Sunday, February 23, 2020

Hiking the Arizona Trail, Passage 18: water in the desert

TC and I exchanged nervous glances. The road to Rogers Trough was rough, though beautiful, and we didn't want to be responsible for damage to our trail angels' car. I would have turned back miles before, I thought, but "Umbrella Man" kept going. "I'm not even in four wheel drive yet!" he exclaimed.

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.

Goldfish water
TC peered in. "There's goldfish in here," she reported. A few cows loitered nearby, looking malevolent. As we pondered the likelihood of having to filter this water, a truck appeared, and the occupants gifted us with some cold water. Trail Magic! Shortly after, we met a Canadian section hiker, Hawkeye, who assured us that water was running in Whitford Canyon. Free from having to drink cow water, we made quick work of a few more miles, winding up just before dark in the canyon.

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.
Twenty miles, I hadn't done that since the summer. I knew that while I felt relatively fit, there would be some shock and awe associated with hiking that far with a backpack. In the end, though, I was up for the challenge. Shouldering our packs under a hot mid-day sun. we headed into Passage 17 and the unknown.
Crossing Whitford Creek in the early morning


  1. We've been seeing those same gates down south in the Mount Wrightson foothills. They seem so over built...overkill, given they are generally hooked to flimsy barbed wire fences. They are attractive tho :) Have seen several thru-hikers, all solo, tho we are just doing day hikes. Lots of rain recently!
    Box Canyon

    1. That's funny and I agree. The wire seems about ready to go down. All the rain seems unusual?

  2. Enjoyed the blog. Waiting for part 2. We wish we could have taken you all the way to the trailhead.

    1. Well, we were close. If only the jeep guy had been a bit more friendly...

  3. Trail Angels are the best. Jeep driver's have a lot to learn.
    Flash flooding without rain is scarey. So glad you didn't have that experience.


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