A 20 mile day would put me at LF Ranch a day early, and it would also reduce the newfound stress around my food supply. While I added in a few extra things since I knew I’d want to eat more, I neglected to factor in that I’d also want to eat more often, in addition to more in general. If I could make it to the ranch, there’d be a nice big dinner waiting for me plus a small mail drop to get me to Pine, just 22 miles farther.
Of the five guys that I camped with the previous night, only Randy and Clayton were awake when I got up. I got some water, got my things packed up, and thanked them again for the amazing food the previous night as I made my way back onto the trail that was now soaked from a consistent rain that finally fell overnight.
Most things were packed away in case of rain, but I had my solar panel out just to get what I could before any rain came my way. Except that only took about 50 yards past camp. Rain began to pour almost immediately. I quickly put everything in my pack and began walking again, only to notice that the brief shower was beginning to subside, and that there were some pretty amazing looking shots that I was about to be missing as fog cleared from mountaintops. New system: just keep the camera tucked away against my chest in the rain jacket so it’s safe from moisture, but still easily accessible. I stuck with this the rest of the day, even though the rain jacket I had brought with me wasn’t terribly effective. I may have to make a switch if I can manage a run down to Phoenix once I get to Flagstaff.
A shower passed here and there creating all kinds of dramatic lighting on the landscape. The other effect it had was that it slowed my pace down by completely drenching my pant legs as I was forced to constantly brush through manzanita bushes lining the trail. I could feel the extra weight slowing me down, my legs not able to move quite as freely as they would on a dryer trail.
By now a heavier shower began falling. I never did test my rain setup, so at this point, I just had to hope everything in my pack was staying dry. I didn’t bring the normal rain fly for the pack. Instead, it was recommended that I just bring garbage bags, then put everything inside and just let the pack get wet. It saved a bit of weight, but now testing it without running through a legitimate test prior was making me nervous.
The sun began poking out and the early showers and fog began to clear, leaving Mazatzal Peak finally exposed in a commanding position above the canyon I was working my way out of. Nearby, I found a nice stream for water, so in addition to filling up, I also decided to see if everything was dry. Fortunately, it worked just fine. To my surprise, everything in the pack was completely dry.
Though there was plentiful water all along the trail ahead, I decided to get well hydrated and then bring along two liters. I figured the less I had to stop, the better if I was to make 20 miles by the end of the day. Having taken so many photos already, I wasn’t making good time, despite the trail being easy going overall. The sun had now been out for a while and it was enough to convince me to get the solar panel out while I was getting water. Naturally, once I had it all setup, clouds began breaking up the sunlight. I was soon finished anyway and continued on my way.
I was led up to a large rocky outcropping that overlooked a long and wide canyon, the Mazatzals finally beginning to smooth out on the other side into softer hills. The fog was thick when I first arrived, but in just a couple of minutes, it had nearly completely cleared away, revealing just how extensive of a mountain landscape I was standing above. On clearer days, I’d be willing to bet the San Francisco Peaks would be visible. Though the Mazatzals were beginning to shrink, more prominent mountains took their place beyond.
It was a smooth and fast walk down along the canyon’s southern edge, the trail gradually winding to its eastern end. Once in the bottom, it was another climb up to a majestic divide that had awe-inspiring views in nearly every direction. Large Mazatzal peaks still reigned supreme just to the south while these towered over the large rolling hills of the northern end of the range. Just beyond those hills however, nearly within reach, was the Mogollon Rim! It was now so close! For AZT thru-hikers, it’s a symbol of accomplishment. One of the most significant milestones along the trail. On top of that rim, the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau, the trail flattens out for quick and easy walking to the Grand Canyon. It’s a sort of rite of passage for thru-hikers. You’ve been through some incredibly strenuous elevation change, now it’s time to take it easy for a bit. And there it was, just right over there.
I stopped to have lunch at the divide to appreciate the view and get more energy in me. It felt like an accomplishment just to get that close to the Rim. The sun had even come out, so I now took out the solar panel and began charging the battery. I relaxed, enjoyed the peace and quiet, and then noticed some rather heavy clouds getting closer. Then a faint rumble from their direction. Was that thunder? The next one, though still distant, cleared up my doubt. Now finished lunch, I threw everything together and began up the trail hoping to stay ahead of the storm that was now threatening to bear down on me. I knew I had a couple of ridges to climb with the safety of shallow canyons in between. I made it into the first canyon. No thunder. So far so good. Should I keep going? I still hadn’t heard any more thunder and I was making good time, so why not? I sped to the next climb up. There was another rumble, but far in the distance still. I was safe for now. Keep climbing. The rain was now taking a break, but I knew it wouldn’t last. I kept up my pace, slowing only slightly to catch my breath.
The rain came back as the climb continued up. Please no thunder. Please no thunder. I reached the top where I was able to quicken my pace again as it flattened out. The rain began to pelt my skin, not because of the wind, but because I noticed that it was now hail as it bounced off the rocks on the ground. The trail still wasn’t dropping though which had me concerned. Please no thunder.
Ultimately, it cleared up for a nice break, revealing even closer views of the Rim before dropping down into a large forest. Deep in this canyon, the rain had left the forest with a subtle luminescence as a shower so often does. The forest seemed to be shining all sorts of shades of browns, yellows, and greens. All the forest vegetation was creating a strong aroma of natural scents, stirred up by the weather.
It was deep in this canyon that I met E Bunny and Sweep, an older couple celebrating their 30th anniversary by hiking the Arizona Trail. They had reservations in Pine, but not for another few days, so they weren’t in any hurry. They offered me a break from the rain in their shelter and I gladly accepted. As I sat down, now protected, a heavy shower began pouring. We chatted about a number of things and I enjoyed my visit with them, but when the sun came back out, that seemed as good a time as any to carry on. I said goodbye and started up the climb out of the canyon, hoping to stay ahead of any rough weather that might try to sneak back in.
The climb brought me up to a plateau of a hilltop that teased glimpses of the Rim and many other mountain ranges in the distance. Dramatic light was shining on all of it, broken up by the weather. While admiring and photographing all the incredible vantage points, I turned around to see a large black cloud creeping in behind me. Camera off. Time to go. I didn’t hear any thunder, but I didn’t want to wait around on a high plateau to hear any. I moved quickly across, and even when the trail started to descend, I still kept a quick pace.
It wasn’t until I was much lower that I felt safe enough to slow down, and thankfully, no thunder. Just an occasional raindrop to foreshadow the inevitable.
Before I was completely in the canyon below, I was treated to a great rainbow above the hills ahead. It arched over the land in front of me and began to fade as I headed into the trees. Just a short distance in, I was ready to call it a day, just over 15 miles, well short of 20, but worn out. I’ll be at the LF Ranch tomorrow after six easy miles of downhill hiking, then I’ll have some (more) good cooked food, and a chance to clean up before getting in some good rest.