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May 31st

I woke up underneath my juniper tree at my last camp of the Arizona Trail Trek, glad that I had a little time to myself before everyone arrived to hike the last 11 miles to the Utah border with me. I wrote in my journal, something I’d done very little of this hike. Sure, I’d jotted down notes and things to remember, but not the kind of writing outdoors that feeds my soul.

Last camp on the Arizona Trail Trek

Last camp on the Arizona Trail Trek

Scott, who had been on several of my other hikes along the way, popped out at Winter Road around 8:30 am. He’d started in the dark at Jacob Lake and had already hiked 17 miles. He was glad he’d caught me for the final hike into Utah.

Around 9 am, my dad arrived with my mom and other hikers Anne and Steve and my husband Brian came with Levi, the videographer.

Levi, Steve, me, my mom Anna. Anne, and Scott

Levi, Steve, me, my mom Anna. Anne, and Scott

The trail rolled through the sagebrush and in and out of several canyons. It was a gorgeous day with big fluffy clouds and a nice breeze to keep the temperatures down.

Through the sagebrush

Through the sagebrush

The trail went into Larkum Canyon and strange rocks appeared. There are baseball to softball sized round inclusions pitting the rock faces along the trail, I would love to know what causes this.

Larkum Canyon

Larkum Canyon

Round inclusions in the rock

Round inclusions in the rock

A big horned lizard joined the group for a break

A big horned lizard joined the group for a break

The trail climbed out of the canyon and wound through the junipers before coming to a spectacular overlook where we took our lunch break. You could see all the way into Utah, colorful sandstone and rock formations and the Coyote Valley below.

Tantalizing glimpses of Utah sandstone

Tantalizing glimpses of Utah sandstone

The Stateline Trailhead became visible in the valley and I knew my journey was soon coming to an end. We hiked the 22 switchbacks into the Coyote Valley and then through the sagebrush.

Stateline Trailhead below

Stateline Trailhead below

Micro Chicken getting close to traversing the whole state!

Micro Chicken getting close to traversing the whole state!

Makes me want to keep hiking into Utah

Makes me want to keep hiking into Utah

I could see my husband Brian in the distance and he yelled “Arizona Trail!!!” I yelled it back, feeling triumphant. I had just hiked here all the way from Mexico!! I stopped for a picture at my favorite hole in the rock near the trailhead before continuing the rest of the way to the Utah border.

Hole in the rock near the state line

Hole in the rock near the state line

My dad was there to welcome me and Brian had put the Arizona Trail Trek banner up on the gazebo at the Stateline Trailhead. We all cheered as I reached the border and Brian had set up a celebration with champagne and cupcakes to toast the succesful completion of the Arizona Trail Trek.

Arizona Trail at Stateline Trailhead, AZ/UT border

Arizona Trail at Stateline Trailhead, AZ/UT border

Such a bummer- an empty register!

Such a bummer- an empty register!

Don't make me leave!

Don’t make me leave!

I didn’t have a lot of time to savor the moment, because we were on a schedule to be back in the Gateway Community of Page for the big finale celebration. It was bittersweet leaving the state line- I was so proud of what I’d accomplished with the hike, the events, and raising awareness for the trail, yet now it was over.

The finale was hosted by Sanderson’s Into the Grand, a museum dedicated to the history of commercial river rafting on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Hoss and Karen Sanderson were incredible hosts and cooked up a delicious dutch oven meal and Bob Paluzzi provided the entertainment. It was a fitting place to end the hike, as I will be starting my season as a guide on the river at the end of June.

Bob The Musician

Bob “The Musician” Paluzzi

Hoss Sanderson

Hoss Sanderson

Feel right at home- this is a boat my company donated to the museum

Feel right at home- this is a boat my company donated to the museum

It was a most jovial atmosphere, with people coming up to congratulate me left and right. I got to tell a bunch of stories and celebrate the realization of a dream I have had since 2007. Seven years since I’d first had the inspiration to thru-hike the Arizona Trail and it was totally worth the wait.

After the event, we went to Antelope Point Marina, who was kind enough to donate a houseboat for the evening. We stargazed on the top deck and saw many shooting stars. It was a fantastic way to end the hike!

Hanging out on the houseboat

Hanging out on the houseboat

A great way to end a fantastic journey!

A great way to end a fantastic journey!

What an experience. It has been three weeks since I finished the trail and it’s something that I’m going to be processing for a long time.

I wouldn’t have been able to hike across the state without the help of many wonderful people who volunteered their time and talents to make this happen. A million thanks to the following:

  • My sponsors- Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, That Brewery, Peace Surplus, and Summit Hut!!

    Wonderful Sponsors!

    Wonderful Sponsors!

  • All the folks who donated through the Indiegogo campaign or at the events- the Arizona Trail Trek raised $17,800 for the Arizona Trail Association!
  • All the businesses that hosted and the musicians that provided the entertainment at the 13 Gateway Community events- thanks for creating a space for people to enjoy themselves while talking trail!
  • Folks that helped with shuttles and vital water caches up and down the state, volunteering their time and gas money to make the public hikes and backpacking trips happen
  • People that hosted me and my dad in the Gateway communities- thank you for opening your homes to us!
  • My backpacking bestie Wendy Lotze for helping with planning, logistics and food

    Sirena & Wendy at Oracle Ridge Trailhead

    Sirena & Wendy at Oracle Ridge Trailhead

  • Ambika B. for her help with the Indiegogo campaign

    Me and Ambika

    Me and Ambika

  • Sarae Hoff, for designing my sweet Arizona Trail Trek logo

    Sarae made me vacuum-sealed cookies for my hike!

    Sarae made me vacuum-sealed cookies for my hike!

  • Leigh Anne Thrasher and Jasmine the mini-donkey for being so supportive and a delight to hike with!

