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  1. #1
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    Default AZT section as preparation for PCT

    I am planning to hike the Colorado Trail in summer 2014 but I have also been planning to spend a few weeks (up to a month) hiking in the spring (April or May). Since I live close to the AT, I've been thinking of doing a section in Virginia or possibly even the entire state of Virginia. However, since I am planning to hike the PCT in 2015, I was thinking that maybe I should do something other than an AT section with the idea of broadening my desert hiking experience. My only desert hiking experience is a rim to rim in the Grand Canyon earlier this year. That trip involved low daily mileage and the benefits of lots of infrastructure within the Grand Canyon corridor trail and while a great trip, it was not a "wilderness" trip and didn't involve long water carries, questionable water sources, etc ... the things that I will be dealing with on the PCT.

    I have read that the Arizona Trail is pretty wild and undeveloped compared to the AT or PCT and more like the CDT in character. I have browsed the Arizona Trail Association's website so I have some preliminary idea of the kind of trip it would be. I don't think that I have enough time to thru hike the AZT in 2014 but I could do a section for a few weeks. My thought was to hike northbound ending at the Utah border since I could include the Grand Canyon in my trip. I wanted to get feedback on a couple of points: First, is it crazy for someone with very limited desert hiking experience to attempt a longer section hike of the AZT with the idea of preparing for the PCT? Second, is it even necessary to worry much about desert hiking experience prior to the PCT given the hiker support on the PCT (water caches, etc)? Third, where would you suggest starting a northbound AZT section hike with the goal of ending at the Utah line and spending around 3 weeks on the trail? Flagstaff would be easy logistically but would be a bit shorter than I'm looking for.

    I'm still on the fence about this idea .. would be so easy for me to hop on a train to Harpers Ferry and be on the AT in a couple of hours but maybe the easy and familiar isn't my best choice. Thanks for any feedback.
    HST/JMT August 2016
    TMB/Alps Sept 2015
    PCT Mile 0-857 - Apr/May 2015
    Foothills Trail Feb 2015
    Colorado Trail Aug 2014
    AT: Rockfish Gap to Boiling Springs 2014
    John Muir Trail Aug/Sept 2013

  2. #2
    Getting out as much as I can..which is never enough. :) Mags's Avatar
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    The Colorado Plateau section you will be hiking is much different than the desert of the PCT. Red Rock country is aweome..but nothing like the hot and dry conditions found on the southern part of the PCT. I should also add that though people talk about the "desert" section of the PCT, you do go to higher stretches that are definitely not desert like.

    Garlic here on WB can give you more specific AZT info. Sure he'll be able to add more!

    On a personal level, any chance to hike something different is awesome. And any hiking you can do before the PCT will only get you in trail shape prior to the thru-hike. Do it!
    Paul "Mags" Magnanti
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    The true harvest of my life is intangible...a little stardust caught,a portion of the rainbow I have clutched -Thoreau

  3. #3
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    I completed an end-to-ender of the AZT earlier this year, and I quite liked it. As you've noted, the Grand Canyon is the crown jewel of the entire 810 mile trail. If you have three-ish weeks, and you definitely want to head north through the Grand Canyon, then perhaps starting in Pine might make sense, as it would make for a ~350 mile segment heading north to through the GC and finishing at the Utah line.

    The downside of this is that north of Pine, the trail becomes flatter and is dominated by walking on two-track dirt FS roads through a mixture of grassland and ponderosa pines. Until you get to the canyon, it's really not the most scenic stretch. If you want to practise hiking in dry conditions, it's not too bad. There's a few rather dry stretches along there where the water is intermittent and it tends to be cow-water from earthen tanks. During my hike this spring, the longest stretch along there without water was the 26 miles south of Tusayan...you need to load up with a gallon or so in the morning and then pound out your 26 miles to make the next water source at the end of the day. North of the GC it was also a bit dry-ish in places.

    The other consideration is that the re-supply intervals are a bit long in the northern section of the trail. This is no big deal for people who started at the Mexican border, because they've got trail legs to do 20+ mile days. But if you are just starting out after spending a winter on the sofa, then it's possible that you might only have 15-ish miles in your legs for the first week or 10 days. Pine-Flagstaff is a shade over 100 miles, and then Flagstaff-GC is ~130 miles and then GC-Utah is also just over 100 miles. If you are not doing 20+ mile days, your food weight will be brutal (ie, 130 miles divided by 15 miles/day = hell of a lot of food), and then you should also expect to be carrying a gallon of water weight on a regular basis.

