Arizona Hike: Post-Hike Review Part 2

The Nitty – Gritty

Here’s my feedback on different aspects of the Arizona Trail.  Great experience overall!

SOBO Thumbs Up

My schedule dictated that I hike this trail southbound in the fall. Although I have not hiked it northbound, I’m going out on a limb and saying southbound is the best. The terrain and trail in Northern Arizona were lovely and it was a pleasant, low-threat start to a thru-hike. The Grand Canyon felt like a journey to a terminus and was nice gift early in the hike. Plus, there was no snow on the North Rim to plan around. The weather south of Flagstaff did grow hot but it was manageable. The monsoon season was short this fall so many water sources were dried up, but I adjusted to carrying more water than normal. The climbs into and out of the Mazatzals, Four Peaks and Superstitions Wilderness areas seemed similar in both directions. The northbound climbs to Millers Peak and Mt Mica seemed way more challenging than the southbound climbs. I don’t know if I would have had stronger trail legs at the end going NOBO, but I felt plenty strong (minus my knee) at the SOBO finish. I saw few SOBO hikers and went three and four days in a row without seeing anyone on the trail. I understand that in the spring the NOBO hikers are more numerous. Still, the trail was crowded in the Grand Canyon and around the Snowbowl. And near the more popular trail heads I saw plenty of day hikers. I did not see a ton of mountain bikers although the AZT800 and 300 unofficial mountain bike races happened while I was on trail.

Being Crewed is the Best

Because the AZT is a shorter trail my husband traveled to Arizona to support me through this hike. He established a base of operations in Mesa with family which left him within four hours of anyplace I was on trail. He made it easier for me to get on and off the trail – I didn’t have to hitchhike or arrange for shuttles. Additionally, I could tailor equipment for different parts of the hike depending on the weather and terrain. We did a resupply-on-the-go three times on the trail which saved me time and hassle and allowed me to dial-in the amount of food I carried. This was especially helpful in the last two weeks when I was struggling with my knee, and I worried that if I left the trail I would not get back on. For our family this full-time supported approach isn’t feasible for longer thru-hikes, but my husband’s support made all the difference on this hike. I hiked solo but the frequent touchpoints made it seem like we were doing the trail together.

Equipment Dialed In

I bought no new equipment for this hike. My ULA Circuit worked nicely. I used the Enlighted Equipment Enigma 30 degree quilt the whole trail – it was too warm in some sections and in a few others I needed to wear all my clothes to stay warm but overall, it was sufficient. Thankfully, my Therm-a-Rest NeoAir mattress survived intact.  The NEMO Hornet 2P tent was perfect for me. I dropped the rain flap after Oracle and picked it back up for Miller Peak. I was caught in rain only twice on the trail – once on the North Rim and once near Flagstaff. I did not cowboy camp but many other hikers did for the entire trail.

I wore shorts the whole time – before the Rim I carried rain pants to throw on if it got too cold. I dropped them after Payson and did not use them again until Miller Peak wilderness. In retrospect I should have worn long pants for the Mazatzal, Four Peaks and Superstitions wilderness areas where the trail was overgrown. Long pants would have saved me scratches and made me less tentative negotiating the overgrown sections. I wore a long-sleeve sun shirt with hood every day and a ball cap. The sun was brutal, but the cap and shirt helped.

I did not carry a stove. For this short hike I wanted to try packaged food and cold-soaking. Overall, I was happy with the decision – it was too hot to cook on most nights. Initially, I ate Fillo walking tamales for dinner – they’re yummy but didn’t yield enough calories – so I cold-soaked refried beans for the remainder of the trail.

I used one pair of Altra Lone Peaks– they held up well, but the tread was worn down by the 500-mile mark. I do wonder to what extent my choice of shoes contributed to my knee and ankle problems.

It’s All About the Water

Especially south of Flagstaff my days revolved around water sources. I started with a four-liter capacity though I usually only carried two liters. By the end of the trail I carried three liters and had a five-liter capacity. This made my pack heavier but there were a few stretches where I hit only one water source. I was initially skeptical about water from the cow ponds and wildlife tanks but it most cases the water filtered clear using a Sawyer Squeeze. The filter took a beating – I ended up getting another filter in Payson. The water caches from trail angels were a lifesaver. The hikers ahead of me did a fantastic job of updating the water info on the FarOut app.

Wildlife and Plants

I saw plenty of elk, deer, rabbits and I saw one javelina. Not one day went by where I didn’t see cows. They and their poop were everywhere. I neither saw nor heard any snakes. Several times I encountered a tarantula on the trail. The greater danger seemed to come from the prickly plants that grew onto the trail – the catclaw shrubs were especially annoying.

Solo but Not Alone

I hiked this trail solo and ran into just a handful of SOBO hikers. In some of the long stretches I felt a bit lonely from the lack of people, but I never felt really alone. The footprints I followed were evidence of the hikers in front of me. Several hikers consistently left comments in FarOut to the extent that I felt like I knew them even if I never saw them. Similarly, the trail had more than a handful of hiker registers and I grew to recognize the names as if they were old friends. Many hikers updated their status on the Arizona Trail Class of 2023 Facebook page or on Instagram, so I was able to follow their progress. The AZT organization also did an excellent job of updating the Facebook page about fire closures and trail issues.

That’s it from me.  Thanks to everyone for their support and until the next trail: Oz out!

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Comments 4

  • Elaine Owens : Nov 22nd

    Deb, Thanks for the informative post about your hike on the AZ trail. I’ve truly enjoyed it.
    I hope to hike it sometime in the future.

    • Deborah James : Nov 24th

      Thanks, Elaine! Good luck on your hike.

  • Jim Taylor : Nov 24th

    Congratulations! I live Tucson and it’s been fun following your hike. You write well and describe your experiences in a concise and easy to read manner. I especially enjoyed your coverage of my home segments, from the Catalinas south to the border. I hope you heal quickly and I look forward to following you on The Trek in the future.

  • Deborah James : Nov 24th

    Thanks, Jim! Great hike and this trail definitely humbled me.


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