After a long but very enjoyable zero day in Pine, I was ecstatic to be back on the trail. The weather felt great and everything throughout the day felt phenomenal.
Noah and I both woke up surprised to find frost on each of our tents. We were relieved we had taken the extra precaution of stashing our Sawyer water filters into our respective sleeping bags. If it were to freeze, the ice leftover inside would damage the filter when it thawed, making the filter useless.
Hungry for his zero day in Pine, Noah was out of camp well before me. Feeling rejuvenated, I was in no rush. I was simply looking forward to an enjoyable and relaxing day on the trail. I was up and packed shortly after 7am where I backtracked to the highway to connect where I had left off, even though we were camped right next to the trail about a half mile up from where it crosses the highway. I wanted to experience every bit of the trail, so it was back down the highway for me.
It was only a short time before I found myself back at camp again, and after signing the register, noticed One Gallon coming up behind me. He had camped just a bit off the trail farther back and was about to head into town. In learning of our fun dinner, he regretted not going with Noah back to town later in the afternoon. Before we went out separate ways, I told him he can hopefully meet up again with everyone that was there and make up for it.
In just a short moment of hiking, I found myself wandering through a serene and calming oak and juniper forest, the only sounds produced by the birds chirping in all directions. Every now and then, the bold brown trunk of a large ponderosa pine would add a commanding presence to the forest floor. Large lichen-covered boulders were scattered around the ground in an attempt to add some extra color to the palette. Beyond the canopy of trees, an occasional glimpse of the rim could be seen rising out of the forest.
I was reminded just how heavy my pack actually was with two liters of water and lots of new food when the trail began a steep ascent up a ridge. It was soon rewarded though when a break in the trees showed just how high I had been climbing. Highway 87 was far below as a bit of traffic traveled between Payson and Pine. The Mazatzals rose far in the distance, now appearing like a distant memory. Covering everything in between was a thick forest of green, mostly juniper fading into a pale blue far in the distance. On the other side was either Pine or Strawberry, the details too difficult to make out at the time to determine which one it was. Above the town the Mogollon Rim shot up around the area, like a rocky curtain had been lifted high above the landscape.
I was tucked away again into a quiet forest for a while before popping out onto a large meadow which had extensive views of the rim as it faded into the eastern horizon. It was a well defined line that zigzagged its way beyond distances that couldn’t be easily comprehended. It was amazing to see such a distinct edge of the Colorado Plateau extending so far away.
I stopped for lunch at the Geronimo Camp crossing where I met two older men who were shuttling a hiking club from Tucson along parts of the Arizona Trail so they could do it one day hike at a time. One went for a nap while the other chatted with me about the trail, and then told me about a railroad tunnel ahead on the trail that was never completed. I’m looking forward to seeing that.
Back on the trail, I began to notice some rain clouds building overhead. Rather than get all my gear packed away for rain, I stubbornly thought that it would pass. Fortunately, they did. At least for the time being.
The trail developed a predictable pattern of going into a small side canyon, then popping out onto a ridge. And though predictable, it never ceased to amaze. Through different forests, over sandstone slick rock, through boulders and creeks, all with the top of the rim visible high above directly north, it was an incredibly scenic part of the trail.
I was hoping for a nice view with the light beginning to get warmer in the late afternoon, so I pressed on also keeping an eye out for the ideal campsite. I thought I had found a good one, but when I stopped to scope it out, I heard a rather startling noise coming from about half a mile up toward the rim. I can only describe it as a distinct and bona fide angry and aggressive roar. Was it a bear? A cougar? A bear fighting a cougar? I had no idea, all I knew was I would not sleep comfortably so close to hearing something like that. It certainly wasn’t directed at me, but I’d rather not sleep in the vicinity of an agitated predator. The next available spot was all the way down at Washington Camp.
Tucked away in the trees, it would sadly be another night without sunset shots or night shots, but with the exceptional natural beauty I spent the day hiking through, it’s pretty hard to complain.