Tag Archives: thru hiking

Day 2.

Miles: 28.2 

Dillon and I wake up before the sun rises and hit the trail just before 7. It’s so cool out and it quickly becomes overcast to add to the relief. We pass Griggs who’s still asleep near the water cache. This morning is so nice and relaxing compared to last night. The CDT follows well marked dirt roads and single track all day long. This makes us happy because we can zone out and make quick miles. Around 10 the sun comes back out and it’s full force heat. 

A Cholla blooming with the big hatchet mountains, where we hiked from yesterday.

Salazon makes salted chocolate bars and they’re so freaking good. Everything a hiker wants: fat, sugar, salt and variety of flavors.

You can see the windmill far in the distance 
We get to a stock tank which we could see miles and miles away and are delighted to find it has a water trough full of crystal clear water and its gushing out of a pipe! I toss the cool water all over myself and my overheating body is instantly cold in the strong breeze which has been picking up. We drink several liters each over the next hour and a half as we eat in the shade of some trees near the little pond. Finally we both feel good and happy. 

Much of the afternoon is a mix of burning sun and cool shade while waking on easy flat roads. We carry more water than we think we need because we are worried some more crazy cross country travel could slow us down, but that never comes. We can see rain clouds and huge dust devils in the distance, silently swirling. 

Dust devils in the distance

An ironclad beetle!

In the evening we’re both crashing and hobbling towards a big water tank when I see a little western diamondback rattlesnake coiled up right on the trail! I snap some photos and then he had enough and started rattling and went into a rodent hole. A quarter mile later we made it to the water tank where we met some new hikers! Arrow, Greenbay And Moment. They seem like a friendly bunch and we chat for about 20 minutes until they move on. We rest for about an hour and then move on too. 

The evening is beautiful and the low sun plays on the mountains that surround us. We get a second wind and push to a saddle where the sun has just set. It’s got a great vista and it’s absolutely beautiful. We set up camp battered but in good spirits.  

Walking through the desert

Little diamondback rattler!

Day 0. Travel Day

5/4/17

Woke up at 4:00 a.m. which always seems to be the time to start a great adventure. Flew out of the Cincinnati airport at 7:00 a.m. to Atlanta and managed to dodge all the storms in the area! Ran as fast as I could to my next plane which was already boarding when I landed (it always seems I either have 25 minutes or 12 hours between flights) and then took off for El Paso, Texas. After landing in El Paso, I got an Uber. My driver is from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, which is directly across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. She says that even though they’re right next to each other, the culture is very different. She says everyone on the American side is too rushed and frantic. Mexico is more relaxed and people know their neighbors better. It’s a lot cheaper to live there too. 

She drops me off at the public library in El Paso because I forgot to print out my Greyhound bus ticket. They need a physical paper ticket, I assumed they were like airports these days. Anyways, I quickly print off my ticket in the computer lab and then have nothing to do for 5 hours. The bus station is conveniently a short walk from the library. I go to CVS and buy a little supplemental food and then mosey on over to the bus station. I know bus stations kind of have a stigma to them… I get it now. Five TVs are playing the People’s Court with all the sound slightly off and they all echo. It got a little better when five Steve Harvey’s started hosting Family Feud. One of the TVs looks like it got punched because it’s all warped and green in the center. About an hour before I board I see a guy walk in and immediately I can tell he’s a thru hiker due to the Gregory backpack and lack of face tattoos. He’s from Germany and this will be his first big thru hike. Looks like we will be on the same shuttle to the border tomorrow! Look at all that trail ahead!

The bus ride is uneventful and smells like pee and poop. After 3 hours or so the bus dropped me off at the McDonalds on Lordsburg around 8:30 pm local time. I grab some fast food and head to my motel room at the Econolodge. I sent my trekking poles and umbrella ahead to the motel a few days ago so I didn’t have to be bothered by trying to take them as carry on luggage on the planes. They have always let me take them but also always stop me and heckle me until I tell them I’ve done it before and that satisfies them. I take a shower, get my gear ready and go to bed. 

It all starts in the morning.

