Flagstaff to Mile 596 (10 miles)
Yesterday was a zero day in Flagstaff. I spent most of the day lounging in my sleeping quilt on the floor of the hotel room. I say the floor because it was my turn to take the floor and the guys wash had a bed. I didn’t really mind though because I was warm and had indoor plumbing. I gathered some resupply items from the grocery store to include some ramen noodles, cliff bars, pro bars and PBJ. After I went back to the hotel room I had a little while to myself while the guys went to target so I iced my feet, ankles and knees while watching some tv. I had little motivation to do anything else and I really wanted to stay off my feet as much as possible.
This morning I woke at 06:30, happy to have slept better than the previous several nights. We all needed to stop at the Post Office but it didn’t open until 10:00 so we took our time getting ready, packing and even walking down to a breakfast diner. By 09:45 we left the hotel with our packs and walked the half mile to the Post Office where I mailed home a few things I didn’t need to try and save weight. My bag already was full from packing 5 days’ worth of food and barely closed as is so anything to shed a pound! While I was there I had several people approach me and ask where I was hiking, how long I’ve been on the trail and I was surprised by how inquisitive and polite they were!
Apparently the Post Office did not have Afterburners resupply box and told him to go to the other location so while we were all sitting on a bench outside an older gentleman approached us and asked if we were hiking the AZT then asked if we needed a ride anywhere so Afterburner took him up on that offer and drove him to the other location and back to where we were sitting waiting on him. It didn’t take long though and before I knew it we were hiking our way through downtown Flagstaff towards the trail. Not even a block away we had an older guy on a bicycle make his way over to us and said he was a trail Angel and he hiked the AZT 30 years ago before it was even an established trail. Pretty remarkable! While he was talking to us a younger woman approached us also and asked if she could offer help in any way. This town was blowing my mind! Finally we were again on our way.
Several miles up the road we took our first break under a large pine tree as it was already going on 12:30. I wasn’t super hungry but I ate a few handfuls of nuts since they weighed the most. While sitting there we decided our ending spot would be around mile 595 because that was the lowest spot on elevation (7,573’). Since we left town so late there was no way we could have made the climb up around Mt. Humphreys and down the other side before nighttime. The trail is around 20 miles to clear the mountain otherwise we would be camping between 7,500’ and 9,000’ which is way too cold right now! So for today we would make it a short day.
We took several smaller trails through the area, mostly biking trails so every so often we would have to jump out of the way of bicyclists. The trails were pretty though and we walked on soft dirt most of the time. At 4 miles later we finally made it to the official Arizona Trail again and we took another break. It was so early in the day we didn’t want to arrive at camp TOO early so we took our time. This section of trail steadily climbed and wound its way around and underneath large pine trees scattered for miles and miles. It was beautiful in a creepy way! I thought I would have seen wildlife but I saw nothing more than a few birds- so strange! We didn’t even see any other hikers!
At 4:00 we found a nice flat area settled amongst the pine trees and claimed that as our campsite for the night. I took my time setting up my tent and getting things organized. Wayback set his new tent up he bought at REI because he’s been getting too cold while cowboy camping in his bivvy. Once we were all set up we met in the middle and sat down. It was nice and quiet where we were and the sun was shining down on us through the tree branches so it was a perfect temperature.
I fired up my stove a little after 5:00 so I could be done with dinner and get cleaned up/changed before the sun went down and I wouldn’t be cold doing it! I chose refried beans with Sriracha and some Hippeas with a vegan pop tart for dessert. I had the beans because I didn’t have much water left and the next water source wasn’t for another 6 miles up the trail. I had just enough water left after dinner for a cup of coffee in the morning and a few sips for the 6 mile hike. It’s supposed to be near freezing temps at night so I normally don’t drink cold water in the mornings anyways. Not a huge concern… for now!
Mile 596 to Mile 622 (26 miles)
I slept about 4 hours but was surprised it wasn’t very cold for being up higher in elevation. I was able to pack up quickly and have my coffee with a ProBar. It was my first one and I found it to be delicious! Just enough to fuel me up for the morning. We started on the trail at 05:20 and followed the flat dirt trail for about 2 miles before it began to climb but it was not a difficult climb at all! In fact it was a gentle incline up to almost 8,000’ through massive pine trees before we took our first break 5 miles in.