    North of Flagstaff, it also tends to be a bit higher and a bit cooler at night. Depending on when you leave, you might encounter some snow and nighttime temperatures below freezing (I hit the North Rim in early May and there were still remnants of snow). If you want to get prepared for hot, dry desert hiking, you probably won't encounter it in the north...but I was certainly roasted in Sonoran desert in the south, with day time highs in the high-80s and low-90s.

    Anyway, I loved the AZT because it's so remote and there are so few users. I ran into only 6 other thru-hikers over the 800+ mile trek. But in general, it doesn't have the continuous gorgeous vistas that you'll find on the Colorado Trail. There are long stretches of "nice" hiking, and only occasional places that blow your mind.

  4. #4
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    StubbleJumper, thanks for the response. This is very helpful. I am definitely planning on the Colorado Trail in the summer. That will be my main trip for 2014. The AZT section would be in addition to the CT instead of a section hike of the AT here in Virginia. I'll take a look at the Arizona Trail Association website based on your feedback and see if I can put together some possible options. I'm training for a mid March marathon so while I won't arrive at the trail in thru hiker shape, I should be in decent enough shape to do 20 mile days almost from the start. I definitely would want to avoid carrying lots of food since carrying a gallon of water is going to be required at times!
    HST/JMT August 2016
    TMB/Alps Sept 2015
    PCT Mile 0-857 - Apr/May 2015
    Foothills Trail Feb 2015
    Colorado Trail Aug 2014
    AT: Rockfish Gap to Boiling Springs 2014
    John Muir Trail Aug/Sept 2013

  5. #5

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    As already stated, northern Arizona is not desert, though it is very dry. It's lodgepole pine country. Southern Arizona's desert isn't much like the California desert either - very different vegetation. You might enjoy the CDT in southern NM, if you want to get some desert experience.

    That said, the PCT is well traveled, well marked and more like the AT than the AZT in terms of population and trail support, especially in southern California. Do the AZT hike if you are in the mood to hike there, but it really isn't necessary to get prior desert experience before doing the PCT. If you can do 15 mile days, you're good to go.

  6. #6
    Garlic
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    Good advice so far. In April or May, you'd be better off in the southern parts of the AZT, in my opinion. Depending on snow pack this year, there could be some difficulties up north. The whole trail is pretty dry, so be ready for those long water carries, no matter where you are. A few are close to 40 miles, and I was carrying close to two gallons for those. In a way, hiking the PCT was a good warm up for the AZT. Transportation logistics could be a bit easier in the Tucson-Phoenix area.

    I did this same sort of thing preparing for my PCT hike. I hiked a couple of weeks on the CDT in New Mexico instead, and gained valuable first-hand experience of the things that can go wrong in different terrain. And, like Mags says, any kind of hiking is good, right? The CDT is probably more similar to the PCT in character, and I'm with Spirit Walker in recommending it. The Sonoran Desert in AZ is completely different in terms of vegetation.

    You could attempt MEX to Pie Town, Grants, or Cuba, for instance.
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

  7. #7
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    The idea of hiking the CDT in New Mexico didn't occur to me. I will look into it, thanks!

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    I was about to start a new thread but then saw this old one that I started almost two years ago (!) when I was thinking of hiking the Arizona Trail in 2014 as preparation for the PCT this year. I never hiked the Arizona Trail in 2014, but I did hike the Colorado Trail and a two week AT section and this year I hiked the first 850 miles of the PCT, so I now have the desert hiking experience on the PCT that I was worried about when I made the original post. I really liked the desert. Southern California was not so much "desert" as desert transitioning to mountains back to desert several times and it was great. Really enjoyed the experience.

    I'm currently planning out my hiking for 2016 on two tracks. The first track is a full SOBO thru hike of the PCT, but I am not sure that I can make this work due to issues associated with being away from home for even a rapid hike (4 months or less). I CAN be away for an aggregate of four months in 2016, but it would be more comfortable to break this up into two chunks rather than be gone for four months at once. As a result, I am thinking about a second track.

    The second track would involve two major hikes: Continuing my NOBO PCT hike starting around MTR and continuing to Ashland. This would probably start in early-mid August and run through late September. That leaves room for another major hike earlier in the year and I'm again thinking of the Arizona Trail - thru hiking it in the spring.

    Since I really liked the Southern California section of the PCT, I feel like I might now have the experience to hike the more remote Arizona Trail and actually enjoy it without being too nervous about water management, desert creatures, etc. I felt comfortable with the water carries I dealt with on the PCT and found that there isn't much to fear from snakes, scorpions, etc, using some common sense. Now, there were people around me most of the time so the AZT would be quite different but I think it could be something I'm up for.