Continental Divide Trail Gear List and Food

Just over a month to go! I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. Here I have compiled a list of the gear I will be taking on this trip. I have my Base weight calculated (all of your gear minus the clothes you always wear on your body and consumables such as food, water and fuel). Some items will be variable such as how many water bottles I’ll carry, depending on where I am on the trail. I’m starting with 6 just in case in the desert but will only carry 2 in Colorado and probably other northern parts of the trail.

Backpack and Water Treatment and Storage:
Pa’lante Packs Simple Pack with hipbelts about 15 oz
Sawyer squeeze 2.7 oz
6 1 liter smart water bottles 12 oz
Subtotal 29.7 oz

Sleep system:
Six Moon Designs Wild Oasis tarp tent with insect netting 13 oz
6 Aluminum tent stakes 3 oz
Enlightened Equipment Enigma 20 degree down quilt 19.4 oz
Gossamer gear airbeam air mattress 10 oz
Polycryo ground sheet 1.6 oz
Subtotal 47 oz

Clothing in Backpack:
Patagonia Men’s Capilene Midweight Crew undershirt 6.7 oz
Patagonia Men’s Capilene Midweight Bottoms 6.8 oz
Go lite down jacket 7.5 oz
Spare socks 3 oz
Enlightened Equipment Sidekick booties 1.5 oz
Outdoor Research Helium II ultralight rain jacket 6.4 oz
Subtotal 31.9 oz

Miscellaneous Items:
Petzl e+LITE Headlamp 1 oz
Sunglasses .7 oz
Toothbrush and toothpaste 1 oz
Compass .8 oz
Tiny Swiss Army knife .5 oz
Sunscreen 2 oz
Tenacious tape, sewing needle and dental floss .2 oz
Mosquito head net .7 oz
Swing Liteflex Silver Trekking Umbrella 8 oz
Subtotal 14.9 oz

Electronics:
Chargers 2 oz
Anker battery 15000 mwh 11 oz
Olloclip macro lens for IPhone .8 oz
Sony Cyber‑Shot DSC‑RX100 II 20.2 MP 9 oz
SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger 4 oz
Subtotal 26.8 oz

Total Base Weight: 150.3 oz or 9.39 lbs
All my gear outside of the pack
All gear inside the pack!

The size of the gear I carry has shrunk considerably since my southbound 2012 Appalachian Trail hike with Buzz Lightyear. I think I was lugging about 45 lbs in my 85 liter external frame pack when I started that hike. I had a machete, fishing pole, slingshot and tons of other useless shit. We had no idea what we were doing or what we had gotten ourselves into! By the time we got to Dalton, Massachusetts my pack was a 30 liter day hiking backpack that weighed about 25 lbs fully loaded (thanks to Tom Levardi for taking us to an outfitter)!

atA happy fool

I am one of those manics that never cooks on trail, I’m way too lazy to want to lug around extra water for cooking, then have to set up a stove, boil things and then clean out pots covered in gunk. I’ll just get warm food when I get to town in a few days. It just makes it that much better! The plus sides of this is I don’t have to worry about refueling, carrying a stove, fuel, pots/cups, or even utensils. No chores or wait time in the morning or at night and I don’t send up a beacon of scent to all the animals in the forest. “If you don’t cook then what the hell do you eat?” I eat whatever sounds tasty at that moment. I have no meals planned out, just a big bag filled with all my food. When I wake up I might eat some carnation breakfast essentials, granola bars, fruit and nuts. In the afternoon maybe chocolate, nuts, fruit, jerky, granola bars, and then the same for the evening.

I bought food enough for 9 boxes to be sent to locations along the CDT where there is either no resupply at all or very meager choices (a gas station for example). That being said, I have stuck to a lot of my usual favorites again like various granola bars, pistachios, pecans, pine nuts, jerky, candy, dried fruit, as well as lots of freeze dried fruit this time around. I found a company that sells freeze dried fruit in bulk for very cheap by accident a few months back. Its called Emergency Essentials and it is really more geared towards filling up your nuclear bunker than for hiking, but the freeze dried products are useful just the same. I have tons of freeze dried strawberries, peaches, raspberries and cinnamon apples. They weigh almost nothing but do take up a good amount of space. And don’t worry about not using them for awhile because as the bottom of one of the cans read, “best if used before May 2039.”

