Finally conceding at a exceedingly steep and rocky stretch, our trail angels left us within striking distance of the AZT. A Jeep sailed by, its lone occupant stopping to ensure us that we didn't have all that far to walk. Choking his dust, we deduced that the AZT is probably not as well known as the PCT--there, a Jeep would have likely offered us a ride.
An unfamiliar sun settled on us as we hiked up the road, a plethora of Jeeps roaring by. Missing our turn to the trailhead, we stopped to ask one of them. "Oh, you're miles away," he said, before driving on (and not offering us a ride). Fortunately between our paper maps, an Inreach, and the Guthook app, we figured out that we were actually on the trail--it merges with the road. Not being purists, we decided that this was good enough and no need to go back miles to find the actual start.
We were hiking southbound, Passages 18-16, mostly because of the difficult access and to avoid a long climb, which now became a rocky descent far down into Reavis Canyon. Burdened with 3.5 liters of water, I attempted to keep up with TC and failed. Several switchbacks later, we were on a flat and cruiser trail. I had been fretting over leaving my fleece jacket behind, but it was apparent that we had picked a great weather window. The late afternoon sun slanted butter-yellow across the saguaro cactus as we reached our dubious water source, a tank near a windmill.
It was true. The recent rains had created a bubbling creek through rocky cliffs. How lucky were we, I thought, as I set up my tent in the falling darkness. The desert was incredibly green, with purple, yellow and white flowers of unknown names. Tonight we would sleep with the sound of water bashfully trickling over the desert floor.
The next morning, early risers, we were on trail before first light. Our first stop was to be Picketpost trailhead, where we would pick up water we had cached for a potential 22 mile water carry. Though I had started out in my puffy jacket, the day heated up quickly as we threaded our way out and up from Whitford Canyon into a stretch of rolling hills and a gradual descent. (Later I was to learn that both Whitford and Reavis canyon are notorious flash flood paths. Fortunately, we were never threatened.)
Though we could see Highway 60 for a long way, it seemed to take longer than it should to tick off the eight miles to relative civilization. We sat on benches drinking cold water and contemplating our life choices. We hadn't planned to do twenty mile days, but if we did another 12, we would end up at the famed rainwater collector--a structure that had been put up for AZT users and significantly assists with the ability to hike the passage we were entering. (If not for this collector, the distance without reliable water would more than double.) It was either carry 5 liters and camp shy of that, or carry only 3 and be able to hike faster.
|These really neat gates abound in all three passages. Interestingly, they all have different ways of opening.|
|Crossing Whitford Creek in the early morning|