Mile 402 to 434. 32 miles.
Hit the trail about 6:45
and as I assumed, the first 2 miles were the same getting lost every few minutes and being shredded by the vegetation at the same time. Went down by a creek that was actually pretty well marked with cairns. Oh how much joy you get when you think you’re lost then you see a big rock cairn!
Once I made it to the beginning of the Mazatzal divide passage that I had been warned was poorly maintained and took forever to get through, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the trail was just open switchbacks gently ascending the mountain! I hit the top of the climb and the trail moved into a ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forest! And the trail was flat and open and soft with pine needles! I crushed miles here and the cool air and piney smell was positively enjoyable! Plus now my pack much lighter because of all the food I’ve eaten and the abundance of water means I’m only carrying a few liters at a time.
Beautiful trail! Burned dead trees.
After about 4 or 5 miles of this nice hiking I finally entered the hell I’d heard about. Completely overgrown trail. A forest fire had come through years ago and all the big trees died and all that was left was thorny shrubs. Like not just one kind. All of the thorny shrubs. There were raspberry canes, multi flora rose, scrub oak with leaves pointy like a holly bush, some kind of supremely evil locust shrub with inch long very stout thorns, then this recurved thorn low shrub that would hook into your flesh and pluck a little piece out, and then the huge thorn fucker. Sorry I don’t know the name of some of these but the huge thorn fucker was the worst. Growing about 3 feet tall and with huge 2 to 2 1/2 inch sharp as hell thorns that just puncture you. They’re all hidden amongst the leaves of the bush so you don’t see them coming. At one point I felt a sensation of pain that was new to me. A big thorny fucker hit me so hard and square in the shinbone I think the thorn actually hit the bone itself. I thought I was stung by a bee or some other critter but it was just a big ass thorn that hit deep and broke off in my shin. It’s still here and I can’t get it out without digging for it and I don’t want to make it worse.
Oh and there is no walking around them. You’re on a mountainside that is pure thorny shrubs. You have to push them out of the way with your body because they are leaning all over the trail, for miles. It wasn’t always constant, you’d get breaks for a mile or two here and there but the shrubs would come back and just kill your morale. They just rake your skin and when there is an already wounded area it hurts even more. Not usually drawing blood but it’s still quite painful. I’d liken it to being scratched by an angry cat. Now imagine a trail with angry cats lining it for miles at a time and they are just using your legs as scratching posts. That’s what it feels like, but not as cute as that. Well why not wear pants? Because it’s hot at shit and I tried that a few days ago. It just makes you sweat and then scratches hurt even more, and these thorns would most certainly go through my lightweight pants. Maybe if you had very heavy canvas like pants and a shirt you could get through the brush unharmed, but what thru hiker carries that? Jr Sr and his jeans probably would have faired okay.
😦 freshly cut human
I got so frustrated at one point that I transformed into Samurai Woody, screaming and wielding my trekking poles I did some trail maintenance on any shrubs that dared cross the trail. It was a good way to let off steam that had been building all morning. I beat the shit out of them. I can’t believe my trekking pole didn’t break.
Now why is the trail so bad here you may wonder? Nobody does trail maintenance here I don’t think. It’s just not feasible. It’s in the middle of nowhere with no easy access points and the task of clearing the trail of miles of brush would be a Herculean effort. You would need hundreds of people with machetes spending countless hours, and then next year do it all again as they all grow right back. So I’m pretty sure the Arizona Trail association gave up on it. I can understand why, but that doesn’t help the hikers.
It was this bullshit on and off the entire day. The only good thing is you could always follow the trail. Once you hit the Mazatzal Divide passage there was no more getting lost. There was just lots of getting shredded. Okay the views were actually pretty awesome as well.
Near the end of the day I came over a ridge and could see the snow capped San Francisco Peaks in the distance! Wow! I didn’t think I’d see them so soon! If all goes well, I’ll be in Pine tomorrow night
. Hopefully in a hotel taking a bath and eating a burger. 30 miles, I think can do it with that motivation. Just please no more thorns.
The San Francisco Peaks wayyyy in the distance.
I liked the colors with the sun getting low and I’m so glad I too this shot. This is one of my top favorite landscapes I’ve ever taken. Just love the colors so much.
Update: I wrote this in the moment, when I was very frustrated and this day sounds pretty down and not fun. That’s exactly how I felt. Now that I’m in a hotel, just ate a burger, took a shower and am happy as a clam, I don’t think it was all that bad, but that’s not that feeling I had yesterday. I want people to know not every day is a good day thru hiking. Sometimes you just have a very bad day. This was one of them.