    Leigh Anne and Jasmine

    Leigh Anne and Jasmine

  • Christy Snow and Jeff Harris for all the wonderful things you do
  • The Arizona Trail Association for being composed of the nicest and most supportive people you could hope to meet- I have made countless friends through the ATA, people who are willing to go the extra mile to support the trail they love so much.
  • My fantastic husband Brian for supporting my dreams and helping at the events when he came to visit me.

    Me and Brian at the Patagonia event

    Me and Brian at the Patagonia event

  • Saving the biggest thanks for last- my dad came out from Chicago for two months to support me on my journey, driving countless miles and running supplies. It was always such a treat to see him waiting for me at the trailhead and I cherish the time we were able to spend together.

    Me and my Dad at the Grand Canyon

    Me and my Dad at the Grand Canyon

Amazing that it all came together as well as it did. There were so many different pieces that had to work properly and I consider myself very fortunate that everyone involved stayed safe and healthy.

So now I’ve hiked the Arizona Trail twice, and am proud to be part of a pretty short list of repeaters. I’d hike it a third time, that’s how spectacular this trail is. Next time it will be southbound in the fall to see a different perspective. Who knows when that will be, for now I’ve got to shift my focus to my upcoming season as a guide on the Colorado River. The only thing keeping me sane after my hike is that I know that I’ll be spending my summer in my favorite place, the Grand Canyon.

Wading in Deer Creek near the Patio

Wading in Deer Creek near the Patio

Incredible light on Conquistador Aisle

Incredible light on Conquistador Aisle

Whether you came to the events and hikes or virtually followed along, it was great to share this incredible journey with you. Thanks for being a part of it!

 

May 27-30

After over two months of hiking, the Utah border was now only 5 days away! I left the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and hiked north through the large pines, fir, and aspen. The weather on the Kaibab Plateau, at 9000 ft., was nice and cool and perfect for hiking. I was delighted to find that the horned lizards were all micro-chicken sized! It was so cute!!

Trail north of the Grand Canyon

Trail north of the Grand Canyon

Tiny little horned toad

Tiny little horned lizard

Micro-chicken sized horned lizard

Micro-chicken sized horned lizard

The trail took me to the North Rim Entrance Station, where someone had kindly put out water for hikers. Near the beginning of the Kaibab #101 Trail, there was a fire lookout just a short walk from the trail. It was totally worth the trip and gave me one last view of my beloved Grand Canyon and the San Francisco Peaks.

Thanks for the water and the report!

Thanks for the water and the report!

Fire Lookout

Fire Lookout

Grand Canyon from the Fire Lookout

Grand Canyon from the Fire Lookout

The #101 is a unique experience on the Arizona Trail- traveling through broad, grassy meadows ringed by aspen and fir. There are many small lakes and the hiking is easy. I found a clearing, made dinner, and called it a night. One thing that made my dinners amazing on the AZT was that I added Rising Hy Habanero Olive Oil to each of my meals. It added calories and fat while giving my dinners a kick to keep them from being boring.

Little hiker guy

Little hiker guy

 

Kaibab Plateau Camp

Kaibab Plateau Camp

The next morning, two hikers passed me as I was packing up. It was Free and EZgoing, who are completing the trail by doing big sections at a time. Had a nice chat with them before heading to my next objective: East Rim View.

Free and EZgoing

Free and EZgoing

Lovely!

Lovely!

I got a little water at Crystal Spring and played with my self-timer while waiting for the gravity filter to do its thing.

Killing time while my water filters

Killing time while my water filters

Soon, I caught a view of Marble Canyon, the northern part of the Grand Canyon and House Rock Valley below. This was what I’d been waiting for! The sky was a bit hazy because of fire in the area, but it was spectacular nonetheless. Stopped short of the parking lot at East Rim View and took a long break to enjoy the scenery.

East Rim View of Marble Canyon

East Rim View of Marble Canyon

Eventually, I had to continue northward. I met some guys doing trail maintenance and they congratulated me for being almost done. Such a strange feeling to know it will all be over soon. The trail meandered through meadows and entered Tater Canyon.

Dog Lake

Dog Lake

Tater Canyon

Tater Canyon

A gorgeous day!

A gorgeous day!

I had a great time, traveling through cool meadows while the rest of the state was boiling hot. The trail left Tater Canyon and traveled through an aisle of aspen. I’d love to come back and hike this when the fall colors are happening!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The sky darkened, but I didn’t get rained on, though I could smell it in the air. I stopped at Crane Lake for some water and didn’t tighten one of my containers all the way and it leaked into my pack. Thankfully my sleeping bag didn’t get wet.  This part of the trail was closed and rerouted onto the highway when I hiked in 2008, and I was looking forward to seeing a piece of trail I hadn’t seen before. It was getting dark as I ascended Telephone Hill in the burn area. The sunset was interesting with all the burnt silhouettes.

Telephone Hill Sunset

Telephone Hill Sunset

I camped near the trailhead and managed to find an area cleared of burned trees. There were tons of deer running around as I set up camp.

The next morning, I was woken up by deer bouncing past my campsite. My mom flew in from Chicago to join me and my dad, who’d been helping me the whole hike. My parents came out to the trailhead in the morning to visit me and they brought hot coffee and cookies from Jacob Lake. Sweet!

I was not too impressed with the trail north of Telephone Hill- besides being completely burned, it was an old road that often was right beneath Highway 67. It was hazy, but I caught a glimpse of the Vermilion Cliffs in the distance.

Vermilion Cliffs in the distance

Vermilion Cliffs in the distance

Finally, the trail exited the burn area and was back in the pines again. It entered a canyon and traveled along the bottom. This was where I met two Hayduke Trail hikers in 2008, one of which would go on to save one of my dear friend’s Kimberlie’s life when she had a stroke while on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2012. Crazy how life works sometimes. She went on to make a complete recovery and thru-hiked the whole PCT in 2013. Visit her blog to read about it!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I was getting closer to Jacob Lake, I realized it was still early and I didn’t want to be done for the day. Found a great grassy spot and relaxed for a while. I took out my camera and looked at pictures from earlier in the Trek- I saw so many wonderful things and met so many fantastic people. What an experience.

