Kathy Simko's Arizona Trail Trek - Entry 6 - Cold & Wet In The North

by Kathy Wednesday, June 29th 2016

As we began the second half of the Mazatzal's, the weather turned wet and cold.  Cutting wind, rain and hail became part of the normal routine and we all started to feel and look ragged and trail-weary.  Furthermore, we hadn't had a shower or clean clothes for fifteen days..."EW!"  Swimming in a lake sure does help, but it's not the same as a hot, soapy shower!

The remote Mazatzal Mountains

Another challenging situation at this time was the condition of the trail, which was usually relatively easy and straight forward...until it got wet.  When that volcanic soil got wet, it transformed into dense, heavy, sticky clay that clung to our boots relentlessly.  Every few steps, each boot gained three inches of elevation, about two pounds of mass and made simple walking almost impossible.  Every four to six paces required a stop so that the thick layer of mud could be scraped off somewhat.  The elevated platform of my boots totally affected my gait and caused my knees and hips to ache, so it was important to stay on top of this situation.  Oh well, just another beautiful day and minor obstacle to overcome on the Arizona Trail!

Sticky heavy mud/clay!

Gary, Dinny and I REALLY needed a rest day, so we stayed focused and pushed on to Pine, AZ.  It was a cold rainy day, but the staff of "THAT Brewery & Pub" warmly welcomed this ragtag bunch of scraggly smelly thru-hikers and immediately set us up with some righteous pints of micro-brewed Arizona Trail Ale!  We also loved their Road Rash IPA!  The day just kept getting better - shortly after our arrival, the little rental cabin behind the pub became available and we rented it for two nights.  All of us were super needy when we reached Pine and we got everything we needed and wanted: great beer, delicious meals, hot showers, warm & dry beds, a laundry mat, a progressive market and some much needed REST.

Excellent pub in Pine, AZ

We departed Pine and by that evening we reached Webber Creek, the most beautiful campsite on the entire trip - flat soft ground in a thick pine forest next to a running creek.  It was a short stay though; a very early start the next morning was needed for the grueling ascent up and over the Mogollon Rim: 7,279ft. (mile 483.5).


It was absolutely gorgeous up on The Rim!  Big, healthy green Ponderosa Pine forests that gave way to huge grassy meadows, which often contained a running creek. We hiked through this scenario day after day and I often had to remind myself of where I actually was!

Looming Mogollon Rim

On Day 47 we found a wonderful campsite in the forest a couple miles away from Mormon Lake Village.  When we went to bed, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. We woke up to a thick carpet of fresh snow!  The soggy tents were quickly packed, we were very cold and decided to hike off the AZT a few miles to Mormon Lake Lodge for fresh hot omelettes and coffee.  The morning turned out to be clear, crisp and sunny and we had a tremendous meal at the lodge.  Then the weather changed...AGAIN!  As we left the warm cozy lodge in late morning, big black clouds were already getting themselves organized.  It was a slog-fest through the cold rain and sticky mud all day.  As this system dissipated, another huge one was rolling towards us, so we pulled up short and got the tents set up before everything got hammered with rain.  We holed up the rest of the day while it rained - at least all our gear and clothes were kept dry...and we had some beer from the store in Mormon Lake Village!  We were dealing with things, loving life on the AZT and knew everything was going to be fine (just cold and wet right now).

Still cold up north!  Near Mormon Lake

It didn't rain on us the next day, and we pushed hard to make up the miles that we had lost the day before - this effort put us at the beautiful Marshall Lake Trailhead area.  We walked into Flagstaff for two whole days of rest, food, beer and laundry.  Because we all had so much resupplying to do, we chose the Urban Route through Flag.  Gary and Dinny stayed at the adorable Du Beau Motel downtown and I stayed at my friend's home.  My friend, Kelly Nicholas, and I met last Spring when she was thru-hiking the AZT with her buddy, Nick.  I was backpacking with my buddy, Jen, and we all ended up camping together at Manning Camp atop the Rincons.  There was a big fire going, a little bit of whiskey flowing and tons of laughter!  That's how "Kell" and I became friends.

