View Full Version : Is it possible to thru-hike in April without water caches?

12-03-2016, 10:39
I recognize weather patterns change each year. Snowpack changes. Rainfall changes, etc.

With that said, generally speaking, is it possible to thru-hike the AZT NoBo in April without preplanning water caches? If not, where does one need to cache water?

Thanks for your input.

12-03-2016, 12:49
How far can you walk between water supplies? And what's your tolerance for nasty cattle tank water? Prior desert experience?

On my hike, I put one cache at Freeman Road and another at Beeline Hwy. At Freeman, it broke up nearly 80 waterless miles, somewhat less at Beeline. From Jacob Lake to Stateline, I didn't cache water but it was 40 dry miles to the car at Buckskin Gulch. I got lucky and found an abandoned cache south of the Grand Canyon, otherwise I was going to leave the trail to find water at a ranch.

12-03-2016, 13:20
There are two wildlife guzzlers between Jacob lake and Stateline. One has had water in it three different times I've checked. It's a low steel roofed structure with a spigot under the roof. It's kinda easy to miss with brush all around it if you don't know where to look though. There's another concrete one that has water in it twice of the four times I've checked it. Can be kinda nasty H20 with crap floating in it. I slept on top of it one time.

Entering Buckskin Gulch nearby the Stateline TH CG area at Wire Pass there is usually dank water not far into the slot canyon. Depending on the time at Stateline there's usually someone car camping in the area that might have some emergency H20 and the area is trafficked with other other area hikers almost always gaining access by motor vehicle.

12-03-2016, 13:25
Hey I'm near you - up in Boulder. Thanks for responding. Did you hike in April?

I have extensive thru-hiking experience, including dry, desert conditions. I typically hike 25 miles/day with lots of elevation change but can do up 50 if pushed. I have no experience with cattle tanks.

12-03-2016, 13:26
oops, maybe the steel roofed wildlife catchment guzzler is before HWY 89 on a FS side road near Jacob Lake?

12-03-2016, 21:44
Hey I'm near you - up in Boulder. Thanks for responding. Did you hike in April?

I have extensive thru-hiking experience, including dry, desert conditions. I typically hike 25 miles/day with lots of elevation change but can do up 50 if pushed. I have no experience with cattle tanks.

I'm actually in AZ right now. I hiked the AZT in two sections, both in April.

A CDT thru hiker, for example, will have no problem with AZT conditions. You might have to roll with the punches when you find something dry or really stanky, like Dogwood mentioned. Navigation poses the same kind of issues as the CDT.

If you travel into Tucson or Phoenix, consider renting a car for a day to put a cache at Freeman Road at least. There's a newer metal box there now and it's a graded road. If possible, leave something at the Beeline Hwy outside of Mesa. With minimal caches like that, prepare for up to 40 dry miles at times.

I didn't even look for the guzzler(s) Dogwood mentions. I knew about one, but heard it was hard to find and pretty iffy. And I was able to hike an extra 7 miles through Buckskin Gulch (no water at all for me) for a bonus in Utah after 30+ dry miles from Jacob Lake. Nice way to cap off a hike.

(By the way, a "cattle tank" in AZ means a dirt pond.)

12-03-2016, 21:52
To answer the original question, for someone with the ability to hike big miles in desert, it may be possible to hike without caches. Around Freeman Road you can see windmills and metal tanks in the near distance, for possible water on private land (with a trespassing risk). Or there may be unclaimed water in the cache, or maybe someone's stocking it now. At Beeline Hwy, it would be easy enough to hitch into Mesa or Payson for water in a emergency. Or it may be a wet year.

12-03-2016, 21:58
Thank you both. Your advice is really helpful for planning.

12-03-2016, 22:02
I've contacted Arizona Fish and Game requesting wildlife catchment sites they sent to me to supplement on an emergency basis already good AZT water location and water reliability reports.

IMO, it has always been good practice when desert hiking to know how to find water at any season taking into account so many things rather than only relying on published water locations. I go in allowing greater water logistical flexibility based on making me adapting to the conditions rather than attempting to always adapt the environment to my typical water desires.

12-04-2016, 16:28
3727737278 It is somewhat dependent upon what water you are willing to use. If you are the squeamish type then cache some water. Photo 1 is a trick tank in Passage 41, other is of a cow tank in Passage 35. (Yes, that is what you think it might be floating on the surface.) Don't walk by anything usable. You can always throw it out if something better comes along. If nothing else, it will sell you on the reliability of filters. They really do work.

