Friday, March 24, 2023
Elevation gain/loss: 6289′ gain, 7314′ loss (corrected)
I was awake by 5:20am and on trail by 5:55am. The inside of my tent was dry, though my sleeping bag was still damp from the night before. I put on my headlamp for the first hour, and started climbing. I passed by at least 8 tents in the first few miles and the temperature stayed cold as I climbed. I stopped to put on my rain shell and shell mittens for both the temperatures and the wind. Somewhere around 6000′, I was back into the clouds again.
The first 10 miles of my day were slow – the climb was relatively steep and washed out, and there’d been a fire in the last few years, leaving the area degraded. The trees were burned and the water flow through the area was scattered and diffused. I had to cross water at least a dozen times; on one of the crossings, I stepped on a stone to find it coated in ice. I slide off and dunked my foot in the icy water. Wayfinding was required for a handful of miles, with lots of downed trees to climb over. And with windchill, it was around the low to mid 20s. The clouds dropped perhaps 0.5″ of snow on me as I skirted around Mt Lemmon’s summit. There was ice on rocks and needle ice in the dirt, but I didn’t have to walk on snow until the last mile descent towards the summer parking area. Once at the summer trailhead, I walked the paved road and its accompanying snow into Summerhaven.
I made it into town by 11am. I first stopped at the general store where I did a small resupply to get me through to Oracle; I found a wonderful assortment of snacks and drink mixes in the hiker box! The store gives all hikers coffee or hot chocolate and I was very glad for the warm drink. I hiked past the Cookie Hut because they weren’t open for the day yet, and stopped at Sawmill Run for lunch. I was able to get a quick burger and fries (plus the second best wifi of the trip and a charge for my phone), and then was out of town by 12 noon (at which point it was 32 degrees, windy, and sunny).
As I hiked the ridgeline, I met a SOBO section hiker Ratatouille, who was ending her hike in Summerhaven. I also shared a few miles with NOBO thru-hiker Peppermint from Ontario. The ridgeline section was windy, cold, and a bit monotonous. I was glad to begin descending, though the 30%+ grade dirt roads slowed my pace down. I chatted with Toby towards the tail end of my day, as I debated trying to push the last ~8 miles to town but eventually decided against it. I didn’t know if I could find housing, since there are only 2 Airbnbs in town with nowhere else to stay. I had a reservation for the next day, and I needed to do laundry, shower, and resupply. So instead, I hiked towards town until I finally stopped at 7pm. I’d passed up a few nicer campsites at 6:30pm and I found myself wishing I’d just stopped there when the only flat campsite I could find was one half of the dirt double track.
I set up my tent for the extra warmth and wind protection (and to help me sleep with a paved road with car traffic a few hundred feet away). As I settled in, I heard coyotes howling nearby. They let me know that wilderness is never far away, and we animals will always find a way to survive.