AZT 2023: Day 2: Still Walking in Winter

March 4th, 2023

13 miles +3,349 ft (including MillerPeak)

Campsite Elevation 6,906 ft at AZT mile 12.9

6:06am. 30F. It’s super windy. I am all dressed and sitting inside my tent listening to the rustling sounds of nylon stuff sacks and air being let out of sleeping pads. The girls are packing up. I have my cuppa hot Joe in between my legs and I’ve already gone out to use the loo in the wind. Don’t worry, it was not as bad as that may sound. From up here on this ridge, I can see all the lights of civilization down there in Mexico. Another world entirely.

I tossed and turned a lot last night, it sure is different sleeping in the tent as compared to my bed at home, clearly I have gotten soft! Every time I woke up, which was so many, the moon shone so bright, I had to keep tucked deep down inside my sleeping bag to block it out, or risk insomnia.

Oh that dark elixer!

The break of dawn is almost upon us. Just as I am shoving the last few items into my pack, which I do quietly inside my tent, Kristy oohs and ahhs at the color of a tangerine sunrise. They are vertical already and their tent already down. I toss my pack into my vestibule, ripping open my tent flap to snap a photo as I pop out to greet the world. She was right, it is gorgeous.

Tangerine Sunrise
Ready!
Let’s go climb a mountain!

We start walking at 6:30am as it is well daylight now and we won’t need our healdlamps anymore. It’s an earlier start than we originally said, as it seems to get light earlier here as compared to Flagstaff. That we are ready early bodes well for a day like today. We have a solid day’s work ahead of us and we are mentally prepared. It will be mostly on snow and/or ice and/or post-holing and slogging it out, but we have the re-assurance from Nick that we can do it. As Cat Stevens says “we are on the road to find out.”

In the end I’ll know
But on the way I wonder
Through descending snow
And through the frost and thunder

I listen to the wind come howl
Telling me I have to hurry
I listen to the robin’s song
Saying not to worry

So on, and on I go, the seconds tick the time out
So much left to know, and I’m on the road to find out

On the road to find out…

The first mile is steep and as we walk on dirt and we witness a gorgeous rising sun emerging over the mountainous ridges. The wind is still present and we are still layered up but warming up quickly in the sun. That good ol’ AZ sun.

That good ‘ol AZ sun…

With the sunlight pouring in at such a low angle, the trail becomes difficult to see and Annette takes a fall. We quickly rush to her to try and help. She has hit her face and braced the fall with her right arm so her shoulder is sore now. We try helping her stand back up as the weight of her pack makes it extra difficult but she is strong. We are all hoping the injuries are minor but her face is scratched up and bleeding. She has good range of motion in her shoulder thankfully so she can use her trekking poles. Something we are going to need a lot today.

Well, we are now just an hour into the hike and she already looks like a feral badass. We say we are glad she got the fall over with before the snow and ice! It’s inevitable that we hikers take falls here and there, we have all done it at some point or another and it’s rattling. We are thinking she may be fortunate and never fall again on the rest of the Arizona Trail.

Hiking strong after the fall

At mile 1.5 we have already climbed 800ft. It is here that we reach the Miller Peak Wilderness Boundary and shortly thereafter we hit snow. It takes the form of ice packed down on the trail and crackles under our footsteps. It must have melted off some yesterday and then froze overnight. We procrastinate stopping to put our traction on as long as we can but finally admit it is inevitable, we are going to need them. Hikers can be funny about these things. Needing to stop in a safe or convenient place, take off your pack, maybe needing to sit down to get your traction on, it’s a lot! Finally, we bite the bullet and stop to spike up and after that we are all moving faster and more confidently.

The snow begins!

It is a gorgeous sunny day out here in Southern AZ with many elements at play. There is a fierce wind that comes and goes and the reflection from the sun on snow creates a strong glare so I rub sunscreen under my nose to prevent a burn blister. I sigh after taking a deep breath in, it is so great to be out climbing a mountain with my friends.

All together we have at least 3,000 ft of climbing to do today and we are contemplating summiting Miller Peak too. The Miller Peak Wilderness is one of many Sky Islands in Southern AZ and as such we are able to enjoy the unique transition of desert up to alpine ecosystems, and everything in between, in a single day. This is super rare and the diversity is huge.

Pictures of people taking pictures

The Pine trees greet us once the Oaks disappear, and the ever present Alligator Junipers dot the land overlapping with both the Oak and Pine zones. Their bark is so wonderfully wild. We stop to touch the textured hard tree skin in awe of this beauty. We love these trees. We love nature’s artistry. The more we ascend what now appears are giant granite rock formations. As we traverse the ridges at around 8,500 ft we have amazing views so far into the distance. We can look across that desert which looks so foreboding, arid and hot while up here we are bundled up, still walking in Winter.

Cresting a ridge with a fantastic view
Foreboding desert we will walk across soon

We reach the Miller Peak Trail Junction at mile 6 by 10:00am. We are now at 9,091 ft. We drop our packs and shovel snacks into our mouths to replenish all the calories we just burned. Then, we decide to head to the Summit. It’s a 1 mi round trip hike with 400 ft of elevation gain and well worth it to enjoy the Summit views! At the peak the wind is something fierce and it is cold, so we snap a few photos and turn to head down out of the wind. Whoo hooo, that was super fun!