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Kathy Simko's Arizona Trail Trek - Entry 5 - The Irony of the Black Hills & Even More Good People

by Kathy Monday, May 30th 2016

The Hobo Trio continued northward from American Flag Trailhead.  We learned from Marney that we were EFI'ers (Every freakin' inch).  We were extremely aware and diligent to walk every inch of the AZT, making sure not to cut corners and to go back and start exactly where we left off.  Late in the day on April 9th, we were resupplied at Tiger Mine Trailhead (mile 209.1) by Dave & Irene Baker and Dave & Debbie Boyd; per usual, they did a stellar job and we joked and laughed a lot. 

Heading into the Black Hills, we were about to be hit with a huge dose of irony...The Black Hills are beautiful, stark, dry and hot.  Travelers through this area usually prone to environmental issues related to heat: dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  Not us!  We were pummeled by a gigantic freak Spring storm with excessive lightning.  Wave after wave, we took a direct hit.  The first two waves were manageable by donning our rain gear and marching on.  It even cleared out and we removed our rain gear.  Then, the big one came.  The wind started to howl, the temperature plummeted and a black wall of water with crashing lightning was rapidly heading straight for us.  Within thirty seconds, we made a collective decision to take shelter in a tent...my tent, because it was the largest and driest.  I kid you not, that Nemo Hornet 2 Person tent was up in about three minutes and the three of us and our backpacks were all stowed safely inside.  It was a tight fit, but the two vestibules really helped out with protecting the backpacks.  Luckily we were situated in the best possible location when this storm blew up - down in a gully for lightning protection, but on a bench for flash flood safety.  As we waited this wave out, the time between the flashes and the thunder was less than one second and the rain was coming down in sideways sheets.  After about 30 minutes, this wave passed on and Dinny and Gary had a 20 minute window to set up their tents.  Good thing, because it rained all night, wave after wave.  This exact scenario, and others like it, are precisely why I own this Nemo tent - when all hell breaks loose, I know I've got a large enough, reliable shelter, which is simple to set up.  

We pushed northward and reached the Freeman Rd. Trailhead on April 11th.  Via text messages, Royce Marion was back in action helping us out immensely!  She carved time out of her busy schedule and made a water, juice, potato chip and cookie drop for us in the cache box at Freeman Rd.  In her usual style, Royce went above and beyond and supplemented our goodies with hilarious personalized notes - this made our day! 

Cooling off in the Gila River

We filtered drinking water from a bee-infested stock tank, took a cool dip in the crisp Gila River and climbed through gorgeous desert canyons on our northward trek.  On April 16th (day 26), my sister Kim Noetzel, my super-cool nephew Noah Noetzel, and their beautiful border collie Zoe Marie met us at the Picket Post Trailhead four miles out of Superior, AZ where we had a motel room for a rest/laundry day.  All we asked for was a lift into Superior, but we received so much more!  They brought the house including WARM breakfast burritos and ICE COLD Hop Knot IPA's!  We inhaled all of it before we left for Superior!  In addition, Kim surprised us with fresh, moist delicious cakes from one of my favorite bakeries, "Nothing Bundt Cakes."  My birthday was coming up on April 20 and she acknowledged it awesomely.  Those individual creamy bundt cakes didn't stand a chance... 

Next up were the stunning Superstition Mountains.  I had never hiked in the eastern portion of this range and I was thoroughly impressed with its rugged beauty and unexpected diversity.  The Reavis Ranch area struck me with its charm and it was really cold at night (4,867 ft.)!  It took us about three days to navigate through this challenging range and then we finally caught a glimpse of Theodore Roosevelt Lake. 

Roosevelt Lake from above

When we arrived at Roosevelt Lake, the heat was on!  We were fried and eventually made our way to the Marina, where things got much better.  So good in fact, that we decided to take a rest day the next day and let the heat wave pass.  The Marina had a nice little store filled with all kinds of refreshments and a comfortable shady place to relax.  As the sun was setting, we headed out to find a campsite; we were told there was free camping near the lake just down the road, so we set out to find it.  Apparently, we missed the gravel road turn off and ended up in Cottonwood Cove, where several "No Camping" signs were posted.  As we were wandering around trying to locate the free campsite, a voice from an RV parked in an official parking area called out, "Do you guys need a place to camp?"  I immediately replied, "Yes!" 

