AZT Post-Hike Thoughts: Water

Water sources were abundant! An atypical year for sure though. Wayy more water than usual was flowing. My longest carry was probably 25 miles and up to 5-6L.

img_20181116_080934651

I finished up my AZT thru-hike over a month ago now and I think I’m fully acclimated to “normal life” at this point.

Here’s a rundown of the water situation from my Fall 2018 sobo hike. The weather was much wetter than expected. It was the rainiest October on record in AZ! This meant water sources were fine and there were no droughts to worry about. I went into the hike very nervous about water! I had read that there could be long, waterless stretches and that the only way to make it was by caching water. I reached out to several trail angels in advance with the hopes that they could help me out with water caches – which was stressful in the planning stage but also successful in practice. I had successful help from a few trail angels listed on the AZT website as well as folks on the Arizona Trail Class of 2018 Facebook page. I lined up a few water caches – which were great – but I would have been completely fine without them. Once I realized how much water there was in reality, I stopped stressing and relied on natural water sources along the trail.

A few words of water advice to anyone planning to hike the AZT: don’t stress too far in advance. If you see the entire list of water sources in Guthook and have a mental meltdown, then break it into smaller chunks. One stretch at a time. Before getting on trail, focus on the first 50 miles. Don’t fret about the rest of the trail until you’re on the trail. Then just deal with it as it comes.

That said, I managed to hike the northernmost 100 miles of trail without having to filter water at all! I relied on existing caches, filling water in town, and personal caches. It wasn’t until I was in the bottom of the Grand Canyon that I had to use my Sawyer Squeeze for the first time!

My longest water carry was between Picket Post (leaving Superior) and the Gila River – a 21 mile carry. Another Long stretch was on the way into (north of) Roosevelt Lake between Shake Spring and town – a 20 mile carry. Each of these water carries was about 6L. Both of these sections – for me – were extra heavy because I chose to dry camp between the water sources (I carry an 1.5-2L of water for cooking). However, these – and other – “long”, dry stretches can easily be lightened by camping at the water sources and hiking the distance between in one day.

 

 

 

Advertisements

AZT Post-Hike Thoughts: Terrain and Trail SOBO

The terrain was about as expected: easier in the north, more challenging in the south. Some portions are a little harder than the PCT but some are easier, I would say that in my experience, the overall difficulty is probably on par with the terrain of the PCT.

img_20181019_140238_652

The highest points on the AZT are over 9,000 feet. The lowest point around 1,700 feet. The Arizona Trail is divided into 43 passages (which can be somewhat confusing as they seem to be a tool designed for day and section hikers) which are numbered from low to high, south to north – or backwards if you’re SOBO. Southbound, the elevation gain is 110,683 feet and the elevation loss is 111,597 feet (total 222,000+ feet). A few overview maps can be found through the aztrail.org website. A profile can be found on the Guthook AZT app. I used the Guthook AZT app and carried the paper maps as a backup, but never once used them. If I did it again, instead of the paper maps, I would download the GPS track to my Garmin InReach as a backup to save weight.

Most trail descriptions are oriented for those hiking south to north, or NOBO. I’ll break down the trail for you north to south, or SOBO.

North to south, the AZT starts at the Utah-Arizona border on the edge of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. You traverse across the Kaibab Plateau and reach a high point over 9000 feet on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Down and then up, you climb into and out of the giant gash in the earth that is the Grand Canyon. From the south rim of the Grand Canyon you traverse across the Coconino Plateau. North of Flagstaff you climb up onto and then down off of the flanks of the San Francisco Peaks then south across the San Francisco Plateau. South of Mormon Lake you will “come down off the rim”, the Mogollon Rim, and begin the transition from high desert to low desert. South of Pine, you alternate descents to rivers or low spots and climbs into mountains. Down to the East Verde River, up into the Mazatzal Wilderness, down again, then up into the Four Peaks Wilderness, down to Roosevelt Lake, up into the Superstitions, then down into Superior. South of Superior you will briefly climb near Picket Post, then descend to the low point of the AZT – around 1700 feet – at the Gila River. Continue across the Sonoran Desert from here and into the “sky island” terrain. First you’ll go up into the Santa Catalinas, northeast of Tucson. The next sky island is the Rincons, southeast of Tucson, where you will enter into Saguaro National Park. Then down into Rincon Valley near Colossal Cave Park. Up into the Santa Ritas and onto the flanks of Mount Wrightson. Then traverse south and east into and out of the Huachuca Mountains, then at last you’ll find yourself at the US-Mexico border! You did it!