One of the items that I’m super excited for this time around are a variety of Salazon chocolate bars. They were created by a thru hiker and all have salt in them. The idea was that tasty chocolate could also be salted to help keep a hiker’s electrolyte levels up while at the same time eating one of  a hungry hiker’s favorite foods. They taste so freaking good.

I’ve also got a new camera this time around. Its the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 ii which is the camera Twinkle Toes and Bigfoot use on their adventures. I’ve played around with it a little bit and am stoked to use it on trail.

Less than a month to go! I can’t wait to meet other hikers and get back to doing what feels so right. Walking slowly across the varied surface of a planet and observing the other organisms that we inhabit this rock with.

Day 13. Beauty abounds.

7/12/16

Frenchman creek to county road 343 
16.1 miles 

Since we have no need to hurry we sleep in. Hit the trail around 7. It’s a nice sunny morning hike as we walk past some lakes and get views of a nearby valley which has smoke floating in it. Must be some forest fires nearby. We’ve heard about some on the news but can’t remember where they are. 

Gotta love the still water’s reflections

Distant forest fire smoke hangs in the valley

We make it to a creek and have second breakfast there. Two other hikers with ultralight packs are also eating there. The girls go ahead while I continue to eat and filter water. I make a mix is crystal light and maltodextrin for the hike up the hill. Maltodextrin is a high calorie carbohydrate that is easily processed in your body to energy and can be drank on the go with no need to stop for food. It’s a 2500 foot climb up the hill and very steep. The sun is blazing and it makes for a challenging hike. I put on my music and smash up the hill as fast as I can for awhile just to see what I can do. I keep a fast pace for a mile or so until I pass the girls and then it’s just too hard to catch my breath and I slow down for the rest of the climb. Feels good to really push yourself sometimes. You get an exercise high. I listen to Disney songs until the top. 

Bird of prey apparently are attacking people here.

Right where I belong

A metallic wood borer. Buprestidae family.

I wait up top until rapunzle shows up. She points out that there is a trail to a nearby bald so we drop packs and hike up it. There is a panoramic view of mountains all around. Mt. Yale is nearby and other distant 14ers are visible. We can also see several forest fires in the distance. We check the news and it looks like the fires aren’t too close to the trail. We hike back to our packs but don’t see Leah or Blistfull. Another hiker says the rushed on by.

Coming up the bald with Mt. Yale in the back.

🇺🇸

It’s more than a 3000 foot descent to a creek where we run into Leah and Blistfull who had thought we were in front of them so they were rushing to catch us as we were rushing to catch them! They didn’t see our packs in the shade. Oh well! We eat lunch and fill up on water and then walk an easy 3 miles to an awesome campsite near cottonwood creek around 3:30. We all jump in the icy water and cool off. It is still hot out so we warm up fast. We eat dinner and all get very drowsy and want to sleep even though it was a short day and only 4:30. We lounge around staring off into space and watching ants take away the flies we kill. There is a huge ant mound in our camp and all dead flies and crumbs end up in the mouths of the workers. 

In the evening Leah’s friend Ed shows up to help her get new shoes and surprised us with a watermelon as trail magic! We feast on it. It’s so fresh. Soon he starts cooking his dinner on a big pot on an old school MSR white gas stove. Pizza is his dinner. He lubes up a pot with olive oil, puts in some dough he made and cooks it. Then he adds pizza sauce, tons of cheese, and pepperoni. It smells so good. Then he makes another one for us! It’s doughy, melty and absolutely delicious. Some serious trail magic! We hit the hay soon after our treat. 

Down down down

Leah with the honor of cutting the watermelon. 

Day 11. Going With the Flow.

7/10/16

Miles: 0
Vail to twin lakes

We all wake up around the same time and talk about who’s going where. I’m still undecided if I want to go to Utah with Handy Andy, south with Snorkel and Bigfoot or back to Golden with Chance and John Z. I also check the rideshare section of craigslist to see if I can grab a ride west to any interesting destinations like Yellowstone, Bend, Oregon, California, Idaho or wherever. All leads in this department lead to a dead end except for a guy offering to take me west through Salt Lake City but he wants to stay there a few days. I look his number up on Facebook and find him. Looks like it could be sketchy so I pass. 

