AZT Day 28: 400 Miles, Granite & Thunderstorms

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Tuesday, October 23
Miles: 19.7 miles
Starting/ending: 393.7/413.4
Camp elevation: 5440 ft

I wake at 5:30 to my alarm in our on-trail campsite with far-off views of Scottsdale. It was a warm night and there were rain showers at 1:30 am. I normally wake up before my alarm but not today. I awake and groggily prepare my coffee and heat my oatmeal packet breakfast. Pack up. David, Andrea, and Tarek do the same. It’s warm this morning.

I hit the trail and chat with Tarek. Then I hike at my own pace mostly near David. We all filter water at a small creek after a few miles. I eat some nuts. Hike on downhill. We pass the 400-mile point somewhere in there. The sun is hot when it’s out but there are many clouds – some are quite dark – which threaten thunderstorms. I get enough service to look at the weather forecast and see thunderstorms expected for the area in the afternoon. We are losing elevation and seeing new cactus varieties.

Highway crossing. Tunnel. This is where Masa plans to hitch into Tonto Basin. The cars are going fast and it looks like it’s going to be a hard hitch for him. There’s Coors Light trail magic under the bridge. Three cans left. No thanks. David and I continue ahead of Tarek and Andrea. I think Andrea’s back or glutes are bothering her. The rock changes from low-grade metamorphic rock into pink granite. The first granite yet. We’re in the core of the mountains now! The pinkness feels very AZ desert.

At 11 am we reach Sycamore Creek for lunch (or would you call it brunch?). Tortillas with cheese and hot sauce. Filter water. I get 5L, enough for 17 miles of hiking plus cooking tonight and tomorrow morning. The creek is a sweet desert oasis. I attempt to dry my tent and it sort of works. After a bit Tarek and Andrea catch up. Brief rain storm. Time for uphill for the next 10ish miles under my pack loaded down with water. Hike through desert, over hills, but mainly along the mostly dry Boulder Creek bed. Through a lot of overgrown cat’s claw, which is both maddening and painful as it scratches and tears at my legs, shorts, and pack. Thunderstorms threaten. Up the valley we go. We run into nobo section hikers Been and Jacques who share with us upcoming water info ahead.

After 5 miles we wait for Tarek and Andrea. I eat 1/2 a bar. The catch up and we talk about our plans to camp around 5pm, after 20 miles – a shorter day than the 22-23 miles we’ve normally been aiming for. The thunderstorms loom and lightning flashes further in the distance. It seems kind of rediculous to be gaining elevation and climbing into the storm possibly, but at the same time maybe we can get past the it and over the high point on the trail ahead of the weather. And the trail won’t be at any high points of the mountains themselves – relative lightning safe, right? Still, I do not like it. But I know it’s really no safer to stand still, so onward I hike. Thunderstorms have an accelerating effect on my pace, so I take off in the lead, climbing higher and higher still, up switchbacks. I think “just keep swimming” from Finding Nemo. Gotta go up to go down. After another 2ish miles I get to a small saddle and wait for David. Dirt roads from here. I eat the rest of my bar.

We hike on. The rain starts. Lightning is flashing around us but still seems far enough away that makes me feel relatively safe. The rain gets heavier. It seems there’s no beating the storm, the sky has been consumed by dark rainclouds all around. I’m hiking fast and uphill so wait to put on my rain gear. I do not like this lightning business. Up, up. At the local high point at last. Releif. We start running practically as soon as we hit the downhill. Try to get low quickly. Rain jacket time. After a few more miles we pass a campsite with tall trees which I veto for the lighting hazards. Onward. It’s around 5pm. Through the clouds some beautiful mountains peek in the distance. Far off shafts of sunlight break through the clouds and are similarly spectacular. Tarek and Andrea are somewhere behind, possibly setting up camp on the trail to avoid the rain, but maybe right behind us. After another half mile we find an ok enough camp spot and decide it’s good enough. The rain is letting up.

We set up David’s tent together, then mine, as quickly as possible so as to keep the insides as dry as possible. After a little bit, I hear footsteps approaching – Tarek and Andrea! I’m relieved that they make it through the storm and over the pass. I don’t think “safety in numbers” applies to thunderstorms, but it makes me feel better. They set up their tent in another mediocre spot. The rain has stopped at last. It’s cold. And windy.

We all cook dinner. Tonight for me it’s a peanut sesame beef rice Backpackers Pantry meal that I found in the hiker box. It’s not bad. Almond Snickers for dessert. I want to eat more but hold off. I’ll probably cook the other half of the dinner for breakfast (I’m growing weary of my oatmeal). We retire to our tents around 6:45. I write. The rain sprinkles. Tomorrow is the last full day before Roosevelt Lake. This stretch is long, but the end is in sight. Sleep.

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