Friday, March 6, 2015

AZT Day 4-Tortilla Mountains

Miles 262 to 247
Arizona Trail Passage 15
15 miles

This section between Kelvin and Oracle is suppose to be some of the hottest and driest on the Arizona Trail.  Our water reports listed a few stock tanks and water caches as the only places to get water--there were no natural sources.  When I emailed the passage steward, he said not to rely on either the stock tanks or caches, to bring all the water we'd need.  But how could we do that when we were backpacking through?  And then, signs at the entrance to this passage warned about taking water from stock tanks.
Doesn't this make you feel welcome.
These signs confused us because our water report and intel listed these tanks as water sources, and who were we supposed to call to get consent?  We needed these sources we couldn't carry more water than we were- we struggled already and Jan couldn't do any more miles a day. Would we get in trouble from ranchers like the signs implied? We'd met a hiker at Kelvin Bridge who told us she'd been shot at when she was working on trail construction.  She told us to be careful.  That not everyone was welcoming to hikers. But Farwalker had told me that no one can deny you water if you are in need out here.  Jan and I debated about what we were going to do and how to interpret all the conflicting signs.

(EDIT-later I was told that hikers can take water as long as they are respectful of the ranchers, take only what they need, and follow LNT principles.  Phew!)
Cowpies and barbed wire fences.
I was also nervous because my hiking partner from the PCT, Brian "Arizona", told me stories from his hike last year on the Arizona Trail.  There were a few water sources that ended up being completely dry.  He hiked for 5 agonizing miles in the heat without any water at all.  Would that happen to us?
We decided to skip this water source, but it was a good sign it had water.
Not today!  We found good water at Ripsey Wash at the spring above the cattle trough. As we filtered water in the shade, we heard an ATV driving down the wash- was it a rancher coming to tell us to get off his land? We hid in the scrub and hurried up the trail.
Good water at Ripley Wash.
All this water is going to be heavy.
Weighed down with all that water, we hiked in survival mode. Tromp tromp tromp. Heads down. We lost the trail a few times in the cattle trail maze, then again under the power lines where the GPS tracks didn't match the cairns. Sheesh we hated backtracking and the barren landscape and struggled to find anything positive. It's at moments like that when things are low that you find inner strength and learn the most.
Is this really a national scenic trail?
Once again I felt grateful to be hiking with Jan. We found things to joke about. And we're glad to be hiking and not trapped inside an office. We could appreciate that we were in the middle of vastness, out here alone, not seeing anyone all day- how rare and precious.  At the end of the day, we were glad to have made it through safely.

In retrospect, we wished we had trusted that there would be water out there and not to had to carry so much.  But then again, it was safest to carry extra.  I updated the water reports, so hopefully, other hikers won't have as much uncertainty as we had, and will be able to carry less water.
At least I found a spot for my hammock for the night.


  1. Finally caught up on your posts...what an interesting adventure. Desert hiking is something I'm wary off and don't have a lot of experience with. The water aspect is..yikes! Stay safe!

    1. I was so apprehensive about water before this trip, but we've learned so much on this trip and it's definitely gotten easier. I think desert water finding is a great skill, and this trail is a good place to learn. I think we are much better prepared now to take on other trails now. Of course it has also helped that we are hiking during one of the wettest springs in a long time.

  2. Love the water source pics. You guys are awesome. Water is so scary. So proud of you guys.

    1. This was a scary day for us, but we didn't know any better-- wish we knew at the time that the tanks would be full and that it's OK to get water and that those signs are up there so that hikers respect the ranchers, but aren't suppose to be taken literally. Hopefully, future hikers will have more up to date water reports and information.

  3. I'm so glad you took time to document these details. When looking at our photos it's easy to forget the battles raging in our minds, the emotional stress of the trail. It was days like this that gave us great opportunity for growth. I thank you for your patience and strength.

    1. It's hard to capture just how difficult this passage was, and how stressful it was being in survival mode. Guess if those feelings embedded themselves stronger in our minds, we'd never get back out there. I'm grateful for my selective memory that tends to overemphasize the beauty and feelings of triumph over the pain and frustrations.