    Many of the comments above contrast the AZT from the SoCal section of the PCT so I think that I have a better understanding but thought I might solicit more comments now from the perspective that I have already hiked the SoCal PCT and looking at the AZT rather than the other way around, as was contemplated two years ago. In particular, I am wondering about mileage. I was able to sustain low-mid 20s very comfortably on the PCT. This leads me to believe that I could complete the AZT in about six weeks of hiking, plus or minus a few days. Is this reasonable? Also, would April 1 or April 15 be a better start date to balance out the heat/water issues with not running into snow at the higher elevations in Southern Arizona and Grand Canyon?

    Thanks for any input on this.
    HST/JMT August 2016
    TMB/Alps Sept 2015
    PCT Mile 0-857 - Apr/May 2015
    Foothills Trail Feb 2015
    Colorado Trail Aug 2014
    AT: Rockfish Gap to Boiling Springs 2014
    John Muir Trail Aug/Sept 2013

  9. #9
    Garlic
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    April 1 is generally a better time to start NOBO. Six weeks is reasonable for a seasoned thru hiker. As I said above, two years ago, I thought the PCT was a good warm-up for the AZT.

    Being self-supported on the AZT might mean taking a day or two of driving to set water caches, especially if it's a dry year. Or get real good at 40+ mile water carries, and/or be lucky at finding sources (like I was at times). Check newest AZT info on water caches--I hear there are formal caches now, maybe even maintained, possibly one at Freeman Road (though Oracle to Freeman is close to 40 miles, as I recall, without guaranteed water along the way). That might help alleviate some self-support issues. The trail north of Flagstaff has sustained dry stretches as well--I remember 47 miles (my record) from Jacob Lake to the first water I could get at a trailhead at Buckskin Gulch in Utah.
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

  10. #10
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    I'm just starting to research the trip so the water cache info is good to have. I could easily rent a car and drive around for a couple of days before starting so that wouldn't be a problem. A 40 mile carry would be new for me but I think I could handle it if needed, depending on the amount of food carry that coincided with that kind of extended dry stretch. I'd probably go stoveless on this trip.

  11. #11
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    Being apprised of the different options in obtaining moisture/water in desert environments is crucial while also assisting to keep the consumable wt more manageable.

    Sometimes trails cojoin so water info can be possibly be found from more than one source, wilderness areas post water locations, various wanders/desert rats, like myself, have found water not previously documented, etc so having some ideas of historical and current water options and being able to get an idea of where water tends to pool or last longer from natural sources while taking into account seasonal/weather patterns that influence natural water sources are helpful if not critical. For example, the AZ and Hayduke Tr(HDT) cojoin in that section between the AZ/Utah border and into Grand Canyon NP. I was able to find water info for the HDT in that section from those who had thrued the AZT finding plenty of water during July at two Arizona wildlife guzzlers. And, where the AZT/HDT crosses AZ Hwy 89A, a busy enough road, it's a a rather easy quick hitch into Jacob Lake and back to the trail which I did just to get a b-fast at the restaurant and be back at the trail in less than 2 hrs even though I had no other need to hitch to Jacob Lake.

    http://www.fredgaudetphotography.com.../waterhist.pdf

    http://www.fredgaudetphotography.com...tercurrent.pdf

  12. #12

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    My brother and I completed a SOBO thru hike on the AZT two weeks ago. We cached water wherever the distances between water sources was going to be over 25 miles or so. By doing so, we were able to manage with carrying 3-4 liters maximum at any given time. We were on the trail for seven weeks, including several days spent caching water. We cached using Platypus 2 liter reusable water bags and carried all of our empties out.

    There is a considerable amount of water information at the hikearizona.com website, and my hiking partner (spiced rum) has detailed them there recently. This was a wetter than normal fall, and we found a lot of water where we didn't expect to. We could have cached considerably less if we had known.

    The trail is seriously overgrown in places and is in need of maintenance. That, plus the weight of extra water, makes it slower and it is harder to get consistent high mileage days compared to some other trails. We averaged a bit over 18 miles per day, which is slow for us.

    There are places where the trail is so overgrown it is hard to follow. We navigated totally and exclusively using Guthooks which we had on two phones. We carried paper maps in the beginning but quit doing so after the South Rim, and just used the app after that. It worked great.