Eventually, hunger won over and I hiked the rest of the way to the trailhead, where my parents met me and took me to Jacob Lake.

Getting closer to Utah!

Getting closer to Utah!

The next morning, I got ready for my last backpacking trip on the Arizona Trail Trek. I planned on hiking to Winter Road, where a group of people would meet me in the morning to hike the final 11 miles to the Utah border. I was pretty sad at the fact that my journey was coming to an end, when I mentioned it to my husband he laughed. Of course you’re sad, he said- your fantasy life where you get to hike all day and get to meet awesome people is almost over.

I met some of the trail stewards for the passage north of Jacob Lake and they joined me for a couple of miles. The terrain changed as I descended, from pine forest into pinyon-juniper. I had followed spring all the way up the state and wildflowers began to appear.

Trail stewards in their natural environment

Trail stewards in their natural environment

Skyrocket

Skyrocket

Delphinium

Delphinium

Mariposa Lily

Mariposa Lily

And then it happened. I turned the corner and there it was through the sagebrush flat- my first glimpse of Utah! Colorful cliffs and mountains to the north stopped me in my tracks and I had a little celebration.

Look- it's Utah!!

Look- it’s Utah!!

The trail traveled through sagebrush, the dirt underfoot was red, and Utah popped in and out of view. Too soon, I was at Winter Road and my day of hiking was over. I found a spot under a juniper with a view of the red domes of Coyote Buttes. I savored every moment of the last sunset of the trail.

Trail through the sagebrush

Trail through the sagebrush

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Yay! Thanks to all the folks who put water out for me!

Yay! Thanks to all the folks who put water out for me!

Last sunset of the Arizona Trail Trek

Last sunset of the Arizona Trail Trek

Next up: my last miles into Utah and the completion of the Arizona Trail Trek!

 

North Kaibab Trail

North Kaibab Trail

May 23-26

The Gateway Community of Tusayan, south of the Grand Canyon, welcomed me with a gigantic banner and a fun event at the Big E Steakhouse!

What a welcome!

What a welcome!

After a delicious pancake breakfast cooked by gracious host, trail steward and accomplished long-distance hiker Li Brannfors, I headed out. It was cloudy and as I got into the car, it started sleeting big, mushy drops. By the time I got to the South Kaibab Trailhead, it was clear overhead, but looked like the North Rim was getting pounded.

South Kaibab Trailhead

South Kaibab Trailhead

I was able to get a night at the dorms at Phantom Ranch and a permit for Cottonwood Campground for the following evening, giving me a light schedule of only 7 miles a day. I was looking forward to having time to lounge about in my favorite places on the way. I had been doing high mileage without much of a break and my feet were definitely feeling it.

I was so excited to hike into the Canyon, it is my favorite place in the world and I never get tired of exploring it. The Kaibab Trail is on a ridgeline most of the time and the views are spectacular. I was practically running down the trail, but took plenty of breaks at all my favorite viewpoints.

South Kaibab Trail

South Kaibab Trail

My mind wandered to thoughts of finishing the trail next week in Utah, and I thought to myself, “You should really be here now and appreciate your hike through the Grand Canyon”. Just then, a young man came up the trail wearing a shirt that said The Here And Now- how appropriate! He was from France and we had a nice chat before I continued on.

The Here And Now

The Here And Now

Pack mules at Cedar Ridge

Pack mules at Cedar Ridge

Cedar Ridge with O'Neill Butte to the left

Cedar Ridge with O’Neill Butte to the left

I am particularly enamored of the views of Zoroaster Temple, such an incredible landmark! The hike down was easy and went quickly. Despite clouds all around, I didn’t get rained on at all. I crossed the Black Bridge and made my way down to the Boat Beach on the Colorado River.

Black Bridge and the Boat Beach below

Black Bridge and the Boat Beach below

Me with Sumner Butte and beautiful Zoroaster Temple

Me with Sumner Butte and beautiful Zoroaster Temple

Black Bridge

Black Bridge

It was so fun to be at the Boat Beach with the rest of the day to myself. I dunked my feet in the icy river, then set up under a bush to take a nap. Just the way I wanted to spend the afternoon.

Feet in the icy Colorado River!

Feet in the icy Colorado River!

I checked into the dorm and went to dinner at Phantom Ranch. All you can eat vegetarian chili, salad and cornbread- topped off with chocolate cake for dessert! Went back to the Boat Beach and on the way visited and pet the mules in the corral. I had the most wonderful time stargazing and enjoying having the beach all to myself. I work on the river as a guide in the summertime, and we stop at Boat Beach just to fill our water jugs at the faucet, then go on with our trip.

I didn’t get to sleep until really late and the next morning was woken by the call for breakfast. I wasn’t eating at the ranch, so I packed my stuff up and headed to my next destination- Ribbon Falls. The North Kaibab Trail was full of rim-to-rim runners, many who were really rude. It was most unfortunate. I found a place to dip my feet in Bright Angel Creek and watched as people rushed by.

Love this place!

Love this place!

Bright Angel Creek

Bright Angel Creek

I hoped that Ribbon Falls wouldn’t be too crowded, and miraculously, on a Saturday during Memorial Day weekend, only two parties visited during the many hours I spent at the falls. I just love this waterfall, no matter how many times I’ve been here, it’s always a treat- kind of how I feel about the rest of the Canyon. It rained on me for a little bit, just enough to be refreshing.

