Whoo Hoo! I did it!
I hiked this Passage in 3 days, and I had a blast! Here's what happened...
A new pair of boots. My current boots feel like the sole is as thin as tissue paper. Yuck. I needed a pair that could withstand the rocks. So off to REI we went. We'll see how they stand up to the trail.
I knew I couldn't hike the entire 33+ miles in a single day, so I decided to split it up into 3 segments of about 10 miles each, hiking one segment each day.
I scoured HikeDEX, looking for likely start and end spots for these three segments. I quickly settled on Double Springs campground, since the trail goes right through there, and PineGrove campground, as the trail goes past there. Looking at the distances, from the southern trailhead at Gooseberry Springs to Double Springs campground was about 12½ miles. From Double Springs to PineGrove was about 9 miles, and PineGrove to northern trailhead at Marshall Lake was about 11½ miles. That looked like a good three-way split.
I knew we couldn't "check in" to the campground until 2:00, so I was wondering what to do with the extra time on Monday, our first day. I noticed that the trail crosses FR91 after 1½ miles. Hmmm. At the northern end, I noticed the trail goes very near the observatory about 1 mile from the end. Hmmm. If I hiked these two short segments on Monday, I could shorten those two long days - just a bit. Sounds like a plan.
Then, a just a week before the trip, I read on the AZT website that part of the trail would be closed due to a logging operation. ARRGGGG!! Yes, the forest service had arranged for a bypass trail down the mountain, along the Mormon Lake Road, then back up the mountain to re-join the trail. But, :yuck:
OK, with all the planning done, here's how it went!
Day 1 - Monday
We left Mesa at 8:00, and arrived at the southern trailhead at 11:00. I got out, and started hiking. My wife drove to FR91, then hiked back looking for me. After I missed a turn and walking 0.3 miles too far, I joined up with her at 11:55.
We then drove to the observatory. I got out, and started hiking at 12:30. She drove to the northern trailhead and waited for me, petting a horse while she was there. She enjoyed that! After I arrived at 12:50. We loaded up, and drove to the Double Springs campground, checked into Site # 14 (the trail goes right past it!), and settled in for the night.
Day 2 - Tuesday - Hiking South to North
The alarm went off at 3:15. I fixed my breakfast, packed the backpack, made sure everything was ready, and woke up my dear sweet wife. She drove me to FR91, and dropped me off, drove back to camp, and went back to sleep (she's no dummy)! My boots hit the trail at about 4:45. It was cool in the predawn hours, and the hiking was great. After about 30 minutes, I realized I wasn't feeling the rocks! So I started looking for sharp rocks to step on. Yeah, I could tell I had stepped on a rock, but no pain. Nothing! The boots were great! With the cool temps, I made good time.
I saw two elk cows, and numerous squirrels.
It was a really nice trail - easy to follow, very nice views; it made hiking a joy!
All too soon, I came to a trail junction. The sign said "Mormon Lake Lodge 1.1 miles". I knew the bypass was shortly ahead, and that my wife said she would meet me at the lodge, so I wouldn't have to walk down the Mormon Lake road. So I turned off the AZT, and followed the trail. Soon, I saw TONS of hoof prints. Obviously, this trail was used by the stables at Mormon Lake for their guided rides. Whenever I came to a junction in the trail, I simply followed the hoof prints. I arrived in the village at 8:00.
I called my wife's cell - no answer. I called my daughter in Mesa, and we chatted for a bit. She asked if the trail gods had required a blood offering. "No, not yet
." I tried calling my wife again. Nothing. I guess I hiked faster than we'd planned. So, down the road I went to Double Springs.
Oh, a funny. I was walking on the "proper" side of the road, facing on-coming traffic (what little there was of it), minding my own business. Suddenly, a horny toad whipped past me on my right, cut in front of me, and into the grass! I burst out laughing! I knew I was slow, but to be passed by a horny toad! Jeez!