That voice belonged to Jeff Brown, the Cottonwood Cove Host and trail crew personnel.  Jeff was very kind, interested in our AZT adventure and gave us permission to pitch our tents right there on prime real estate.  Moreover, he showed us the best place to go for a swim AND offered to drive us up the road to the showers!  We had an excellent rest day on our private beach - swimming, relaxing, eating and drinking.  Thanks Jeff Brown!  You were truly an AZT Trail Angel for us.  P.S. - Jeff also gave me a canister of stove fuel when I ran out! 

Campsite at Roosevelt Lake

Although we had a terrific time resting at Roosevelt Lake, the trail was calling and we knew it.  Even though it wasn't as hot as before, it was still going to be very warm, so we set our alarms for 3AM and boots were on the ground at 4AM the next morning - we had a lot of uphill hiking to do in the Four Peaks Wilderness.  

Rugged approach into Four Peaks Wilderness

The Four Peaks area was surprisingly stunning.  As we hiked higher and higher, two different local parties informed us that the place was loaded with black bears.  We did not see any bears and the trickiest part of the passage was water availability. We made it to the barely trickling Buckhorn Creek the first night and the next night needed to pre-filter water out of Pigeon Spring due to the plentiful small wiggly aquatic creatures who called this cement trough home. 

Four Peaks Wilderness

After the Four Peaks, we were resupplied at Sunflower by Dave Boyd, who, in addition to doing stellar work, was helpful, patient and kind.  As the wind was howling, the Hobo Trio headed for the Mazatzal Mountains. 

I had never been to the Mazatzal's; I had only heard stories about them.  I was thoroughly impressed with what I experienced here - they are big, beautiful, gnarly, rugged and REMOTE!  While we were hiking through, we met two great guys - Joe and Roger.  Joe is the out-going trail steward for this passage and Roger is the incoming trail steward; Joe was showing Roger the ropes and they were going to be there a couple of days grooming the AZT.  Roger had hiked the AZT and shared his bear encounter story with us.  Joe was extremely knowledgeable about mountain lions and taught us interesting facts about their behavior.  We chatted quite some time.  Joe said he was going home a day earlier than planned and graciously offered us his extra food - we gladly accepted it and it was delicious.  Thanks Joe!

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Kathy Simko's Arizona Trail Trek - Entry 4 - More Good People

by Kathy Monday, May 16th 2016

On the morning of April 2nd, Dave Baker drove us back to the exact spot we exited the trail two days earlier.  Dave Boyd joined us as we cruised through the Rincon Mountains, camping at the beautiful Grass Shack site, which was equipped with a babbling brook.  The next day, we split off from Dave at Italian Spring and began a grueling descent along the North side of the Rincons.  This section took a toll on all of us and we camped about three miles short of our goal in Tanque Verde Canyon, which was flowing nicely.  We got up super early the next morning with high hopes to make up a few miles. 

April 4th was one of toughest days I've ever had hiking.  It was hot and we knew it would be.  Despite drinking six liters of water and supplementing it with electrolyte capsules, I struggled mightily all day. I had no energy in my body and no appetite.  Dinny and Gary did much better than I did, even though they're from England and I'm a native desert rat!  To add insult to injury, this passage ended with a punishing 1,000 ft. climb at the very end and then finally plunged into Molino Basin Campground in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Prior arrangements had been made, and my good friend Royce Marion was there for us when we staggered in after twelve hours of tough hiking.  She brought us treats: avocados, cold beer, fruit juices, salty potato chips and what have you.  This Trail Angel also went above and beyond the call of duty...she provided each of us a clean damp face cloth with a dab of peppermint soap in it!  What an unexpected, refreshing magnificent treat!  This kind and thoughtful act truly aided our recovery and we had a fabulous evening camping out in Molino Basin.  As you will see, Royce helps us immensely again higher on the mountain...