A great place to spend the afternoon

A great place to spend the afternoon

View from behind the falls

View from behind the falls

Ribbon Falls

Ribbon Falls

Hanging garden on the side of Ribbon Falls

Hanging garden on the side of Ribbon Falls

Loud little fella

Loud little fella

Around dinnertime I left Ribbon Falls to hike the rest of the way to Cottonwood Campground. I found Michael E, a fellow thru-hiker, at the campground. It was so nice to have someone else to talk to who could understand the mixed emotions I was having now that the end of the hike was coming up soon.

The next morning I was out of camp by 7am and excited about my hike out of the canyon. Couldn’t resist dunking my feet at the waterfall by the trail, so I took a short break.

Trailside Waterfall

Trailside Waterfall

Purple Nightshade

Purple Nightshade

Michael caught up with me and we ended up leapfrogging the rest of the way up the trail. It was a perfect day, not too hot given that it was the end of May. The miles fell under my feet easier than ever before- it’s amazing what 700 miles of conditioning can do! I took a bunch of breaks for pictures and scenery and still managed to get to higher elevations before it got too hot.

What a trail!

What a trail!

North Kaibab Trail

North Kaibab Trail

Gaining Elevation

Gaining Elevation

Such a wonderful hike, each layer it’s own geological story. I’m always conflicted about which is my favorite- sometimes I’m convinced the Supai is the most attractive, then I think about how incredible the Redwall is, and then there’s the ancient schists that make up the Granite Gorge…

I crossed the last footbridge and started up toward the Supai Tunnel. Ordinarily, this part of the hike feels like it takes forever, but this time the tunnel appeared so quickly I was a little sad that my hike through the Canyon was mostly over.

Supai Tunnel

Supai Tunnel

Michael and I took a break at the tunnel, then continued the climb to the rim. Temperatures were great and fresh-faced, clean-smelling tourists in flip flops began to appear. I love the view from the Coconino Overlook and part of me wished that I could hang out and take a nap. Which would have been impossible, since it was a busy Sunday filled with tourists. Finally, one couple decided to take pictures jumping right near the edge and I took that as my cue to leave.

Me and Michael E

Me and Michael E

Micro Chicken loves the Canyon

Micro Chicken loves the Canyon

Coconino Overlook with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance to the right

Coconino Overlook with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance to the right

The last part of the trail is heavily wooded and shady and temps were perfect. I reached the rim and Michael was right behind me. I felt great that I’d had such an easy hike out, and had the rest of the day to relax.

Topped out at the North Rim!

Topped out at the North Rim!

As we were sitting at the trailhead, some guys hiked out, whooping and hollering about how awesome they were for having hiked out of the Canyon. Full of bravado, they turned to us and said, “It’s pretty great down there, you should hike it sometime!” To which I answered, “Yes, we came from the bottom too, but we started our hike at the Mexican border two months ago.” “No way!” they said, and then their faces dropped. “Well, I was feeling pretty great about my accomplishment till I heard that.” It was pretty funny.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing with my dad at my friend’s apartment on the rim and getting ready for the final week into Utah. It was bittersweet knowing that this incredible journey would soon come to an end. Thankfully I’ll be returning to the Canyon at the end of June to start my river season.

Here’s the link to donate to the Arizona Trail Association- every dollar goes right back into protecting and sustaining the Arizona National Scenic Trail!

View from North Rim Lodge

View from North Rim Lodge

View from the Dale Shewalter Memorial at Buffalo Park

View from the Dale Shewalter Memorial at Buffalo Park

May 15-22

After a wonderful time on the Women’s Backpacking trip, the next day I led a group of folks on a hike from Sandy’s Canyon into Flagstaff. It was so exciting for me to reach Flagstaff on foot- it’s like my second home! The river company I work for in the summertime, Arizona River Runners, is based out of Flag and I spend quite a bit of time there.

Starting our hike into Flagstaff from Sandy's Canyon TH

Starting our hike into Flagstaff from Sandy’s Canyon TH

Hiking under I-40

Hiking under I-40

Hiking through Flagstaff

Trail through Flagstaff

We had a great time on the hike into town and reached Flagstaff around noon. My dad met me and after lunch, took me up to Schultz Pass so that I could hike the remainder of the passage and connect my steps back into Flagstaff. I took a solemn break at the Dale Shewalter memorial and thanked him for his vision of this fantastic trail that connects the state. My friend and co-worker on the river Chelsea was waiting for me at Buffalo Park in the evening and we met some other river folk for dinner.

Elden Mountain

Elden Mountain

Inquisitive Deer

Inquisitive Deer

Memorial for Dale Shewalter- Father of the Arizona Trail

Memorial for Dale Shewalter- Father of the Arizona Trail

Dale Shewalter MemorialThe next day, my husband Brian drove up to Flagstaff to see me and I got to relax a bit before the Gateway Community Event at Wanderlust Brewing Company. What a wonderful event! The place was packed, the weather was perfect for the patio, and the Diamond Down String Band provided tunes for people to dance to. I was honored that members of the Shewalter family attended the event. It just so happened that the event fell on Dale Shewalter’s birthday, totally unplanned but a fantastic coincidence.

Great night for some music, food, and beer at Wanderlust Brewing Company

Great night for some music, food, and beer at Wanderlust Brewing Company

Unfortunately, about 20 minutes before the end of the event, I started to feel sick. Even had to go throw up a couple times before the night was over (and I don’t even drink!). It ended up being a total pukefest back at the hotel that lasted all night long.

The next morning, Brian did all he could to help me out. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to hike the 10 miles I had scheduled- I was so weak and still felt sick. Thankfully by the afternoon, I was feeling somewhat human and had Brian drop me off at Snowbowl to hike down to Schultz Pass. I got it done, but hiking is no fun at all when you’re tired and have to stop to throw up. In the evening, Brian helped me pack for the next passages. I was so glad that he was there to take care of me and that I hadn’t gotten sick when solo deep in the wilderness.

Peaks!

Peaks!

