I got an early start, leaving camp by 7:15am. It was still nice and cool out so it made for great conditions on the climb up to Manning Camp near the top of Mica Mountain. The other plus was that I was beating the gnats out and could actually enjoy my hike for a bit without being pestered by them.
After a cottontail rabbit jumped into the trees, I noticed that a cloud was perfectly placed to block the sun as the junipers began giving way to ponderosa pines. It wasn’t long at all before I was high up in the forest and the cool air, a very welcome change from the heat of the day before.
At 8,000 feet elevation, Manning Camp is a great escape for locals and a great stop along the Arizona Trail. Having made it up in just under three hours, I decided to stop and have some food and a rest since I was happy with my pace.
The trail continued to climb and the air got cooler with it. It was really refreshing since the climb to 8,500 feet would have been much more exhausting had the sun been out. Oddly enough though, the forest had an eerie silence about it to me. It was a little too still. There were no signs at all of bear, deer, or even squirrels. Perhaps they were just all at lower elevations for the season and hadn’t yet migrated higher. At least that’s what I hoped.
After figuring out the trail system, which isn’t quite as well signed as outside of the park, the trail began to plummet steeply in elevation, something I soon felt in my knees, forcing me to slow my pace a bit. More clouds began rolling in as I reached a small (natural) bench that had sweeping panoramic views to the north in nearly 180 degrees. It was easily one of the best views of the trail so far, showing off distant mountains spread out across southern Arizona. Just a short descent from there was Italian Spring, where I stopped to get a couple more liters, despite the water not being quite as clear as I had hoped.
Farther down the trail I began to feel a bit light-headed. Naturally fears of giardia immediately flooded my mind and wouldn’t leave. Even though I was well hydrated, I sat down at a boulder outcropping with a great view and had a snack and drank some more water. While there, a hummingbird whizzed by as I admired the views to the north and east. I got back on the trail and a short way down ran into a runner named Jeff, whose trail name was JustJeff. He was on his way up to Mica Mountain and a good chat with him seemed to be the distraction I needed to start feeling better and ridding my mind of fears of giardia.
As I dropped down into the grasslands from the forests, a few sprinkles began to hit me. Nothing too alarming, but Jeff warned me that I should be ready for rain the next day. I looked back at Mica Mountain and there was definitely a rain shower giving it a good soaking.
The trail bounced up and down over the grassland hills until I finally reached the next passage. There was still some time left in the day so I decided to head another couple of miles forward to get a head start on the next day, when I was planning on meeting up with Giggles again.
Up and down the grassy hills I followed the trail until I crested one hill and saw someone standing on top of the hill. We began chatting and though he told me his name, I completely forgot it. He was the trail steward for Passage 3 and I told him how much we had enjoyed that area. As we chatted, he let me know he was waiting on his daughter who was also camped at Grass Shack the previous night. He had some cached water he wanted to give her, but after telling him that I left about an hour and a half before her and after him telling me that she doesn’t do more than 12 miles or so a day, we realized she probably wasn’t going to make it that night, especially since I had just done 17 miles. He walked with me to Redington Road and after neither of us could get a signal, he offered to send a text to Giggles for me when he was back in range just in case I couldn’t get my phone charged and/or in signal range.
We parted ways and I went to the other side of the road where I saw more cached water waiting for thirsty AZT hikers. I helped myself to a liter, which I expected would get me safely to the next water supply, and found a place to camp not far from there. With cloudy skies and rain coming in, I didn’t even bother with any photography. I set up camp, and fell asleep pretty quickly.