AZT Days 10-15 South Rim to Flagstaff

The second emotional challenge of this trail is the water. We didn’t face too much water hardship in the first 100 miles, but the next 100 miles have brought us 13+ mile water carries, unreliable sources, thick brown cow pond water, and miles long detours off trail. We’ve had to get comfortable with carrying more and adjust our expectations for “good” water.

Our first day out of the south rim we had 5 miles of paved footpath that took us out of the park boundary. The easy walking got us off to a good start. We were grateful for it because our packs were heavy with 5-6 days of food and full water to get us the 13 miles to our next source. We wound through thinning pine trees until we got to the first “tank” aka cow pond. It had a muddy bank and was challenging to reach without almost falling in.

Pinky faced the challenge well and brought full water bags back. The water came out so chunky we decided to “prefilter” by pouring water through a bandana before putting it through a sawyer. Since the pond smelled like straight up cow poop we decided to be extra cautious and also treated it with Aqua Mira drops.

After that we had 7 more pine forest miles to a lookout tower. It said “authorized personnel only” but we decided that included us.

The very top was locked but we went as high as we could. From the top we had great views across this final edge of the Grand Canyon and the edge of the Coconino Rim we were currently on. We could also see evidence of a forest fire (which we had gotten a whiff of as we came up to the tower) and some big mountains…

That night we slept on some cushy pine needles off a forest service road, water was down the road a half mile. We stayed up past dark hanging out with LJ, Slosher, Wonder and Butcher. When we went to bed, I could hear what I assumed were elk bugeling. It was like a neigh through a flute and was super spooky. It gave loon vibes. It was pretty cool.

In the morning we didn’t really want to get started. We lolligagged with LJ and eventually got going. I was moving slow because my left foot has been bothering me. In the quiet of the morning I heard more elk yodels. It sounded like there was one not too far from me.

We had some more views off the edge of our rim and started getting closer to some pastoral rolling hills. Our next water source was another “tank”- this one a larger pond with people fishing, but still quite chunky. There was a cache of bottled water at the trailhead too, but with 6 hikers there at once that cache didn’t last long. We still filtered water for ourselves and took a little extra since it was 13 miles to the next source.

While we were eating, a biking couple came by and chatted with us. They are doing a section of this trail as part of a larger loop and had water questions. We did our best to answer them and commiserated about the challenging water and long food carry for this section.

We were the last ones to leave. It sucked carrying 4 liters of water. The next bit of trail was increasingly more open with more scrubby grasses and juniper bushes. We wound up meandering through a big field where the air was thick with smoke. Up ahead we saw LJ and Slosher talking to a NOBO hiker. When we came up they introduced him as Storm Mocker. He had a crisp $2 bill for everyone! I didn’t get the full story but he seems to hand them out to everyone he passes. He told us not to worry about the smoke, it was nothing we had to pass up ahead.

We eventually made it to the Moqui trailhead which had a huge water cache. And some bees who had no sense of personal space. We took a quick break, drank some water, refilled some water and kept moseying. We were at mile 138 and our goal for the day was 140. Once we hit 140 I was so Done. I knew LJ and Slosher were looking for a spot ahead and we would keep hiking till we found them. I was looking for them around every curve. Finally, I spotted Slosher’s white tent through the trees.

They greeted us and showed us the sites they had scoped out. We settled on one with minimal bumps and poky cacti. One cactus bulb still managed to get stuck on Pinky’s pants in the process. Once we got the tent up I let Pinky know I would not be joining everyone for “social hour”- I was too tired and wanted to eat dinner in bed.

Dinner in bed was challenging because my nose was super stuffy, so I had to mouth breathe while trying to eat. For dinner I had some crunchy potatoes, hard to eat even with an open airway. These dang dehydrated potato chunks do not cold soak well. I soaked that batch for 24 hrs and it was still crunchy as hell. I did my best with it but still gave up about halfway through. 

Luckily I slept like the dead that night. Back to back 20s are not agreeing with me. I felt like ass the next morning. My foot was stiff again, though I did have some glimmers of good times throughout the day.

We again had some challenging water situations. We had 9 miles to go to a 0.6 mile detour to a wildlife tank. We made it there around 11:30ish. Along the way I saw my first tarantula! He was cute and going NOBO.

Lucky for us it was a pretty excellent water source and had some nice shade trees. While we were there we met 4 more SOBOs, the most we’d seen since the canyon.

After our break we decided to keep taking the road we came in on since it looped back to the trail- no point in backtracking if we don’t have to. We had 11 miles to go to Babbit Lake. The terrain was much more open. All morning we’d been winding through rolling open scrub, getting closer and closer to the San Francisco Peaks, most notably Humphrey’s Peak, the mountains that stand between us and Flagstaff.

As the afternoon wore on we became aware of a rainstorm to our left and could see more dark clouds clustered around the peaks on our right. We were in almost completely open fields at this point, there were individual juniper here and there but nothing dense. We walked as fast as we could. We never got caught in the storm on the left, it blew around and gave us a nice drop in temperature, but never gave us more than a few drops of rain.