    I loved the AZT. It reminded me of my first thru on the CT in 1990 before it became so developed and popular. We saw a total of four thru hikers (two couples) over the 800 miles, and six section hikers. We saw some hunters and lots of people in the Grand Canyon area and close to Flagstaff, but other than those places it was just us.
    Last edited by bearcreek; 11-14-2015 at 11:20.

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    Thanks bearcreek. From what I've read, I think that there might be more NOBOs in the spring than SOBOs in the fall but overall it sounds like quite a bit of solitude which I wouldn't mind. I didn't think about navigation issues until now but will have to give that more serious thought. I don't have a great deal of navigation experience having hiked mostly well defined trail so far.

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    I'm planning on a fall thru hike. Would love to hear how your trip goes.


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    Have some family in Apache Junction and we have a get together in Apache Junction in the middle of Feb every year. I have no desert experience, but the AZT is on my bucket list. Any and all advice would be appreciated. Will be gathering info on the AZT including water sources and places to cache water.

  16. #16
    Garlic
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    Navigation on the AZT requires topo maps and/or very reliable GPS, for sure. Especially in ranching country. You'll be very thankful cattle don't build cairns. Cattle use Carsonite posts as scratching posts--once. I often thought that you don't always know when you're on the AZT, but at least know when you're not on it. If the PCT is good preparation for desert issues on the AZT , the CDT is good preparation for navigating on the AZT.

    But don't disparage the stock--they're the reason you have water out there. There's a joke on the CDT--an AT hiker sees a cow and calls in the National Park Service. A PCT hiker sees a cow and calls in the NPS and the Sierra Club. A CDT hiker sees a cow, and thinks, "Oh good--water!"

    Bushwhacking in Sonoran vegetation on over-grown trail can be very abrasive. Don't wear your best outerwear. Bring a sacrificial jacket and pants. I even had to remove my watch at times to "streamline" myself. The Sonoran desert cactus is way different--nothing can prepare you for jumping cholla. Many local hikers carry a pair of surgical forceps, or at least a comb to remove the cholla bombs.

    It's a different skill set, for sure. And it's incredibly rewarding out there.
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

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    Garlic
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    Quote Originally Posted by Grampsb View Post
    Have some family in Apache Junction and we have a get together in Apache Junction in the middle of Feb every year. I have no desert experience, but the AZT is on my bucket list. Any and all advice would be appreciated. Will be gathering info on the AZT including water sources and places to cache water.
    Have you done any of the classic Superstition hikes outside of AJ? The Crest traverse from Peralta TH to Lost Dutchman is an excellent warm-up for the AZT--very challenging and off-trail, often done as an overnighter. Siphon Draw is an all-time favorite, just a couple of some of the most unforgettable hiking miles I've ever seen. The AZT from the Picketpost TH to the Bee Line Hwy is a great 50-mile section with very easy shuttle, minutes from AJ.

    The ATA usually has its annual meeting in February. First time I visited the area was in February one year. I joined the organization, dropped in on the meeting and made lifetime friends--it's a great group.
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

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    BearCreek
    I can assume that guthooks app is quite good. Enough to replace a GPS. I have an Iphone 6s and would consider using it along with the AZT maps from the website which I just downloaed along with the 2 water sources list earlier in the thread.

    Garlic08
    I live in Tn and so have no desert experience. Thanks for the info on the Feb annual meeting will definitely look into it.

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by Grampsb View Post
    BearCreek
    I can assume that guthooks app is quite good. Enough to replace a GPS. I have an Iphone 6s and would consider using it along with the AZT maps from the website which I just downloaed along with the 2 water sources list earlier in the thread.
    The guthooks phone apps are all we used. The apps include a built in digital data book and, IMO, are easier to use than a dedicated gps. The biggest issue is keeping a phone dry and charged. I used a Iphone 6 with a waterproof NUUD case which had a backup battery built into it that would charge it back up one time. I turned it off or kept it in airplane mode almost all of the time. I never ran out of power - average time between re-supply locations where we could charge was 6-7 days. My brother carried a SunTactics 5 solar panel on his pack and it kept his phone charged.

    Keep in mind that our water sources list was compiled during a fairly wet weather period. Your results may vary.

  20. #20
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    The more I read about the AZ trail the better is sounds in terms of a challenge that I could likely handle. I like the isolated nature of the trail (compared to the PCT) and the fact that some navigation is needed, but resources are available to help (like Guthook). I think that it is at least worth ordering the guidebook to read about it further. And I think I'll go and do just that right now. thanks everyone

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