Saturday, March 28, 2015

AZT Day 24-To Mexico!

Miles 11.9 (Crest Trail) to 0 (the Mexico border)
Arizona Trail Passage 1

Our campsite last night could not have been better--what a way to start our final day for our 300 mile section hike of the Arizona Trail!  Wind gusts howled up the mountains and swirled over treetops, but down in our little spot, I was snug and untouched by the breeze. I lingered in my hammock eating my cold granola trying to savor the moment and tuck it into my memory.  The warmth of my quilts in the cold air, the pine smells, the deep satisfaction in being in the mountains and having everything you need in your pack.
Farwalker tells us the names all the peaks around us.
The location of our campsite also set us up perfectly for a gorgeous sunrise at a saddle with views in both directions.  SO happy Dru selected our spot.  If I had been hiking this solo, I would have never camped up here and would have just cruised on past this whole passage in one day.  But because we are doing fewer miles, I got to spend more time here and it is just so worthwhile not to have rushed this gorgeous sky island--certainly a major highlight of this trip and one of my favorite places.
Happiness is...  THIS!
And first rays of sunlight on ponderosa pine--can't get any better than this!
The Crest Trail (which is the Arizona Trail here) follows the ridge and is quite an remarkable trail with good footing for such rugged terrain.  We cruise up high, soaking in the beauty.  
On top of the Crest Trail.
Well-constructed tread on steep terrain.

Through the burn area.
 Unbelievable huge trees up here above 8000 feet.  We pay homage to an ancient gnarled juniper.  And see tree species I'd never expect out here-- blue spruce and aspen. 
What are you doing here?
Lichen up here!
More of the unexpected.
Bathtub Spring is the southernmost water source on the Arizona Trail.  It's one of the iconic places of this trail, and I've seen photos of it before in all the AZT trail journals I've read.  I imagine all the countless hikers and others before them who've also gathered water at this very spot.  Sends chills down my spine to think of it. 
Jan gets water from Bathtub Spring.
Steady drip out of the faucet.
A pile of water bottles, food cans, and blankets had been left above the trail by illegals.  We all packed as much as we could carry out into our packs, but didn't have room for everything.  We've seen a few empty water bottles here and there, but this was the largest amount.  So sad.
Too much to carry out.
A half mile side trail took us up to Miller Peak with incredible views.  At 9466 feet, it is the highest peak in Huachuca Mountains.  Being up there felt like the end, the climax, of this journey.  I tried not too get too emotional but it really hit me that this trip was about to end. 
View of Montezuma Pass from Miller Peak.
When we finally got to the Mexican border, as law abiding as we are, we didn’t even pause before squeezing through the barbed wire fence to stand at the monument.  How totally fitting that the trip ended with barbed wire, and we could think about all the dozens and dozens of barbed wire fences and gates we've been through.
We made it to Mexico! 300 miles!  Woohoo!
It was also fitting that our trip ended with our characteristic sillyness that been a constant highlight of our trip.  We'd been hearing from a few of the northbounders about the register at the border--some mentioned they'd signed it and others said they couldn't find it.  Well, Jan and I were ready because of course we knew about the register and couldn't wait to see the names of all the people who'd we'd met that had signed it.  Imagine our surprise when we could not find the darn register anywhere near the monument.  I wished we'd taken a video of us looking under rocks and cactuses, checking along the fenceposts, tapping on the monument with our hiking poles to look for the secret opening to hiding spot for the register (it's under a rock on Springer Mountain on the Appalachian Trail after all!).  I imagine there is some sort of spy camera and that the border patrol saw us acting all strange-haha!  OMG we felt so incompetent! 

We decided to just hike back to the parking area at Montezuma Pass where we hoped we would have enough cell phone reception to google the location of the darn thing.  Which is exactly where we found the register--near the parking area!