The easiest parts of the trail tended to be in northern AZ, where the trail is flat. There were several harder parts of the trail. The Grand Canyon was challenging, especially since I did it in a quick 2 days. It would have been easier if I had camped first at Cottonwood Camp and then a second night at Bright Angel campground. Although either way, the uphill has to be tackled in one go so be prepared. The stretch south of Pine, getting into the Mazatzals and before the East Verde River was more difficult than expected, mostly because the footing was rocky, largely volcanic, and unstable. Hiking through the Four Peaks Wilderness was also hard because the trail is a lot of up and down as it hugs the steep mountainsides. I also found hiking up into the Rincons difficult as portions were very steep. The trail is quite steep on the stretch into the Huachucas, too. Some portions of trail are a bit overgrown with cats claw and other rough vegetation, but not totally impassable.

I’m happy I hiked the AZT SOBO because my body was able to get used to the miles on my feet before having to push my endurance levels up and down mountains. It’s also nice to be able to hike on the north side of mountains, often in shadow on the uphill – definitely a SOBO advantage. I felt that mostly the downside to SOBO was the decreasing light levels every day.

PS for pics see my Instagram

AZT Post-Hike Gear Review

img_20181004_180138956

Going into the AZT thru-hike I managed to get all of my gear together beforehand, obviously, and a lot of it worked out really well. Some things didn’t quite work. And I changed up a few minor things along the way (if you want to see more details about my gear prep read this post AZT -4: Gear Prep).

I’ve assembled an official AZT gear list of all the items I carried – it only includes the gear that I finished with, not stuff I ditched or only had for a short time. Also I recently discovered lighterpack.com for keeping track of gear lists and have to say it’s really amazing and convenient.

So how did the gear work out? Let me tell you…


The AZT-specific items I added:

Reflective umbrella. I’m very happy I had this at the beginning as my pale PNW skin got accustomed to the constant sun. I realized I didn’t have much sunscreen at the start and so this was my sun protection. Without it I would have been burnt to a crisp. The umbrella provided much needed shelter from the rain in a few storms also. I loved having it hiking up the Grand Canyon in the afternoon. Hiking out of Superior I was glad I had it on a particularly blazing day. That said, I found that I only used it a handful of times – and it weighs 8 oz which is heavy, so good riddance. Once I felt that I had gotten used to the sun and there wasn’t any rain in the forecast – in Oracle – I sent it home. Overall: I’m glad I had it, but also glad I ditched it. Would I carry it again? If I was getting used to a harsh sunny environment or there is rain in the forecast – yes.

Tiny black light. I definitely used this to illuminate a scorpion and it was very cool! I never did use it for safety reasons personally, just entertainment, because my tent fully zipped up and scorpions could never crawl in. I did give one to Oklahoma, whose tent zipper was broken and he couldn’t zip up, and he was very happy to have it. Overall: very happy I brought these! One weighs 0.25 oz, which is well worth the entertainment and safety. Would I bring again? In AZ – yes!

– Panty hose prefilter. I carried this to filter algae goop out of the water prior to filtering. I think I used it once. Mostly it made filtering painfully slow. But at the same time it weighs less than 0.1 oz, hardly breaking the back. Overall: I barely noticed I had it, and mostly forgot that I did. Would I bring again? Maybe if I could find a more loosely woven pantyhose piece that would filter faster.

