AEG: 5,520 ft
We flew through the first couple of miles to X9 Ranch Road, where we left off the last time we got off the AZT in this area.
Back on the AZT!
Soon we reached the Saguaro National Park boundary. Up until this point the wildflowers were sparse and withered, but from here there were plenty of great looking blooms for the next couple of miles. After taking a short break at the Quilter Trail water crossing, we passed our first thru-hiker of the trip and started the long climb to the top of Mica Mountain.
As we climbed the environment slowly transitioned from saguaros and ocotillos, to shrubs and century plants, then oak grasslands, and finally pinion-oak as we rolled into the Grass Shack Campground. Here we met 3 other thru-hikers. One was on her first thru-hike, and the other two (No Trace & Unbreakable) are triple crowners (those who have completed the PCT, AT, and CDT). We stopped to eat lunch and enjoy the company at the campground. It's always fun to pick the brains of triple crowners.
After finishing up lunch, we filled our bottles at the spring and continued on the trail up to Manning Camp. From Grass Shack, the environment transitions to a hearty ponderosa pine forest. At the campground there was one other person staying the night, a section hiker from Canada who had picked up the trail at Grass Shack and was planning on continuing to Superior.
By the time we were going to bed I was feeling pretty crappy. Extremely soar throat and congested. Before starting the trip I was still getting over a chest cold, and apparently I wasn't better yet. We expected it to be very cold at 8000ft, but surprisingly we both kept pretty warm the entire night.
AEG: 2,910 ft
Today was our "long day", with minimal AEG. Our goal was to make it to Molino Basin Campground. I woke up feeling slightly better.
After packing up camp and getting some more water at the spring, we headed up the trail for the top of Mica Mountain. Along the way we passed No Trace and Unbreakable again. The pine forest on top of Mica is quite impressive. Once we topped out and started down the other side, views of the basin below and Mt. Lemmon open up. Italian Spring had drinkable water but lots of algae on top.
We started the long descent into the basin below, and then the traverse across the hills to the base of Lemmon. Beautiful grasslands! By now the mistake of wearing newish shoes for this hike had caught up with me and my right foot had been rubbed raw on the back. I tried fixing things up with some mole skin and some bandaids.
Just before the Lake, we caught up to the section hiker from Canada who was going to stop at the next drainage. We stopped with him at the drainage to get some water for the last hump into the campground.
Once we got to the campground we greeted the camp host to get a spot. We asked him if there was any water around, he claimed "there is no water, it's dry out here." We were both surprised a little considering how much water we had seen getting to this point. He kindly offered us a liter each to make it through the night, and gave us a spot which was right next to the AZT. We didn't quite believe him about the water situation, so once we set up camp we dropped into creek bed below the campground and sure enough there were spots that had running water (not even 200 yards away from the camp host, I might add...)
AEG: 5,133 ft
I woke up feeling terrible, super congested, coughing up lots of phlegm, and running a small fever. I thought about bailing at the Highway next to the campground, but decided to try a few miles before making the decision. The going was extremely slow, probably less than 2mph.
We reached Shreve Saddle and took a quick break, I popped some Tylenol for the fever. I knew after this point I was going to be committed for some serious uphill either going forward or turning back. I decided to keep going.
We saw lots of people along this stretch going to Hutch's Pool. It was cool to see Saguaros again near the bottom, because at the end of the day we would be back up in the Pines. I'm a sucker for "transition hikes." Once we reached the bottom, we took another break in Sabino Canyon where there was flowing water. This was the point where I was either going to commit all the way to Summerhaven or go back. I nearly turned back here, but there was just too much planning that went into this and I wasn't sure I would be able to come back to finish this up for a long time.
We passed the junction to Hutch's Pool and started the long climb up through the west fork of Sabino Canyon. This place is stunning. With every foot of elevation gain the views got better. The trail itself is graded extremely well so the climbing felt almost effortless. Once again we got to see the transitions from saguaros, to sparse pines on Romero Pass. There were plenty of pools and spots with running water in the canyon.
I was starting to feel a bit better after we took a 30-45 minute break at the pass. It was a good thing too, because this is where the real climbing starts. You aren't graced with very many switch back after this point, it's just straight up. About half way through huffing and puffing, I looked at my Arizona Trail app to see how much further we had to climb and let out a little snicker. My cousin asked "what's up?" and I told him "do you really want to know?", he said "yes", I told him "it gets steeper." We both laughed and continued up the mountain.
After topping out and taking a break, we joined the Wilderness of Rocks trail. This was by far my favorite part of the hike. This is one of those places that feel really special, a feeling of reverence overcame me. We meandered through the beautiful giant boulders and trees, before reaching an awesome spot to camp right next to Lemmon Creek.
By the time we were going to bed I felt great, except for my feet. I used some alcohol wipes, and anti-septic wipes before reapplying a few bandaids.
As we drifted to sleep I heard a series of bangs/explosions in the distance, which culminated into a bunch of bangs/explosions at once. Fireworks in Tucson?
AEG: 2,609 ft
We got up excited for a real meal in Summerhaven. It was actually warm enough during the night that I started sweating in my quilt. After eating a quick breakfast and filling our bottles with water out of Lemmon Creek, we started the gradual 1000ft climb to where we would meet the Marshall's Gultch Trail. I was still awe struck by beauty and grandeur of the Wilderness of Rock. We made our way to the paved road we would walk into town on.
After satisfying a soda and candy craving at the General Store, we ate some breakfast at the Sawmill Run restraunt. The manager or owner (not sure which) came out to talk to us and asked if we were on our way to Utah. We told him we were ending this segment in Oracle.
Oracle Ridge was hot. On the way down we met a 3 time triple crowner "One Gallon", who was taking a siesta in the shade of some cedars. We talked with him for about 45 minutes. Another very interesting person.
We reached the American Flag TH about an hour before the sun set.
This now puts us at just over 50% of AZT miles completed, and we have now connected a foot path all the way from the border to Roosevelt. Woo hoo!