We found the Alfa Fia Tank, more like a duck pond than anything but I was glad it was there. Up that high the water was ice cold and it was even colder sitting out in an open field with the wind blowing while I filtered 2 liters. I made some more coffee to warm up while I did that. After, we continued up to the high point on that section of the trail which topped out at a little over 9,000’. By then the sun was in and out of the clouds with the wind whipping around me. I had to keep my puffy jacket and beanie on most of the day. It was beautiful up there and I found myself surrounded by aspen trees. We hit smaller patches of snow going up to the top but it was cold enough to walk right over the frozen snow making it easy to deal with.
Once we started descending on the north side of the mountain though the snow came more frequently and as it warmed up I started to step on the snow and sink (post-holing). Pretty soon the snow was getting higher and I would sink lower with every step. At one snow patch I repeatedly post-holed up to my knees! Cold snow found its way under my gaiters and down into my shoes making my feet get wet. Luckily it wasn’t too cold to where the cold feet were an issue.
Where going up the mountain went quickly, the descent was 13 miles! It seemed to take forever to get down but it was very easy walking. I caught up to Wayback at 12:30 (Afterburner was far behind us) for lunch and realized we had hiked 15 miles by then! It didn’t feel like we had gone THAT far. I felt pretty good at that point. I sat down next to a slightly burned tree and finding it impossible to escape the high winds fought my way through lunch with a PBJ wrap, hippeas and a snack bar. As soon as we were both done we packed up anxious to warm up by moving. We still hadn’t seen Afterburner and assumed he stopped for lunch behind us somewhere.
1.8 miles later we arrived at Kelly Tank at mile 612.7. It was a large brown bear box that was maintained by “Trail Troll” and had over a dozen gallon water jugs; some fire specific people and others for public. I refilled my 2 liters and after a short break I continued down the trail. By then we had just left the mountain area and were now traveling down a pasture area that had previously been burned but looked like it was cleaned up. A dirt road ran alongside the trail separated for several miles by a barbed wire fence. The trail followed the rolling hills that were full of lava rock on both sides but didn’t touch the trail too often.
We followed the trail into Forest Road 416 for the rest of the day. It was a nice easy (mostly flat and not rocky) that zigzagged around juniper trees. My energy started slowing down around 3:30 and so I put on a podcast to wake up and zone out for a little while. Finally after leap frogging each other, I sat down to rest my feet for a minute or two while Afterburner and Wayback both went ahead. When I stated hiking again the trail began to get rocky and descend. I could see the plains north of me where I’d be spending the next several days trying to make my way to the Grand Canyon. If you e never been there before, there are a few mountains around the Flagstaff area, then the land becomes flat and boring with tons of juniper trees and a ridiculous amount of wind.
Speaking of, as soon as I was able to catch up to the guys, they had gone almost a mile north of where I told them would be too far as it wouldn’t have any wind protection outside of the tree area. But they found a large rock formation south and almost a quarter mile off trail. Once we got there though the wind came at us from all directions. There was a small wash just below the rock and although it was still windy, it wasn’t AS windy so we set up camp there. It was a struggle trying to put the tent up in such strong wind. I thought it was going to blow away several times so I hurried up and threw my gear inside to help keep it down then I stacked heavy rocks on the stakes to keep them in the ground. Once I was set up it was already after 6:00 so I just climbed in changed and made my dinner inside the rainfly. I was too sick of the wind today to sit outside with the guys (I don’t even know if they sat inside or out).
All in all today was a good day and I was able to walk 26 miles without much foot pain so I’m hoping tomorrow also feels good!
Mile 622 to Mile 644 (22 miles)
So my day started earlier than usual. At 1am we all woke up to the high winds. I felt a tent stake give up so I waited until the gusts slowed down then went out to restake it to the ground and secure it with large rocks. I crawled back inside as the sand and dirt pelted my face. I tried to lay down and go back to sleep but the gusts continued and once again I went out to restake another corner of the tent. When I went back inside I tried to curl up and go back to sleep, hoping it would be over by 04:30. A few minutes later I felt sand and dirt hitting my face as I lay inside and then whack! The entire side of my tent concaves and the top bar hits my head. At this point I am concerned. I don’t want my tent to rip so I make the decision to start packing up.