– Backup Aquamira. I never had to use my backup water treatment, and for that I am grateful. The Sawyer squeeze was great and fast, I never froze my filter, so I didn’t have to use the backup. Overall: a great safety net to have. Would I carry again? Definitely.

– Extra water bottles/bladders. I carried enough bottles and bladders for an 8L capacity, which is a ton. Specifically I could carry 4L dirty and 4L clean. I never carried more than 6L at a time, but I did at different points carry either 4L dirty or 4L clean, so I definitely made use of these bottles/bladders. At a few points I thought about ditching one of the 64oz capacity “dirty” bladders, but since each weighed only 1 oz each, I decided to keep both for safety. Overall: glad I had all the water containers. Would I carry again? On a trail where water sources are sparse or unknown, yes.

Garmin InReach Mini. I tracked my progress every 30 minutes while on-trail, every 4-hours at night, and every 10 minutes to 4 hours while in town depending on the situation. I was able to send messages to Jared when I didn’t have cell service. And I had the peace of mind that if I got into trouble, I could push the SOS button and help would be on the way. However, the downside was that this little guy sucked way more battery than expected/advertised – but I have a suspicion that I have a faulty beacon because I have literally tried everything to increase battery life. Overall: very happy that I brought this! I should have carried a backup battery from the start or exchanged it for a new one to save the hassle of figuring out battery power on the trail. Would I carry again? Yes, definitely. Especially if hiking solo. And even if not solo, the map tracking feature is really fun, too.

Pepper spray mace keychain. While I never used it, I’m very happy I had it. It gave me such peace of mind, especially on “Day 0” when I caught the sketchiest-hitch-ever with the biggest-creep-ever. I had it on hand whenever I hitched, whenever I encountered unknown hikers or strangers on the trail, and when sleeping nowhere near any other hikers. In fact, after hearing a story from Phantom about her encounter with sleezy hunters, I decided to up the ante and carry a full-on 11 oz can of bear spray. Heavy, but worth the weight for the peace of mind and safety. Overall: I’m very happy I had both the mace and the bear spray. Would I carry again: hell yeah!


Gear I added to my pack while hiking the AZT

Bear spray. (see above paragraph)

– A sit pad. I cut up a foam sleeping pad for a sit pad. The sit pad weighed 1.1 oz – which is hardly anything – and protected my butt against the cold ground while I ate dinner or sat near ants or scorpions. It cushioned my knees while I kneeled to rummage in my tent. Overall: happy about my new piece of gear! Carry again: yes, definitely!

Anker backup battery. Once my phone battery and Garmin InReach batteries began to run super low, and my solar charger failed to get enough juice (it only works when in solid sunlight, shade from a single tree will turn it on and off) I had to get something more powerful and more consistent. Jared so wonderfully ordered this battery for me and had it sent to Tusayan. It weighs just over 8 oz and costs just over $35 – reasonably priced with a good weight to power ratio. It provided enough power to charge my phone multiple times in addition to charging the InReach several times – plus my headlamp, although that didn’t need a ton of charging. I used it conservatively but found that I never used it up and always had plenty of power left whenever I got to town. Heads up: it needs around 8 hours to fully charge, so plan ahead. Overall: I loved it. Carry again: most definitely.

– Water scooper. After watching fellow hikers use a scooper, I made one for myself. It seems to be an essential tool for 9 out of 10 water sources. Unless it’s a rushing stream, a scooper is needed to fill a small-mouth water bag. I cut the bottom off a gatorade bottle and would use it to scoop water into the Sawyer water bags prior to filtering. Very, very useful. I could have changed my entire setup and used a bladder/pouch that could more easily be filled in a small pond or puddle, but I never had a problem with the Sawyer bags so kept them and picked up the scooper. Overall: essential and great. Carry again: yes!