Three miles later, I arrived at the Double Springs campground at 9:00, turned in, and walked up the road to our campsite. I was almost there, when here comes my wife, driving the Suburban! Great timing!
It was then that I realized that I had forgotten to turn on the tracking on my GPS. ARRGGG!
Because of the good boots and the cool temps, I made really good time - about 11 miles in 4 hours, including rest stops.
Since it was just 9:00, we decided to play "tourists", and drove to Flagstaff. We stopped at the Canyon Vista campground, which has a nice access trail to the middle of the next passage, #31 Walnut Canyon. That's my next planned hike.
We then drove to the northern trailhead of Walnut Canyon Passage, at the Cosnino exit on I-40 to checkout that trailhead.
Then on to Buffalo Park to find the memorial to Dale Shewalter, father of the Arizona Trail. After asking and a bit of looking around, my wife found it. (see the photoset) :thanx: Dale!
We then tried to drive to the northern trailhead of the Mt. Elden Passage, but the Shultz Pass road was just too rough, so we turned around and went "home".
Day 3 - Wednesday - Hiking North to South
Again, up at 3:15. I ate breakfast, packed, and woke my dear sweet wife. Today, I was going to hike from the Pinegrove access trailhead back to Double Springs. When we arrived at the trailhead, I realized I had forgotten my boots! Oops. They were still back in the tent. Back to Double Springs, grab the boots, then back to Pinegrove. I suited up, and hit the trail at about 5:00. I made sure to turn on my GPS tracking before I started!
I enjoyed the scenery, the great trail, cool temps, and watching the railroad bed. Suddenly, I saw half a dozen little black specks scurrying around the railroad bed about 30 yards in front of me. What the...??? Just then a turkey stood up. Oh, that's what those specks were! Turkey chicks! Of course, Mamma Turkey spotted me instantly, and started walking away from me. I got a couple of pictures of her, but the babies were too hard to see. Neat!
Later I spotted three elk cows through the trees. Dang, they're quick!
Throughout the morning, I saw lots of evidence of trail maintenance. Deadfalls had been cut and moved. Thanks to all the workers! The trail was great!
About then, I realized that the entire morning, I had been hiking uphill. It had been a gradual incline, so gradual I didn't notice it, but as the morning wore on, the trail got steeper and steeper. I knew this segment was about 9 miles long, so I kept an eye on my odometer, knowing that I would have to go downhill to drop down into Double Springs campground. Six... Seven... Eight... Finally
, the trail started going downhill. About then, I met my wife, coming up the trail to meet me. I followed her the last mile back to Double Springs, arriving in camp at 8:50. About 9 miles in 4 hours, including rest stops.
Now, we had to pack up the camp, and move to PineGrove campground. It was then I realized how tired I was! That gradual uphill all morning long had really worn me down. I was bushed!
Day 4 - Thursday - Hiking North to South
I had been worrying about this day all week long. I knew this segment was up on the plateau and there was very little shade. I wanted to start this segment as soon as possible, and hike as fast as I could, to get off the plateau, and down into the pines before it got hot.
I prepacked everything in the car before going to bed (including the boots!) Again, up at 3:15, a quick breakfast, and on the road. We arrived at the observatory about 4:15, and started the morning ritual of "The Taping of the Heels." I have bone spurs on both heels that quickly develop blisters, if they're not protected. So my wife puts gauze pads on duct tape, then puts the tape around my heels. If there are any sore spots, she tapes those up, too. Just in case.
We sat and waited for enough light to see the trail. By 4:35, it was light enough to see, and with a kiss to my sweetheart, I was off.