I brought my bag inside and carefully put my things away while trying to use my body to keep the side of my tent still. Once everything is packed, all I had left to do was pack up the tent. I tried going over it in my head and while there were steps I planned to take, I knew it would not go down pretty, especially in the middle of the night. As soon as I step out and walk around to the other side of the tent I hear snap! and I watch in horror as the head-side of my tent collapses after one of the poles on top literally snaps into two pieces, only held together by an inside bungee cord. There is nothing I can do at this point as the rest of the tent starts flapping in the wind so I quickly grab my rainfly stakes and pocket them except I can only find 3. Great. I take the rainfly off the top and since I can’t seem to fold it I end up rolling into a ball and shoving it under my bag to keep it down. Then I do the same for the tent and ground sheet. At this point I see Afterburner walking over towards me and asks if I’m calling it and I said, “well yes my tent pole broke so I’m just packing up now there’s nothing else I can do about it.” He said, “ok I’m going to pack up and maybe I can get a nap in later”. He goes and tells Wayback also to start packing. I now have 3 balled up pieces and I am able to shove 2 of them into the tent bag and the other one I shove into the exterior bungee next to my z-flex pad. That was exhausting to clean up with the sand and dirt swirling around my head. I turn my headlamp off and wait for the others. When I looked up it was so clear and dark out I could see the Milky Way and all the billions of stars. Then I see a shooting star!
Once everyone is packed up I turn my headlamp on and start to make my way back to the trail, stumbling with each step in the wind. I was in the lead and it was difficult to see the dirt road because the wind was kicking up so much dirt and my light caught it all. We hiked without talking to each other because it was near impossible to hear over the wind, cutting at us from our left side then directly into us. We walked slowly in the dark for 3 miles before making it to the Cedar Ranch Trailhead at mile 625. Here, we found a hiker box filled with gallons of water so we all topped off with me taking 3 liters total. Wayback made us coffee and I ate a fig bar for breakfast even though the wind was all around us still.
By the time we were finished the sun was starting to rise so we could then our headlamps off. The road took us another 4 miles with not a lot of trees to stop the wind. Luckily it was now at our backs and quite literally pushing us down the road. We reached a large metal cattle tank with a rancher working outside next to it. Wayback approached him and asked if we could use it to try and block the wind so we could finally rest and the guy was very nice. He even offered to let us sit in his truck. But we walked around the other side of the tank where the wind was less but still there. I grabbed my mat and sat down on the ground. I had a snack then laid down and tried to take a nap next to this huge round metal tank. It was useless. Even though the sun was now out, the wind still found its way around to us and with it, kicked up dirt and everything in its path. I laid there not even 5 minutes then decided to try and fix my tent pole instead. After I used my knife and a smaller shepherd hook tent stake to try and open the holes so the metal wouldn’t slice the bungee Wayback gave me a v-stake and I used that to stabilize both ends and wrapped it up with leukotape as I was out of duct tape. It seemed to work for now. After an hour of sitting in the cold wind we packed up and moved on.
As soon as I stepped out from behind the tank I knew today would suck. The wind picked up and I couldn’t even stand straight. As I walked up the dirt road I would lift my foot to take a step forward but would end up taking 2-3 steps to the side instead. I was stumbling my way up this road worse than a drunk trying to walk the line. The wind would catch my bag and whip the top half of me one way while my legs were trying to go a different way. It took my breath away! Finally after another 2 miles we reached an area a where it wasn’t as strong so I took a few minutes to rest and enjoy it before we pushed on again up to a trail junction which put us right on a ridge.
I was running out of energy quickly and was so happy when I found Afterburner tucked behind a tree eating lunch. It was only 10:00 but we had been hiking since 03:30. I sat down and enjoyed a PBJ wrap with the rest of my hippeas. I wanted to take a nap so bad but we pushed on. This time the wind was at its max as we dipped down into a wide open called with hardly any trees in sight. I could barely keep my feet on the trail and had to keep stopping and turning my back to the oncoming wind. Using my hiking poles were useless because the wind just pushed them aside so I used my other free hand to hold my rain jacket hood in place. This valley was almost 3 miles long and when we finally reached a slightly wooded area I saw a bench made out of rocks and just collapsed on it in the sun. The guys continued on but I didn’t care, I needed a few minutes! When I did catch up to them I was at zero energy but was happy to hear they needed a longer break so I was able to relax too and even made some cold coffee. This helped immensely when we started again as I had more pep in my step, my music also woke me up and the sun was nice and warm.