– Vertigo pills. Well after getting a silly and frustrating bout of vertigo, I carried an anti-nausea and anti-motion sickness medication. After a few days I had no more need for the pills, but continued to carry them just in case. Overall: a good safety precaution. Carry again: probably not. Fingers crossed I’m past the vertigo…

– Advil PM. I had trouble sleeping several to many nights and picked Advil PM up to help me get more sound sleep. The ever-shortening days meant less daylight and with that came more dark hours spent in the tent, which I think meant more restless sleep. Plus the uncomfortable ground and less-than-stellar pillow led to interrupted sleep, too. Sometimes anxiety would keep me up as well. Given the conditions, I would sometimes take a single Advil PM to help with sleep. (Btw the active ingredient is the same ingredient in Benadryl.) Overall: helpful! I don’t think I’d take such sleeping meds in “real life” but found that on the trail it was useful. Take again? if I anticipated uneasy or restless sleep, probably yeah.

– Sharpie. I picked up a black sharpie on my way to the trail. I used it for writing on bottles of cached water that had my name written on them, cached by trail angels. Once I had my fill of the water and there was some left to share, I would write “Public” on the gallon – typical AZT protocol. Overall: I used it a few times. Take again? Only if I’m in a cached-water situation.


Gear ditched from my pack

Solar charger. The solar charger just didn’t work as fast as needed or as consistently as needed. I found it to be useful on the PCT. The rechargable by the sun part is cool. It just doesn’t work as well as I’d like it to. I sent this home in Tusayan. Overall: glad I ditched it. Carry again? I doubt it.

Collapsible Sea-to-Summit mug. I brought this as a “luxury item” thinking it would be luxurious to drink coffee while my breakfast rehydrated or hot chocolate while my dinner rehydrated. But then I decided to stick to the ol’ ziplock bag rehydration of meals (in a freezer bag) and realized I could just drink my coffee or hot chocolate straight outta the pot. Goodbye 2.7 oz. I sent this home in Flagstaff. Overall: glad I ditched it. Carry again? On a shorter backpacking trip, yes. On a longer thru-hike, nah.

Sports bra, pair of underwear, stuff sack, etc. While shaking down my gear in Flagstaff I got serious about ditching those extra non-imperative things. I was totally fine cutting a bra and pair of underwear – the single sports bra and 2 pairs of underwear were all I really needed. I also ditched an extra stuff sack which I can’t even remember what I used for anyway… Then I shaved few more grams from other places – e.g., I cut off the corners of my bandana, trimmed down my sit pad, and cut out some tags and labels, etc. Overall: happy to trim the excess grams.


Gear I changed on the hike

Sleeping pad. Unfortunately my sleeping pad was changed out of necessity. My Thermarest NeoAir XLite popped the night before I hit the trail while I slept on a gravel pad in an RV park. I picked up a thin foam pad (Thermarest Ridgerest) at the outfitter in Kenab, UT, thinking I’d try to make do, but if I hated it I would pick up another Neo-Air in Flagstaff. Well I immediately hated it and picked up an inflatable pad as soon as I could find one – which turned out to be the Thermarest Trekker which was at the store at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I cut off a chunk of the Ridgerest for a sit-pad then gave the rest of the pad to another backpacker in Mather Campground. The Trekker is a bit heavier than the Neo-Air and has a slightly lower R value, but I was happy to have 2.5 inches of mattress under me once again. In Flagstaff I trimmed down the pad to be a little shorter than my body length in order to shave off some ounces (bringing the pad down to 13.1 oz instead of 1 lb+). While still a few ounces heavier than I would have liked, the Trekker held up really well. I believe it’s also a made of slightly tougher material than the Neo-Air, was reassuring when setting up camp near cacti, on rocks, or atop pinecones. Overall: I’m happy with the trekker. I think Thermarest will repair my NeoAir if I’m unable, which will mean a backup sleeping pad. And it was a few $ less than the NeoAir too. Carry again? If I can get the NeoAir fixed, I’ll carry it (it’s lighter and longer), but in the meantime, the Trekker is a good option.