I finally decided to head to Twin Lakes which was in the direction Snorkel and Bigfoot are heading and they offer me a ride. I give them my wedding clothes and my 2 lbs camera that I haven’t really used much to mail home. They drop me at the store in Twin Lakes where a bunch of other hikers are sorting through resupplies and hanging out. As I pack my food away I meet 4 girls named Mush, Rapunzle, Blistfull and Leah. We talk about how awesome the hiker box is in the convince store. I grabbed a bag of walnuts and macadamia nuts, Nutella packets, coffee packets and some high quality toilet paper. The ladies made off even better with good jerky among other goodies. They say they’re heading to a cabin they rented a few miles up the road and said you can come if you want. I figured one more day off couldn’t hurt, I’ve got time to kill and friends to make! The cabin owner shows up and we pile into the back of his pickup. A short ride up the winding mountain road and we reach the place. We’re staying in a building called the “Barn.” 

The place is amazing. The “barn” is a sweet cabin with a full kitchen, 4 beds, a futon and wifi. Outside is a hot tub, and 50 feet away is an icy mountain stream with a cobblestone beach and fantastic views. We get settled in the place and watch the hoards of hummingbirds fight over the feeders. Then we check out the stream. I hop in to get a bit of a refresher. It is freezing cold but the sun is so hot it doesn’t take long to dry and warm up. 

Not a bad view from our cabin!

Dwarf Fireweed along the icy stream

We roast some marshmallows over the stove just for fun and then have a feast of a dinner with our extra meals and some eggs and bacon the girls bought at the store. I throw in my two packs of olives and a big summer sausage. It’s a scrambled omelette, hash browns, bacon, couscous and rice dinner. We gorge on the food and pretty much eat all of it. Then we hang out and digest. Leah is doing some crazy yoga like stretches and I try to do the same with pretty good results! The flexibility comes in handy again. 

We get sleepy before dark and I lay on the futon making a video on my phone for Twinkle and our buddies to have a good laugh. 

Day 9. A True Zero. 

7/8/16
Miles: 0
We all seem to wake up on our own and make our way downstairs where there are ultralight sleeping pads all over the floor. When backpackers unite there is always gear talk and trail stories. I enjoy this so much. It’s like I’m really in my zone, where I know what’s going on. A bunch of us walk over to a nearby lake and play ultimate frisbee and toss a football around for an hour or so and the play sand volleyball with some other people. Volleyball is my favorite sport to play. I love launching myself and smacking balls. 

There is a horrifying mounted deer head in the house. 

In the afternoon we all pile into cars and head over to the wedding rehearsal which is also accompanied by a fantastic dinner and drinks. We gorge on tacos, cake and margaritas. I do some of my flexibility tricks for friends who remembered me doing them on the trail as a gag and a bunch of kids are fascinated and try to mimic my moves with little luck. After dinner, Chance, Bigfoot, Snorkel, John Z and I try to squeeze in a short hike in the sagebrush covered hills near Vail. We run up a steep and dusty hill until we get a view. The cool desert air and smells of sagebrush makes me extremely nostalgic for the PCT desert. I loved the desert. I loved every bit of the PCT. 

Chance enjoying a margarita


Back at the house we play some games and drink some beer until we’re too tired to do so. Things get a little wild. Chance and I watch John Z preparing his pack that Handy Andy built for a fastest known time (FKT) attempt on the Colorado Trail. He is unrolling fruit roll ups, taking the plastic off, then rerolling them and stacking them neatly in a ziplock bag. It looks like several pounds of fruit roll ups. He’s also hiking the trail unsupported, which means he is carrying with him all the food he will eat for the entire 485 mile hike, never going into towns or resupplying at all. He needs to finish the trail in under 10 days, in other words, he has to average about 50 miles a day… 
Twinkle twerkin