The trail is rocky, but every chance I got, I picked up my pace, and walked along as quickly as I could. I stopped to take a picture of Lake Mary from the edge of the plateau. After taking the picture, I realized I hadn't recently heard the reassuring beep of my GPS as I passed the waypoints. I looked at it, and the track was gone! HUH?! I zoomed out, and the track was 0.15 miles off to my left. Dang! What was this nice, beautiful trail I had been following? Grumble, grumble. So, off trail I went, watching my GPS to find the "real" trail. Soon enough, I came to where it should have been. Nothing. Just a faint two-track. I turned, and followed the GPS track. As I hiked along, in the back of my mind, I vaguely remembered a discussion I read about the trail being re-routed closer to the cliff for "a better hiking experience." Dang! I guess I didn't get the most recent track from the AZT website. About a mile later, there comes the trail, from my right. Grrrrrr... I guess it was my own fault.
A couple miles later, the trail suddenly turned right, and went around a fenced-off area, while the GPS track went straight ahead. I stayed with the trail this time (like I had a choice?), and the track consistently stayed about 100 yards off to my left. Soon, the fence ended, and the trail swerved left to meet up with the GPS track. Hmmm... Another re-route.
[After I got home, I downloaded the current track from AZT's website, just to check. It doesn't show either re-route. Grumble, grumble. However, HikeArizona's "official" track does! Yeah!]
Almost from the beginning of the hike, I began to see the same boot print in the dirt on the trail. It was comforting to see that same boot print mile after mile after mile.
In this section, the trail seemed to go from one stand of trees to another. The shade they provided was nice. I really appreciated that.
I turned the corner around one stand of trees, and there in the trail ahead was an elk cow grazing. I froze in place, and she lifted her head and stared at me. I stared at her. She finally took off, and through the trees, I saw another elk cow with her calf running beside her. How cute!
The trail eventually met up with a two-track road, and began to follow that. In numerous places, the road split, and there was no carsonite or rock cairn to indicate which way the trail goes. I just had to follow the track on the GPS, and hope for the best.
It was along here I saw a snake track in the roadbed. I'm no herpa... herpto... snake expert, but it looked like a sidewinder track to me. That severely slowed my pace for a while. I kept an eye out, looking at anything that even resembled a snake.
Just for the record, I'm 0 for 5. I've hiked 5 AZT Passages and haven't seen a single snake. (You do realize, I probably just jinxed myself!)
I saw several cows in this section. I just whistled and shouted "Heya!" acting like a cowboy. They stared for a while, then took off running. I kept an eye on them; I didn't want them sneaking up and goring me from behind!
The last few miles on the plateau are out in the open with only a tree or two to provide any shade.
I knew that the trail follows this two-track for quite a ways, then suddenly makes a right-hand turn off the track, and down into the trees. I kept an eye on the GPS track. I didn't want to miss the turn!
Soon enough, the GPS showed the turn coming up ahead. There is an AZT carsonite at the turn off. If you're not careful, it looks like the directional arrow on the carsonite points straight ahead - down the two-track. However, if you look carefully, the carsonite is angled - it points off the two-track and down the trail.
I glanced at my watch - 8:01. Into the trees and shade. Yeah! Coming down the hill, I met my wife hiking up the trail, coming to meet me. A quick kiss, and down the trail we went, walking to the AZT access trailhead. We finished at about 8:40.
I looked at my GPS. My moving average for this day's hike was an amazing 3.1mph! Whoo Hoo!
For me, that's impressive! (Yes, I know, for JJ, that's a leisurely stroll.) I was glad to get this section done before the day got too hot.
A huge THANKS! to this Passage's stewards and volunteers. It's a beautiful trail - well cared for and in great condition. It would have been nice to have the GPS track match the trail, but I survived. That's all that's important.
AZT by the Numbers:
Miles Hiked: 115.3
Miles To Go: 684.7
Percent Complete: 14.41%
Segments Hiked: 5
Segments To Go: 37
One last note... Do your hikes have a "theme song"? I was listening to some church hymns, and heard these words:
Does the journey seem long,
the path rugged and steep?
Are there briars and thorns on the way?
Do sharp stones cut your feet
as you struggle to rise
to the heights through the heat of the day?
I had to laugh! That sure sounds like some of my hikes! Whodathunk? A song about hiking in a church hymn!