The cacti get bigger and bigger, we climb mountains and we are hiking in Saguaro National Park. This is the next section of the Arizona Trail.
Back on the Arizona Trail
After a nice evening in Tucson, we take a taxi back to Colossal Cave. It’s already four o clock in the afternoon and it’s a hot day (28 degrees Celcius), so I’m glad we start hiking late today.
The Arizona Trail around Colossal Cave is an impressive sight with hundreds of huge saguaros. We’re hiking seven miles today. Then we’re right next to the park boundary of Saguaro National Park. The temperature goes down quickly, which makes it very pleasant to hike. Despite the very heavy bag (I’m carrying food for more than five days) I’m flying on the trail. I expected to hike in the dark but reach the park boundary just before sunset. Paulo and I pitch our tent between the cacti, have a quick meal, and go to sleep.
Hiking in Saguaro National Park
The next morning I wake up early. I can hear the first hikers walking past the tent before five o’clock. Many have to cross the national park in one go (almost 18 miles) because you can only spend the night in the park with a permit. Fortunately, we have a permit to sleep in one of the campgrounds, and therefore only have to hike 13 miles today. Sounds easy, but it isn’t, because it’s a 13-mile climb to the top of Mica Mountain. Almost 2000 meters up which is quite tough.
After a few minutes of hiking, we enter Saguaro National Park. For hours I walk among the gigantic cacti and I take hundreds of photos. This place is incredible.
The trail goes uphill more and more and I really need to focus on the climb. To motivate myself I put in earplugs with music. This is the first time I’m using them on the trail. For fun, I put on my Dutch playlist and sing along with some really bad Dutch music as I make my way up between the towering cacti.
The sun is out and it’s hot again today. I am sweating a lot, there is little to no shade in this section. After eight miles of climbing, I arrive at the Grass Shack campground, where Paolo is relaxing next to the river. After a lazy lunch break, we hit the road again. We still have about 800 meters to climb the last 4.5 miles. And that’s a lot of stairs. The climb feels endless, but luckily I reach Manning Camp at 2400 meters altitude before sunset.
It’s chilly on top of the mountain, but I’m really glad we have a permit to sleep here. It is a primitive campsite, with a pit toilet, bear boxes (there are apparently bears and mountain lions here) and you get water from the waterfall. Perfect!
I’m so tired!
Although I ended up quite euphoric after yesterday’s tough climb, today is not going well. It is still more than an hour of climbing to the highest point of the trail, I can barely do it. After that, it’s only downhill. The views are spectacular.
I have to be careful when hiking downhill because there are many loose rocks. Since I’m quite clumsy, I make an awkward slide on the trail. Fortunately, the damage is very minor.
After a long break at a river, I feel exhausted. It is getting quite warm and we “have” to hike at least nine more miles. I’m having a really hard time. And although I drink liters of water, I hardly have to pee. This is not good. When I see Paulo again, he casually says that we’re hiking another six miles instead of the agreed-upon four. I can’t do that, and I tell him he can do it alone.
Those last four miles are incredibly hard. I just cannot hike any further. For the first time in weeks, I pitch my tent by myself. Luckily I’m not all alone, a British and an Australian hiker are camping about 50 meters from me.
I hardly sleep that night, but I have decided to work hard today. I need rest and if I push now, I can take a long zero in three days.
I leave before sunset, and after 45 minutes I meet up with Paulo. Without taking any breaks, I hike six miles (including some steep climbs) before 9 am. And that feels awesome! Meanwhile, I regularly chat with a few other hikers that I meet on the trail, like Bee from England and Ben from Australia. They are both really fast.
After a long break at a river, I’m ready for the last six miles of the day. And those are hard! First all the way down along a narrow path along the mountain (the views are unbelievably beautiful!) and then a steep climb up. After more than 18 miles of hiking, we pitch the tent in the woods (this time together with Paulo again) and I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.
Clumsy Co on Mount Lemmon
The next morning starts with a tough climb to the top of Mount Lemmon. This trail is very tough because of all these steep climbs, it’s much harder than I expected. But I keep on pushing because I want to make it to Utah! The path is so steep and all boulders make it even harder to climb. But there are many beautiful views that make you forget all the pain. I’m still sore from climbing Mica Mountain two days ago. It takes me almost four hours to hike five miles, a personal best in terms of slowness haha.
Then I regularly cross the Lemmon Creek. There are always some stones in the river to step on, so you don’t need to get your feet wet during a crossing. Unfortunately, it goes wrong at one of the river crossings. The stone tilts under my foot, I lose my balance and suddenly find myself in the middle of the river. It’s only 6 inches deep, but I’m completely soaked. Back on the shore, I burst out laughing, this is really something that can only happen to me.
Although it has been very hot the last few days, it is quite chilly today, so I hike as quickly as possible to keep warm. Not much further is the village of Summerhaven, where I put on dry clothes and eat a delicious chicken burger with fries. I immediately feel a lot better.
After the lunch break, Paulo and I continue our hike. We’re hiking on a mountain ridge. The views are spectacular, only the weather changes completely. Snow, hail, wind and there is even a bit of thunder. At some point, we walk down a dirt road full of loose rocks.
The weather has made everything slippery and, of course, I slip and fall. The result is a big scrape on my leg and two bleeding fingers. Paulo helps me with a few bandaids and with this, my trail name “bandaids” is born. This is not the first and certainly not the last bandaid on this trail.
We quickly set up the tent in the rain. I shiver, put on all my dry clothes, drink tea and eat noodles (both thanks to Paulo, I was shivering too much to get my fire on), and then feel better again.
This night I also sleep like a log again. Fortunately, the next day it is dry, but all our stuff is soaked. I put on wet socks and wet shoes, not a great combination. Luckily, the trail is relatively easy today. Lots of descents and short climbs. Unfortunately, I soon get a few blisters, which make my feet start to hurt quite a bit. Some mountain bikers are passing me at some point. The latter yells “you’re amazing!” to me and that strengthens me to keep hiking.
First zero in Oracle
I’m super happy when I get to Highway 77. Together with Paulo, I hitchhike to the village of Oracle four miles away. We take a zero here and sleep two nights in a nice garden shed. Good food, a shower, healing my feet, and lots and lots of Netflix. Recovering from the first two weeks on this hard, but amazing trail. The first 200 miles of the Arizona Trail are done. I can’t believe I already hiked 25% of the trail!
Next travel journal: Hiking alone on the AZT | Mile 202-258 | Arizona Trail #5
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