Friday, May 21, 2010

AZT conclusion

So what is my verdict now on the AZT?

First of all, I really enjoyed the hike. And these are the pros for the AZT:

It is very pretty and often even spectacular. There was no roadwalks (except on detours because of too much snow), most of it is on single trail and you can camp almost anywhere without having to worry about traffic and its noises. This is a real wilderness hike! If you love arid country and can deal with its problems, this is your hike. The hike through Grand Canyon is gorgeous!!!

Resupply options are very good. Most places with shops and/or post offices are on trail or only a short ways away; there is even a special resupply route to Flagstaff. And all these resupply towns are nice or even great. I loved Flagstaff, for example.

There is also a fair amount of people hiking the AZT and so I even had some company. There is no hiker family around like on the AT or PCT, but you are not as lonely as on the FT.

For me the pros were definitely outweighing the cons. Still, I cannot unconditionally recommend that trail. Li coined a great expression for trails like the AZT: It is an abusive trail! What does that mean? To put it bluntly:  There are long sections of trail that have not received any maintenance for more than 7 years - and as a hiker you suffer through that. The whole Mazatzal section was so badly overgrown that I was averaging 1 mph - not much fun for almost a week. The last stretch after the North Rim suffered from a forest fire in 2006 - and again: No maintenance has been done ever since. But the biggest outrage is Saguaro NP: There is no official trail and therefore you have to trespass on X9 Ranch Road (where I was denied access and other hikers have been even physically threatened by outraged land owners) or bushwhack through 6 miles of cactus land. Supposedly there is some trail, but the ATA is "hiding" it because of God knows what problems with the NPS. Bottom line: Do not bring new gear to this trail! The AZT destroys everything!

Next problem is navigation: The ATA produced maps are pretty useless. Don't bother getting them. The official guidebook is hopelessly outdated and therefore only of use for about 50% of the trail. The only useful thing ATA has produced is the GPS waypoints you can download from their website. And of course there is the water report, the data book and the new townguide. All the later documents are prepared by a single volunteer and I was really grateful for them, but they could use some improvements. Definitely bring a GPS when hiking the trail as the waymarking is anything from sort of ok to non-existent. If you are not a navigational wizzard you will be grateful for a GPS.

Water is also a big issue: This year was very good because of all the snow, but water is definitely an issue on the AZT. Now when I compare two "dry" trails like the AZT and the Australian Bibbulmun Track.... On the Bibb Track there are water tanks for the hikers, but on the AZT you are on your own with really nasty dirt tanks - or you have to cache water.

Unfortunately there are also no official trail angels. So nobody maintains water caches or shuttles hikers. Like on the FT it is a big problem getting to the trail head. You can easily hitch to and from the Northern Terminus, but getting to the Mexican border is a problem. Luckily there are official shuttle services (albeit expensive) and trail volunteers, so the situation is not as bad as on the FT.

Bottomline: The AZT is definitely not a trail for beginners. You must know how to deal with the water situation, have good navigational skills (or a GPS) and have a high tolerance for overgrown trails. Then you will love the AZT. Other than that: Try another trail.... For me personally: Yes, I would rehike this trail (if they clear the Mazatzals....)

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