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Overnight Test Trial

After testing my Gossamer Gear The One tent out two weeks ago, I decided I was not 100% comfortable with the tent when a storm came through with 60mph wind gusts and hail. After the first hour my tent just blew over and I had to run over to catch it before it blew away!

During the same storm, a guy was starting starting out his AZT NOBO (north bound) thru hike at the Southern terminus into his first day when 3 feet of snow fell. He did those first 3 miles while postholing (when each step into snow reaches mid calf and higher) and he became too exhausted to continue so he set up camp right on the trail to rest. His boots became frozen to the point he could not put his boots back on and ended up signaling to search and rescue due to hypothermia and frostbite.

I am so happy this person was rescued and is safe. Thank goodness for bad storms like this because I realized that was not the tent for me… at least for now as I do not want to be in the same situation! I ended up purchasing the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 instead. It requires one pole to stand and does not require to be staked down to stand up like the Gossamer Gear tent. To really test it out I ended up backpacking part of Passage 18 along the AZT this week. Not only did I test the tent, but also tested everything!

Passage 18 along the AZT begins outside the town of Superior, AZ at the Picket Post Trail Head. A quarter mile down a dusty road I found the large parking lot that was already full on a Thursday late morning. After locating the site host’s RV parked in the corner, I walked up and knocked on the door and much to my surprise he was inside. I asked him if it was okay to leave my Jeep parked there over night since the gate gets locked sundown to sunrise and he directed me to park in the middle near the bathrooms so he knows who is intentionally staying overnight.

As I walk out of the parking lot start to heading North along the trail, I double check to make sure I have all my essentials: car keys, water, phone, GPS. When I bring up the Guthook app on my phone (this app is updated by users for trail conditions, water sources, trail Angela, trail maps, etc.) it suddenly says I am logged out. Great. I have one bar of service on my phone and manage to get logged back in only to see my offline map I had downloaded months ago it deleted. Great. So I find a shady spot behind a small tree and wait the 15 minutes it takes to re-download the map before leaving a cell service area.

At the Picket Post trailhead

The first mile was slow moving as I was warming up to the trail, the surroundings and the weight on my back. I read there was a possible water source 4 miles in and a reliable water source at mile 8 so I only carried 2.5 liters of water since the temperature was in the cool 60s and windy. Soon I picked up the pace while taking in the scenery and before I knew it I was at the mile 4 water source which due to the drought this year was bone dry. I took a little break there and sipped some of the water I already had before moving on and into the canyon.

Bone dry creek bed!

The canyon crossed several time over the dry creek bed under the shade of large trees and rock formations for a few miles before spitting me out into direct sunlight and no wind. Before I knew it my 1/2 liter bottle was gone and I still had 2 more miles until the next water source. Not a big deal since I still had 2 liters remaining but I was unsure if there really was water win the cement trough like the app was telling me. Around 3:45 in the afternoon I found the windmill at mile 8 and followed the forest road a little ways down to the clearing. There I found four women on horseback taking a break and we chatted for a few minutes before they turned around to go back to the trail head.

There was a little makeshift picnic table under a tree so I took my shoes off , sat down and asked myself what I was doing and why I was here. I had no cell service, felt like I was in the middle of nowhere by myself and the sun was going to be setting soon and realized I needed to hurry up! I walked over to the cement trough with my water bottle and filter and took a peek inside. The horses had just drank from it but that part was okay with me. It was the green algae and all the black bugs swimming around below the surface of the water that I was unsure of. I ended up filling 1 liter and the water felt surprisingly ice cold so I was satisfied before headed onward to Reavis Trail Canyon Trailhead at mile 310.7 where I planned on camping.

My first experience with filtering from cement troughs.

From here I continued North West noticing quickly at mile 9 that not many people come this far because the trail suddenly became uncomfortable. As soon as I had this thought, I spotted a javalina not far ahead and froze as I watched a second javalina and its juvenile dart off into the brush and (thankfully) away from me! It’s pretty exciting to see these strange animals in the wild.