Farwalker's husband met us at the trailhead with ice cold drinks, and took us back to town.  The scenery we passed this last day was unparalleled-such diversity and certainly a highlight of the entire trip.  I still can't quite wrap my head around it all.  Nothing like I imagined.  So much laughter and fun and challenge and beauty. 
Another AZT sign pointing the way north.  I love that we always go the other way.
Thanks so much to my parents and Farwalker's husband for being such awesome support this trip!  And thank you all for reading and following along!  More posts about gear, planning, and such to follow...

AZT Day 23-Miller Peak Wilderness

Miles 24.1 (Parker Canyon) to 11.9 (Crest Trail)
Arizona Trail Passage 1
12.2 miles (with 2,800 foot gain)

Big day of climbing today- my favorite! But first, we met my parents at FR48 for a record quick resupply just past Parker Lake. 
Heading out early to skirt around Parker Lake.
My parents brought us fresh food (yogurt, avocado, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs-yum!) and the latest news about how Grandpa spent his first few nights in the nursing home and is doing fine there.  Yay!
Resupply frenzy in the wash.
And we are off again in only 45 minutes!
So delighted to have my parents' loving support, not just logistically but I know having this experience with them is something I will treasure my whole life.  I love that they not just get this whole hiking thing, but want to be part of it.  Feel so fortunate for that!
Me and my parents.  All smiles!
Today we climbed up into the Huachuca Mountains, the southernmost sky islands along the Arizona Trail.  It's up Soctia Canyon then up Sunnyside Canyon, then up up up the switchbacks.
Mimulus-lined streams in Sunnyside Canyon.
After we fill up on water for the rest of the day in Sunnyside Canyon, Jan and I use teamwork to corner and catch a bubble butt/ whirligig beetle.  They are super fast swimmers and hang out in groups at the surface of the water.  They also keep a bubble of air trapped so they can swim underwater a long time.
Finally caught a whirligig beetle after many days of trying. 
I loaded up with extra water so I feel more exertion on the 2800+ foot climb.  It's hard but that good kind of hard that makes my body feel like it is this amazing mountain climbing machine.  As my muscles respond and my legs move in the rhythm of my breath, everything seems right with the world, and its one of the few times I feel completely happy in my own skin and can love my body just as it is. 
Big mountains ahead.
As we climb, the leaves get smaller and forest types transition again and again.  We enter ponderosa pines. And then there are lupine and rocks.  
Towering ponderosas.
And then we enter a whole new world up here where the trees are all windswept Japanese sculptures and the sea of desert stretches in arcing waves.  We gaze at the steep downhill slopes, and wonder what are those mountain tops in Mexico like, and is anyone up there looking across the valley over at us?
From our campsite up above 8000 feet.
We bathe in the warmth of the setting sun feeling small and grateful to be up here listening to the bird songs.  We talk about the wonder of this trail and how it makes us feel so strong that we made it here and oh so happy.
Farwalker sets up her tarp right at the top where she can see forever.  I tuck my hammock down below in the lee of the hillside beneath towering ponderosa pines with pine needles and grass and crunch of pine cones and pine needles and breathe in the crisp air.
Feeling strong as I set up my hammock for the night.
It is still early when I sink into the comfort of hammock and warmth of quilts for my last night on the Arizona Trail for this trip.  It is so cold up here at high elevations that being in bed by 7 PM just makes sense.

I love knowing I can just rest here for the next 10 hours. No to-do list, no emails I have to write, no things I should be doing. I am free from feeling like I should be doing something else, or that I'm slacking off by doing something mindless. Instead I can just be here. Maybe think, maybe listen to the wind. Feel my body relaxing and letting go of everything.

