March 15, 2021
So. Bloody. Cold!
Our campsite is at roughly 5200’ elevation and near a stream, so…yeah, it’s cold.
Crawling out of my tent to get my food bag out of the bear box was a serious chore. I slept like the dead and woke up so stiff, having hot coffee in the morning is like heaven out here. Every time I consider being one of those uber ultralight hikers who don’t carry a stove and eat all their food cold-soaked or dry, I remember the immeasurable bliss that is sipping hot coffee in my tent in the morning, and I decide to stick with my stove. Hike your own hike, and all that.
We were on trail before 7:00am and encountered snow almost immediately. I grew up in the Midwest so traversing snow is easy for me, but Ghosthiker spent her whole life living in southern and southwest states and was struggling a little more with the slippery slush, so we kept our pace slow and manageable. We’re not in a hurry, anyway, and it’s better to stick together in case one of us has a fall or something. There were several cold streams to cross, too, which was fun.
Around 9:45am we reached Manning Camp, situated comfortably at 8000’ elevation. Guthooks said there was water here, but there were no signs or any indication of where it might be, so it took us a little while to figure it out. There was a big, in-ground tank all locked up inside a chain-link fence, and we had to skirt around to where it was running out of a spout and down an 8’ drop into a rocky stream. Getting to the running water meant walking precariously out onto an icy, flat stone slab and squatting down to fill a bottle, which was fun (read: not fun).
Ghosthiker filled up first and then went to find some privacy to use the restroom. After I collected my water, I hiked on a little ways but didn’t see my hiking partner anywhere. I backtracked a bit and still didn’t see her. I was whistling for her with the tune we used on the PCT but didn’t hear anything back. Hm, weird.
Walking alone in the snowy terrain with the faintly howling wind felt a lot like that one level of Metal of Honor: Allied Assault. I felt like instead of trekking poles I ought to be carrying a sniper rifle, walking slowly through the woods so as not to alert the Nazis of my presence, and at any moment a ferocious German Shepherd might come out of nowhere and bite me in the ass! It was a little thrilling, to be honest. Kind of surreal. I’m basically a nerd.
I was brought back to reality by a responding whistle at long last, but it wasn’t the tune I was expecting. Then, of all things, a big group of hikers appeared from off trail, seemingly straight out of the woods! Their packs were huge, and I deduced immediately that this was probably a group of weekend warriors. One of them was wearing a buff from Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, MI, which I recognized instantly (I brought my Bell’s hat on this hike, if you hadn’t already noticed). The group told me they hadn’t seen any other hikers nearby, but that they’d keep an eye out and pass along the message that I was looking for my partner.
After they left, I decided to hike on for a bit. I’d noticed some footprints in the snow that looked the same as mine, but smaller. Ghosthiker and I are both wearing Lone Peak Altras, so her tracks are easy to spot. They could have been anybody’s though, since Lone Peaks are so popular among thru hikers. My intuition turned out to be correct, though! After hiking for a while, I spotted her in the distance and immediately felt relieved. She’d gone ahead up the trail to use the bathroom rather than backtrack to somewhere beyond Manning Camp like I would have done. I eventually caught up to her and we made our way to the top of the pass at almost 8600 ft elevation. Phew! It was an exhausting climb, but my feet felt great the whole way. I think I might be getting my trail legs/feet at last!
The descent was another story, of course. The trek down was sketchy with slushy snow. My shoes and socks were already soaked from hiking in the snow and going downhill made the tape came off my hot spots. I did okay but Ghosthiker was often unsure of her footing, which made me nervous for her. She is an incredibly strong and capable woman, more so than me the majority of the time, and I had to keep telling myself that. (I don’t have overbearing maternal instincts, shut up.)
A few miles down the mountain, safely out of the snow, we stopped for a break and took our shoes and socks off so our feet could dry out, and I switched socks. That’s something I’ve been doing a lot more on this trail: changing up my socks almost every time we take a break so that my feet always stay dry and don’t get rubbed consistently in the same places by the same pair of socks. I have a few different pairs of Darn Tough and Smartwool socks for this reason. There’s pretty much always a pair of socks hanging off the back of my pack to dry!
After our break, the rest of the day was awful as far as terrain goes. The trail was pitched in the center, steep, winding, and full of loose scree, which make it incredibly painful to hike. My knee was fine, but my right foot started aching halfway down and I had to slow down. Blisters got bad again. Just a really shitty way to end what started out as such a great day. Oh well, it happens.
At mile 144, we left Saguaro Natl. Park, which makes sense because we haven’t seen any Saguaro Cacti since we got over Mica Mountain. Now we’re in the Rincon Mountain Wilderness. At the bottom of our long, arduous descent, we reached the Tanque Verde Canyon water source and met a hiker couple whose names were Loins of Arabia and Trash Panda. They hiked the AT in 2017 and are hoping to buy the hiker hostel close to Katadyn someday. They seem really nice and we all chatted for a while. They chatted with Ghosthiker especially, since she’d hiked the AT several times and lives in Tennessee. I hope we run into them again.
The next water source is in 9.5 miles and it may not be entirely reliable, so we packed out 4 liters each to dry camp. We hiked another 3 miles from Verde Canyon, constantly looking for somewhere to camp because we’re both exhausted. We’re in a lot of pastureland now and there are cow patties everywhere, and we ended up throwing down our stuff in a relatively flat area at mile 148.9, at about 5:30pm. It’s early to stop, but we’re both beat to hell and our feet and ankles are hurting from climbing down the mountain.
Hopefully we don’t get harassed by any cows in the night.
We did about 13.6 miles today.
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