That threat past and the temperature heating up again we took a lunch break in the shade of some junipers. When we started walking again we saw that more clouds had gathered to our right. The more we walked the more the wind blew.

We came around the corner of some hills and saw more dark clouds headed towards us. We kept walking until I saw lightning not far from us. I made Pinky go hide under some trees with me. He talked me down from panicking and we decided to keep going, we didn’t feel completely safe where we were but we also hadn’t seen any more lightning.

Not 5 minutes after we started walking again the wind picked up even more and we started getting pelted with rain drops. It was now cold and miserable. We walked as fast as we could, when we finally had a small juniper to use as a windbreak I stopped and threw on my rain coat.

A few minutes later we spotted a decent place to shove our tent in between some trees. The rain slowed as we got it up but the wind did not. We got one of our less perfect pitches but she stayed up and we were able to get out of the direct wind and warm up a bit.

We went back and forth about what we should do. I spent a while trying to find weather radar- I had excellent service there- and decided it looked like it might keep raining. We were able to message LJ and Slosher to let them know we were behind. They said it wasn’t raining where they were but it was windy.

Honestly I don’t know why we spent so much time debating what to do, earlier we had both kinda wished for some actual rain so we could have an excuse for a rain nap. Deep down, we both knew that once we got in that tent we weren’t getting out again until morning.

So we told LJ and Slosher not to expect us and got down to snuggling in for the night. It was probably 3:45 when we first set up the tent, so we had a pretty nice leisurely evening. By the time we were eating dinner the wind had completely died down.

As we were falling asleep I heard a strange noise, like a squeaky toy or something. I kept trying to describe it to Pinky and point it out when I heard it. I don’t think he ever heard it until about 5:45 the next morning when whatever it was sat right outside our tent and squeaked its little head off. We decided it must have been a bird because we think we heard it flapping away.

Despite a pretty leisurely morning, the early bird start helped us hit the trail at a decent time. We got a message from Slosher letting us know the next water source we were counting on, Babbit Lake, was pretty tough to access and they had a hard time filtering it. Great. We knew we had to stop there and try to make it work because Pinky was almost out of water.

When we came over the hill and saw it my heart sank. Calling it a lake was generous, it was another large cow pond. The edges were so muddy and covered with cow poop. We talked to some NOBO hikers who were passing and they told us the cache at the next trailhead was empty, they saw LJ taking the last of it not too long ago. We turned to the “lake” with resignation.

The worst of it was trying not to get our shoes stuck in the mud. And then getting the heavy mud off our shoes once we came out. Pinky managed to find a pretty decent rock that kept him stable enough to lean out and scoop up water. He scooped it with our cut up sawyer bag then poured it through a bandana I held over the CNOC.

The water actually looked pretty clear in the CNOC and didn’t clog up his filter too bad when he filtered it. We did treat it with Aqua Mira as well given the copious amount of adjacent cow poop.

Not long after Babbit lake the trail became a road and a truck came by. They pulled over and we met Stockings and Rocket, a couple setting up water caches before setting out for a section hike. They gave us each a bottle of water and took our trash. It was some very timely trail magic.

A few miles after that we reached the best water source this side of the canyon. It was a PIPE flowing into a giant metal drum. The water in the drum was supporting quite the ecosystem, but the water coming out of the pipe was clear and cold. We drank our fill and took a nice break in the shade.

Isn’t that the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen

Over the crest of the hill above us we could see more threatening clouds building. When we started out in the morning the sky was mostly clear except for 2 sets of fluffy white clouds stuck over the two taller peaks.

The clouds over Humphrey’s kept building and darkening. These had now reached peak darkness and were beginning to encroach on the sky directly above us. I told Pinky if we got the slightest boom I was setting the tent up right here, there was even a manicured little tent pad under some trees!!!

Alas, there were no booms so we continued on. From here we were really beginning to ascend up to the shoulder of Humphrey’s. Not even an hour into it my left foot/ankle region started hurting worse than it had in days. It had actually been feeling pretty decent all morning and I was feeling hopeful that maybe I’d turned a corner. But NOPE. It was extremely painful to walk. We pulled over and I ate a snack, stretched it a bit and took some ibuprofen.

Within 5-10 minutes of walking I was crying. My foot hurt and Pinky was nowhere to be seen. When I finally caught up to him I was so miserable. He hugged me and agreed to stick close for the rest of the day. The rest of the day was a slog. And we got rained on! (Briefly, and it was actually nice since it wasn’t hot, but still!)

We had already decided we didn’t need to do any more 20s to get to Flagstaff. We would do 17, 17, and then whatever the remainder was. It’s a little confusing on the map because there is an “urban route” with its own mileage count, and we aren’t sure exactly where on that route we’ll reach a point that we can like call a Lyft to take us to the Air BnB we reserved… So we were doing a 17.7 mile day. Despite gaining elevation it was pretty chill, mostly following a dirt road, but for the last 6 miles or so I was miserable. Bless his heart Pinky did stay right with me and sat with me for all my breaks.

