Fearless adventurers strike out boldly from civilization, forsaking urban comforts the blazing torch of human endeavor to even the most savage lands! Ben “Mulius Caesar” Harper and Michael “Bathtub” Tyler can barely hack it in the mountains for seven days. But they’re going back out there for a second week, God love ‘em.
Day 8: Mile52.8—Mile 61.0
After a day of feasting we left Patagonia and continued our journey. Ben had a slight muscle tear, but it had mostly healed during our rest day, and in any case, chorizo breakfast burritos had made us bold! We trekked north from Patagonia, crawling up the Temporal Gulch into the Santa Rita Mountains, and we were feeling pretty all right—it’s amazing how quickly one can forget. We made it about 9 miles into the foothills of Mt. Wrightson, leaving the bleak desert for a pretty little riparian ravine, populated with deer, cottonwoods, and honest-to-god green grass. We made camp in a little glade largely untouched by cattle waste and, for the first time in days, felt pretty good about our chances.
BH:For once, I have nothing sarcastic to say. This was a nice stretch of trail.
MT: We were many miles down this rough dirt road that which I would have thought you would need a truck to get down, when we spot a small 4-door sedan driving towards us. The car is bottoming out left and right and I’m fairly certain it left plenty of paint on the bushes it drove by. I was cringing watching it come up the road towards us, but when the driver got up along side of us he rolled down his window and said, “Don’t worry, it’s a rental” and drove off.
Day 9: Mile 61.0—Mile 78.8
Today was the first day the heat truly became worrisome. Up until this point we had been blessed with a fortuitous wind that kept the brunt of the Arizona heat off of us. When that died off, we went through nearly three gallons of water each trying to keep hydrated. It became very clear that we were in a race against summer. Of course, it wasn’t just water that we were losing when we sweat, but thankfully the Wilderness Athlete Hydrate and Recover powder helped us get back what we were loosing. Plus the berry flavor was a welcome change from all the water we had been drinking.
We crossed through the Eastern section of the Santa Ritas over a pass near the peak of Mt. Wrightson. Shortly over the pass, we rested at a large stone cistern, where Ben proceeded to complain a lot. We ended ourday in Kentucky Camp, a Park Service station built at an old mining camp. Here we met Steve, the caretaker of Kentucky Camp, and the first of many interesting people we would meet on the trail. He offered us a beer and told us stories about his life, Kentucky Camp, and people on the Arizona Trail. The beer, his company, and the ability to get pure water straight from a faucet made Kentucky Camp a great place to stop for the day.
BH:A nice stop, but I barely made it. Climbing up Mount Wrightson wasn’t nearly as hard as climbing down—it’s hell on the knees.
MT:I think park curator for the forest service would be a good job. They set you up with a trailer and you just monitor the park for a month at a time. Sounds pretty restful.
Day 10: Mile 78.8—Mile 93.9
Gulches within gulches within gulches. Ben’s journal refers to this leg of the journey as “Wasteland,” and that’s just about right—there’s nothing but desert scrub and very little water. Not one of the glamorous, day-hike sections of the trail. We were starting to get worried about our water reserves when we reached one of the sources indicated on our factsheet, only to find it empty. Lamentation and recriminations ensued. Fortunately, after fiddling with the controls for a few minutes, we found that the reservoir was filled from another tank according to a scheduled timer, not unlike a sprinkler timer. Ben tapped into the ancestral knowledge inherited from his father the sprinklerman; we filled our canteens, and crawled on.
BH:Norse tradition holds that each generation is smaller, lesser than its progenitor, as ripples in a still lake grow weaker as they spread.
MT: I’m glad Ben got the solar pump working. The only other water source we had found was dark green, stagnant and infested with bees.
Day 11: Mile 93.9 —Mile 109.5
Another dry day. We filled up our canteens to about as much as we could hold at the last tank, but it didn’t turn out to be enough. Tough on morale. We took a siesta at a cattle tank down in the valley and decided we’d try to fill up there, taking as little as we thought was possible to reduce damage to our water filter. We rested uneasily in the shade of a tree, eying a bull that wouldn’t stop eying us, but we managed to escape without being savagely gored. Of course, twenty minutes out from the filthy cattle tank, we ran into a woman jogging down the trail from her home, a mile and a half away, who invited us back for water. We were too furious to even accept. Apparently this wilderness is now the southernmost part of Vail, so we crawled, dehydrated and dispirited, past incongruous mansions. We arrived at Duck Tank, in the shadow of the AZ-83, only to find that it, too, was scummy and undrinkable. Seven miles to the next water source, and very little water between us.
