Friday, August 8, 2014

Day 24: Passage 19 Is Hell

Ruins in an old corral.
May 6: For the first time in nearly a week, I woke up a bit chilly. I wore my fleece jacket while eating breakfast and I considered that a good sign. The hot temperatures would still be hot, but probably not as hot. It seemed like the worst of the recent heat wave was breaking.

But all that was relative. Even the most optimistic weather forecasts called for temperatures in the high 80s in Superior which was no walk in the park! But I had an ace up my sleeve--I camped near the bottom of a canyon and, first thing in the morning, I'd climb about 2,500 feet up and spend most of the day around 5,000 feet above sea level. It might hit the high 80s in Superior, but I was betting it wouldn't even hit 80 degrees where I'd be going. The temperatures would be positively mild!

But first, I had a long way to get up. At least I could do it first thing in the morning when temperatures were still cool.

As the elevation climbed, I left the cacti behind and replaced them with lots of pine trees which seemed like a novelty at this point. "Look! Needles that don't hurt when you touch them!"

At the Rogers Trough trailhead, there was a register for hikers to sign. I peered through the list looking for anyone before me who was a thru-hiker, and the last thru-hiker who signed it recorded their entry 16 days earlier. It's likely that not everyone signs the register and there could be thru-hikers ahead of me closer than that, but the last "confirmed" thru-hiker ahead of me passed this point more than two weeks earlier. I was so alone on this trail!

The last thru-hiker to sign this register had done so 16 days earlier!

While the day started well enough, it wasn't to stay that way. In fact, the trail seemed to take perverse pleasure out of torturing me. I was in mountains now, and while it was cooler, the trail was considerably more rugged and badly maintained.

The badly maintained was the frustrating part because it was so preventable. The trail became difficult to follow at times, badly overgrown and my focus went away from the grand, sweeping views to carefully studying every step I took. Despite my slow pace and careful foot placements, though, I still managed to sprain an ankle late in the afternoon which slowed me down even more.

The other problem with the overgrown trail was cacti. When a tree or bush start overgrowing the trail, you can brush a leg against it and hey, no problem! With a cactus, that's not such a great idea, but when they're so overgrown on both sides of the trail, it's all but impossible not to get caught by a couple of them. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! I got pricked by more cacti today than anywhere else on the trail. Which is kind of ironic considering that once I got up there in elevation, the cacti weren't anywhere near as thick as the lower elevations.

This prickly pear cactus had taken over a good portion of the Arizona Trail.
I managed to get around this cactus without getting stuck since
it had plenty of room to get around.

The last couple hours of my hike, I was absolutely miserable. Between the sprained ankle, frustration at following what should have been a well-marked trail, and the constant attacks by cacti, I felt like crying. The hot weather sapped my morale, but it was Arizona--hot weather comes with the territory. My problems today were caused by trail neglect. Passage 19, hands down, was the worst section of trail so far. If the whole trail was this bad, I'd have quit a long time earlier! Even now that I'm done with the trail, I still remember Passage 19. Passage 1 I remember because it was the first. Passage 43 I remember because it was the last. Passage 19 I remember because it was the worst, f---ed up section of the entire trail. All of the other passages, though... they blend together in my head. Passage 23? No idea where that is anymore. Passage 6? Maybe I could guess it's after Patagonia and before Oracle, but even that might not be right. Passage 19, though.... Passage 19 will haunt me to my grave.... Passage 19 is where bad thru-hikers go when they die.

The last semi-reliable water source on the trail for quite some time was at Walnut Spring, just an hour or two before I wanted to stop for the night. There were several water sources before that where I filled up a liter or two at a time, but it was at Walnut Spring where I intended to load up with a lot of water for the 15-mile stretch to the next water source.

But I missed Walnut Spring. My notes said it was a "box spring alongside trail to right" so it seems like it should have been readily apparent. I knew exactly what side of the trail to look, and a box spring is something that's going to stand out. But somehow, I walked right passed it without even seeing it. My only theory is that I was so focused on planting each step so as not to further anger my aching ankle, I had tunnel vision and saw absolutely nothing more than 2 steps off the trail.

I hadn't gone very far before I realized I had missed it. I suspected I might have missed it, but I kept going forward not wanting to backtrack and when I reached a broad view of a canyon which the trail would descend one side and up the other, I knew from my topo maps that the spring had to be well behind me. I missed it. Argh! There was no other water ahead of me for the next 15 miles either.

By the time I reached this viewpoint, I knew I had missed Walnut Spring. ARGH!

