April 3rd, 2023, Ridge at Kilometer 363 Northbound to Kilometer 399, 36 km, 518 m elevation gain, 523 m elevation loss, 12 hrs.
The moon was so bright all night that I slept with my Buff over my eyes. I had worked hard to select and get my camp set up with a clear view of the nights sky on the ridge but my work had been in vain as the moon outshone the stars. I was able to see Orion’s Belt and the Big Dipper and could make out the Milky Way. I do love to look at the night sky but unfortunately on this trip the sky be be too bright overnight.
Slept in a little and got out of the tent at 5:25 am.
Right after shooting the video I snapped a pole that supports my tent. It was totally my fault. I did not loosen the rope and I snapped the pole under the pressure of trying to unhook it. The poles are an addition to my tent to make it a free standing tent. The Zpack Duplex can be pitched using only trekking poles which I had but the extra poles make the tent free standing which gives me more options when looking for a place to camp.
I quickly passed a hiker who was camped less than 5 minutes from where I had spent the night. Shortly after passing the camper I was passed by a women hiking SOBO. Passing by at this time of day I figure she must have camped somewhere close by. Even when you are alone on the AZT people are never far away.
I made good progress early in the morning. The feet were ok but not great. The trail was hard packed with very few obstructions making for quick and easy progress.
I arrived at Beehive water tank at 9:25 am. I had been hiking for just over 3 hours and had covered 11 km. The water in the water tank was a little green. Luckily there was fresh water pipe delivering clear water into the tank I could access. While refilling my water bladder and bottle a hiker turned up who was hiking the Grand Enchantment Trail. The Grand Enchantment Trail is a remote 770 mile hike connecting Phoenix, Arizona and Albuquerque, New Mexico. When I told him I was from Canada and had previously hiked sections of the Great Divide Trail he told me that he was interested in doing GDT and began to pepper with question about my experiences on trail. While we were talking a hiker named Squeaks showed up. I would repeatedly see Squeaks throughout the day but she would pass me during lunch and that would be last time I would see her. As I left Beehive water tank the trail traveled along a wash for a few hundred metres before turning uphill. Washes are very soft and sandy so minimizing the time traveling in a wash is always preferable. While the climb looks steep on the elevation profile it was only 100 m of elevation over 3 km.
The hiking was simple on easy trail. This lead me to be doing quite of bit of daydreaming and not paying attention to my surroundings. I was snapped out of my stupor by a loud hiss and a rattle. I jumped away from the sudden noise and was lucky to avoid landing in any cacti. I did snap a couple of photos of my new friend but I kept my distance so the pictures are not great.
I found a shady spot in a wash just off the trail and stopped for lunch at 11:25 am. I had completed 18 km in 5 hrs. Back home sometimes this would be a full day backpacking but here in the desert it was only lunch time. As I was digging into my wrap I noticed that there were red ants crawling all over my pack so I moved quickly to a different spot. I ended up eating standing up in a grassy patch beside the trail and took off as soon as I was finished eating. It was not a very relaxing lunch.
In my journal I wrote that it was a prickly long slog up to the base of Antelope Peak. My interpretation is that while the trail was never steep it was a relentless up hill hike in amongst a lot of cacti.
Soon after arriving at the base of Antelope Peak the trail dumped me out onto a road. There would be a few kilometers of road walking to finish Passage 14. With the wind howling and my feet feeling a little tender I decided against hiking up Antelope Peak.
Soon after I started on the road I came upon a thru hiker named Loofah from Texas. He got his trail since he carries a loofah on the outside of his backpack. We would walk together to the completion of Passage 14.
It was a about a 1 hour walk on the hot, dry dirt roads to the end of Passage 14 at the Freeman Road TH. As Loofah and I approached the parking lot at the Freeman Rd TH we could see a camper van with a number of people milling around it. I could not believe my luck. I had been on the trail just two days and I had trail magic both days.
The trail magic was incredible. I never did get the guy’s name. He is a circus performer and had multiple unicycles in the van. During the off season he hikes. The van came complete with a full bar. Whatever drink you wanted he could make. My timing was perfect as he had just arrived. I opted for a couple large glasses of Coke, pizza and topping up my water. Loofah decided to hang around and enjoy the trail magic. By the time I left there were several hikers taking in the refreshments and lounging in the chairs provided.
I spent 25 minutes at the trail magic. My feet were hurting pretty bad so I decided I would shorten my trip to just three days and attempt to finish the hike tomorrow. Since I was still moving down the trail pretty good despite my feet I decided I would hike as far as possible today to shorten tomorrow as much as possible. My goal became to have around 20 miles left to hike tomorrow so I had to put in another 10 miles before setting up camp.
I pushed on hard down the trail. I was not overly happy with just having to stride out the miles. Just not how I like to hike. It was just so windy through this section that it was hard to enjoy the scenery. I would liken the hiking in this section to hiking in hair dryer.
I wished that I was not in such a rush to finish, although that was my fault. I found the description on the AZT website to be very accurate for this section of the trail, “This section is hot, dry, and exposed but with a unique, rugged beauty that is synonymous with the desert.”
The sun was starting to get low on the horizon so I began to look for a place to camp but I had not yet reached the magical number of 20 miles left for tomorrow. I was keeping track of my progress on the FarOut App which could tell me how far to the trailhead I was. I passed by an older women who I had not seen before setting up camp in a wash. I kept moving right along passing by several spots that would have made pretty good campsites.
At 6:05 pm with the shadows getting long I found a somewhat flat spot with some well placed cactus and shrubs for a wind block that left me with just under 20 miles to go for tomorrow. Feeling satisfied I dropped my pack and quickly set up my tent in the fading light. I swore at myself as I was setting up the tent because of snapping the pole in the morning. It was very windy and I was having trouble trusting that the tent would stay up in the wind. I decided to try to use two of the self standing poles to support the windward side of the tent. I was shocked at how well the poles worked to support the tent against the onslaught of the wind.
I finished setting up the tent just as the sun went down. I attempted to lower the hiking poles as much as I could to lower the profile of the tent and I double staked the tent door lines. With the strong wind there was so much pressure on the tent I had my doubts that the tent would make it through the night. Looking at my tent struggling against the wind made me thick back to women camping in the wash and that it seemed like a really good idea now. I had more cannelloni for dinner. Luckily I do not get tired of the food that I like so eating the same thing as I had last night for me was just fine.
I texted Laura to let her know of my situation. She replied quickly. Always good to get a little mental support when things are not quite going to plan. With having to pad the heals of my shoes to keep the blisters from getting worse I now had the problem with my toes being jammed into the toe box. I moved the laces up an eyelet to allow the toe box to expand. This would end up not being such a great idea. It is amazing how one decision, to not tape my heals, leads to so many compounding problems. I was not really worried about finishing my hike with my feet. I still had 2 1/2 days of food. I knew that if I just kept walking I would be able to finish the hike tomorrow even if I went slowly I just had to keep moving forward.
My plan was now to get up at 4:15 am to get a good start on the day. It was suppose to be cooler tomorrow and I knew I would be heading into some canyons so the trail would become more varied. I had 19.6 miles left to the trail head to hike tomorrow. I figured if I left the camp at 5:30 am the latest I should finish would be 6 pm.
It was so windy overnight. The tent buffeted furiously against the wind but it held in place the entire night.
Before I went to bed I made note of the casualties on this trip:
- lost new polarizing filter
- 1 sock (had used it for padding my shoes and it must of fallen out)
- 1 Duplex tent pole
Good night from kilometer 399 NOBO on the AZT.