Pillow. While ordering a new headlamp from LiteSmith (because I thought the one I had was broken but later realized I was mistaken), I also ordered a super cheap $2.60, super lightweight 1 oz inflatable pillow. I ditched my old “heavy” airplane pillow (like the kind they sometimes give you on the plane) which weight at least a few ounces more while in Tucson and subbed for this uber ultralight one. While happy enough considering the weight and price, I kinda missed my old lump of cotton. Overall: happy I switched to something lighter, but it’s not the perfect pillow for me as a side sleeper. I’ll continue to search for the perfect camp pillow. Carry again? Yes, until I find a better inflatable pillow.

Normal socks swapped for toe socks. I started using normal hiking Darn Tough socks which led to annoying and neverending blisters on my toes. I was finally able to track down Injinji toe sock liners at SummitHut in Tucson. I would put a thin hiking sock over top the liner, and voila, instant blister protection (the socks rub each other and reduce toe to toe friction). These socks were more comfortable than I imagined, and it meant I didn’t have to tape my toes in order to prevent blisters (not only was it time consuming to apply, but the tape would inevitably slip and slide off). Overall: very happy with my new toe-sock-liner + thin wool sock combo. Wear again? Yes, definitely. Especially on long (multi-day) trips to avoid those blisters.

Shoes after 500 miles. Train runners typically last 500 miles, give or take. More if you don’t mind wearing a shoe that’s breaking down. The upper material can get holes and tears, the outsole will wear out and the tread will disappear, and the internal structure will break down – sometimes leading to shin splints or plantar fasciitis. I decided not to risk it, and after 500 ish miles I swapped my Altra Lone Peak 3.0’s for Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s. I went with the 3.5’s because they were on sale (the 4.0’s are out now) and I couldn’t find the 3.0’s in my size. I found that the 3.0’s were slightly bigger and fit a little better, but the 3.5’s were fine enough and my feet were happy. I really wanted the Hoka Speedgoats to work for me, but they didn’t feel that great on my feet – hence sticking with the Altras. Overall: Altra Lone Peaks are good shoes that fit my feet. Wear again? Yes! I’m quite happy with these shoes.

Baseball hat. In Tucson I tried to swap out my baseball cap for a sun hat, thinking that the neck protection would be better. I quickly discovered that the neck coverage also meant less air flow and I quickly overheated. I picked up a new baseball cap at the Mt Lemmon gift shop and was happy. Overall: I learned the lesson of if the hat aint broke, don’t fix it. I really wanted the sun hat to work for me, but ultimately I ended up sticking with an old, trusty, tried and true baseball hat for the remainder of the hike. Wear again? Definitely! I have another sun hat at home that I’d like to try (it doesn’t have a neck flap) but we’ll see how it goes…

Backflushing Method – from Sawyer plunger to cleaning coupling. I didn’t even know that the cleaning coupling existed until I found on in the hiker box in Flagstaff at Melody and Tim’s. What a game changer! The plunger is big and bulk and single use. The cleaning coupling is light, compact, and can be used while filtering and while cleaning. Overall: great! love it! Carry again? Definitely.

Gloves. I lost my thin fleece gloves as I was hiking into Flagstaff. When in town I picked up new gloves at REI – splurging on the fancy and relatively expensive Salomon Fast Wing Winter Glove. These gloves are great – they have a windproof flap that goes over the gloved fingers, turning it into a mitten. At last, temperature regulation in gloves. Overall: very happy with these gloves! Wear again? Absolutely.

Nyofume pack liner. While ordering other things from LiteSmith, I thought I’d try this cheap ($2.50) and lightweight (<1 oz) pack liner. I was using a trash compactor bag, but not everything could fit inside, just the most important stuff. I wanted a bag I could fit everything in my pack inside. Luckily, it wasn’t rainy after swapping out my pack liner in Tucson, so I never had to use it, but I look forward to trying it in the future. Overall: happy with the bag. Carry again? most definitely.