BH: I don’t hate them as much as cattle, but ducks are on my list. Stupid ducks.
MT:I hit a moral low when tired, hot, and nearly out of water, I had to stop and wait for a UPS truck to pass over the trail on it’s way into the suburbs of Vail.
Day 12: Mile 109.5—Mile 125.9
We woke up with little choice but to hike and hike hard. If we made some miles before the sun got too high, we reckoned, we might yet live! A little dramatic, maybe, as we were literally 100 feet from the highway, but hell—sweeping narrative is a great motivator. And indeed, we hauled ass. We passed under the I-10, briefly considered hitching to a diner, rallied, and reached Cienega Creek around noon. The creek was clear and beautiful, tucked into a shady little canyon replete with cottonwoods and other such shady vegetation. We celebrated with a quick rest, candy bars, and the Wilderness Athlete meal replacement powder, as was our habit anytime we had water to spare. We needed the extra calories and that did the trick. Further down the trail, we stumbled upon
La Posta Quemada Ranch, a little dude ranch run as part of Colossal Cave Monument. Alas, the restaurant was closed, but we convinced the staff to part with a few turkey sandwiches, bought some candy bars, took siestas, and bandaged our feet before returning to the trail. Our newfound proximity to water had a striking effect on our surroundings—prickly pears in bloom, dark green cactus-flesh, and wildflowers all along the trail. It grew overcast that afternoon, darkening the mountains to a rich purple and bringing out the purple hues in the rich, green cactus. We camped in the lowlands of Saguaro National Park (without a permit, we wanton rebels!) and prepared to tackle the Rincon Mountains.
BH:A rare, early taste of victory! Saguaro National Park is gorgeous.
MT: This was one of the few times during the entire hike that we actually had a beautiful Arizona sunset. The sky silhouetted saguaros with deep red, pink, and orange.
Day 13: Mile 125.9—Mile 139.8
From our camp at the base of the Rincons, we began the ascent from the south side. It got hot fast. From the somewhat bleak desert base, stands of ocotillo and saguaro interrupted by rocky cataracts, we climbed into an increasingly temperate, mountainous climate. Again, we quite nearly ran out of water, but were lucky enough to find a relatively clean pool in the rocks. Noon was brutally hot, and we attempted to take a siesta beneath some scrub juniper and rock outcroppings, contorting ourselves in every possible position to avoid the sun. While resting, it became clear that Michael had developed some interesting wounds on his feet, possibly pressure sores. We began to consider that we’d have to abandon the trek for medical treatment. Still, at least we weren’t going to die of thirst. We kept moving, our morale in an interesting state—we were frustrated and in pain (Michael particularly), but we were almost giddy with the prospect that we might fail and put this ridiculous adventure behind us. After stopping at Grass Springs camp to use the latrine (a luxury!) we pressed on, going as far as we could convince ourselves and bedding down in some rocky brush, drinking scotch from the flask and arranging for a pickup northwest of the mountains.
BH:I wanted you to be seriously injured so badly. I feel as though I can say this, because we no longer live in the same city. We could have quit, and I could have blamed it on you! Would have been perfect.
MT: Yeah, I was right there with you. I just didn’t want to have the conversation on why we failed with everyone who knew we were out here.
Day 14: Mile 139.8—Mile 151.3
Of course, just as we were ready to quit, we had a great day of hiking. From our campsite, it was only two or three hours to Manning Camp, a gorgeous, ponderosa-ensconced campsite near the peak of the Rincons, with a stream running right through it. It had a latrine, and even bathroom reading (tales of gripping Forest Service adventure)! We filled up our canteens, moved on, and took a slight detour to Mica Mountain, the highest point in the range, because—why the hell not? It was to be our last day on the trail (it wasn’t). Then we started the descent. The view from the northern part of the Rincons is staggering—a clear vista to two-hundred-some degrees of the San Pedro Valley. We spent some time simply admiring it, and had an easy descent down strange and bulbous rock formations to Michael’s brother, who careened heroically down unmaintained roads to rescue his brother and his asshole friend. We hadn’t even made it a quarter of the way, but we were feeling ready to quit.
BH:Still, nothing soothes the soul like a giant, greasy burrito.
MT: It’s amazing how a little water and some elevation can turn the Arizona landscape into a lush green forest.
Next Week: Will our heroes get off their asses and back on the trail? Will they do something right for a change? Find out here!