Wild Camp on Gila River (-111.10906, 33.10830) to Wild Camp on Ridge (-111.13407, 33.19439), 22.5 km, 1070 m Elevation Gain, 448 m Elevation Loss, 8 hrs 25 min, Passage 16 and 17.\
After getting up in the middle of the night to view the stars we slept in a bit. I crawled out of the tent at 7:30 am. Our morning routine is the opposite of the evening. Micah works packing up the tent and everything inside while I make coffee and retrieve our blocks of Logan Bread that we have for breakfast. It was an amazing sunrise and a lovely morning to be on the trail. Being the first morning on the trail we were a little rusty and it took us 1 hr and 15 min to pack up camp. Micah pointed out that I need a better packing system to be more efficient. I carry the tent and I like to have the tent in the bottom of my pack so it has to go in first. But the tent is the last thing to be taken down. So all my stuff is on the ground waiting to be packed until finally the tent is ready. Luckily I have all my stuff in bags so it does not really take too long to pack up but I could probably be more efficient.
We descend the ridge and hike along in a shaded valley for a few minutes. We climbed up a small bank into brilliant morning sunshine. The sun will be with us all day but never gets hot, just a nice hiking temperature.
The trail is almost pancake flat for the first 4.7 km as we hike along the Gila River. There are small ups and downs but only a few metres each way just enough to keep things fun. We came across a cardinal flying from bush to bush. I chased carefully after it trying to get a good picture. The sun was back lighting the cardinal making it just a dark splotch but I did manage to get one good picture.
You can see that the trail has had a lot of thought put into it during the building process. The trail never climbs very steeply. To avoid the steep inclines the trail weaves in and out of the little valleys that come to the river in an attempt to find a nice gradient to climb up the other side. As opposed to taking a more direct approach that would result in steeper climbs. This practice of finding nice inclines increases the length of the trail. At one point I had measured the distance that we had traveled in a straight line to be 9 km, but my Viewranger app had said we had hiked 14 km!
There is a lot of mining activity in Arizona and we can lots of evidence along the trail. There were numerous holes dug into the ground and into the side of hills. We also lots of green rocks caused by oxidized copper.
We stopped for a few minutes for Micah to attend to her feet. Micah’s shoes were quite worn out and the lack of cushioning was bruising the back of her heels.
We continued hiking along the river but never coming down to the river itself. The valley becomes quit wide and the area beside the river has been fenced off for the cows keeping us up and away from the river.
After 90 minutes of hiking and 4.75 km we come to the junction where we leave the Gila River to head north into the canyons.
The trail is continually uphill for the next 4 km only rising 200 m, so a very pleasant 50 m/km grade. After less than 10 minutes we come to our first junction. Staying to the left we left the jeep road follow a trail around the side of slope and up a small valley. We are entering a canyon and have tall cliffs to our west and high hill to the east (right).
I am still lagging behind as we hike. Taking pictures as the desert landscape continually changes. The trail does undulate a little but we continue to gain elevation. The temperature is warming up but only ever gets to a very comfortable hiking temperature.
We took a break on a north facing slope after 2 hrs 20 min and 7 km of hiking. While we enjoyed the view I had some fun taking photos of our hiking mascots, Horace the Hedgehog (Micah) and Frosty Paws (me). The mascots are great at holding still while I photograph them but Horace did have an adventurous tumble down a very steep slope from which Micah made me do the rescue.
We started off again heading towards the Thumb. In a straight line The Thumb is 1.9 km away but it will take us 2.3 km of hiking to get to our closest point which will be still 500 m away.
As we continue hiking we come across more blocks of quartz. We follow a jeep path for a short way. Where the trail leaves the jeep path there is a large camping area with an amazing view of The Thumb (-111.14410, 33.13623).
As we pass by The Thumb is is noon and the trails flattens out for a couple of km’s. We have been hiking primarily on the west side of the valley. We have been trying to guess what ridgeline we are going to hike over and as usual we got it wrong. Just before crossing the valley Micah spies some more cows. Back home we have to make noise on the trail to alert any bears in the area. So we continue the practice of making noise to alert wildlife but now the wildlife is cows. As we yell the cows did hesitantly run out of the way. I am not generally afraid of cows but they are large animals and if one was to run at you serious injury could result.
We head across the valley while carefully dodging the cows. The stream at the centre of the valley contains a small trickle of water. With all the cows walking through it we decided it not worth filtering to top up our water supplies. The rocks the stream is cutting through where a dark green and very different from the other rocks in the area.