In the morning, I felt a million times better and one of the ladies from the Women’s trip, Anne McGuffey, came to pick me up to take me to Snowbowl to continue north. She’s planning on a future thru-hike and was excited to see parts of the trail she hadn’t seen before while running support for me. She dropped me off around 10:30 and we planned on meeting at Kelly Tank in the afternoon.

This is one of the parts of the trail that wasn’t complete when I hiked it in 2008 and the end result is gorgeous!! Winding trail through aspen glades, views of the Peaks and fancy signs telling me I have less than 200 miles until Utah.

Micro Chicken is getting ever closer to Utah!

Micro Chicken is getting ever closer to Utah!

Swooping singletrack through the aspen

Swooping singletrack through the aspen

I reached FR 418 and realized that I’d lost my hiking poles! Shoot. Back up the trail I went and thankfully they were less than 15 minutes away. The Peaks got farther away and I entered the White Horse Hills, covered in downed burned trees but still attractive.

White Horse Hills

White Horse Hills

Anne was waiting for me at dry Kelly Tank and we took a lunch break with the sound of mooing cows. We planned on meeting for camp off of FR 416 near Missouri Bill Hill. The remainder of the day was spent hiking on FR 416, a rocky two-track road.

Roadwalkin'

Roadwalkin’

I reached a gate on the west side of Missouri Bill Hill and could see the next passage through the Babbitt Ranch to the north. I got to the base of the hill and started to look for Anne’s car. No Anne. My feet were pretty tired by this time, I’d already gone 21 miles. I tried to call, but there was no cell reception. Only thing to do is keep hiking. I figured she was just down the road, but it was a tense couple of miles until I found her camp right before dark. My longest day yet- 23 miles since 10:30.

Missouri Bill Hill and the Peaks

Missouri Bill Hill and the Peaks

The next day was spent traversing the Babbitt Ranch- a landscape like no other on the AZT. The “trail” is actually on a series of ranch roads. It is generally a windy area, but on this day there was a red flag warning on top of it- gale force winds all day long.

Volcanic hills and the Peaks

Volcanic hills

I reached Tub Ranch and saw an antelope dash off and a group of horses milling about. Strangely, I saw no cows the entire day.

Horses

Horses

The Peaks receded into the distance and I hiked the dusty, windy road. Anne ended up leapfrogging with me the rest of the day, since she could drive the trail. It was great to have her support and I ended up hiking through the whole ranch in one 22-mile day. It was also helpful to have her around because so many of the water sources I’d normally have relied on were dry. We camped at the Kaibab Forest Boundary.

Windy Roadwalk

Windy Roadwalk

So much wind.

So much wind.

Ranch road walkin'

Ranch road walkin’

The next day Anne left and I backpacked the rest of the way to the Grandview Lookout Tower south of the Grand Canyon. My feet were pretty sore from the previous two days and I was happy to be back on singletrack again. Not a fan of roadwalking.

Thanks Anne!!

Thanks Anne!!

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The trail pleasantly wound through the pinyon and juniper, I skipped the side-trip to Moqui Stage Station as I’d seen the ruins in 2009. I reached Russell Tank, also dry this year. Thankfully a generous trail steward had cached me some water nearby.

After Russell Tank, the trail reached the Coconino Rim and began heading west. I got my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon and it literally stopped me in my tracks. I could see the white Coconino cliffbands and the forested North Rim. Giddy with excitement, I had a little on-trail celebration at seeing my favorite place. Soon enough I’d be hiking through.

I found a spot to camp and then the next morning hiked the rest of the way to Grandview. I climbed the lookout tower (scary but great views!) and then my friend Tom came and got me. Later, I met Levi, the videographer, at the Grand Canyon so that we could shoot some footage. Good thing we didn’t wait for the following day- smoke from the Slide Fire in Sedona had completely obliterated the view.

Grandview Lookout Tower

Grandview Lookout Tower

View from Grandview Lookout Tower

View of the Grand Canyon from Grandview Lookout Tower

The next day I hiked from Grandview to the South Kaibab Trailhead. It was a little anticlimactic because this was my view:

Filled with smoke from the Slide Fire

Filled with smoke from the Slide Fire

Next up: Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon!

Starting out at Mormon Lake

Starting out at Mormon Lake- Anne, Velma, Chris, Susan, Sirena, Cynthia, Sistine, Silver, India (myself)

May 12-14

Ten women, one mini-donkey and one therapy dog came from across Arizona—Tucson, Tempe, Sedona and Flagstaff—to join Sirena on a multi-day, 32-mile backpack as she traversed most of Passage 30 (Mormon Lake) and a portion of Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), leading her ever closer to Flagstaff on her Arizona Trail Trek thru-hike. We came singly, or in pairs; some to support Sirena and promote the trail, some because of a prior professional connection and ongoing passion for the trail, some under the guise of a Mother’s Day retreat, and others to test their gear and skills in preparation for thru-hikes of their own, on the AZT and PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). All of us came to hike hard, camp under the stars, and create a shared experience on a beautiful high elevation, ponderosa, pinon and juniper lined stretch of Arizona’s National Scenic Trail.

Aspen at the approach to Navajo Spring

Aspen at the approach to Navajo Spring

We gathered at the end point (Sandy’s Canyon trailhead) and were shuttled to the start point at Mormon Lake Lodge by volunteers including Jim and Carol McFadden and Sirena’s dad. Larry Snead, former Executive Director of the Arizona Trail Association, was there to send us off with good wishes. After brief introductions we were on the trail, eager to get to know one another while logging some miles and trying to keep warm—a front was blowing through and had lowered the expected idyllic high 70s/low 40s to a much crisper high 50s/low 20s, accompanied by a relentless wind.

