take a break to dip into one of the large pools of water along the river. I drink plenty of water and begin a massive climb up Mount Lemmon.

Desert climbs

After Romero Pass the trail becomes nearly vertical. My speed drops to almost a snail pace as the evening approaches, I'm out of energy and I have to keep scaling up rocks. Eventually after what seems like a life time I manage to crest the mountain and plan to continue further to get water for the night. As the trail begins to head into the pine forest at the top of the range I see that there is also snow up here. Not wanting to deal with wet feet at night I backtrack 100ft(30m) and setup camp at the apex of the trail, now with almost a bird's eye view of Tucson below.

Near Mount Lemmon

Waking early I hope to get to Summerhaven early to resupply and grab a free hot chocolate that they offer to AZT hikers. It's a bit cold at elevation as I walk through some light snow on the trail and hop across countless little streams flowing on the top of the mountain. I come a across a hiker named Buzz who has somehow managed to coordinate their thru-hike and work schedule to occur at the same time.

Why did the turkey cross the street?

In my eagerness I arrive an hour before opening time for the Summerhaven general store, so I sit outside and charge my electronics. While waiting a hiker named Mosey catches up to me and offers me a bunch of their food and snacks which I happily accept. Eventually Buzz catches up as well and invites me to join her to go pick up her resupply box from the post office. She let's me have my pick from her package as she says she doesn't need any of it. Woah, I am able to get three days of food from her for free. Thanks Buzz! I head back to the general store that is now open to grab a few more snacks, my free hot chocolate and I fall prey to buying some mint chocolate fudge.

Around 11am I stop lounging around and start to head out and back down the other side of Mount Lemmon. The trail is fairly steep and extremely rocky but I continue at a fairly quick pace. The next spot that I head for is High Jinx Ranch which should have the water which I'm craving on this hot day. I eventually make it there in the late afternoon and eat my lunch as the local cat comes out to beg for pats. Just as I'm about to leave the owner, Kimberly, drives up and I'm able to use the toilet on premise before heading back out.

Desert sun set

I decide to hike a few more miles into the evening and pass another hiker, Star Fox. A few more miles and I end up cowboy camping in a dry riverbed wash.

Waking fairly early again I'm disappointed how quickly the sun comes out and turns everything sweltering. The landscape is oddly flat after the last few days of scaling mountains and now everywhere I look the plant life is prickly. The sun climbs higher and higher as I reach the first water spot for the day. It's a large 12ft(4m) tall water tank that I have to climb up and scoop from. As I eat lunch in the shade of the tank I chat with a hiking couple who are having issues with their filter being extremely slow and I recommend they use the Sawyer Squeeze instead of the Sawyer Mini.

Prickly plant Prickly plant

As continue along the to trail my stomach doesn't feel so good and I begin to worry that the dirty water I consumed a few day back is coming back to haunt me. Thankfully nothing comes of it as the day progresses and gets even hotter. Arriving at Bee Hive Tank at 1pm I decide it is way too hot to hike. I take refuge in a metal shelter nearby, crank up some music and dance the hours away. Eventually another hiker, Ricky Bobby, arrives and also takes a break at the water source. His buddy Seabiscuit was left behind in Oracle because his feet had been rocked by blisters. Eventually Star Fox arrives and we all chill out in the shade waiting for the heat to subside a little bit. The next section is supposed to be a ~20mi(32km) dry stretch so we all fill up all the containers we have with water and head out just before 4pm.

Desert sunset

As we leave I realized one of my 1L water bottles has a leak, probably by brushing a cactus while going to shit earlier. Thankfully the leak is near the top so I can still carry 3/4L in it. The trail greets us with rolling climbs and a very angry diamondback rattlesnake. I pass Star Fox then Ricky Bobby and they both stop early. I push into the evening as I want to arrive in Kearny tomorrow. Eventually I stop along a bumpy jeep track section and text a trail angel in Kearny so that I can have a spot to shower, laundry and sleep indoors for the first time since the beginning of the trail.

