In what seems like an endless quest, we headed to Southern Arizona to take on Arizona Trail Sections 1-3. A long weekend, 53 miles, and lack of reliable water; what could go wrong? The first three sections of the AZT run from the Mexico border through the Huachuca Mountains and ultimately ending in Patagonia. Along the route we would nearly bag a 9,000' peak; pass countless spur trails; pass Parker Lake and pick our way through fields of catclaw. This trip had 'Type Two' written all over it, but somehow I missed that. Or rather I ignored that as this trip had been postponed so many times, due to work life and logistics. None the less, we survived.
6AM in Phoenix we load three packs and a dog into the Subaru and begin the drive to Tucson. After arriving there we drop off Rocco dog and pick up our shuttle driver (Thanks again to my sister and mother for driving us). With both cars pointed to Patagonia we drop a car at the Post Office and cram into the other vehicle. Around 11AM we finally set foot in Coronado National Mermorial. Typically not our normal start time we organize gear, bid farwell and hit the trail heading South.
With the sun heating up we made our way from the parking area to the border which involved a 2 mile and 600' drop. We decided there was no better place to have lunch, as we thought about the current politics in both countries. After some amusement from a army of ants, we pointed ourselves North and began our journey to Patagonia.
In early afternoon we made our way through the parking lot that was filled with NPS, visitors and vigilante border patrol groups (fucking America). The trail immediately begins climbing up to the ridgeline that includes Miller Peak (9,300'). This portion of the trail was well used with people bagging Miller Peak. Although easy to follow the topography still made the climb difficult.
After climbing more then 4,000' feet we dropped down into a valley that had our first water source. You never know what to expect with backcountry springs, but with a name like Bathtub Spring what else would you find. The water was trickling out a quart per minute and we filled our packs. The plan for the day was to cover 14 miles which was ambitious to say the least. Shortly after filling our water we found a campsite within a mile and decided to call it a day rather then hike by headlamp. A decision that would prove to be a mistake tomorrow.
Our first day on the trail and we were already 4 miles behind our goal mileage. The following morning came fast thanks to the combination of 30 degree temps and 30+ mph winds. With numb fingers and toes we broke camp and scurried down the trail in an attempt to find a windless location to eat breakfast. After four miles we finally warmed up and was able to take a breakfast break along the trail. As we drank tea and ate we discussed the mileage plan for today and the most recent water conditions. Things were not looking ideal. We needed to cover a minimum of 26 miles to get back on schedule, and water......ha this is Arizona there wasn't much.
After Sunnyside Canyon the trail levels out in the grasslands. Here we found ourselves crisscrossing Forest Roads and hiking others. After yesterday's climb and the morning descent we were ready for a mellow trail that we could log miles on. Along the way we passed numerous water sources that were full and spoked plenty of wildlife. Walking the dirt roads allowed us to spot a ton of animal tracks. At one point we were following a small bear's track for a mile until we suddenly spotted it running through the trees a hundred feet away from us. In Arizona it is always a great surprise to see a bear. Besides the bear we spotted deer; a scorpion (during the day); a dead skunk; blue birds; and tons of giant grasshoppers.
After spending the morning descending for 13.2 miles we again hit the trail headed through Section 2 of the AZT. A few miles down from our lunch spot we passed over our last reliable water source for the day. We loaded 5-6 liters a piece and begrudgingly put our packs back on. Once again we found ourselves climbing. Although the climbs during this portion of the trail were under a mile, we would repeatedly climb to a ridge and then drop into a creek bed; only to shoot back up the other side. There was a trail, but at times it felt more like cross country travel.
Mile 24 marked what appeared to be the final moderate climb for the day before the descent to the end of Section 2. As we began the push we realized that we were not going to be taking the most logical route over. Rather we would zigzag up to the ridge and continue climbing false summits to the 'high point' labeled on the map. After a little over a mile of climbing we quit and sat down in the middle of the trail. The sun was quickly sinking, as our feet were throbbing and backs were aching. Fuck it, we are having trailside dinner. Right here. Right now. The last two miles can wait. Not sure if it was the miles or the food but it was delicious. After scarfing down dinner we reloaded our packs, donned our headlamps and made our way up the trail. We still had some climbing to do but eventually we made it to the top and began to drop. After two miles of hiking by headlamp we finished Section 2. Unexpectedly we found a pair of hikers at the trailhead that were also section hiking the AZT. We chatted for a few minutes and decided to set up camp in the parking lot next to the hikers vehicles. Although we were not thru-hiking we graciously accepted the 'trail magic' from the hikers. The evening was short after hiking 13.5 hours on trail.
Although we had the intention of getting a early start Sunday we managed to crawl out of our bags and hit the trail around 7AM. Fingers and toes were still numb as we gradually climbed our first hill of the day. We had 13 miles of trail left and 2.5 miles of road hiking till we finished.
Friday's challenge was all about logistics. Saturday was all about mileage. Sunday was all about not letting the wheels come flying off. Continuing with the theme of Section 2 the trail followed a lot of dirt roads. With tender feet and aching muscles we were once again glad to be on the roads. Although we didn't expect to find much water the trail surprised us once again with pools scattered along the route. The goal today was to make it the 16 miles in the shortest amount of time to ensure getting back to Phoenix at descent time.
Finally after hiking up and down every wash; dodging cat claw and officially reaching 'type two fun' we arrived at the trailhead. Nothing was left for us but to hike the remaining 2.5 road miles to Patagonia where our car awaited. Although we had fun, and the landscape was interesting; smashing this trip into 2 days and 1.5 hours was not ideal. With just under 10,000' AEG these 53 miles ranks high in the harder trips we have done.