We’re gonna go climb Miller!
We had nice tracks to follow to the summit
Miller Peak 9,465 ft
heading down from the summit

A couple miles later we finally reach our first on trail water source, bathtub spring. Annette smartly asks “I wonder why it’s called bathtub spring?”. That woman, I tell ya. Nothing gets by her. It’s already 12:30pm now and we are all pretty well hungry so we find a patch of dirt to take a good lunch break. We filter the wonderful spring water just to be on the safe side of any potential intestinal upheaval. Don’t need that! We eat tortillas with yummy fillings like hummus, avocado, tuna or cheese and layer crunchy chips into the wraps. It is good to sit down,  good to get the fresh water and calories in.

The first reliable water on the AZT!
Much of the AZT utilizes the Crest Trail #103

Fortified, we are off again, now with another 400 ft of climbing to do to get to the next ridge. The snow continues and is now deeper and we lose footprints momentarily but easily pick up the route again. When we reach the ridge we think we are done climbing but the trail unduates here for a few miles and the snow continues until inevitably there is more climbing.

Just a little more climbing…
how often do you get to see this?

Around mile 9 ish we think we are done with the snow and celebrate by removing our traction. Kristy keeps hers on, and her intuition was right as the dirt only lasts a half mile and then we are in snow again. So we put them back on. We continue to traverse ridges and climb and descend all the way until mile 11 when it finally decides to drop us down into Sunnyside Canyon. The snow is still deep here too. My feet are now very wet and cold and our traction really doesn’t help much as the afternoon warmth is making the snow sloshy. It’s turning into a slosh fest.

Lots of snow traverses through the forest

We saw two hikers today, one is “Dr. John” whom I believe said he is from VA. He came out to Phoenix to watch the Super Bowl and never left. Haha! Now, he is section hiking Southbound and lets us know there are 13 hikers ahead of us. The thru hiker bubble! Later we meet “Ice Axe” who has hiked the AZT before and is out revisiting some of this area, climbing some peaks and such. We play leapfrog with him this afternoon. He has tree trunks for legs and on his shorts are AZT and PCT iron on patches. Now that is a thru-hiker badge if I’ve ever seen one, and I’ve seen all kinds! Thru hikers are always such an interesting bunch and I tell you what, we are proud of our accomplishments, and we should be.

Completing a thru-hike on one (or several) of the long National Scenic Trails is something nobody else can understand about you unless they have walked the same path. The Wander Women are Triple Crown hikers, meaning they have completed all three of the Triple Crown Trails in America: Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. That is collectively over 7,600 miles. Not only that, they completed each hike over a three year span. Seriously, hats off to these amazing, gritty, adventure ladies!

tracks to follow = no postholing
Finally some downhill

By late afternoon we are approaching the final drop into Sunnyside Canyon, which is still completely snow bound. We make it to mile 12.9 where there is fine camping and close by there is a fresh running water source. It is 4:30 pm when I arrive and Ice Axe is sitting there leaning against a tree with his shoes and socks off. Apparently he does not have traction, but I’m not sure why. He looks pretty wiped out and says little.

I want to take my shoes and socks off too, I’ve been dying to do that for the past three hours. My feet are a sloshy cold wet mess. The girls arrive shorly and we decide to call it a night here since there is some snow free camping and running water in the creek.

We collect water and get right to work seting up camp, we are all very cold, tired and hungry and need to manage all these things. Once our water is filtered, tents set up and we are changed into dry, warm clothes we start to prepare hot meals. We gather around the campsite in a central location to eat, I bring my sleeping bag with me like I do when it’s cold and we all sit cross legged eating hot food and drinking hot tea. It is so restorative.

We hiked a total of 13 miles today, 11 of that was in snow. It was a pretty awesome day, yet what a way to start a trail. Talk about jumping right into the fire. Welcome to the AZT friends!

Home for the night, we have dirt!

We reflect on the day with big smiles. We are super stoked to have made it up and over the main route, and to the summit no less, with all that snow and did not have to take a borning low route alternate. Tots worth all the effort and we are super thankful to the hikers who went before us and laid down tracks! By the time we are done eating we are very cold and very ready to get into our beds and it is getting dark.

7:11pm. It is so early to be in bed yet I am ready. We hiked for 10 hours afterall. It was a slog of a day. I am so cold especially my feet, I can’t seem to get them warm. I did jumping jacks, push ups, high knees and planks to get warm before tucking into bed and it really worked except for my feet. My hot tea hits the spot so well too, and once in my tent I massage my feet and do some stretching inside my sleeping bag before I start writing. It’s now 7:40pm and the night is fully upon us. I love listening to the wind up high in the trees, yet we are protected down here in the forest of Oak and Aligator Juniper. That wind whispers invitations to enter the dreamtime.

11 thoughts on “AZT 2023: Day 2: Still Walking in Winter

    1. Thank you! We were stoked we got to do it and get those views and that feeling of standing on top of the world, such a fun thing to get to do while out on a long trail 🙂

  1. I liked the Cat Stevens lyrics. It reminds me of the yearly high school camp trip. The school had friends that owned a campground near Yosemite, hmm! On the one time that I went I asked one of the teachers why can’t we camp up in the mountains? “Oh no, this is where we always camp”. I took solace in the Graeme Edge lyrics from that same era. ” There you go man keep as cool as you can, face piles and piles of trials with smiles, for it riles them to believe that you precieve the web they weave, keep on thinking free ” .

    1. Haha….I was wondering what those lyrics might bring up for some of the readers…I often get songs in my head when hiking, like a soundtrack, and this one in particular, it just seemed so fitting 🙂 LOVE that line you quoted above, I am not familiar with it, thanks for sharing!

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