When we finally made it to the road crossing with our next water source we spotted some decent pine needle carpeted campsites right away. Pinky graciously continued on to grab the water. It seemed like it wasn’t too far away based on the map… but he was gone almost an hour. I set the tent up really slowly and was starting to think I’d have to go looking for him when I finally saw him come around the corner. He said it was further than the map said and most of the directions on how to get there were wrong. Thank goodness he’s so persistent because we needed that water. 

The wind picked up after I got the tent up so we had a blustery dinner hour. Every so often a big truck would come barreling down the dirt road not too far from us. I can’t imagine where they are going. We had the whole place to ourselves and only heard 1 or 2 elk yodels as we settled in for sleep. 

Over dinner we had tossed around the idea of trying to hitch a ride to Flagstaff early since my foot was so bad. I wanted to go at least to the Snowbowl restaurant area because I wanted to see what that big mountain was all about. However, not one mile in and I was sobbing again. My foot was so uncomfortable, I knew it wasn’t a good idea to try to keep pushing.

We sat down on the side of the trail and I pulled out my phone. I once again had excellent service. I had several messages from LJ and Slosher asking  if we were ok and where we were. I let them know we were ok and that we planned to hitch into town.

I texted like 5 trail angels and messaged one more on Facebook. We hung out on the side of the trail for about 20 mins but had no luck from anyone so we decided to keep hiking to the next trail head. When we got there we spotted a truck and a few people packing up their campsite. We went up and explained our situation and asked if they could give us a ride to Flagstaff. They immediately agreed and were so so sweet.

Lyn and her husband were supporting their children Zoey and Jack on a 4K+ mile long bike packing trip- their blog is if you’re interested in learning more. They think they are about a week from being done. We chatted about the different experiences of biking vs hiking and how wonderful it is when you have family supporting you.

Then Lyn skillfully added our backpacks to the top of the gear pile in the back of their truck and tied it all down with an impressive series of straps. We said goodbye and good luck to Zoey and Jack then hopped in the car with Lyn. She and Pinky talked about their shared love for scuba diving and she gave us a lot of awesome trip ideas. Before we knew it we were hopping out in downtown Flagstaff. We thanked her profusely and hobbled off to loiter in a coffee shop and figure out what to do next.

Flagstaff has turned out to be the perfect town for hikers like us. We immediately found a tea shop with a table and chairs outside- we were *far* too dusty and stinky to be sitting on their nice inside cushions. We devoured some bagels and a chai latte while I called around for hotel rates. Pinky got his head shaved and beard trimmed down the street. I updated our family on our situation, then we headed over to Dark Sky Brewing, which has come highly recommended.

At DSB they were very obliging and seated us next to an outlet so we could charge our phones. We sampled some beers and had an awesome pizza. We still had an hour or two till we could check into our hotel so we decided to stop by Mother Road Brewing along the way. On the sidewalk across from it we stopped to pet a cute dog and learned that its humans had Richmond and AT connections! Small world.

Mother Road was just as delightful as Dark Sky. We wound up spending several hours there chatting with Spirit Kick, a NOBO AZT hiker who just finished the trail. We actually camped next to each other at Bright Angel campground but didn’t have much time to talk then. I also followed him on Instagram in the spring when I was starting to think about this hike. It was cool getting to meet in person and get some intel on the trail ahead.

We eventually made it to our hotel and finally got to shower and *dry off with towels* after. Our last two showers at the Grand Canyon campgrounds did not involve towels… who knew this would be the luxury item I missed the most.

We enjoyed sleeping in until we got kicked out of the hotel. Then we loitered at the coffee shop next door while I iced my foot. LJ and Slosher found us. Together we visited a few breweries until we could check into our Air BnB.

Slosher helped connect me with a thru hiker physical therapist who gave me a virtual consult about my foot. The current theory is that I have “cuboid syndrome.” She gave me a bunch of exercises to do for the next few days that will hopefully fix me up. I really hope it does the trick. This is a lot more painful than the plantar fasciitis I had on the AT, I don’t think it’s something I can hike with. I’m trying to take it one day at a time and not let my worries run away with me.

We are sharing the air BnB with Slosher, LJ, Wonder and Butcher. Everyone slowly trickled in. When LJ arrived he said he met another SOBO thru hiker on the street and wanted to know if it was okay to invite her too. He said her name is Good News and she also hiked the AT last year. I immediately knew who she was- not only do we have mutual friends but some of Pinky and I’s friends met her when they hiked Katahdin last month. They told me about meeting her and that we should look out for her on the AZT! And now here we are, all holed up together in Flagstaff!

The “bubble” of hikers out here is definitely a lot smaller and more spread out than it was on the AT but the community is just as vibrant and delightful. What’s surprised me the most, and maybe it shouldn’t, is that pretty much everyone has hiked the AT. It’s been fun being around people who also love telling stories about their thru hike.

In conclusion, miles 100-200 have been a lot harder than 0-100. I’m feeling more hopeful about my foot situation but still worried. I learned I definitely cannot continue at a 20 miles a day pace. The trail may be flat and have easy tread but that doesn’t mean my body is ready to run yet. We are loving this community. We continue to be curious and excited about what’s next!

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