Old logging railroad interpretive signage

Old logging railroad interpretive signage

We hiked the short spur from Mormon Lake Lodge that connected us with the AZT. From here we passed our first grove of aspen, snacked at Navajo Spring, and followed an historic railroad bed built for the logging industry in the early twentieth century. Interpretive signs dotted the trail and added to the experience. Water was flowing from Wallace Spring as we passed by Double Springs Campground and rejoined the old railroad bed through a canopy of ponderosa pines.

Flowing water at Double Springs

Flowing water at Double Springs

Sampling the big ponderosas to find one that smells like butterscotch

Sampling the big ponderosas to find one that smells like butterscotch

Hiking alongside the historic logging railroad

Hiking alongside the historic logging railroad

We knew the first day’s hiking was nearing its end when Leigh Anne & Jasmine and Bonnie & Dr. Otis greeted us on the trail for the hike into our first camp near Lake Mary Road. What a welcome treat to be joined by these AZT legends! We awoke the next morning to Jasmine’s braying and fresh coffee “in bed.” How did we get so lucky?!

Leigh Anne & Jasmine and Bonnie & Dr. Otis joined and supported the crew

Leigh Anne & Jasmine and Bonnie & Dr. Otis joined and supported the crew

Leigh Anne makes the morning rounds - Sirena gets a pour of Joe

Leigh Anne makes the morning rounds – Sirena gets a pour of joe

On day 2, the trail continued to follow the historic railroad grade. As we headed north, the tree canopy began to thin and we made the short climb up onto the lava flow that mantles Anderson Mesa. We passed a very chilly black-necked gartersnake and found a wind-blown, handwritten “trail ‘hello!’” note that was possibly intended for cowboy Terry, before stopping for lunch near the Horse Lake trailhead, where we left our four-legged friends and their handlers for the trek across the basalt (but not until after they’d filled us up with water that we hadn’t had to carry, cookies, and kettle corn!).

Sirena on the approach towards Horse Lake

Sirena on the approach towards Horse Lake

The rocky trek across Anderson Mesa

The rocky trek across Anderson Mesa

Into the wind and along the road we continued, past Horse Lake, until we could no longer take the biting wind. We found a somewhat protected spot tucked amongst the junipers where we soaked up the last rays of the sun, watched the full moon rise, and sheltered for the night.

Full moon rising over camp

Full moon rising over camp

The next day we were treated to repeated stellar, sweeping views of the San Francisco Peaks looming ever closer in front of us as we continued our trek through the pinon and juniper woodland of Anderson Mesa, past Vail Lake. We were also afforded lovely views of Upper Lake Mary and Mormon Mountain before turning north towards Prime Lake, and on to our lunch spot near Lowell Observatory, where we were reunited with Jasmine and Otis and the gang, who once again refilled us with water, cookies and companionship.

The Peaks!

The Peaks!

What a great group!

What a great group!

Views of

Views of Upper Lake Mary and Mormon Mountain

Jasmine rejoins the herd

Jasmine rejoins the herd

One cow elk was spotted, and Sirena had several close encounters with horned lizards as we hiked past dry Marshall Lake. Continuing north, we began slowly descending through Kaibab Limestone and Coconino Sandstone, and through very recently burned areas, the result of April’s Fisher Fire.

Marshall Lake

Marshall Lake

Starting the descent into Walnut Canyon

Starting the descent into Walnut Canyon

Foreground to background: Recent Fisher fire damage, Walnut Canyon, the San Francisco Peaks

Foreground to background: Recent Fisher fire damage, Walnut Canyon, the San Francisco Peaks

Finally, we descended a few switchbacks into Walnut Canyon where we were awed by cross-bedded sandstone cliffs basked in an orange sunset glow. We spent a long while inhaling the panorama, avoiding what we knew was coming for all but Sirena—the end of our backpacking escape. A short hike up and out of Walnut Canyon, past early blooming irises, brought us to our waiting cars and inevitable goodbye-for-nows.

Cross-bedded sandstone cliffs

Cross-bedded sandstone cliffs near the head of Walnut Canyon

Nobody wanted to leave this special place

Nobody wanted to leave this special place

Sirena and sandstone

Sirena and sandstone

All of us were grateful for the support afforded us on this trek by co-hikers and volunteers, and envious of Sirena as she continued northwards without us. Just a reminder- the campaign to raise $20,000 for the Arizona National Scenic Trail will stay open until the end of June- already over $18,000 has been raised!  Donate now, and consider becoming a member of the Arizona Trail Association.

Jasmine represents, and you can, too!

Jasmine represents, and you can, too!

Sirena and her little friend

Sirena and friend

Walnut Canyon iris

Walnut Canyon iris

P-J Zone guest blogger trail selfie

Guest blogger trail selfie

Pines as far as the eye can see

Pines as far as the eye can see

May 8-11

After I had a day to recover from my Very Bad Day on the Highline Trail, I was ready to keep hiking. But as I was getting ready to leave, I got a call that a news station in Phoenix wanted to do an interview with me. After some technical difficulties, I got the interview done around 10:30. I decided to dayhike southbound so that I could still get my miles in. My neck and back were still pretty sore from hitting my head on the Highline Trail. My dad, support crew extraordinaire, dropped me off on the Blue Ridge passage.

Happy to be in the cool pines!

Happy to be in the cool pines!

This area marks a stark transition from the rugged deserts and mountains of Southern Arizona for one big reason- the Mogollon Rim. The Rim is an escarpment of cliffs that marks the edge of the Colorado Plateau. Once you are on top of the Mogollon Rim, all of a sudden you’re in the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the world! The trail is at 7000 feet elevation, the weather is cool, and the walking flat and easy. It’s like a whole different trail.

Singletrack through the pines

Singletrack through the pines

I descended to the East Clear Creek crossing, only there was sadly no water to cross. All thoughts I’d had of taking a nice break near the creek vanished and I hiked on. I spent some time catching a horned lizard, one of my favorite trail activities.

