Trail Day 2

Friday, February 3, 2012

It was an early morning. 7:20 a.m. I was wide awake staring at my tent sagging under the weight of the snow that had fallen through the night. This was one of those wake-ups that where you know, from the moment you open your eyes, that you're not going back to sleep. No more putting it off, I was finally gonna start ticking down the mileage.

Breaking down camp actually proved to be an adventure in itself. I couldn't keep my hands warm enough to do all the dexterous things necessary to get my tent packed away Even with my insulated leather gloves on, the metal of the poles would suck the heat from my fingers. It was to a point where I had to breathe on each of the joints of my poles just to get them seperated. To give you an idea of how long that would take, my tent has around 25 joints. Breaking camp took a bit longer than expected, needless to say.

I walked up the FR leading into the parking lot near the trailheads. It was easy walking and I made it in good time. In order to get the southernmost section of the trail, The Mexico-America border, The AZT makes you backtrack. If you're going S-N or even if you're going N-S, I'd recommend stashing your pack and doing the hike on foot. You'll come right back by. I brisk walked my way down to tag the border and made my way back to the parking lot and my pack. I got out my tent to dry and had the first dose of what would later become the absolute scourge of my entire existence, oatmeal. Thanks to oatmeal, I now have a serious taste aversion to the combination of Apples and Cinnamon. Anyways, at that time, I didn't mind as much so I jammed it down, packed up my tent, and set off north, north, ever north!

It was pretty good going. There was sunshine streaming from the sky and a pleasant chill in the air. The trail to Millers Peak is awesome. It's high elevation gain(Miller's Peak is 9,400 ft. and the trail goes to 9,100 ft.) with minimal switchbacks. The trail curves and bends it's way up the mountain which allows you to take in the nearly constant vistas of the surrounding area. To be fair, it is pretty tough. You gain around 3,000 feet over the course of 6 miles. There's no flat walking, but at least it isn't just a straight path up the mountain!

I want to say that this was my favorite section of the trail, really, I do. But my happiness was rather dampened by the ultra fresh powder that was on the trail from the trailhead.

I could see walking in snow to be a very fun endeavor. Find a cute winter boo and leisurely stroll arm in arm through the rolling dunes of snow. Even if the snow were maybe a foot deep, I think it would be fun. You kick out your feet as you walk and powdery snow crystals billow up sprinkle on the two of you.

My day was nothing like this.

From the moment I hit 7,500 to when I made camp at 9,100, it was constant post-holing. Like I said, that's all well and good for a little walk through town, but combine that with a 60 pound pack, decreasing oxygen levels due to elevation, and an incline and suddenly it is a very large inconvenience. Even more than an inconvenience actually. A serious problem. Since so much snow had fallen the night before, it made my going very difficult and slow. It got to the point where I was so exhausted and out-of-breath that I couldn't go 100 feet with out resting. This went on just about all day after 12. I finally reached the highest point in the trail at around 4:45. At this point I was at the junction where the AZT veers left and the Millers peak summit trail continues straight, bending slightly right. *Quick side note, During December in Arizona it sunset is at around 5:15 and headlamps are a necessity if you don't want to walk into a cactus of two at around 5:50. This was not where I had planned on camping and I didn't really want to camp here since it was covered with about 2 feet of snow evenly, but it would also be dark soon and the temperature was already dropping. At 9,100 I knew it would be very cold, very fast.

At this point something rather interesting happen. With a combination of my utter exhaustion from the day and the sharp increase in altitude, I began to feel what I have come to dub exhaustion/elevation sickness(clever aren't I?). I couldn't seem to maintain a steady train of thought and I kept thinking the wrong things. It gets weirder though. I seemed to sort of "zoom out" on my thought process. Like everything that was going through my head was in a spread out timeline. I could see what it was I was thinking and I knew it wasn't the right thing, but I just couldn't seem to stop thinking it. I forced my self to focus and be aware of my own exhaustion and how it would effect my decision making skills. I laid out all my options and weighed each one.

Thankfully, I was able to talk my self into throwing down my tent right where I was and crashing  off the trail. I got everything set up at around 6 and popped back outside for a moment before settling down for the night.

Now, I've seen a lot sunsets, and what's more, I've seen a lot of beautiful sunsets. But there is definitely something to be said for the sunsets of the Southwest. I have never seen a skyline with so much imbued warm colors. There's an array of red and orange highlighted with a effervescent lilac. I won't try and convey it's beauty with words because, well, if you've ever seen a sunset, you'll know it's just never the same. I'll just say that if you ever decide to go to the Southwest, you have a treat in store for yourself every night. I stood and stared until my knees started knocking. My sleeping bag was a welcome experience.