Waking up at 5am, I hike like I never hiked before. There are two or three 1000ft(300m) seeming climbs in my way as I munch down the caffeine infused snacks Buzz donated to me. Just before reaching the trailhead I call the local pizza shop in town which gives AZT thru-hikers a ride into town. I am able to do 26mi(42km) by 12:30am. As I wait for my pickup, I chat with another hiker named Gypsy who is taking a break and continuing on. She complains that she's run into 8+ rattle snakes already, yikes!

Prickly plant Prickly plant Prickly plant

My ride arrives and his name is Dr. Pizza, the former owner of the pizza joint in town. I get dropped off at said pizza parlour and order a large pizza and 2L of cola as I settle in for the early afternoon. The trail angel I texted the day before was not home but said I could still head over and just let myself in. Hoping it's the right house I enter the backyard and am greeted by a nice dog who is shivering at the sight of me. He eventually comes over to pee on my foot but then soon warms up to me after a few reassuring head pats. Pizza in Kearny

I wait for about an hour alone in some strangers home for them to arrive. Eventually they do show up and are super welcoming couple, Queen and Jeff. I get my shower and laundry done before they pick up two other Australian hikers. Since I was first to arrive I got to stay in my own room with a large bed. In evening we sit in their back porch chatting and it turns out my buddy Goose stayed here about a week back! I make myself some eggs and bacon(donated by my hosts) for dinner and then head off to my room for the night.

I wake early in the morning so I can resupply at the IGA, grabbing roughly six days of food. This IGA is also very hiker friendly, offering AZT hikers a free coffee and donuts. After returning with my food and packing up, Jeff drives me back to the trailhead so I can continue on my journey.

Climbing adjacent to the Gila

The hottest day yet awaits me on the way out of Kearny. I wind along the trail just out of reach of the Gila River for most of the day. Winding up and down ridges I finally take a side route straight to the river to fill up on water. The access point is full of parked jeeps and a group of locals. I stroll right through them beelining for the river and they ask me what the hell I'm doing out here. I take a seat to chat with them awhile and satisfy all their questions while they offer me a 2 gallons of potable water, saving me from having to filter from the silty river. As I say my goodbyes to them they give me a bunch of encouragement and well-wishes for the rest of my hike.

AZT Low Point

I quickly feel heat exhaustion after an hour or so and I decide to get back to the river and wait out the sun. Relaxing by the riverside underneath a draping tree I take a moment to soak my legs in the river. A few locals pass by me during the ensuing hours and stop to chat and even give me a beer. Around 4pm I head back onto trail and straight into a huge climb. On the way up I spot a gila monster and try to capture it on video on to realize after it's scurried off that I didn't press record.

Trail before Superior Trail before Superior

As I continue to climb upwards and sun the hides behind the mountain peaks I enter one of the most beautiful sections of the entire hike. It feels like another world as I'm surrounded by massive peaks and crags, with valleys down below and other mountain ranges filling my periphery. I hike until the last bits of light are snuffed out and setup camp at the highest saddle in preparation of reaching Superior tomorrow at noon.

Trail before Superior Trail before Superior

Waking early I'm off and pushing to get to town. There is a large storm that is supposed to be coming through and I'm hoping to spend it indoors in Superior. I tried texting the local trail angel twice but received no response so I figured I'd try and stay at the local hostel. As Im hiking in the morning I pass a triple-crowner named Gaucho and then also catch Ricky Bobby. Ricky Bobby says he has a reservation at a motel and I ask him if he'd let me split the room with him and he says he doesn't mind. Once we both arrive at the trailhead the owner of the motel is nice enough to come and pick us up.

Mexican restaurant breakfast+lunch

The room isn't ready so Ricky Bobby and I go grab lunch at a Mexican restaurant and get to know each other a bit better. After we head over to the Family Dollar to resupply and grab snacks for the evening. Dinner is meted out from the local Italian restaurant and then we settle in for the night at the motel.

Storm brewing

The journal continues here for day 13-24

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