Just put some Nuun in to improve the color and flavor, and you are good to go.

12-17-2016, 12:55

As someone who lives and hikes in AZ most of the time (some 8000 miles of desert hiking) and has thrued the AZT I wanted to give you a local perspective.

The simple answer is yes. A slightly longer one is that only in the driest of years (and almost never in the spring) would you have to cache water and that would be in the fall of the year.

A longer explanation follows. Desert hiking is not like hiking most other climates. Folks who cache water on the AZT are not doing it because there is no water available, but rather to shorten the water carries. If you are actually a capable hiker with the ability to hike 20+ miles days there is no place on the AZT which has no water. Yes you will have some long hauls, but that is part of the challenge. The same situation applies on the PCT, CDT in the desert sections as well as trails like the HDT and GET. Desert hiking just requires water hauls of greater than 20 miles routinely. There are some special sections where you can get hauls on the AZT of around 25-30 miles but there are only about 3 of these. One adjusts their hiking on those sections to the weather as the desert always commands. If it is hot enough that sweating during the daytime will run you short of water you hike early, late and during the dark. Simple. On the AZT there will be 3-5 sections where you will need to take a maximum water load - 5-6 liters for an average sized man. Some of these sections are also ones where you will have significant food carries so they will be max loads to start the sections.

I have hiked the AZT with and alongside folks who were caching water and they were passing by large numbers of water sources. Many desert water sources are pretty skanky. Cattle tanks are very common on the AZT and many of them have cows peeing and pooping in the water. This water is just fine with a Sawyer filter - baring the taste of course lol. I however do recommend that you use a Sawyer and not one of the pump MSR type filters as they clog so quickly that they will take 3 times as long to filter the skanky tanks - real life side by side tests here. Sometimes you will also have to walk off trail a bit to get your water. Many cachers are putting out the water to avoid walking off trail a bit. But this is just for convenience and not necessity. They are also doing it to keep the loads lighter. Even those who are ultralight will have 35 lb loads a few times on the AZT if they are not caching water. So pick your pack appropriately - I have a Z-pack which weighs about 1 1/2 lbs and it sucks big time on the heavy carries until one consumes enough of the water and food. It is a trade off between pain from an inadequate pack and saving a 1/2 lb over an Osprey pack - so you win and you lose.

If you read Anish's journal of her FKT hike of the AZT you will see that even she did big water and food carries. It is just part of the desert hiking experience. Though she walked right by 2 valid food resupply locations seemingly not knowing they were there and thus extended her longest food carry by 3 days.

Doing some research helps - check the water reports for several years worth of time. Do not pass by water. Rehydrate and restock. Never ever run out entirely unless you know for certain that the next source is going to be there 100%.

Note: Everyone works towards carrying the least possible weight. But there are times where is is just flat stupid to not carry a big water load in the desert. I have had people tell me they will only carry a liter for every 8-10 miles because they want to go light. People die doing stupid things like this in the desert. Plan for water sources which are low reliability to be dry some of the time. Plan your water loads to take that into account. I have had many water sources turn out to be dry and was patting myself on the back for hauling an extra liter. And I have also found water that was not reported just by walking down a canyon looking for seeps.

Another side note about the AZT. Rocks..no I mean ROCKS! The rocks are really much worse than almost anywhere. Much worse than the AT or PCT. Bring new shoes. IF you have tender feet get hard soled hiking shoes vice the trail runners. Gaiters like the Dirty Girl ones are almost essential on this trail due to the rain of dirt, sand and stickers which will invade your shoes if you don't have your shoe tops and sides covered. There are some areas on the trail where it is usually badly overgrown and almost everything out here has thorns. Bare legs and sometimes arms are going to get scratched up. Though I must admit I usually just get scratched up.

Probably more than you wanted to hear but I hope it is useful.


12-17-2016, 13:50
Thank you Wyoming for spending the time to share this valuable information and advice. I hope others interested in the AZT will find it as useful as I do.

12-17-2016, 17:00
There's great info in your post Wyoming. I enjoyed the read and that you provided context. :cool: If your posts have that high a content quality feel free to post as some do like the details.

Hayden Wilson
12-27-2016, 20:15
Thanks Wyoming. That was one of the most useful posts that I have seen in a while.

01-17-2017, 16:34
Thanks Wyoming. That was one of the most useful posts that I have seen in a while.
Indeed, thank you