Trail day 1

Monday, January 30, 2012

Maybe I should re-title this post since I technically wasn't on the actual "trail". I was sleeping out though. I think that should count.

To remind everyone, this was the day after the post "Day 1". I delayed because of rain, choosing to drive to the trailhead a day later than planned. So, the day I was supposed to start hiking, I was instead waking up in a warm comfy bed and having fresh waffles made in the kitchen. So posh.

It was still raining outside when I woke up, but the forecast said it was supposed to clear up, so I pulled he trigger. I was tired of waiting and very anxious to get there, even if I was only going to sleep at the trailhead. Kevin, who lives in Tucson and is a good family friend, gave me a ride down to the Coronado National Memorial. We stopped to grab some gas right before we entered the forest and at that point winds were somewhere at 25mph and it was still raining. Do I want to wait another day, Kevin asks. No way. I'm all for this. Hah.

Skip ahead a bit, and I find out there is no overnight camping on the National Memorial. Kevin and I begin scouring the VERY rocky roadside for possible places that are outside of the Memorial boundaries and where I can sneak my tent in. After about 30 minutes of scouring, and only coming up with a 3% grade turnaround for a campsite, I decide to ask the Border Patrol(who are parked on the even, well groomed parking lot) if they know of any nearby places I could throw my tent down and hopefully get them to make an exception and let me stay in the parking lot. Of course, it was a no to the latter.

I ended up staying in a wash 1.3 miles down the hill from the parking lot. Walked around a little bit when the rain held off, but stayed close to camp in case it came back in full force, which it did. Of course when I was at the top of a nearby peak taking pictures. No problem. Made it down and jumped in my tent. By now it was 5:30ish so I was ready to pack it in anyways. Hopped in my sleeping bag, ate one of the two sandwiches Kevin had left with me and drifted to sleep.

I was awoken by a big Mag-Lite flashlight flitting back and forth over my tent. Almost like someone was looking for something. All the warnings I'd read about the volatile illegal activity ran through my head. Drug runners, automatic weapons, kidnappings. It all be came very real in that moment. My hand unconsciously went for my pocket knife.

"Mark! That you?" is what I heard next. Big breath of air that I didn't know I'd been holding flushed out of my lungs.

It was the Forest Ranger I'd talked to on the parking lot. Kevin had asked him to come check on me. Thanks for the near heart attack Kev! Haha, but really, I was glad he did. The patrolman and I chatted for a bit and planned to link back up before I left the next morning. "You never know, I may be the last person you see!" Ok, Officer Ominous, way to make we worry. We shook hands a final time and I went back into my sleeping bag.

The thing is, I closed my eyes that night not thinking about what the Patrolman had said, but rather about the downpour of shock-white snow that had been streaming down around us as he had said it.

"Tomorrow should be good," I thought to myself as a small smile crept on my lips.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

I'm in Patagonia! And how delightful it is to be here. Mostly because of the endless refills on coffee I get at this coffee shop(somehow I'm on my 5th cup. Hehe). Its called Gathering Grounds, if you ever pass through. Great sandwiches too. I recommend the BLT.

Anyways, I'm gonna break each day into a separate post so to avoid massive block of text that would be difficult to navigate.

Trail day 1 comin' riiiiiigggghht up!

Day 1- Delays

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rain. A backpackers worst enemy. Today was the big day. I was going to be at the trailhead and had all the gear set and ready to roll, but now, rain.

I went out this morning with Skyler, the son of the family I'm staying with, to get food and ship my care packages, and it was raining the whole time. Not bad rain, but enough to get you drenched if you're outside for more than 10 minutes. It's tapered off, but it fades in for brief showers every so often.

On top of it raining, I was waiting for a package with my power bars and crampons that I'd just bought. Also, tomorrow, I'll be able to catch a ride to the trailhead rather than pay for a very expensive shuttle service. Overall, better decision to wait. I did buy a bit too much food though. Munchies time.

It's very pretty out here though. Arizona has some very striking terrain, which I'm sure I'll be talking about in my trip report to come. Stay tuned!

Catch up

Been a while since I've posted anything on my winter trip. To update you, I am now going on a 24-hike on the Arizona trail. I met with two Irish foreign exchange representatives at my school and they encouraged me to come to Ireland in the summer rather than winter.