We had hiked 16 miles before noon and once we reached 19, we would hike 2 miles then sit and take a break and repeat. We were all tired from only 3 hours of sleep and pushing our way through the wind. When we hit 22 miles Wayback “called it” and found a sheltered area to camp in the trees. If one person calls it we all stop for the night, but none of us complained about this today even though it was only 4:00. So I carefully set up my tent, nervous still about the pole. We reinforced it by adding a second v-stake on the top and taping it again so the sharp metal wouldn’t slice through the leukotape. Once my tent was up I crawled in and relaxed for a while before making ramen for dinner. Then more relaxing time before an early night tonight in case the wind decides to play bully again.
Mile 644 to Mile 668 (24 miles)
Last night was decently warm and it didn’t get cold until we were two miles down the trail and the sun came up. Sometime during the night I heard an elk wander near our tents and making elk noises but when I asked the guys in the morning they slept through it. I told Afterburner, “he was literally on the other side of the tree you were cowboy camping next to!” I guess it was just for me then. After we started hiking all I wanted was some hot coffee and to warm up but I had difficulty catching up to Wayback as he is a speed walker! We were hiking through Babbitt Ranch and even though there were small hills and lots of trees everywhere, the path was relatively easy to hike on. The dirt was so fluffed up from yesterday’s winds that each step created perfect footprints.
At 4 miles into the hike I finally meet up with Wayback- only because he was sitting down at a dirt road junction- but that was okay with me because it was directly in the sunlight! I sat down and started to boil some water for our coffee when Afterburner caught up to us too. The coffee tasted delicious and I was sad to see it was my last one and I only had one more black tea to use for tomorrow morning. When I took inventory I also noticed I had just over one day of food and barely enough snacks also. I hoped we would make it into Tusayan by Friday (in 2 days).
As we were packing up a guy approached from down the dirt road and introduced himself as Stewart. He said he was thru hiking also and is trying to find the water cache at the next trailhead (Moqui Stage Station) 1.5 miles North of us. Us too. So he led the way and a quarter mile off the trail were 2 gallons of water and 3 bottles of Gatorade. I took a Gatorade and only 3/4 liter of water so others behind us would have some, then I crushed one of the empty jugs and attached it to my pack so I could throw it out at the next trash can opportunity. Then Stewart takes off though the woods and not in the trail. We joked about him taking shortcuts and I dubbed him “Shortcut Stewart”. After the next road junction we didn’t see his footprints in the path’s dirt anymore. Guess he is a road thru hiker. Is that a thing?
We followed the monotonous trail with no fun views or changing scenery which seemed so boring after the previous 600 miles and I had no signal to listen to music so I started to lose energy. I did see some deer and right before Russell Tank at mile 656 I saw a couple of wild horses right next to the trail. Pretty neat! When we approached the tank (more of a pond) we saw 4 more horses drinking at the waters edge. Then one started playing in the water while another one started to pee in it. All I could think was- gross that’s our drinking water! I’d have to say that after filtering 2 liters of it, that was the worst tasting water I’ve had on the trail. Even the cow pond water tasted better!
We then sat down along a down tree and had some lunch while watching birds swooping down around the water and the horses moved behind us to keep watch on us. After lunch we wandered across the trail to the other side where the Russell Tank Trailhead was and to our delight we found a vault bathroom (with toilet paper!) and a bunch of trash cans! So we all emptied our pockets and bags full of trash including the water jug I still had and took turns using the bathroom before heading out. By then it was already 12:30 and we had only gone 12.5 miles!
The trail was a bit squirrelly after the tank because it was a maze of different paths that crossed each other and there were no trail signs. Eventually we cut through and found the right trail. By mile 658 we crossed a road and onto the Coconino Rim Trail which led us up and down and around, well, a rim! Off in the distance I could catch glimpses of the Grand Canyon and it would make me smile. The wind had picked up around lunch time and the temperature had slowly began dropping so I put my coat and beanie back on to try and stay warm.
