…Well, we finished the Arizona Trail almost three weeks ago, and yet it feels much longer. We always seem to experience a strange time warp once we finish a trail…the hike ends abruptly and we head back into the real world. Quickly the trail feels very distant in our minds.
From Suguaro National Park to The Grand Canyon, to the Rincon Mountains, we were regularly awestruck by the beauty we found on the AZT. To some degree, we decided on hiking the AZT based on scheduling. Hike-able in the early spring, we figured it was one of the few hikes in US that we could do without 4 season gear and still be at elevations above 6000 feet.
Although two weeks is often long enough time to don the rose colored glasses, we know that’s not the case here, since we had a lot of conversations along the trail about how beautiful it was. Neither of us had done any hiking in Arizona before and the terrain and beauty was beyond our expectations.
The highlights of the trail for us were hiking the trail with Qball, benefiting from all the generosity of our friends and trail angels (Purple and Carnivore – Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!!!), hiking through the Grand Canyon, the surprising amount of mountain views, witnessing the spring bloom of the desert wild flowers, and meeting many friendly and welcoming Arizonans along the trail.
The only part of the trail we weren’t crazy about were some mornings during the last two weeks of the hike that were freezing cold. Of course, there were some short stretches of the trail we cursed a bit, such as the trail south of Roosevelt Lake and most of the Mazatzals (where the trail was heavily overgrown or traversed long stretches of ankle twisting rocks) , but generally the trail treated us well.
Before starting the AZT, we were told by a former thru-hiker that the southern half of the trail was some of the hardest hiking he has encountered and the northern half is the easiest. We found this to be mostly true. Some days in the south were extremely exhausting and challenging (steep climbs in the heat) , while hiking north of the Mogollan Rim was certainly some of the easiest hiking one can find. This gives the trail a bit of a schizophrenic feel, but hiking north-bound, it was nice to have the easier terrain of the plateau to look forward to.
Probably the most challenging section of the trail was from the Superstition Mountains, through Four Peaks and the Mazatzals. While it was a really beautiful stretch, there were times we felt like we weren’t able to really appreciate the great views because we had to constantly look down at the trail to make sure we didn’t fall or trip. This stretch had some sections of trail that hadn’t been maintained in some time, making the walking a little challenging.
Climate & Water
Before starting our hike, we were a bit concerned that maybe we were starting too early (March 3rd). We chose our starting date based on other commitments we had, as opposed to picking what might be the optimal time to start. However, as it turned out, we couldn’t have picked a better time to begin our hike. While it could get hot in the southern sections, it was never extremely hot. We were lucky enough to not walk in rain or snow on the trail. While we did have cold mornings in the north, it would warm up to a pleasant temperature during the day (except for one very cold day walking into Jacob Lake). With our early start, so many of the water sources were running strong…there were even more water sources in the south than the data book listed. This helped us be able to minimize the number of times we had to carry extra water.
Generally, we didn’t need to carry more than a couple liters of water. Max water carry was 3 1/2 liters each. Since we don’t cook our meals, we didn’t need to carry extra water for cooking. Additionally, we don’t mind dry camping (sleeping away from a water source). Dry camping most days allowed us to hike and stop as we pleased rather than always aim for making camp near water.
The AZT was the first trail over 200 miles that we never needed to hitchhike. While, we were lucky to have our friend, Purple, pick us up at Picket Post (and subsequently head into her place in the Phoenix area), there was never a need to hitch into any other resupply town. The trail goes close enough (or through) the towns, so it was easy to buy more supplies or pick up a mail drop. We found the trail towns to be very friendly and welcoming.
Some towns we just stopped long enough to resupply and grab a bowl of chili, and other towns we took two zero days in a row. Even when just walking through a town, people were often so friendly…coming up to us to ask about our hike and wishing us well. Definitely a nice surprise and a highlight of the trip.
Our favorite places to eat on the trail would probably be That Pub and Brewery in Pine, as well as MartAnne’s Cafe in Flagstaff. We also had a great meal of chili and salad in Summerhaven at the Sawmill Run Restaurant (definitely go for the Spinach Salad). Next time around, we would probably skip Gathering Grounds in Patagonia (super pricey for what you get) and the pizza place in Mormon Lake (seemed to only have frozen-then-fried food on the menu).
For the most part, we felt pretty happy with the gear we had with us. In the southern 300 miles, we had our neo-air sleeping pads and a cuban fiber tarp as our sleep set up. We only used the tarp a few nights, so it was nice to sleep under the stars most nights. Even though we love to hammock, it was probably a good idea that we planned on sleeping on the ground through this section. While there are places one could hang here and there, it would have been pretty hard to plan on finding such a place as we were ready to make camp for the night. It worked out well to switch to our hammock setup after Picket Post. Once we had our hammocks, we only had to sleep on the ground twice (and one of those times was in the Grand Canyon, where regulations don’t allow hanging of anything from the vegetation at one of the campsites).
The cold nights we experienced during the last two weeks on the trail certainly tested the warmth rating of our sleeping quilts and under quilts. For a few of these nights, they were not warm enough for us to keep from being cold during the night. Not very pleasant, but we never considered trying to get our zero degree bags sent out. It seemed like the amount of time left on the trail was short enough, that we were just best to deal with being cold for part of the night. From locals, we learned that we were in a bit of a cold snap those last two weeks.
Beardoh had decided not to keep carrying his long john shirt after Picket Post. For the most part, that decision worked out well for him. The combination of his wind shirt and down jacket were usually enough to keep him warm. The rain jacket came on a couple times (with all other layers) to stay warm.
We have been using backpacks that we build on most of our big hikes. For the AZT, we made our packs out of X-Pac. This material worked very well, and had little wear after the 800 miles. While it aims to be waterproof, we didn’t get a good test of it. After the hike, SweetPea washed the packs and they look like new again.
From what we’ve read, and based on the few hikers we met, it seems that the majority of hikers use a GPS for navigation on the trail. Since we do not own a GPS, we just went with the maps that the Arizona Trail Association has produced. In the future, we’d like to do more hiking where navigation is a challenge, so it made sense to further refine our map and compass skills. The maps that the ATA has for purchase were adequate for navigation and generally quite well done, and we’d use them again. By keeping an eye on our maps to know where we were most of the time (more necessary on this the AZT than other trails we’ve hiked) , we did not feel like it was hard to stay on trail. The trail is pretty obvious most of the time, and well signed in areas where it crossed roads or parking lots.
On the southern part of trail, we did find ourselves off trail once, as the ‘trail’ (probably a cowpath) ended at a wash. Using map and compass, and some hills as landmarks, we were able to navigate down a wash to the trail. Another time, in the Mazatzals, there was some confusion in an area where a re-reroute was in construction. We took the old route (not knowing if the new route had actually been completed), which was overgrown, but the rugged terrain had good identifiable landmarks found on the map, so we were able to stay on track.
To read our Arizona Trail Journal, go here -> Arizona Trail 2015 Hike
To read our Arizona Trail Resupply Plan, go here -> Arizona Trail Resupply Plan
To check out photos from our AZT hike, go here -> Arizona Trail 2015 Photos
Thinking about hiking the AZT? Go for it! We believe you will enjoy the beauty, challenge, people and diversity of the trail. If you have any questions, drop us a line on the contact page or in the comments below.