Just a tiny horned lizard

Just a tiny horned lizard

The trail meandered among the pines and then came to the highlight of the passage: hiking in General Springs Canyon. What a beautiful piece of trail, next to a running creek on a perfect day with big fluffy clouds in the sky. I had to take a break to dunk my feet. My body has been holding up well on this hike, except for my middle toe on my right foot. It started hurting a week or so ago and now won’t stop. I keep it ensconced in a wrapping of Band-Aid Blister Bandages to cushion it. I hurt it during river season last year and the endless rocks of Arizona have given it quite a pounding.

Beautiful General Springs Canyon

Beautiful General Springs Canyon

After my creekside break, the trail followed along the stream until it reached General Springs Cabin, built in 1918 as a fire station.

General Springs Cabin

General Springs Cabin

I hiked toward FR 300, which runs along the edge of the Mogollon Rim. The trail descended steeply and then crossed the East Verde River, the same river I’d played in near the LF Ranch in the Mazatzals.

Coming off the Mogollon Rim

Coming off the Mogollon Rim

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe running creek was too good to resist, so I dunked my feet again and enjoyed the sound of rushing water and birdsong.

Feet-in-the-creek break

Feet-in-the-creek break

I reached Washington Park and my dad right as it was getting dark, he had just seen a bear cross the road nearby. We went back for one last night in Pine.

One last look at the Mogollon Rim

One last look at the Mogollon Rim

The next day, I didn’t get on the trail until 11:30, I had a bunch of emails and planning for the next segments to do. My dad dropped me off where I left off so that I could backpack for the next three days to Mormon Lake.

I had a small piece of the Blue Ridge passage left before crossing Highway 87. It was a gorgeous day, the weather was fantastic and after a while I realized that I could hike in a skirt instead of pants. I stopped to change and eat a snack and continued hiking.

Skirt weather!

Skirt weather!

After a while, I came to a road crossing and trailhead that looked way too familiar. How could it be- I ended up back at the trailhead I’d been dropped off an hour before!! I had gotten turned around after my break and I walked right back the way I came! Since the sun was overhead and the pine forest looks all the same, I hadn’t realized my mistake. Feeling sheepish, I turned myself around again and hiked the next half-hour of trail for the third time.

Finally I crossed 87 and the trail continued on singletrack toward Jack’s Canyon. I reached the 500-mile mark of the trip and had a little celebration.

Five Hundred Miles!!

Five Hundred Miles!!

The trail through Jack’s Canyon was pleasant, winding along the canyon bottom. Took a break to enjoy some strawberry jalapeno goat cheese and crackers and goat milk fudge from Fossil Creek Creamery- yum!!

The singletrack ended and I hiked along a series of two-track roads for the rest of the day. My right foot was really sore, sometimes sending shooting pains up my middle toe if I stepped on it wrong. The rocky roads didn’t help matters any. I found a spot to camp among the pines with soft needles covering the rocky ground.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The next day was spent traveling a series of two-tracks. I thought I’d see people out for the weekend but maybe they were kept away by the cold, incessant wind. Only saw two guys camped near Bargaman Park. Stopped to talk to them and they filled up my water bottles and gave me a cold pineapple juice. I saw many groups of elk and lots of birds, often when I would approach one of the water sources. One red-tailed hawk sat in a tree, screaming over and over again to others in the area.

Hiking two-track roads

Hiking two-track roads

Beautiful Iris

Beautiful Iris

I hiked until it got too dark to see the trail and set up camp. My feet were killing me, having been relentlessly pounded by the rocky ground. Made dinner and called my dad, who suggested he meet me tomorrow morning and take my pack so that I could carry minimal weight for the final 9 miles into Mormon Lake.

The next morning it was cold with a biting wind and overcast. The remaining miles to the end of the passage were pleasant singletrack through bright green grasses. My dad met me at the trailhead with a second breakfast and a coffee- yay! I offloaded some of my stuff and continued on to Mormon Lake. Thanks Dad!!

Singletrack through the grasses

Singletrack through the grasses

Micro Chicken with a fancy feather

Micro Chicken with a fancy feather

I crossed Lake Mary Road and made my way along the windblown trail. I was all layered up and still chilly while hiking! The trail wound through the ponderosa pines and soon I was at the junction for Mormon Lake Lodge. Hiked down the mile-long access trail to meet my dad at the lodge and say hi to Larry Snead, former director of the Arizona Trail Association. It was snowing! Just flurries, but remember just over a week ago I’d been overheating hiking out of the East Verde River valley. My dad groaned about the weather, he lives in the Chicago area and they’d had the worst winter ever and now here he was, back in the cold again!

Hiking toward Mormon Lake

Hiking toward Mormon Lake

Mormon Lake Lodge

Mormon Lake Lodge

It was always such a treat to see my dad at the end of a day of hiking. He would drop me off, then go on his own adventures exploring the area, then we’d get together and share stories and pictures. He’s definitely where I got my sense of adventure from. So glad he has been such a big part of the hike, he’s the best support crew ever! He came out and helped me a lot when I was section-hiking the trail in 2008-09 and it’s so much fun to be able to do it all over again. It’s been almost 20 years since I moved away from the Chicago suburbs, so to spend this much time with my dad is definitely something I’ll cherish about this journey.

My dad and I went into Flagstaff for the night to warm up and got dinner from my favorite- Pato Thai- and checked into a hotel with a hot tub. It was just what I needed for my windswept, chilly, footsore self.

Up next: a guest blog about the Women’s Backpacking Trip!

I am keeping the fundraiser for the Arizona Trail Association open until the end of June- to date $17,800 has been raised! Click here to donate and help us reach $20,000!