Just before 5pm I walked across the dirt Forest Road 650 and couldn’t help but to smile when I see a riverbed with running water AND noticed a Trail Angel stashed almost a dozen full gallon water jugs. What a delight! Even thought the sun had started to set behind the mountain leaving the area chilly, I sat down and soaked my feet for only a few seconds each. The water was freezing but refreshing. After filtering some fresher water (I decided to leave the gallon jugs for the thru-hikers) I continued up the trail to an area the Guthooks app said was good for camping.

Reavis Canyon Trailhead offers water!
A wonderful Trail Angel provided some water to hikers

This area was an old corral with a stone wall surrounding a perfectly flat area and offered a nice protection from the wind that was with me the entire day. Even though I just received the Big Agnes tent two days prior I was able to quickly set it up and unpack everything to get settled in. By this time, the temperature was dropping quickly and I started to shiver even with my hiking pants and puffy coat on. For dinner I heated up a packet of garlic mashed potatoes and enjoyed the scenery while I ate.

So far this stove has worked out great even in the wind
Mile 10 offered great camping real estate

After cleaning up dinner and myself, I brushed my teeth, changed into my night clothes and tucked myself away into my sleeping quilt. The forecast called for a low of 39 degrees at the lower elevation so I figured it would be a few degrees colder up higher. I brought a few extra things in case I got too cold and thank goodness because I did use them! As soon as I was in my tent the wind completely stopped. Figures! Oh well, it was peaceful! In fact it was so peaceful there were zero sounds outside to the point it was almost eerie. Normally when the sun sets in Arizona you hear the sounds of quail, crickets and wild dogs but not on this night. I watched the sky slowly turn dark and the most amazing scenery came to life. Millions and millions of stars came out shining so brightly without the city lights drowning them out. I’ve never seen a more beautiful night sky before and I wanted to badly to stare up at them all night but the cold air became too much and was forced to shut myself into the tent to keep warm. Near midnight I finally heard the soft sounds of an owl and it eventually put me to sleep for a few hours.

When I wake it’s still dark outside and the air is cold all around me but I’m cozy in my quilt so I lie there until it starts to get light outside. I force myself to get up and grab my food bag which I stashed a couple yards away from the tent held down with a rock. Luckily no wildlife tried to get it! I crawl back in my bag and heat up some water for oatmeal and tea while watching the sunrise. I had nowhere to be so it was nice to enjoy it.

A peaceful morning watching birds wake as the sun rises
It felt so unorganized but I will get better!
Good morning Tonto Wilderness!

While I ate breakfast I shoved my hiking clothing into the quilt with me so they were warm when I changed into them after eating. I then cleaned up all my gear and packed all my belongings back into my backpack for the day.


TOP take aways from this trip:

  • UPF chapstick- regular chapstick did not prevent sun/windburn on my lips.
  • Use sunscreen in a resealable container- I only took a packet of sunscreen that didn’t reseal. What a mess!
  • Use my smart water bottle to fill the water reservoir instead of directly trying to fill the bag- the bag only allowed about 1 liter to be filled rather than the 2 liter capacity.
  • Reduce caffeine intake before another trip- after day 2 I had a massive headache behind my eye and it took a few days to go away.
  • Carry backup maps- I was lucky to be able to download the Guthooks map but it might not always be the case!
  • Drink more water than you think- even though the 68 degrees felt much cooler to me I was still sweating it all out without realizing and ended up with slight dehydration
  • 2 hiking poles is always better than 1- it will save knees, toes and evens out balance! Also, it helps to reduce snake encounters with all the clack clack clacking against the rocks.

Resupply Plan

I am not sure how other people feel towards resupply boxes, but I found this to be the most challenging part in preparation. Trying to decide in advance what I would want to eat and what supplies I would need far in advance is rather overwhelming! I’ve read stories of hikers who pack the similar foods in each box and quickly growing tired of the monotony in variety. Even though the AZT is a much shorter trail, I did not want to grow tired of food! Additionally, how do I decide what trail town to send the box? It almost felt like throwing a dart at balloons at a carnival. In my mind, I won’t know how far I will hike for two days, let alone five or six, so how can I plan for 800 miles?! For these reasons, I changed my resupply plan multiple times. A few months ago, I joined the Facebook group ‘Arizona Trail Class of 2021’ and found two people post their personal plans (thanks Mac and Gary!). This was extremely helpful to me to understand how long a typical person can expect to be on the trail in between towns. I did some math (crazy right!?) and based on my easy day hiking mileage (14 miles) and my toughest (24 miles) I can do an average of 15-20 miles a day and hoping in an increase in mileage towards the northern terminus (where the AZT ends at Utah). Is this a stretch? Maybe, but I am stubborn.