So, I was shopping around for other overseas options and I kept over exceeding my budget on airfare. I began to look at domestic options and thought about the PCT's John Muir trail. Since I didn't know much about the JMT I posted in an online forum asking about winter conditions. It was quickly obvious that I was not prepared for the JMT and needed milder weather options. In the same conversation concerning the JMT I was recommended by a Arizona native to look at the new 800-mile thru hike trail in Arizona. A little conversation and I was set on the AZT. Many hours of planning and research went into making the trip possible and you can read all about it in the forum. Here's a link.

Upcoming: Summating Mount Mitchell

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Despite the very small number on my bank statement, I've decided to head to North Carolina again to summit Mount Mitchell. Mount Mitchell is the highest peak in the South East and hopefully a fun challenge. It is a parking lot summit, which has pushed me away from getting it under my belt, but I've finally decided to go for it. Keep an eye out for pictures and a trip report coming soon!

In the meantime, check out this video! It's low quality in the link, but you can find it in 1080p on iTunes for download. Certainly worth the few megabytes of space on your hard-drive. 

Thoughts on Into the Wild

I recently finished reading Jon Krakauer's novel, Into the Wild. Let me just take a quick moment to say that if you have ever been interested in adventuring, then this is a great book to read. It displays the glory of a non-traditional adventure filled lifestyle whilst showing the repercussion that sometimes go along with it. Perspective is the biggest thing that I gained from reading the book, and it's much different than the movie counter part. It doesn't focus just on McCandless's life, but also the lives of other solitary adventurers. Don't just take my word for it thought, read it for yourself!

Despite my lovely PR-ish intro to this post, it is not the purpose of this post. There was a line in the book that I wanted to share on here because I was able to relate very closely in to what he was talking about. 

At that stage of my youth, death remained as abstract a concept as non-Euclidean geometry or marriage. I didn't yet appreciate its terrible finality or the havoc it could wreak on thos who'd entrusted the deceased with their hearts. I was stirred by the dark mystery of mortality. I couldn't resist stealing up to the edge of doom and peering over the edge. The hint of what was concealed in those shadows terrified me, but I caught sight of something in the glimpse, some forbidden and elemental riddle that was no less compelling than the sweet, hidden petals of woman's sex. 
                                                                               -Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild 
This is a beautiful description of the exact stage of life that I am in. I want adventure and intrigue. To "suck from the pap of life and gulp down the milk of incomparable wonder" as Fitzgerald puts it in The Great Gatsby. Krakauer compares it to the mystery of woman's sex, but in my own mind I see it as an infection. An infection that has to be bleed out on the razor peaks of mountains, drip into a glassine lake, splash onto nomadic desert dunes, fall into the Earth fully and unhindered in places where life is thick. 

The discussion of death is interesting. I recognize death. I know it, respect it, and am often fearful of it, but I don't really think it will happen to me. I don't fully understand how detrimental it would be to my family if I never came back from the Woods. I can't mesh the consequence with the action. It just doesn't click. I have not arrived at the end yet, but I've been thinking about this passage lately and am slowly learning what it means to me. It does not take away my Adventurous infection(I'm not sure if there is anything that can do that to me right now), but it has broadened my gaze to see that it is not just in Adventure that I should seek happiness. Happiness can reside with those that love me and that I love in return. One of McCandless's final lines in his journal was "Happiness only real when shared." Some think this is a testament to the futility of a solitary life of Adventure, but I view it as a testament to the necessity a dichotomous life. One must have adventure as well as love. One must know that it is not just on the tops of peaks that life is real, but also in the presence of the ones who receive the letters about the tops of the peaks. I still firmly believe in a life of solitude and self-reliance. I pity those that fear to truly live by them selves. This passage has only adjusted my feelings in a way that I recognize better the value and meaning of true friends and family.

Perhaps this is too much for a simple journal of my adventures, but when I read this passage I was struck by how much it related to me, and how it opened my eyes to the potential consequences of my actions. Not just that death is, of course, real, but what death will kill once I am gone. I write this because, perhaps, you are in the same stage that I am. Perhaps it will save you from an unknown hurt you will cause those who have entrusted you with their hearts, or perhaps it will help you widen your gaze to notice the life you have around you.

I will end with this. Remember that the life on the road is rewarding, and should always be on the mind, for that is what you live for. But do not be blinded by these thoughts and miss the life that flows out of the select loved ones that surround you when the road is cold. I speak as though talking to my self, but perhaps this speaks to you as well. I wish you the best, in all that you do.