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.