Once I had the average figured out I was able to determine roughly how many days hiking at that average (20 miles) would take. For example, from the new Southern Terminus (mile 0) to Patagonia (mile 51) at 20 miles per day would take about 2.5 days. Again, only an example as I will not be hiking that far starting out!

Off to a good start!
I thought I bought enough food, then quickly realized I only had enough for four boxes- such a rookie mistake!

So naturally as I am preparing my resupply boxes and finally decide on a plan and 90% complete the boxes, I find out about 33 miles of the trail (a section of the Four Peaks Wilderness between Roosevelt Lake and Pine) will remain closed through March due to the recent wildfires in 2020. Oh my frustration!! So I had a choice to make: do I hike to Roosevelt Lake and attempt to catch a ride around the 33 miles to Sunflower, AZ, or (thanks to Gary!) attempt a brand new route he created. Over the past two months, Gary scoped out the trails, added waymarks, and thoroughly mapped out the new “un-official” Cherry Creek Bypass Route. This travels East around the lake, a 130 mile trail that conveniently has three resupply areas, reliable water sources and follows roughly “45 miles of single track mixed with 90 to 100 miles of remote double track backroads”.

Cherry Creek Route heads East around Roosevelt Lake bypassing closed Passages

I’ve decided to go with the game time decision once I get closer to that area. You will notice I included these optional bypass towns on the resupply plan shown below, so I can have the box of supplies sent to either Pine, AZ or to Christopher Creek Lodge.

Mile MarkerTrail TownBox NumberAddressDays of Food Needed (20 miles/day)
51Patagonia1General Delivery Patagonia, AZ 856243
119Colossal Cave2c/o Colossal Cave Mountain Park 16721 E. Old Spanish Trail Vail, AZ 856414
183SumerhavenN/AIn-town Options1
198Oracle3(name) General Delivery Oracle, AZ 856234
263Kearny4General Delivery Kearny, AZ 851372
300SuperiorN/AIn-town Options2
344Roosevelt Lake5(name) General Delivery 18762 N. AZ Highway 88 Roosevelt, AZ 855455
463Pine6(name) AZT hiker c/o THAT Brewery and Pub P.O. Box 90 Pine, AZ 855443
414 (Bypass)YoungN/AIn-town Options1
444 (Bypass)Christopher Creek6 (If bypassing)1355 E. Christopher Creek Loop Payson, AZ 855414
538Mormon LakeN/ASupplies inside Lodge2
570FlagstaffN/AIn-town Options5
688Grand Canyon South Rim7(name) General Delivery Grand Canyon Village, AZ 860234
762Jacob LakeN/AGas station convenience store2

My First Blog!

This is officially the first blog I’ve written. Ever. For a while now, I have contemplated writing a blog, but what would I even say? As I type this, I am still wondering why on Earth would I want to put my inner thoughts out for everyone to read? Finally, two years ago I found my reason when I set my sights on the Arizona National Trail (AZT). The AZT is roughly an 800 mile hiking/biking/equestrian trail stretching from the U.S./ Mexico border near Sierra Vista, Arizona to the Arizona/Utah Border.

Photo courtesy of the Arizona Trail Association

As a woman new to thru-hiking, I conducted more than my fair share of research and planning, reading every blog, website and Pinterest I could possibly find on backpacking the AZT. I’m the kind of person who researches EVERYTHING prior to making a decision so naturally I wanted to know what gear I should use, how to begin planning resupply strategy, what kind of food should I pack (harder now that I’ve been plant based for almost a year), how far should I be hiking each day, how much water I need to carry and how to be physically fit enough to walk with gear all day, day after day! There were endless resources to answer all my questions but they weren’t for the AZT. The majority of the resources were for more commonly hiked trails such as the Pacific Coast Trail (2,650 miles long), the Appalachian Trail (2,200 miles long), and the Continental Divide Trail (a whopping 3,100 miles long). What I rarely found was beginner information for the shorter, less commonly hiked Arizona National Trail. Maybe that should have been my first clue as to what I was up against.