AZT Day 22-To Parker Canyon

Miles 38.8 to 24.2 (Parker Canyon)
Arizona Trail Passage 2
14.6 miles

Woke up refreshed and energized.  The sound sleep I got in my hammock last night made up for my lack of sleep in the hotel.  Guess it makes sense that my hammock now feels like I'm in my "own bed" since I've spent more nights in it over the past year than anywhere else.
Strong old trees.
Got all fired up on the morning climb, passing lots of incredible trees.  Hard to slow down.  Fortunately I could go out in front of Jan and Farwalker and do my own pace and wait at junctions or high points.  My legs feel like they are going to explode with energy unless I hike hike hike, like my legs are some sort of wild untamed animal that need to run up these mountains.
Scared by barbed wire fencing, but still kickin'.
Rolling terrain all day.  Dropped down into canyons with pools of water including Middle Canyon and Pauline Canyon.  The oaks are turning color and Farwalker says they'll drop their leaves soon as the buds burst and new grown springs forth.  She calls this "spring-fall."
Remarkable diversity of galls these past few days.  I slow down to check out all the fuzzy galls here, and see the spider webs glistening in the dew (with cool trapdoor or funnel webs?)
Galls with trap-door spider web in background.
Ohh look how cute this one is!  I want to keep it as a pet! Photo by Jan.
Gained a ridge with views into canyons in both directions.  Amazing feeling to be able to see so far. Behind us is Mt. Wrightson where we were a few days ago.  Farwalker points out more landmarks-- Los Cabezas in the distance and the high San Rafael valley.

We camped in Parker Canyon amid big spreading oaks, near a stream with great flow.  Even with this gorgeous campsite, it's hard to stop hiking at the end of the day. My legs and body feel so strong and I long to keep hiking til dark like I do when I hike solo. I miss what it feels like to be tired and sore at the end of the day. I didn't anticipate that it would feel this difficult to do shorter miles.
Evening light on Parker Canyon creek near our campsite.
But I'm so happy that at this campsite there is a stream.   I watch as a water beetle (perhaps a whirligig beetle?) catches a fly and the other beetles chase it around trying to steal its prey.  Better than TV!  Then I try for a long time to catch the water boatmen (unsuccessfully).  Next, I turn over rocks and watch the spiders.
Spiders suspended above the stream.
I relax about the miles.  I wouldn't get to watch stream critters for hours, or take all these photographs, if I were doing more miles.  I'd be hiking and then drop off exhausted at the end of each day.  On this trip, I have all this energy to run around and explore.  So that makes me appreciative to be here with Jan and Farwalker and doing this hike this way.
Hanging from real actual tall trees for a change!
I can't believe there are only 24 miles to Mexico. I love waking up every morning outside and getting to hike all day through such beautiful and varied landscapes. I don't want this trip to end!

AZT Day 21-Canelo Hills

Miles 52.8 (Patagonia) to 38.8 (FR764)
Arizona Trail Passage 3
14 miles

Restless sleep in the hotel in Patagonia.  Beds are too flat and indoor air is too still.  How can I sleep without sounds of crickets or hootings of owls? 

I am happy to get early start back on the trail.  Stepping foot back on the trail feels like going home.
Out of Patagonia.
After a while of hiking with Farwalker and Jan, I take the lead and climb the hills at my own long-legged pace. I get to the top all refreshed and energized.  All I need are a few hills and I seem to get enough endorphins to feel on-top-of-the-world happy. Finally finding a way to have this pace work for me after struggling with wanting to do more miles. 
Heading for the hills.
From the high vantage point, we see Mt. Wrightson and the Santa Ritas behind us, and the Huachucas ahead.  But between us and those new mountains, are more valleys.  I love this sky island terrain, this up and down, the perspectives and seeing places we've been days ago.  It makes me feel like I know where I am in the universe.  Even though I'm just a temporary visitor here, I feel connected with and part of this land.
Spring green cottonwoods indicate water ahead.
Oasis rich with life.
We descend to the shade of Gate Spring and spot a canyon tree frog.  We watch him climb up the side of the rock using really cool huge adhesive toe pads.  His coloring made him blend in to the rocks by the water, but the rock he chooses to hang out on while we take his photo makes him stand out.  What a show-off!
He's got attitude!
A mile later, the pipe at Red Bank well is gushing with overflowing water.  In the heat of the day, we play in the water, going for a complete soaking to keep us cool for the climbing ahead.
Umbrellas provide endless hours of entertainment.
After another long climb, we gain a ridge with incredible views of expansive high grasslands of the San Rafael Valley.  Quite unlike anything we've previously seen.  Landscapes that make you feel so small and insignificant.

