Saturday, May 8, 2010

How to get your ass kicked on the AZT - Superior to Pine

Li and I
I left Superior with very good news: Li, a CDT hiking friend had sent me an email wanting to join me for a couple of days on the AZT. Li is known to hike 30 mile days and he hiked the entire AT and CDT in ONE season - I definitely cannot keep up with that pace. But we talked on the phone and he promised to "regulate" himself. I had been doing 20 - 22 mile days recently and that was ok with him. We agreed to meet in Roosevelt. What he had not mentioned is that the stretch between Roosevelt and Pine is the hardest on the whole AZT. What we both did not know is that there would be some aggravating factors.... So we met with 6 days worth of food and good spirits.

Li had even brought me a breakfast burrito from civilization and showed me new highlights of outdoor cuisine: He made "grasshopper pie" for us for dessert three times. That recipe includes lots of mint oreos, jello and even more alcohol which he carried in a mini platypus. That is culinary dedication! This dessert looks kind of disgusting, but tastes wonderful. The more alcohol, the better. And we needed a lot of that...

It all started already on day 1 of hiking together. After a 3,000 ft elevation gain (which was not too bad) we came across new trail. The trail had been built in 2004 - and NEVER ever been maintained after that. To say that it was overgrown is an understatement. We were crawling through catclaws and manzanita at a pace of less than 1 mile per hour. It soon became apparent that we would never make it to our planned camp spot.

Unfortunately, we did not have enough water to dry camp - not to mention that there just was no place whatsoever where to camp. We were traversing a steep slope. When it got dark we came to a saddle with some pitiful campsites, but no water. We decided to hike on in the dark to the next creek. The trail got a bit better and we made it to water when it had just gotten pitch dark. But where to camp? There was a fire ring, but no flat spots. And therefore for the first time in my entire life and after even completing the whole triple crown I had to do something I had never done before: I slept right on the trail!!!!
The wind was blowing so hard that we could hardly cook our late dinner. Li made his famous grasshopper pie for the first time and we really needed it! I fell asleep amid manzanita and tremendous gusts of wind.

Li
Surely this bad trail would not continue - but we were wrong. Because the next day we entered the area of the huge 2004 wildfire. And apparently there had been no trail maintenance after that. And that meant we were climbing over blow down trees for the next 4 days. To make it more interesting the whole trail was also overgrown with raspberry bushes on steroids. No raspberries though, just the thorns. We were both in long-sleeved shirts and pants. You can stand this situation for 1 day and think of the great achievement afterwards. You might even be able to stand it for 2 days and still be proud of it. But after 3 days you just hate it!!! We ended up camping right on trail for a second time, because we were never able to hike 20 miles in that crap! Li learnt a lot of German swear words as I was trying to limbo under blow downs. By the way: I learnt some new English expressions from Li as well! For example: ""It is time for a morning constitutional when the turtle is poking its head out.."". Now you Germans: What could that mean?....

Snow in AZ in May!
On day 5 we realised that we would never make it in our planned 6 days. Well, Li would have made it - but not me. Luckily I had an extra day's worth of food  I could share with him. On our last day we were eventually out of the forest fire area and the only problem was a very rocky road. I felt like being drunk balancing on football sized rocks for a whole day - but hey, that was nothing compared to the days before. But then it got colder and colder. I was teasing Li when he put on all his warm clothes and mentioned something about snowing. Surely it would not snow in Arizona end of April. But it did!!! We ended up in a snow storm -  no kidding. In Germany it hardly ever snows that hard. We sought shelter among pine trees and I expected to wake up in a foot of snow... but luckily it stopped snowing overnight, but it got bitter cold. Our water bottles froze - but hey, I am used to that from Southern Florida. I love hiking in an El Nino year... So eventually on day 7 we made it back into civilization - frozen and completely out of food, but alive and healthy.

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