We followed the rim trail for about ten miles before reaching a trail junction to Wildlife Tank. We planned on camping in the area so we wanted to grab water for tomorrow’s hike. The tank was a half mile walk from the junction so we stashed our bags in the trees and only took our water filtering kits. It’s necessary to filter all water we find that isn’t in a store bought water jug. Most of the water tanks we drink in are filthy and could easily give us giardia (results in nasty Pooh’s) In fact, one hiker behind us had to get off the trail to deal with it for a few days. Anyways, the tank was easy to find and although it was somewhat clean water there were a lot of floaters in it. When we arrived back at our bags we decided to find a campsite first so we ended up continuing on the AZ trail for maybe a quarter mile before we cut off and walked though the woods to find a flat, no wind area. It didn’t take long.
I set my tent pretty fast as the air was getting colder. The weather said low 30 so I changed I’m my tent before having dinner. I ended up putting as much clothing on as I could. For dinner I mixed a black bean soup with my last refried beans. I didn’t realize how much food it would make and I ended up having 3 burritos plus a couple spoonfuls I order to finish it and that was after Afterburner gave me a Cliff bar. Then I made some hot sleepy time tea in order to warm up before bed. It’s cold nights like this that make me wish I could have a campfire. We normally cannot because of fire bans and my synthetic clothing would just melt if an ember landed on it. I hope it doesn’t get too cold tonight. Who am I kidding… it’s always cold on the trail!
Mile 668 to Tusayan (14 miles)
It took me a while to warm up last night but quickly fell asleep and slept hard! I woke to Waybacks alarm at 04:30 and realized it wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be. Maybe because I slept in all my clothes? We packed up and not two minutes down the trail we found the Grandview Trailhead where we took advantage of the bathroom and trashcan again before setting off down the trail in the dark. At around 06:00 when the sun first started peeking above the treetops I heard rattling and when I looked down I saw ice chips floating around in my plastic water bottle. Not five minutes earlier I took a drink from it and there was no ice!
Pretty soon I had to stop for a quick break and when I got back on the trail the guys had passed by and were now out of sight. I was hoping they would stop soon for coffee and breakfast (I always look forward to breaks apparently!) but the farther I hiked I did not see them. As the flat trail started to switchback down into a small valley I heard commotion off to my left and after hearing it several times I realized it was a turkey gobbling away like it had so much to talk about! A little over half a mile later I saw Wayback sitting on a tree log partially in the sun. When I got closer I saw he had water boiling in his pot. He had coffee and I ended up having black tea, my last bit of caffeine until I could get my resupply box. While we were sitting there I saw movement and identified a coyote crossing the trail ahead through the pine trees and quickly out of sight.
After breakfast I heard my phone ringing and was able to talk to Jen for a little while and by the time the call ended I was leading the pack down the trail. The caffeine had kicked in, my feet get okay, I had tunes playing in my ear and the sun was warming things up. I practically felt like I was skipping down the trail. When I reached a gate to go through I looked behind me and didn’t see them anywhere so I took my mat out and sat down in the sun. Looking at my app I only had 6.5 miles until reaching the trail junction to Tusayan. That went so fast! A couple of minutes later the guys show up and take a break too.
When we start hiking again I made it another mile before realizing I was getting way too hot so I stop to take off my base layer pants and then got back on the trail. I didn’t see the guys again for the rest of the way to Tusayan. Along the way by myself was pretty and I was able to enjoy the scenery at my own pace while listening to a podcast. Unfortunately I didn’t see any animals other than a blue jay but I did see a lot of bobcat prints in the dirt.
A mile later I made my way around a horseshoe bend and spotted the guys sitting alongside the trail at our turnoff. When I approached, Afterburner was on the phone and Wayback said we got the permit to camp down inside the Grand Canyon at Cottonwood campground! As soon as he was off the phone we cut down towards the small area of Tusayan and climbed over a barbed wire fence, walking into a local RV park where we spotted a laundry facility. Afterburner went in to the office and signed us up to use the one washer they had. Apparently they shut off the others and had a signup sheet for COVID reasons. Ridiculous. So we had two hours before it was our turn and we walked to McDonalds so they could get food then checked in at the 7 Mile Motel. I jumped in the shower and it felt wonderful to be clean before taking my clothes over to the washer. It was 3.50 for a load so we only washed them and hung everything up around the motel room to air dry. Once laundry was done I sat on the bed and had no motivation to do anything else for the rest of the day! We have two days off until our camping permit on Monday night.