Not real sure what’s going on right here

Day 4. Night Terrors

Miles: 22.2
Total: 104.1

Imagine you’re fast asleep, warm in your shelter. You wake up to an occasional pitter patter of raindrops knocked loose by the wind from the tree above you. You fall right back to sleep. Then you wake up to what sounds like a twig falling on your shelter, but it sounds a little odd. You can’t figure it out so you go right back to sleep. Then you are awoken to the sound of your shelter being shaken back and forth violently and you can see just the shadow of a large furry animal moving around just 2 feet from you and it is pushing into your shelter towards you! Welcome to my morning! With my senses all foggy from just being awakened by an animal thrashing the side of my little tarp tent my first reaction was to smack the side of the tarp to try and scare the attacker away while simultaneously uttering, “UHHH! Yaaaaa! Wuaaaahh! Ahhhh!” There wasn’t time to think of words, just primal fear sounds. After smacking the side of the tent I could see the animal, either a big fox or coyote, from the 6 inch gap under my tarp where the insect netting is. Because I had no time to find my flashlight I could only see this large animal’s outline. It was undeterred by my smacking towards it at first, then it grabbed my tent and something in the tent and tried to run away with it, the insect netting prevented it, I saw the creature run away about 20 feet, then change its mind and run right back at me and grabbed onto the item again and try to pull it away but by now I had the flashlight and I was screaming at it as it pulled away. Finally it ran off and my fellow campmates Gordon and Christian were awake and hopped out of their tents. I got out too and looked around for the suspect but it was gone. I found that it had pushed its face into the netting far enough to reach my food bag, then try to pull it through. During the shaking it ripped a hole in the netting. It almost pulled the bag out through this hole. Gordon noted that the animal also apparently managed to sneak into his vestibule and chew up some of his trash without waking any of us up. Sneaky bastard! At this point we decided it was probably a good idea to hang our food tonight. I’ve backpacked thousands of miles and kept my food in the tent with me and never had a problem or heard of anyone having a problem. The point of doing this of course is to prevent animals from getting into your food. Mice, squirrels, chipmunks, and bears can all figure out a bear hang pretty easily. Most animals are deterred by the human presence near the food. But last night was that night that we fear. I thought a bear was coming in. 

Just couldn’t get it through that hole.

We tried going back to sleep but were too shaken up. After about an hour of messing around on our phones the animal wandered right past Gordon’s shelter. We all said fuck this were not going to be able to sleep and decided to make a fire. Since it had rained for hours finding dry wood was a little difficult but we managed to find some under a bunch of thick canopied limber pine and other conifers. After many tries we got the fire going by using a backpacking stove to light up some small sticks. We got the fire raging and warmed ourselves up. It was very cold out at 11,200 feet where we were camping. We hung out and talked for a few hours until we half cowboy camped near the fire, dozing a few minutes at a time until we had to get more firewood. At 4 a.m. we decided to pack up and start hiking. We hit the trail around 5. 

Christian hikes with this tortured cat strapped to his pack. He was forced to buy it after accidentally breaking a ring in a store.

The hike up Georgia Pass was windy, cold and foggy. There were some snow patches left and I saw a snowshoe hare! Near the top of the pass alpine plants were blooming everywhere! Just a few inches tall and blooming in bright blue, yellow and white. As we descended the pass it began to clear, giving way to picturesque misty mountain views. My right knee also started to really hurt when going downhill. I tried downing a bunch of ibuprofen to dull the pain and it helped a little. 

Alpine forget-me-nots!


Most of the hike today was beautiful mixtures of coniferous forests and meadows. Unfortunately some of these meadows exist only because of the devastating mountain pine beetle which have killed off most off the pine trees in some areas. It is an unusual forest pathology issue because all the players in this destruction are native to the areas the damage is occurring. This beetle usually only attacks weak or dying trees. What caused this outbreak of the beetle to occur is that several years of hot and dry summers and mild winters stressed out the trees to a point where they’re all suitable hosts. I study bark and ambrosia beetles for my graduate degree so this hits close to home.

