They say that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Apparently, so does one of only 800 miles.
The Arizona Trail is one of11 National Scenic Trails in the United States comprising over 18,000 miles of trails. These routes showcase some of the most incredible scenery that our nation has to offer. The Arizona Trail, designated a National Scenic Trail in 2009, shows off some of the best desert wilderness you can imagine.
Many friends of mine have completed the Arizona Trail. Several of them had told me that it wasn’t very nice, or that it was very rugged. My good friend Sirena Dufault, who has hiked the entirety of the Arizona Trail twice, encouraged me to give it a try. I sat up late at night reading through the guidebook, looking at the pictures. I had taken my very first hike 15 years ago at the Grand Canyon. I’d subsequently logged many desert miles of hiking, much of that in Arizona.
The appeal came from the fact that most of the Arizona Trail lie in parts of the state I had not yet visited. I was intrigued by the Mogollon Rim, the Sky Islands, and the Sonoran Desert. Though the guidebook warned that there was very little water I decided to hike it anyway.
The Fastest Known Time (FKT) goal wasn’t my foremost concern. Mainly I wanted to see the variety of terrain Arizona has to offer and explore new places. However, the additional limitations and challenges of attempting a Self-Supported FKT intrigued me. After all, I’ve never been known to do things the easy way!
The Arizona Trail was indeed incredibly challenging. I started at the Utah border and hiked south to the Mexican border. The first indicator that I was in for a wild ride came on my first full day of hiking when a thunder/snowstorm hit. I ended up hypothermic and huddled in my tent at 4pm after only 36 miles of hiking. Not an auspicious start for someone who had been planning 45-50 miles per day!
Things got more intense terrain wise south of the Mogollon Rim where I began to climb and descend the many desert ranges. The footing was rocky and often loose. The trail was frequently overgrown with catclaw, manzanita, cholla, and other poky plants. After getting through the Mazatzal and Superstition Wilderness areas not only were my shoes thrashed, but my bare arms and legs were a network of gashes. I am still picking catclaw thorns out!
That’s when the heat became a factor as well. Southern Arizona was having a heatwave during the month of October and it was consistently 15 degrees warmer than average. This meant I was hiking through triple digit heat with no shade. I often went 40+ miles between reliable water sources. I carried a gallon or more of water with me from every good source, topping off in between if I found water. Even so, I had to shift my waking patterns to match that of the life of the Sonoran: waking at 3am to walk through the coolest hours, logging 20 miles by 10 am. The night was also the perfect time to use my favorite Point6 gear, the Compression Ultra Light OTC which aided me in recovery each night--essential to being able to do high mileage day after day.
This was an incredible opportunity for me to see desert wildlife. I was lucky enough to see mountain lions, coatimundis, nighthawks, javelinas, tarantulas, fox, deer, bighorn sheep, and skunks among many others. The desert is a very busy place at night!
I finished my hike in 19 days 17 hours and 9 minutes. This was two days faster than the previous self-supported record. In one of those cosmic coincidences Michael Versteeg set an incredible supported FKT just a week earlier of 15 days 23 hours. I think it’s a great testament to the difficulty, but also the attainability of this trail that both categories were set last month. The Arizona Trail is a little known gem of rugged wilderness just waiting to be explored!
You can read more about my hike (and other adventures) on my blog at runhikelivelove.blogspot.com