AZT Day 1-3 (mile 0-38)
Day 1: 11.3 miles (camp at mile 9.3)
What a big first day! We started the day by getting ready at Trail Angel Heather’s house in Tucson, AZ before catching our Uber to Montezuma Pass. Our driver’s name was Tina and she had never heard of the AZT but was super interested in our hike. Our 2ish hour drive passed quickly and before we knew it we were being dropped off at the start of the trail. Montezuma Pass is NoBo mile 1.8, so from the parking lot we had to backtrack 1.8 miles to the actual start of the trail. The US/Mexico border is the start of the AZT, and there’s even a monument at mile 0.0. We took lots of pictures and gapped at the border wall that stretched as far as the eye could see.
After we had our fill of pictures we began our hike in earnest. We climbed the 1.8 miles back to Montezuma Pass where we stopped for lunch and met Eye Roll and Razzerry. We mustered our courage to tackle the first changed of the AZT, Miller Peak. Standing at nearly 10,000 feet, this mountain is the tallest I’ve ever climbed. I grew up close to Mt. Mitchell, the tallest peak east of the Mississippi, but Mt. Mitchell is only 6,684 feet. Staring up at the barren summit I was intimidated, but the only thing to do was climb.
The trek up was grueling to say the least. The sun was beating down on me the entire way, and shade was few and far between. Pimento quickly broke away from our group, but Truffles stayed with me to cheer me on. I kept a decent pace the first couple miles, but felt my energy fading with each step the closer I drew to the peak. Our tramily likes to say “no stoppy still the toppy,” meaning that no matter how slow you’re going just keep going, don’t stop. I tried my best to keep shuffling one foot in from of the other, but I still had to take multiple breaks to catch my breath.
I hadn’t felt that weak or sluggish in a long time. I reminded myself I had hike similarly challenging mountains, but this climb beat me down. Maybe it was a good thing to have such a challenging climb right off the bat on the AZT because it helps hikers stay humble.
I all but crawled the last 0.1 miles to the junction of the Miller Peak trail. There was no way in hell I was going to do the additional 0.5 miles to the summit! Truffles and I celebrated our first big climb of the trail with a Snickers bar and Cheez Its.
We began our descent and were quickly greeted by snow. The snow in some places was several feet deep, but thankfully it had all been packed down and was easy to traverse without microspikes. We slipped and slid and even fell through the snow a couple times, but we eventually reunited with Pimento at Bathtub Spring. The temperature was already starting to drop late in the day and we decided to try and push a couple more miles in order to drop a little lower in elevation. We made camp at Bear Canyon Junction around 6pm and were snuggled up in our tents by the time the sun went down. I’m so thankful to be on trail again!
Day 2: 13.5 miles (camp at mile 22.8)
We woke up cold this morning as the sun slowly crested the ridge. Truffles, Pimento, and I broke camp as quickly as possible in order to start hiking to warm up. We had a quick little hill to climb that got our blood flowing just enough to shed a layer or two. Early on into the day was had a massive descent down from ridge line , we dropped close to 4,000 feet in just a couple of miles.
Once the descent mellowed out we found ourselves wandering though the beautiful Sunny Side Canyon. We followed the creek the whole way down and saw numerous campsites and tranquil grasslands.
Eventually the trail left the canyon and turned into more of what I expected in Arizona. The trail turned to red dirt and gravel as the landscape became more barren. Wispy grass tickled my ankles as I trudged past brushy trees under the unrelenting sun. The trail widened into an old road bed and the three of us were able to walk side by side through a series of old cattle gates.
Our plan for the day was to at least make it to Parker Canyon Lake because Truffles’ brother, Hangman, was supposed to be meeting us there. Truffles and Hangman thru hiked the AT together in 2021 and although Hangman couldn’t join us for the whole AZT, he wanted to hike for a week or two. Hangman got a shuttle just a couple miles from the lake and found us at a trailhead. Reunited, the four of us road walked to the Maria/store.
Once at the store we loaded up on snacks and feasted like royalty at the lakeside picnic tables. We met a SoBo hiker named Seeking and sat and talked to him for several hours. We all vegged out and took turns stretching and reapplying sunscreen. We reluctantly made plans to push on rather than pay to stay at the campground. Seeking had told us about a bushwhack to avoid the road walk back to trail, and we were all too happy for an alternative.
The bushwhack took us around the lake on an unofficial trail before we had to navigate our way through a cow pasture and up a shrubby hill. I was skeptical that we’d actually find the trail but lo and behold it was the top of the ridge! From there it was only a quickly 1.5 miles down into Parker Canyon where we made camp.
Our campsite was picturesque tucked into the canyon with the creek running close by. We even built a fire and enjoyed a cozy evening with the gang back together. I’m thankful we’re lower in elevation tonight, hopefully we’ll have a warmer start to the day tomorrow.
Day 3: 15.2 miles (camp at mile 38)
I am exhausted after today! We are doing bigger miles out of the gate than I planned, but we still are having pretty modest days. I really don’t know if I could go much further each day at this point, though. My body is still trying to remember how to hike all day. My legs especially are constantly sore, I’m extra thankful I brought along my cork ball because every break I try to roll out my aching legs. We could definitely do less miles, but the miles come easier out here so it’s easier to cover more ground. Most days we walk from 8am-5pm with several long breaks throughout the day, and I’m happy with the ground we’ve covered so far.
The scenery today was incredible! I’m blown away by the constant long range views, most of the views I’ve seen on the east coast only come after slugging your way to a summit. Every corner the trail rounded was met by another sweeping views of the mountains we had hiked over the previous days or the mountains we have yet to meet.
Most of the day was uneventful aside from the astounding views. I saw my first snake of the trip and enjoyed listening to some podcasts during the second half of the day. One of the strangest things about the AZT compared to the east coast is the lack of designated campsites. Having come from the AT and then working in GSMNP, the ability to make camp whenever you deem fit is foreign to me. So far we’ve aimed for water sources on FarOut with comments that mention campsites close by. Even the comments are lacking on FarOut, maybe just because there are so many fewer people out here compared to the AT.
We wanted to camp near a “water tank” that we’re discovering actually just means a big cow pond. When we finally reached our destination, however, we discovered a literal cow graveyard. We found 5 cow carcasses littered around the area we had hoped to camp, not to mention a ton of cow patties. We kept walking to the next ridge and discovered a bone free area and less sketchy water source. We were all pretty beat after another full day of hiking so we made dinner and were in bed just as the sun was setting around 7pm. We are looking forward to relaxing and recharging a bit in town tomorrow.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
What Do You Think?