The always refreshing Hutch's Pool

The next day, we knew it was going to be really hot again AND we were aware of the monster day awaiting us the day after; therefore, we decided to pull up short and "rest" at Hutch's Pool.  Hutch's Pool is a spectacular swimming hole and I have been cliff jumping here since I was in the seventh grade.  We arrived in mid-afternoon while it was still warm and took a very refreshing dip, which re-energized us.  Boy, were we going to need energy...

The next morning, boots were on the ground at 5:30 sharp.  We needed to gain 4,139 ft. in 10.3 miles.  It was hot as well.  This climb truly challenged me, both physically and mentally - I felt like Rocky Balboa taking one huge hit after another and refusing to go down.  Gary and Dinny felt beat up, too.  In fact, Gary had a "heat episode" and barely made it to camp at Marshall Gulch that afternoon.  We got Gary hydrated with a salt capsule supplement and he was in bed at 6:30PM.  At this time, I received a text from Royce asking if we needed anything the next morning in Summerhaven.  I asked Gary and Dinny and a very faint voice from Gary's tent uttered, "Orange mango juice..."  You see, two days earlier at Molino Basin, Gary had orange mango juice from Royce and absolutely loved it.

Deer carcass on Oracle Ridge

The next morning, April 7th, we popped over the ridge into Summerhaven at 9AM and Royce was there for us with a warm meal: breakfast burritos stuffed with egg, potato and cheese...plus a nice selection of salsas!  We did not ask for this scrumptious surprise!  We devoured this delicious fare, washed it down with a big bottle of orange mango juice (Gary had three glasses) and then headed North down the backside of the Catalinas via the Oracle Ridge Trail.  I have phenomenal friends!

Early morning on Oracle Ridge

Even though it was a 3,365 ft. descent into the Oracle, AZ area, it was arduous - the steep grade covered with loose cantaloupe-sized stones made for weary legs and wobbly ankles.  A storm was moving in as well, so we pulled up little short and made camp on the ridge in a protective stand of trees.  Besides, the next day we had a short hike into Oracle for a rest day.  It rained during the night and I was tucked into my warm Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag in my dry Nemo tent, happy and content.

Dinny and Gary at the Chalet Village Motel in Oracle, AZ

Dinny and Gary had a reservation at the Chalet Village Motel in Oracle, AZ and invited me to stay with them.  Marney and her husband Jim own and operate the Chalet and have for almost thirty years.  We were about to be amazed... We called Marney from the High Jinks Ranch to give her a heads up we were about an hour away.  She picked us up at the Anerican Flag Trailhead, gave us cold bottles of water and was extremely pleasant.  As we drove to the Chalet, she offered to stop anywhere we needed.  Once at the Chalet, she showed us the free laundry facilities and provided us loaner clothes while we did our laundry.  She also had put a variety six-pack of Mexican beers in our refrigerator (on the house).  As we did our laundry and got all our gear re-organized, she checked in with us periodically to see if we needed anything, or, a lift to the store.  The rooms at the Chalet are clean, cozy and quirky and we had a fun and restful night.  In the morning, Marney brought fresh hot coffee to our room and asked when we wanted to leave for the trailhead!  She drove us back to the American Flag Trailhead and even stopped at the Dollar Store on the way so we could pick up some last minute items.  Marney is truly thru-hiker friendly and provides exemplary customer service with a positive and upbeat attitude at a very, very fair price.  I highly recommend Marney's Chalet Village Motel for thru-hikers and anyone else visiting and exploring the Oracle area.  Marney truly is a Trail Angel.

Inside the Chalet...

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Kathy Simko's Arizona Trail Trek - Entry 3 - Good People Along the Way

by Kathy Wednesday, May 4th 2016

Now that the "Gurus of Trail Angelism," Dave & Dave, were totally onboard, things started to smooth out a bit for me.

