Great Western Loop: Day 5-10: Pine to Superior
Day 5: One life down... (25m)
For the first time since Flagstaff it was a very warm night, here at 5800ft.
I once again started around 6am and experienced the worst possible trail ever. It was just 12miles downhill to the next crossing of the East Verde River, but it was all over loose rocks. It was slow going and exhausting. I had to place my feet carefully to avoid sharp rocks, or to stumble. After far more than an hour i had only hiked 2miles.
(this was one of the better parts)
I was so annoyed that I wanted to throw my trekking poles against a wall and just quit hiking for the day.
At Whiterock Spring I found some cool and clean water, and I met "Recon", a Nobo Thru-hiker living in Arizona.
He gave me a little gift, that is now attached to my backpack.
I arrived at the East Verde River crossing at 10:30am and took a break to prepare for the upcoming 3000ft (1000m) into the Mazatals.
This was a new section for me, as due to last year's heavy rain, this river crossing was impossible, which caused me to circumvent it, by hiking into Payson.
The climb started gently, but it was incredibly hot, with no shade to be found. Soon it became a torture.
I can usually do ~10miles on 1litre of water, and due to the heat and the climb, I had brought some 2litres for this 6mile ascent. After half of the climb I had to start rationing my water, as I was running low and I had to take several breaks under tiny trees that provided at least a little bit of shade.
I was extremely thirsty and when I got to Brush Spring I was completely out of water. After being already low on water for an hour, my mouth was now completely dry and my lips were breaking. I had problems to swallow and my body reacted with coughing, which didn't really work as I had no saliva left in my mouth, so I started choking.
I sucked on my "Lifestraw" filter to get a few remaining drops of water out of it, before looking for the spring.
10 minutes later I still hadn't found the spring and I got really concerned. There were several confusing signs and comments on my app on where to find the water, but I just couldn't find it. At this point I knew, that I HAD to find water here, as hiking another 3miles to the next source was impossible.
Luckily "Stumbles" and "Salty", two Nobo-hikers, showed up, also looking for water. After another search we finally found some old and stinky pools of water, to refill our bottles. I was quite relieved.
From here on, the situation improved and more water in small seeps or creeks became available and I started enjoying the rest of the day, now on top of the Mazatals.
Nice and versatile scenery
Day 6: Spooky tent! (32miles)
Day 6 waited for me with a lot of smaller ascents and descents as I was hiking through the Mazatals.
Near Rocky Ridge I came across the same old and spooky tent that I had already seen last year. Someone must have abandoned it in a hurry.
The views were fantastic and hiking was rather easy, except for the heat.
There were enough reliable water sources along the trail.
(Bear Spring, a bit murky and a smell of sulfur, but good taste)
On the Mazatals highest point I met 2 section hikers, who were just shaking their heads, when they heard about my plans. They told me that they had met a guy, one day ahead of me, that tries to hike 16800miles in the next 3 years... :-)
The rest of the day was just a downhill race towards Highway 87. I had my first rattlesnake encounter before finally pitching my tent in a narrow valley.
Day 7: Fire damage (35miles)
Day 7 started with an easy hike towards highway 87, where I found a small cache of water.
(One gallon of water placed in the middle of the underpass)
The trail than gradually climbed uphill for the next 10-12miles with some really steep sections of more than 800ft/mile.
For most of the morning and early afternoon I hiked through a burn area, that was devastated just a few months ago. Due to all that fire damage, there was no shade to be found.
At 8:30am it was already unbearably hot and my water consumption skyrocketed again.
After the initial climb I followed a dirt road for several hours.
(massive fire damage all over the place)
At 3pm I had made it back into the wilderness and had to make the same decision as last year.
Take it easy, or push towards Roosevelt Lake. This decision was necessary as I had to hike along a ridge for several hours, that would be too narrow to pitch a tent. So I had to make it across, or stay put. Of course...I pushed towards Roosevelt Lake and ended up at exactly the same campsite that I used one year before.
I didn't meet many people that day. Only one couple in the middle of that ridge. We just briefly talked, as we all knew that we should be off that ridge before nightfall.
Day 8: Too full...(24m)
Roosevelt Lake was just 9miles away, but I knew it would take a while to get there. For me it was mostly downhill, but quite steep and slippery. Along the way I met a guy that will spent the summer working for the Pacific Northwest Trail Association. Might see him again, if I can make it that far.
(Sunrise over Roosevelt Lake)
When I arrived at Roosevelt Lake, the small restaurant was still closed and I had to wait 1.5hrs. I happily did so and enjoyed some rest with snacks from the small store next door.
Just after lunch I briefly talked to some other hikers and left for Superior. Unfortunately, I was so full that it was almost impossible to hike. Every 2miles I had to take a break and at 2:30pm I simply decided to have a nap under a nice tree.
(constantly changing scenery)
Last year's winter storm - that almost killed me - still in mind, my goal for the day was getting within 30 miles of Superior.
I therefore hiked until Walnut Spring, which included the steepest climb of the trail so far (1350ft/mile) and a spring that produced the most disgusting green and stinky water...yummy.
Day 9: Into Superior (30m)
With about 30 miles left I was certain to make it to Superior this day.
The day started with an easy climb and than dropped down to the first crossing of Reavis Creek. Last year, this crossing was extremely difficult and dangerous, today there was just a trickle that I used to refill my water bottles.
The rest of the day remained rather easy.
(Full sun protection: breathable fleece protected me from the sun, but let the wind through, to cool my sweat-soaked shirt)
This year water was hard to find and I had to rely on small pools. Check out last year's report on that section on my blog to see the difference yourself!
Comparison 2020 / 2021
2020 (raging river, dangerous to cross)
2021 (not one drop of water)
I made it to Picketpost Trailhead by 6pm, climbed over the fence onto the highway and got a ride into town within minutes, from a Navajo cancer survivor, who had just bought a house here
In town, I went straight to the only motel, which I knew from last year. Unfortunately they were full, but Sam (Sonal) - the new owner - hooked me up with Luke, a canadian hiker that was willing to share his room.
Sam would proove to be even more helpful the next day.
Day 10 Superior zero (0miles)
I had left Flagstaff before being 100% ready for the trail. Instead of spending another day in Flagstaff I decided it would be better to combine another organizational day with a rest day early on. Superior was the right place to do so. The town is fairly small, all places like the post office, supermarkets, or restaurants are in walking distance of the motel.
(Superior is surrounded by copper mines)
After breakfast with Luke at my favourite Mexican restaurant, I finally shipped my ice-axe and micro-spikes to Chama, NM.
One of my biggest concerns was yet the water filter. The "Lifestraw" was not a feasible long-term replacement I was running out of purification tablets. Sam - the motel owner - suggested checking if filters are available in her hometown of Gilbert (bigger town, ~30miles away), and yes they were. So I ordered a filter online for pick-up and Sam got it for me. I'm very thankful for her support. She made my life much easier and went out of her way to help me. I think it's people like her, who make this experience so special.
Later that day I heard about the Margo, or Dudleyville fire. A fire that was just 5-8miles from where I would be in 2 days. Luckily the fire was contained and extinguished quickly and was no problem for me.