Area devastated by mountain pine beetle
We finally made it to the highway where we could hitch into Breckenridge just as my knee felt like it was going to give way. Then it started to downpour. We took the free bus to town and got some gourmet pizza and then unsuccessfully looked for a place to stay the night. It’s the 4th of July weekend and the town is insanely crowded. After much frustration we find a hotel for a reasonable price in The nearby town of Frisco. Christian, Gordon and I make it to the hotel on the free bus. The clerk there says, “Ifa you wanna to smoka da ganja, just go take a walk, don’t do it in da room.” We try to watch some tv but it’s stuck on the History Channel which is running a marathon of American Pickers. Oh well it’s something on the magic picture box. I fall asleep early and it’s one of the best nights sleep I’ve had in a very long time.

Day 34. Done! Oh Arizona, it’s Been Real.

4/9/15

Mile 773 to 801. 2 miles on highway 89, 28 on trail. 30 miles. 

Woke up early and was out of my room and waking down highway 89 at 6:10. 2 mile a road walk to the AZT trailhead. It was very cold. Maybe upper teens? My hands and face were painfully cold and as I walked, moisture from my breath collected on my mustache and froze into little ice balls that I occasionally picked off.   

 

The morning finally warmed up a bit as the sun rose among the ponderosa pines. I was just smashing the miles again. Another flat day for the finale. I walked down a wash for most of the morning and it finally opened up into a sagebrush flat with a view of the vermillion cliffs off in the distance. That is Utah! I can see the end!  

  Original gangster trans fat

Original gangster saturated fat

Oh my god cholesterol!!!

 Utah in the distance!

For the rest of the day these beautiful rocks got closer and closer. I thought the AZT ended in some scrubby desert in the middle of nowhere. But the trail began to head down a hill and then some switchbacks with an insane view of the beautiful vermillion cliffs the whole way. It was so beautiful. Birds were chirping and the wind had stopped. It was dead still and I was in awe of the last of the AZT.  

                       

As I made it to the terminus I looked around for a monument like the mexican border one but never saw one! Maybe I’m an idiot but I didn’t find one. As soon as I reached the parking lot I heard someone say, “Woody!?” It’s Coughee! He’s been hiking around the area and says its just insane everywhere. I got to the terminus much faster than I had expected. I told Coughee I’d be there 4-5 PM so I was surprised to see him when I got there at 2 PM. 30 miles by 2. The last half of the trail is a moving sidewalk. I’m done! I can’t believe it! It seems so long ago I started but at the same time not. The terrain was so different along the way that it seemed I was in totally different places than just Arizona. 34 days. 1 day faster than my goal, but since I had to skip the snowy area on the north rim I was spot on with my goal. 
We’re heading over to Zion national park to meet up with Twinkle, Rice Krispies, Big Sauce and Guthrie who we hike the PCT with last year. A bunch of them are doing a 100 k race tomorrow. As we pay the fee to get into Zion we have no idea what we’re about to drive through. The place is just out of this world. Massive pink and red monoliths, thousands of feet high. It’s like a gigantic red Yosemite valley. I had no idea this place existed. I have to get back here some day just for this park. Coughee and me both just looked out the windows with our mouths agape. The layered rock was decorated and had pines growing very sparsely among the cracks in the cliffs. It’s a park like no other.   

         

Meet up with our buddies at a sick campsite in BLM land next to a river lined with cottonwoods and surrounded by beautiful mesas. What a way to end this trip!

 Left to right: Coughee, Guthrie, Big Sauce, Twinkle, Me, and Rice Krispies.

Thanks so much for following along with my adventure! There will surely be more to come. If anyone has any questions about the AZT please feel free to ask me on this site or by emailing me at mberger3@mix.wvu.edu

Day 28. Fresh Prints of El Bear and Attempt to Summit Humphreys Peak.

Miles. 10. Some on AZT some off.
We slept in until about 7:30 because it was really cold and I wanted to wait for the sun to warm the area. It sure did get very cold last night. Enough to completely freeze the top of a small pond that was liquid last night. I stayed pretty warm until about 4 AM when I started getting chilly even with all of my clothing on.  

 Oh the aspen.

We ate breakfast pretty quick, jammed in the Guthmobile and drove to the trailhead. It is about a 9 mile hike one way to the summit of Humphreys Peak at 12,637 feet. We leave all our camping gear and only take cameras, food and water so we can cruise up the mountain. It’s easy hiking up the trail almost all the way until we hit snow. In the first large patches of snow we see some relatively fresh paw prints from a very large black bear! 