I thought about going back, but.... I couldn't do it. My ankle was hurting too much. The terrain was too miserable to walk all over again. And, after that first time where I couldn't find the water source on Day 3 of this hike and had to backtrack 7 miles to get water, I tended to carry a lot more water than I thought was necessary. Better to have too much water than not enough.

So I already had a couple of liters more than I needed when I reached Walnut Spring--and even planned to arrive at Walnut Spring with a couple of liters more than was strictly necessary--but a couple of liters wasn't really sufficient to go another 15 miles to the next water source either. Well, okay, I'd already walked a good mile or so beyond the water--only 14 miles to the next water source now. But still!

Despite the shortage of water, I wasn't too concerned. If I didn't cook dinner, didn't use water when brushing my teeth, and conserved it--breathing more through my nose, for instance (ha!)--I could make it to the next water source with what I still had. The fact that the temperatures didn't even feel like they broke 80 degrees would help a lot too. I didn't drink anywhere near as much water in 70 degree temps as I did in the 90s!

I wasn't turning back... Nope, I would march onward. Always forward!

Just not very fast, as I hobbled along on my ankle and was pricked by cacti on a trail I could barely follow at times.

The trail descended steeply into a canyon and steeply back up over loose rocks and scree. My speed probably dropped to 1 mile per hour--exceedingly slow. But I figured I'd look for a place to camp when I made it back out of the canyon and onto the ridgetop, but strong winds came up and practically blew me over. I couldn't stop until I found some sort of protection from the wind...

I continued hobbling, cursing the Arizona Trail Association. I couldn't blame them for the wind, but I was going to blame them for the poor trail conditions here!

Eventually, after what seemed like an hour, I found a small bank of trees partly protected from the wind on the right side of the ridgeline I had been following. The site was less than ideal for camping. It wasn't flat--the flatest place I could find still sloped several degrees--and it looked like nobody had ever camped there before so the ground was littered with rocks, sticks and other debris. I thought about continuing on to find a better place to camp, but it took me nearly an hour to find this sorry location for a campsite and my topo maps didn't hint at anything better in the near future. And I was so exhausted and worn out. I really didn't have the energy to keep going for another hour. Even if I did, the sun was close to setting. It would start getting dark soon.

I ate a few snacks for dinner. Besides the fact that I didn't have enough water to cook a meal, I was too tired to cook and didn't even have a flat surface to cook on anyhow.

Waking up in the morning, temperatures were comfortably chilly!
That would be a big help in climbing up these mountains which were in my way!
Views! Incredible views!
Phoenix is out there in the distance somewhere....

I was most surprised to find these fannel bushes blooming. I had no idea
Arizona had any fannel bushes much less that they'd still be blooming.

Manzanita is Spanish for "little apple"--because the berries on the plants
look like--you guessed it!--little apples. =)
Lupines on the trail.... it was a little surreal walking through flannel bush,
manazita and lupines--they're all common from where I grew up in San Luis
and if you dropped me here blindfolded and told me to guess where I was,
I could have totally believed I was on the Central Coast somewhere!
I'm a little curious why someone stuffed this snag with rocks.
They're quite high in the tree as well--above my head!
The most pleasant part of the day was walking through these grasslands. =)
Easy to walk, no rocks to trip over or ankles to sprain.
This tree was astonishingly large. I so regret not using a 10-second timer
on my camera so I could have gotten in the photo to give the tree
scale, but you'll just have to take my word for it--it was huge!
Some old ruins along the trail. I thought this looked like it might
have been a well that had been filled in, but it's totally a guess

I found this handkerchief on the trail just like this. It wasn't mine, but
I thought it gave the trail a nice splash of color. =)
The views in the Superstitious Wilderness were awesome, but
the trail was absolutely awful!
The trail would descend to the bottom of this canyon, then right
up to the rim of it again on the other side (just to the right of the peak).
You can't see the trail in this photo, but it's there! Just badly overgrown!
This cactus did manage to poke me as I tried to get around it.
(That bush on the right which I mostly cut off in the photo prevented
me from walking clear around the sharp tips!) Although the trail
is obvious in this photo, along some sections where it wasn't
obvious, I'd look for cairns like the one in this photo to figure out where to go.
Can you see the trail in this photo? It's right there, just under the
left side of this prickly pear cactus!
View from my campsite, tucked under a small patch of trees to help act
as a wind break.
My campsite was anything but flat....
And look at the beard I'm growing!

1 comment:

Sue KuKu said...

Sorry the trail was so bad. But look at the bright side. It could be days and days of waist high snow!