Pee Pot. (WARNING: You’re about to read an overshare. If you don’t want to know about pee, skip to the next paragraph). So I hate – often refuse – to leave my tent in the middle of the night to pee especially if I’m solo. But the problem is, I usually have to pee every night at least once. Especially after drinking a big ol’ mug of hot chocolate. I’ve heard of men carrying gatorade bottles or women peeing in ziplock bags (extreme ultralight!) to avoid confronting the cold, dark unknown at night. I refuse to pee in a ziplock bag (just think of the possible puncture danger!). Instead I was carrying a ziplock twist loc container with screw-top lid which I would just set out in my tent vestibule at night. Upon recommendation, I switched to the Uribag (I think the name says it all: the latest in geriatric/thru-hiker technology!) which is much more compact and even more spill-proof than the Ziploc container. Bonus: they make a male and female version so you too (no matter your gender) can have a compact and leak-free pee pot. Overall: quite happy with it! Carry again: of course!


Gear I’d like to change in the future

Tent. I carried the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2-person tent. (I did not carry my new hammock – it just did not work without trees!) This tent is the 2014 model and weighs nearly 3 pounds, which is “heavy” for a thru-hiking tent. At the same time, it’s a good tent and I haven’t yet been able to justify spending another $200-$550 on another tent. Yet. The Fly Creek has held up really well over thousands of miles, it’s spacious, and the muted green color means it’s easy to blend into the forest incognito style. If I do end up changing up my solo tent in the future, I would go for a fully enclosed tent (not a tarp). These are my top picks for a solo fully enclosed tent:

  • Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape + Serenity Net Tent. The combo would weigh 21 oz and also double as my raingear. Six Moon Designs gear is reasonably priced and the tarp/poncho plus net tent costs $208 (currently on sale)! A steal! And it can be set up as just the mesh or just the tarp. Well made gear from a family run business. Downside: the two pieces might be complex to set up? But not a bad option.
  • Z-packs Plexamid Tent. This fully enclosed single wall tent weighs a mere 14.8 oz! Unbelievable. However, it costs $549, which is not cheap. And it’s made of Dyneema Composites (formerly known as Cuben Fiber) which is extremely light but not very durable or abrasion resistant – which means that a tent like this is designed to only last about the length of a thru-hike. A spendy option from a good cottage manufacturer but just think of the weight savings…
  • Gossamer Gear The One. This single wall fully enclosed tent weighs in at 21.6 oz for $239 (currently on sale). About the same weight as the Six Moon Designs tarp+nettent and not much more expensive, also from a good cottage gear company.

Tent stakes. I carry the 6.5 inch ultralight titanium shepherds hook stakes. They’re very light, but are starting to bend. They are a bit flimsy in hard ground. A better option – and something I’ll likely switch to in the future – are the MSR Groundhog tent stakes. They weigh about same, around 0.3 oz each, but the MSR stakes are much stronger.

Trekking poles. I’m currently carrying a Black Diamond flick-lock style trekking pole (similar to these) that I picked up on sale on steepandcheap.com in 2013. They are my least favorite color – purple (I find it maddening that “jewel tones” are the only color options for women. Don’t even get me started…). But more importantly the poles are wearing out. I realized too late that the tips are replaceable…and now one is just a nub of plastic which I put a cap over. So they need replacing eventually. I don’t need a “women’s specific” trekking pole, but I suppose I’d like a lightweight pole designed for short people with adjustable height, flick-lock preferable. Black diamond makes an Alpine Carbon Cork Women’s trekking pole (cork allegedly feels better in the hand) for the steep price of $170. But Montem Life makes these ultralight carbon poles for only $80. Perhaps my next trekking purchase.

Sleep top. I carried and wore the Patagonia Capilene 4 (no longer made) which is a very warm baselayer and weighs 7.25 oz. If I had planned better I could have swapped it out for a lighter not-quite-as-warm shirt during the warmer AZT stretches. In the future I probably will carry and sleep in my Icebreaker 200 baselayer top which weighs 4.7 oz.


It’s not a completely exhaustive review of my gear, just exhausting 🙂 If anyone has any other gear-specific questions, feel free to leave a comment below.

As always, see my Instagram pics