It’s time for a new phase on the Arizona Trail. The low desert with cacti gives way to the high desert with pine trees and snow.
The Mogollon Rim
After a well-deserved break in Payson, I travel back to the trail with Dave. We make another stop at THAT Brewery in the village of Pine to drink a beer. This is an icon on the AZT and is just half a mile from the trail. Dave stays for dinner, but I’m a bit restless and return to the Arizona Trail late in the afternoon. Off to Flagstaff!
Missed the previous journal? Check: Enjoying the views in the Mazatzal Wilderness | Mile 338-450 | Arizona Trail #7
It’s funny to see how the landscape has changed over the past few days. We used to walk among the cacti for weeks, but now there are more and more pine trees. After Pine, we hike up the Colorado Plateau. Up there, it will be a lot cooler and we will mainly hike through forests for the remainder of the trail. After I leave THAT Brewery, I hike about 3.5 miles and pitch my tent in a gorgeous spot with a view of the mountains.
For the first half of the night I sleep well, but in the second half, I mostly lie staring at the stars. They are so beautiful! I’ve been camping without the fly most of the nights and I love it. This way I always see the stars and the sunrise without having to unzip the tent. This might be one of the last days I can camp like this since it’s getting much colder. I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can.
Today is all about climbing, climbing, climbing. I have to go up the Mogollon Rim and which looks a bit like the Grand Canyon. In the morning I meet another hiker and after that, it’s getting quiet on the trail. I hardly see anyone. I think I’m in between two hiker bubbles. In the trail registers on the way, I see that at least five hikers have passed on the same day, so they are right in front of me. In addition, I know that Dave and a number of other hikers are behind me.
It is a great walk, despite the climbs, it’s not too difficult. The Rim is getting closer and it looks spectacular. The last two miles are really steep uphill, but apparently, I’m getting better at this too. Before I know it I’m standing in a dense pine forest on the rim.
It’s quiet on the trail
And it’s cold up here! There are a few patches of snow here and there. This takes some getting used to after the (usually) warm low desert. The last part of the Arizona Trail is over this plateau, so for the next few weeks, I’ll be at elevations of 7000-8000 feet (2100-2500 meters). I pitch my tent between the pine trees (that’s a lot easier than in the rocky desert) and go to bed nice and early.
The next I am ready and excited to get back on the trail. I actually didn’t prepare very well for this section of the trail and I kind of like it. It feels more adventurous! The path goes endlessly through the woods and is quite easy compared to the previous weeks. There are few elevation changes and it is very well marked. I also notice that I don’t get tired as quickly as usual. I’m cruising on the trail, listening to podcasts and music.
I take a long break at a river and think about how wonderful it is to be able to do this. I have been in the US for over six weeks now, and I am enjoying this adventure so much!
Not much later I meet another hiker for the first time today. After a nice chat, I meet a second hiker near a well-stocked bear box. A sweet girl, but packed so ultra-light that she doesn’t even have warm clothes or a jacket with her. It will be freezing for the next few days, I am curious how she will do that. I’m glad I brought some extra clothes for the next weeks.
Thanks to a great trail angel, the bear box is full of water, beer, cola, and lots of goodies, so I’m taking a long break here. With a well-filled stomach, I set up my tent between the trees after more than 20 miles. What a great day!
All by myself?
I sleep very well that night and decide to make quite a few miles the next day. That is also very easy in this landscape. Nice trails between the trees, it’s pretty flat, and perfect weather for hiking. Not too hot and not too cold. Twice I see a large herd of elk between the trees, which is an awesome sight. As soon as I get somewhat close, they run away from me.
I hit three great milestones today: I pass the 500-mile marker, hike 10 miles before 10 a.m. (that’s a hiker’s thing, a great start to the day), and hike the most miles ever in one day. At the end of the day, I’ve hiked over 24 miles, almost 40 kilometers, wow!
Something crazy happened today. I haven’t seen a single person all day, but towards the end I see a black pickup truck driving into the woods. A man gets out and then the next thing I hear is a gun shot. I scream, he gets back in his car and drives off. That was scary!
It’s very windy, but I manage to pitch my tent fairly wind-free between the trees. It will probably snow tonight, I wonder what kind of world I wake up in tomorrow.
No snow in sight the next morning, but it is quite cold, so I quickly pack everything and go on my way. I only have to hike eight miles to the hamlet of Mormon Lake. At some point, it starts snowing a little, but not for more than 15 minutes. It’s not too bad, I don’t even get web. The crazy snowstorm (which cause many hikers to flee to Flagstaff) has again been greatly exaggerated.
Mormon Lake is a tiny village and completely western style. I am kindly received by an old man in a cowboy hat and the lady of the shop. It’s nice to talk to people again, I’ve hardly seen anyone in the last few days. Not much later Dave also walks into town. It’s good to see him again!
We catch up during lunch, he also barely saw anyone in recent days. Crazy to experience those so-called hiker bubbles, it is either (sort of) busy on the trail or there is no one at all. Dave is staying overnight in Mormon Lake and I have a wild plan to arrive in Flagstaff tomorrow. That’s 35 miles away, so after lunch, I’m off again.
The coldest night on the trail
The path again goes through the forest and I’m hiking really fast. I must confess that I don’t always find hiking in the woods exciting, but it does go a lot faster because I take fewer pictures haha!
I hike over 11 miles before setting up my tent. While brushing my teeth I see dozens of elk grazing in a field, wow! I quickly crawl into my sleeping bag, because it is super cold. According to the forecast, it will be 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celcius) tonight. Yikes!
That night I don’t sleep much and I am very restless. Fortunately, I am not very cold, my equipment is good enough for cold temperatures. I also have a set of “hot hands”, which is a kind of magic bag that stays warm for 10 hours. Perfect for these kinds of cold nights. Still, I can’t wait for the sun to rise.
As soon as it gets light I pack my things. And that is of course the coldest time of the day. Although I wear gloves, packing is really painful, and my fingers are so cold. I stuff my things in my bag and start walking. Hiking fast is how I warm myself up. By nine o’clock it’s finally warming up and by then I have already hiked about ten miles. I’m on a roll!
The trail is quite flat today and in the distance, I can see the San Francisco Peaks. It’s a beautiful sight.
Halfway through, I meet another hiker, Bam from Portland. We hike together towards Flagstaff and share our experiences on the trail. It’s really nice to chat with someone again.
When I get to Flagstaff, my feet really hurt. That’s not surprising, because I’ve walked more than 25 miles (40 kilometers) today. A great milestone! And I have time to rest because I’m taking six days off the Arizona Trail. You can read more about this in the next travel journal.
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