   

We get to a trail register and were only the second group to hike this trail this year. The last group was back in mid February. Then the trail gradually becomes completely snow covered, occasionally snow free on the south facing parts of the tail. The whole area is covered in many feet of snow. It’s early in the morning so it’s hard and crunchy so we can walk on it like a smooth rock free path. Hopefully it won’t get all soft and become posthole city like the Sierra Nevada did in the afternoon on the PCT. 

   

As were walking on the snow we hear a loud fluttering sound and in a tree is a big dusky grouse! Also called a blue grouse, they live on the north rim of the Grand Canyon and were introduced into the San Francisco Peaks back in the 70s! Apparently that was a success because they’re still here! And beautiful birds! This guy was flaunting his tail feathers and stayed put so I could take lots of pictures! 

       

We finally get up to the saddle that looks down into the eroded caldera of the stratovolcano that is the San Francisco Peaks and the views are amazing. It’s looks just like the Sierra Nevada on the PCT except instead of being a chain of mountains, it’s a ring of mountain peaks with lots of tiny volcanic hills off in the distance. You can also see flagstaff way down there, pretty small city really!  

     

The saddle is mostly open and free of snow in an area where we take lots of pictures and eat some food. It’s also covered in Rocky Mountain bristlecone pines! A distinct population, the only one in Arizona, the next closest place they grow is hundred of miles away in central Colorado! I always wonder how the hell such populations of alpine plants get so far apart. Maybe they grew everywhere In between during the ice age and got stranded at colder areas as the world warmed up? Or by some miracle the seeds got carried hundreds and hundreds of miles by some extremely serious wind, or a very alpine loving seed carrying bird that didn’t feel like eating the seeds but dropped them 500 miles later? Sure pine seeds have a little wing on them so they flutter around in the wind but they’re really a short distance dispersal kind of seed. Anyway, somehow they’re here and it’s amazing!  

 

We start walking across the mountains towards the peak and it didn’t take too long to figure out this was not looking very safe. The trail is buried in 6-8 feet of snow in some areas and it is crazy steep snow. Almost sheer drop. One slip and you’re sliding down the mountain a slamming into trees on the way down. There’s no way you could stop yourself. A little farther and we can see where a recent avalanche has plowed through some sorry looking trees. The trail goes right thorough this avalanche chute. On top of this the snow has a crust about half an inch thick and underneath it’s all dry powder for feet. I can stick my trekking pole all the way down until it’s buried with little resistance. This seems avalanchey to me. Easily moved powder feet deep. We unanimously agree not to keep going towards the peak. We really all want to be on the highest mountain in Arizona but we don’t feel like risking ourselves to do it. We made it up to 11,000 feet and got some killer views so we are satisfied! It’s okay to turn around. We eat a bunch of food and hang out at the saddle for an hour or so.  

 Avalanche wiped out some trees down thar.  

That sign be buried! 

  

 The snow is deep and steep! 

 

We head down the mountain and are postholing regularly but nothing as bad as the PCT. The snow has all become soft and it takes much more energy to walk on. We pass where the grouse was and he’s still flaunting sassily in his tree. We make it down the mountain with soaking wet feet and pass a few day hikers near the bottom of the trail. We cram into Guthrie’s car and head into town for a celebratory feast at McDonalds. Big Mac, 2 pies and an ice cream cone for me! Guthrie takes off to find a place to camp and Michael and me hit up the grocery store. I get a dozen eggs and an angel food cake. We book a room back at the Motel DuBeau after the Grand Canyon hostel messed our reservation up. I eat more than half the angel food cake and write this! What a kick ass day! ALSO! My amigo Coughee may be coming around soon to hike the Grand Canyon with me! Hell yea!  

 

Day 20. To Pine!

3/26/15
Mile 434 to 464. 30 trail miles plus 1 more to Pine on highway 87. 