Once across the stream we head up. This was about the steepest section of trail as we rose 100 m in 1.4 km. We switchbacked up the hillside. As we come around the corner of a ridge we are afforded an expansive view of the valley and Micah decides that this is a good place to have lunch. It was just before 1 pm. We had been hiking for 4 hrs 15 min and covered 12.2 km.
Lunch was the same as yesterday minus the tomato. I had two tortillas and Micah just one. We added some sweetness by having some chocolate Aero Bubbles for desert.
We spent just a bit less than 30 minutes on our lunch break. Micah took the time to tend to her heels which were sore. As we started up again we followed a contour running along the slope on the west side of the valley not gaining much elevation. We could see a trail in the distance cutting up alongside a slope at much the same elevation we are at. We are not sure if the trail in the distance is our trail but it was. It took us about 30 minutes to arrive at the trail and it was there that we started to climb out of the valley.
Once arriving at the trail we spied in the distance we started to head upwards towards a pass. After a few minutes we came to a flowing stream. Micah suggested we stop and fill a water bottle since we were not entirely sure of where the rainwater collector was located.
After filling one bottle we continued hiking. As we turned right around a rocky outcrop there was a flat section of ground that provided a view point of the entire valley. I snapped a picture of Micah looking back over the valley. It is my new favourite photo of her.
We continued on up. We crossed over to the other side of the pass and could see out to the flatlands of Arizona through a new valley. We stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the view. As we traveled clockwise around the peak of our pass and could see that the trail headed up very similar to earlier trail had sidesloping up to a south facing slope to a new high point.
We follow the trail around and up the sideslope. It appears that we should head up and over the grassy pass but the trail takes a hard turn left across the slope. Later we would find why we could not just head over the pass as there is a large cliff on the other side.
We hiked up and between two peaks. The area at the top was a pleasant little plateau. As we head around the other side we hug the cliff on our right. We wrapped right around the cliff turning a complete 180 degrees.
The trail through the next valley stays close to our cliff before swinging left and heading up the valley. There was very little elevation change as we are already quite high. The valley has some interesting rock outcrops, remnants of volcanic activity. We make very good time through the valley. We are still not sure where the rainwater collector is and the day is starting to get late so similar to day 1 it is time to find water and a flat place to camp.
Between the Cat rock and the upcoming pond is the boundary for the Tonto National Forest. On the AZT Passage 16 ends at boundary for the forest.
We arrive at the rainwater collector at 4:00 pm, 5 hrs 45 min and 14.9 km since we left the Gila River at GPS coordinates (-111.13617, 33.17957). The rainwater collector is located just 400 m north of the boundary for the Tonto National Forest. Had we been using the AZT Trail App the collector would have been clearly marked.
We refilled all of our water which included our water bladders (3L each) and water bottles (1L each). We did not want to stop for the day yet and needed to use some water for both dinner and breakfast. We decided to fill our collapsible 10L bucket with 3L of water. The water in the bucket would be used for cooking, coffee and replenish any water we would drink in the next hour or so of hiking.
The trail headed up a short ways before dropping steadily losing 90 m over the next 1.2 km. The sun was setting fast and as we climbed up a small slope we started looking for a flat spot to pitch the tent. Micah decided that she would like to make it up to the ridge beside the large rock outcrop. As we came past the rock outcrop the trail crossed over the small pass and took a hard left. There was a distinctive trail leading along the ridge to the west that brought us to a lightly used campsite complete with fire pit (-111.13407, 33.19439). It took us 35 minutes to cover the 2.8 km from the rainwater collector.
We set up camp. Micah got busy making dinner which required boiling water and adding it to our freeze dried food. I took pictures then set up the tent. The sun was setting quickly but provided us with a colourful and brilliant sky as we set up camp.
One of our traditions on hikes is that we read out loud at bedtime. It is mostly me doing the reading but on this trip Micah and I took turns doing the reading. Our book was Chris Townsend’s “High Summer: Backpacking the Canadian Rockies”. It is a retelling of Chris Townsend hiking the length of the Canadian Rockies from Montana to almost the North West Territories in 1987. Prior to leaving for Arizona I had scanned the first 55 pages into a PDF file and saved it on my tablet. The story is very well written and captivating from the beginning. Chris Townsend is an accomplised hiker and great storyteller. We called it a night at about 8:30 pm. Another fantastic day on the AZT.