May 3-7

Mogollon Rim

Mogollon Rim

Hiking into Pine is a special moment for any thru-hiker on the Arizona Trail. The mountains have been rugged, the footing rough, and after 400 miles on the trail, it’s time for a break! And Pine/Strawberry is the perfect Gateway Community for it- the locals have really embraced the Arizona Trail and all the hikers, bikers, and equestrians it brings to their small mountain towns.DSCF4188

I had a Gateway Community event on the night of the 3rd, but first I had to hike the remaining 12 miles into Pine. My dad and I went out for breakfast, and as I was leaving…I twisted my ankle!! Not on some remote, rocky trail- but in town! It didn’t feel too bad at the time, so I continued with my hike as scheduled.

The event at That Brewery (brewers of Arizona Trail Ale!) was so much fun, the weather was perfect and the Mother Road Trio from Flagstaff provided the entertainment. All sorts of folks came up to me, asking how my ankle was doing. News travels fast in a small town.

Mother Road Trio

Mother Road Trio

The next day was the third annual Pine Strawberry Trails Day- a full day of hikes, demonstrations, trailwork and activities! I tagged along for the Llama hike with Joyce Bittner and her llamas from Fossil Creek Creamery.

Joyce talks about the llamas

Joyce talks about the llamas

Just me and my llama

The next day was a much-needed day off, only a big chunk of the day was taken up by interviews and planning for the next leg of the hike. See the interview I did in Pine here. I was able to get an amazing massage from Vivian Seville and visit with my husband who came up to see me.

The next morning my dad dropped me off at Washington Park so that I could hike the 17 miles back into Pine. I was on the Highline Trail, an old route taken by the families who settled here underneath the Mogollon Rim many years ago. There are parts of it that remind me of Sedona- exposed expanses of red rock.

Not Sedona, it's the Highline Trail

Not Sedona, it’s the Highline Trail

About 5 miles into the hike, I heard something go buzzing by my ear. I wear a hoody with a baseball cap and my first thought was that a fly had gotten stuck in my hood. Then I realized it might be a bee and freaked out. You see, I have a large local allergic reaction that causes pain and swelling that last for up to two weeks. I whipped my hood and hat off and took my hair out of my braid. “zzzz…zzzzzzzzzzz…zzzzzzzzz” was all I could hear in my left ear. Maybe it’s in my shirt! I took my shirt off- no bee. I was flailing my head around, hoping to dislodge the bee without getting stung. It was getting angrier and louder- “zzzzz…ZZZZZ…ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!!”

So now I’m whipping my head around like some crazy woman, hoping no one comes by because I’m in my bra, but also hoping that someone comes by and helps me get this fricking bee out of my hair! While I was trying to get the bee out, another bee bumped me in the chin. This is not a good sign, it means that they are trying to get me out of their territory and that there will be more bees on the way.

Finally it gets quiet and I gather my things and run like hell. I get about a quarter-mile away and finally let out a sigh of relief that it is over. Only it’s not over…”ZZZZ…zzzzzz…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”. The bee was still in my hair! More flailing around, trying to get it out. I took my shirt off and there it was, attached to the shirt, stinger pulled from its body. I brushed it off and ran again.

Another quarter-mile away, I put my pack down, ready to take a break after over 15 minutes of terror. And to my horror, I hear “ZZZZZ…zzzzzzzzz…ZZZZZZZZZZZZ!” Are you kidding me? A second bee had been stuck in my hair on top of my head!! One last round of whipping my head around to free the second bee and it was finally over.

People often ask me, “Aren’t you scared of all the animals out there?” and truthfully there is nothing that scares me more than the idea of a bee attack. The episode was terrifying, knowing that if there were enough pissed-off bees in the area that I could have been seriously hurt or died. I am so lucky that I escaped without even one sting. I was also glad that I’d added an epi-pen to my first aid kit for my thru-hike.

By this time I was exhausted from all the energy I’d spent on the bee encounter, but I still had 12 miles to go. I tried to enjoy the expansive views on the Highline of the Mazatzals and 4 peaks and saw several groups of elk.

Mazatzals in the distance

Mazatzals in the distance

There are great places to relax by running creeks on the Highline and I met fellow thru-hiker Nate and his dog Bandit at the Geronimo Creek trailhead. I stopped for a while and soaked my feet and told him of my crazy day so far. He told me of a much worse encounter he’d had with bees while climbing that made me realize it could have been much more serious.

Flowers along the Highline

Flowers along the Highline

After a nice break and chat with Nate, I continued on the trail. I was hiking along, fiddling with something in my backpack hip pockets when all of a sudden I found myself on the ground, and could feel blood dripping down my scalp. It all happened so fast it took me a minute to realize what had happened. There was a tree down in the trail, head height, with several branches broken off. I had hit the tree with my head and two of the branches cut my scalp.

The downed tree- look at those broken branches- ouch!!

The downed tree- look at those broken branches- ouch!!

I got my bandanna out and sure enough, I was bleeding. I reminded myself that scalps bleed a lot and tried to assess the damage by taking head selfies to try and see the cut. Assured that my brain wasn’t coming out my head, I stopped the bleeding with some pressure and took a bit to gather my composure. I sent a text to my dad that I’d hit my head and trudged the remaining five miles to the trailhead. I couldn’t believe the day I’d had- such an emotional rollercoaster! So lucky that I didn’t get stung or knock myself out cold when I hit my head.

I was happy to see my dad waiting at the trailhead for me and know that this crazy day was finally over. Thankfully I was able to take the next day off from hiking and rest up. I had given myself whiplash when I hit my head, completely negating the wonderful massage I’d had before the hike. I did venture out to Fossil Creek Creamery to feed the baby goats and got sent away with some delicious goat milk fudge and goat cheese for my travels.

One of many baby goats at the Fossil Creek Creamery

One of many baby goats at the Fossil Creek Creamery

I will continue to fill in the entries I didn’t have time for during the hike and I’m also keeping the fundraising campaign open until the end of June. To date, the Arizona Trail Trek has raised $17,800 toward the goal of $20,000 for the Arizona Trail Association- Click here to go to the donate page!

Heart in the sky

Heart in the sky

 

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