I dreamt about eating a cheeseburger and fries covered in malt vinegar. I’ve been craving malt vinegar so much lately. What a weird thing to crave right? It got quite breezy during the night but other than that it was a good nights sleep. I’m sleeping better almost every night out here which is nice! Not to mention I go to sleep at 7 pm and wake up at 6 am! 11 hours of sleep every night! It’s really the best. I love mornings, it’s cool out, you can walk fast without getting too hot and I just like the light. At home I never see the sun rise. I’d usually sleep in until 11 am at least every day and stay awake until 2 or 3 am. Out here I’m back in the natural human cycle be awake during daylight and sleep when it’s dark.  

 

Hit the trail at 6:30 and had a fairly large and frustrating downhill that was steep, rocky and overgrown with thorny plants again. Lucky this was only a couple miles. The trail then hit the East Verde River, the largest river I’ve seen yet in Arizona. It was possible to not get my feet wet with a lucky trekking pole vault into a rock and to the other side where there was a peppermint plant growing on the bank! Smelled so good. 
   Came across this horse near the river. He smelled really bad and started following me for a bit. 

   

Then the trail went steeply up towards a mesa that I’d be on much of the day. It looked like beautiful walking looking at the topographic map, smooth very slowly climbing almost all day. The trail disappeared into a scree field at one point and I just could not find any cairns so I pulled out my GPS app that had been spot on every time about where the trail was in relation to where I was… until now. According to the GPS this is the trail!  

 The trail? Probably not.

I finally figured it out after climbing up this mountain thingy and saw the trail off to the east. At the top of the climb the trail did indeed become a wonderfully flat open area for miles and miles! Also cows were everywhere and they make their own trails. A lot more cows hike the AZT than backpackers do so they’re the ones keeping the trail looking trail like, trampling down the plants that grow on the trail to make it visible. The downside to this is cows also like to go wherever the hell the want. So there are all kinds of trails all equally worn going in all directions. The AZT trail builders solved this problem by building cairns to mark the trail. There have been cairns in other sections here and there but they did a marvelous job in this section with cairn building. You can almost always see the next one in the distance so you can ignore the cow trails going all over. Just keep finding the cairns! A bad part about this section however is its just all rocks. The trail is flat elevation wise but it’s rocksss. Rocks the size of softballs, but sharp and jagged. Ankle twisters and balance killers.  

  Nice Mesa!  A cairn made with weird rocks.  

The rocks. Worse than Rocksylvania! Just not as long.

Later in the day the trail got steep for a mile or two and once again all rocks! You could still make good time but I could feel blisters starting to form on my heels from not being able to get a solid foothold on a rock, as it rolled underneath my foot would smack the ground or other rocks and this constant beating did finally give me my first blisters of the trail. They’re pretty small, but still unwelcome.  

 This steep scree field IS the trail. It’s like this for a good long climb.

Almost all of the final 12 miles in passage 26 were on roads. After the Mazatzal area I was perfectly fine with this. Wide open and flat, no thorns near me. I crushed these final miles to Pine, listening to Gustav Holst’s “Mars” which seemed so appropriate with the red rocky plains all around. 
   That’s some good camouflage!

They puff up to look bigger when you pick them up. They don’t even run! He just let me pick him right up off the rock!   Easter chocolate or dried mud?

 This is one of those moments that I truly love. Maybe just leaves to you, but I immediately recognized these leaves as a Mertensia species, often called bluebells. I have some I grew from seeds at my house in Ohio and when you care for a plant from seed to  flower you really know it! Sure enough a few hundred feet later I saw a blooming bluebell plant. The thing is they’re never really common, and these two species are in opposite habitats on different sides of the country! I love it!

 I made it to the highway at 4:30 and began the 1 mile walk to THAT Brewery whom I called earlier and booked the last cabin they had for the night! I tried hitching the mile walk but had no takers even though about 30 cars passed me. When I got to the brewery I payed for my room, just $35 a night on weeknights! It’s got just about everything I want like a TV with cable, shower, AC, queen bed, microwave, fridge and all the normal hotel stuff! Plus it’s 50 feet from a BREWERY. I took a shower and then went right for the food they brewery serves. Got a burger with fries which I covered with malt vinegar. My dream realized. Also got their signature beer and it was good! And just $3! This place rules! Zero tomorrow. 🙂
   

 If I didn’t have toenails this would have hurt.