With less than 2 months until my start date, I am finishing up my resupply boxes, have all the gear I need (fingers crossed!), and I physically feel fantastic after switching to a plant based diet and attending CrossFit for the last year- also going on a variety of many many hikes! As we get closer to March 7, I will post some updates with photos on my progress.

I am by no means a professional writer, backpacker, or gear specialist, but I hope to help other ‘newbie’ thru hikers understand your journey starts somewhere. Whether it is on a small weekend getaway or the 800 mile AZT, we are all beginners at some point in our lives and while it may be scary, it can be done! I am not sure how my upcoming adventure will end: will I have to tap out for a medical reason… will I be too scared to do more… will all my planning be completely incorrect… or by some miracle will I complete it? All I know is I have planned this trip the best I know how to, I’m attempting it and that makes me proud!

With that said, I hope you all enjoy my journey in experiencing the ups, the downs and many firsts all around!

-Natalie

Final AZT Gear List

“You must have trust in your gear and trust in yourself.”

Jennifer

I think sometimes people try to mimic others and end up with gear they should not be using or are not comfortable with, resulting in a bad experience. Trying to decide what gear to get took some time as I wanted to get good gear, but the right gear for me based on trial and error. I went through three sleeping pads, two sleeping bags, two water filtration systems, and countless clothing options trying to find what works for me. It took some time but not only am I comfortable in my decisions, but I also had a blast testing all the gear!

After six years of hiking with my wife, I realized my transformation into a fast hiker. Now, I don’t want the burden of heavy gear weighing me down so I decided to go with a lightweight gear base weight and so far I’m happy I did. Base weight is how much your gear weighs (tent + sleeping bag + backpack + sleeping pad, etc.), not including all of your consumable items such as clothing worn, food, water, etc. So a person can have a 10 lb base weight, but once you include water (2.2lbs per Liter) and food (other sites suggest 1.5 – 2 lbs of food per day), your bags weight increases quickly, giving reason to why people opt for lightweight gear. The heavier your gear, the larger the bag required to carry and hiking speed slows down.

There are several categories of base weights:

  • Hyperlite: gear weighs less than 5 lbs.
  • Ultralite: gear weighs 5-10 lbs.
  • Lightweight: gear weighs 10-20 lbs.
  • Traditional: gear weighs over 20 lbs.

When I started putting my gear together, I used a small food scale to weigh all my items and wrote them down on paper, but then I found a great website (www.Lighterpack.com) that allows you to input the item, weight and prices and it does all the math for you so you know how much your base weight is, consumable weight, and even worn weight. Definitely a game changer for me!

As of now, my Lightweight base weight comes in at 13.67 lbs. you can view my entire gear list here.

My first gear layout
A second round of gear selection

I’ve been nervous about the Nemo Disco 30degree sleeping bag I originally chosen. Not only am I a cold sleeper, but due to the spoon shaped design, it weighed in at 38 oz. I was afraid of freezing at night in the upper elevations (the AZT travels up into the 8,000 ft elevation area which is way colder than the 1,100 ft. elevation I have in Phoenix) so I decided on the Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20 degree quilt. This quilt weighs in at 22 oz. and feels so much warmer!

In addition to lightening my base weight with the sleeping quilt, I also found a way to drop some weight with my hiking poles. For the last three years I have used an off brand purchased from Amazon that weigh 10.5 oz. each. While I love hiking with them and have never had an issue, they are slightly bulky in my bag. I found Gossamer Gear’s LT5 Three Piece Trekking Poles that weigh only 5 oz. each. I can’t wait to test them out hiking and with my tent (prior to the trip of course!!).

Finally! This is the gear I plan on starting out with March 7.