Campsite outside Patagonia with Mt. Wrightson in the background

I woke up the morning after the Patagonia resupply just in time to meet two other thru-hikers ambling up Temporal Gulch Rd.  David Kurneta and Jordan Burke are hiking the AZT as participants in a program called Warrior Hike.  Warrior Hike is for combat veterans and entails a tedious and competitive selection process.  Jordan served in Afghanistan; David served in Iraq - they applied for the AZT and were chosen out of hundreds of applicants.  The therapeutic benefits of thru-hiking long trails are amazing and that's how Warrior Hike came to be.  After the hiking is done, these combat veterans re-integrate into civilian life better than utilizing traditional therapy and medications.  And check this out - Jordan had NEVER backpacked before and he is excelling on the very difficult 800-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail!  Check out warriorhike.com for more information.  The Warriors and I ended up hiking together for several days and I enjoyed their company.

David Kurneta and Jordan Burke - Warriors on the AZT

The next day was Easter Sunday and Dave & Dave met me at Kentucky Camp for a resupply... and more.  A few days earlier at a resupply stop, they noticed that all my fingers were cracked wide open near the nails.  This was quite painful, made simple everyday hand tasks difficult and posed a threat for infection.  In addition to my normal resupply provisions, treats, and cold beer, Dave Boyd also brought everything necessary to remedy my beat up fingers...and I had never mentioned anything about it.  He had several gallons of WARM Epsom Salt solution, a soft cleaning brush, Neosporin, cotton sleeping gloves and a bottle of Super Glue Gel.  After soaking, cleaning and sealing the cracks, my fingers were 100% healed and functional within twelve hours AND I have not had a problem with this since.  Dave & Dave are compassionate, generous, thoughtful  and loving human beings.

On day nine (March 30th), I met two more thru-hikers near Colossal Cave.  {At the time of this writing, it is day forty-two (42) and we're still traveling together!}  Dinny Pocock and Gary Halliwell are avid hiking buddies from Gloucestershire, England and have always wanted to hike a long trail in America; moreover, this is her FIRST time in the United States.  We linked up in camp that evening and I liked them right away - they immediately felt like kindred spirits.  We got to talking and I realized they could use a hand with a rest day, a resupply and a permit for Saguaro National Park.  I already had plans the next day for a rest day at Dave Boyd's gorgeous home in X-9 Ranch, so I quickly texted him regarding my two new friends.  Well, Dave & Dave had previously met Dinny and Gary near Patagonia and really liked them too!  You guessed it - Dave & Dave immediately took them under their collective wings and treated them just as wonderfully as they were treating me!  It was a beautiful experience to witness and will stay with me forever. 

Dinny, Gary and I atop Mica Mt., the highest peak in the Rincon Mts.

The three of us left the La Sevilla Picnic Area of Colossal Cave Mountain Park together and only had to hike about six miles to X-9 Ranch Road, where Dave Boyd picked us up.  We were treated like royalty by both the Baker and Boyd families during our day-and-a-half rest/resupply period.  Kindness, gourmet snacks, hot showers, cold & delicious IPA's (Dragoon and Hop Shock!), magnificent home-cooked dinners, big cozy beds and interesting conversation were all provided for us in 5-Star Accommodations!  But wait, there's more: The next day, Dave Boyd drove us all around Tucson to get supplies and whatnot.  First we visited the Saguaro National Park Visitor Center and got our permit for Grass Shack squared away. We went to Summit Hut, where I fit Dinny's feet for a new pair of hiking boots and Gary and I picked up a few things.  We stopped by my house so I could grab a few items.  Dave treated all of us to a fabulous lunch at Zayna Mediterranean Restaurant.  I got dropped off at Great Clips and had all my hair cut off.  We went to grocery stores to buy food for the hike.  The busy day culminated with a delicious home-cooked Mexican dinner at Dave and Irene Baker's gorgeous home in X-9 Ranch.  The previous night, Dave and Debbie Boyd treated us to a scrumptious home-cooked vegetarian lasagna feast.  This hiking trio was absolutely blown away by this outpouring of generosity and support.

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The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!