Farwalker likes to camp up high where she can see everything.  Though its a beautiful spot, but it makes me nervous because I normally camp low and hidden, out of the wind. 
Farwalker says just take a chance and camp here you'll love it!
If I were alone, I would hike further over the pass and cross down to a lower spot, but this is already a mile past our agreed upon distance for the day so we camp there.  We are three strong willed-women so it's not always easy to figure out how to hike and camp together, and there is much discussion.  In the end, I climb down into a ravine and find sheltered trees on the slopes for my hammock, then climb back up to join the others camped on the high spot.
Changing colors.
We watch the sunset and it's just like Farwalker said--totally enchanting.  The sky changes colors and the wind dies down.  I feel lucky to be here, glad to try new campsites instead of staying stuck in my usual routines.  These chances we take, these precious moments, this laughter, the making it together despite our different personalities-- this is what is gained by hiking together instead of going it solo. 
Golden moments.
I sleep in my hammock without the tarp so I've got a full view of the sky and stars. Feeling so peaceful.  I fall soundly into deep sleep. 

AZT Day 20-Patagonia

Miles 64.3 to 52.8 (Patagonia)
Arizona Trail Passage 4
11.5 miles

Short hike into the town of Patagonia today.  Or rather, we squeezed our hiking into a shorter amount of time because we were motivated by dreams of town food.

Temporal Gulch was scenic despite being a roadwalk.  Lots of streams and rich riparian habitats once we descended.
Walking down Temporal Gulch.
Heuchera sanguinea!
Rest break by the rocks.
Lots of opportunities to play in streams, one of my favorite activities.  I harassed the aquatic insects and turned over river rocks.  Excited to find caddisfly larvae. There was even a fish, less than an inch, but sheesh this is Arizona so who cares how big it was. 
Some of them were too fast to catch but this water bug (larvae?) was cooperative.
This aquatic spider had been hiding under a rock.
After climbing back into the hills to head into Patagonia, we met Heartbreaker and Mike.  I'd read their blog and saw they were going to be doing the AZT and GET this year and wondered if we'd meet them (see their blog, The Uncalculated Life). Once again, wished we'd had more time to talk, but one of the tradeoffs in going southbound is that while we meet all the northbounders, it's only ever in passing and not enough time for longer conversations.
Mike and Heartbreaker talking to Farwalker.
Patagonia is a great little compact trail town with everything hikers need, and the trail goes right through town which makes it really easy access.  Farwalker's husband met us just as we arrived in town.  We had lunch together, and then exploded our packs at the Stage Stop Inn.  My parents also took a break from helping my grandparents, and drove in to meet us and have dinner. Really makes this trip special to have their support.  We found excellent resupply selection at Red Mountains Foods, the organic market, and we even got sourdough bread at the Ovens of Patagonia bakery (note: this was the BEST BREAD EVER!).
Red Mountain Foods = Resupply paradise!
Hectic as usual to get all the town chores done in only one afternoon, since we decided not to take a zero here. Usually I dedicate my town time to writing and editing photos, but couldn't this time.  Feeling major blogger angst for neglecting my blogging and not uploading posts.  I'm worried I'll forget details or that I won't be as authentic and that my blog will suck.
Oops almost forgot to mention poppies.   Thank goodness for photos.  Poppies!
It also makes me appreciate how much blogging helps me relax.  Writing and editing my photos really helps me cope with transitioning between trail and town, which can feel quite overwhelming. Not to complain or anything I was so glad to have so much fun socializing it was incredibly fun.
Guess I'll just have to finish these posts up when I finish my hike.