AZT Day 23: On the Mazatzal Divide

Today’s miles: 15.6

Total miles: 356.6

I sleep like a rock. What a great campsite. In the morning I’m up around 5:20, but because I have to filter water from last night, I still don’t get on trail until 6:30 or so. There’s some nice rolling trail along the ridge for a while, and then just as I begin to descend I run into two section hikers headed north. A few minutes later, I meet the other three in their group. All of these folks are really outgoing, want to know my trail name, wish me luck on my thru. These brief friendly encounters sustain me for much of the morning.

Stunning landscape to offset the difficulty of this morning’s long climb.

I get one of today’s big climbs out of the way early, hiking along the Mazatzal Divide. My reward is sweeping views from the ridgeline that take my breath away. Then I head downhill on rocky trail. I have some different options for water sources around here. There’s a spring uphill off trail that’s a definite source, but a few miles further down the trail notes say there’s flowing water running right across the trail. I’d prefer the latter, but I’m nervous it won’t be there anymore, since the latest note about it was four days ago, and water can dry up quickly in this environment. So I walk uphill to the spring, collect orange-colored water from the trough, and come back down to sit on a log for second breakfast. The water is clear after I filter it, but has a slight rusty, metallic taste. I use it to make my granola, hiding the taste. Another southbound hiker passes me here, deciding he has enough water to get to the next source. I still rarely see other thru-hikers on this trail so far. Some days I hike all day without seeing a single person; other days I cross paths with a couple of section hikers, or wave hello to someone at a trailhead.

Perfect morning on the Mazatzal Divide!
The AZT is the rockiest trail I’ve ever hiked.

Just a few miles down, I run into him again, at the water that is indeed flowing gently across the trail. There are big pools in the rock here, and this source is far superior to my last one. I dump what’s left of the rust water and fill up with this instead. Two more northbound section hikers join us here. Busy day!

I finish the descent, and then begin a reasonably graded uphill. Midway through, there’s a very large juniper tree with a perfect shady seat underneath, so I stop for lunch: beef jerky, Fritos, peanut m&m’s. The wind has been constant for a few hours now, and I’m grateful for it when I start hiking again, because the mid-day sun is beating down with all its might.

Mid-day views.

The next uphill takes a long time. It’s hot, and the trail is wildly overgrown. Many different plants scratch and pull at my clothing, and I’m glad to be wearing pants and long sleeves. Much of this section is also extremely rocky, impeding my pace. By the time I reach the Bear Spring junction, I’ve given in to a change of plans for my day. I’ll have to walk an extra half-mile roundtrip to connect water from this spring, then filter it. I have more than five miles left to my planned campsite, and between here and there, no place to camp that’s not super exposed to the wind that continues to gust heavily. The five miles include a big climb, and I’m not convinced I can finish them before dark. So I’ll stay in this more protected spot near the junction instead, cutting my miles short for the day. It’s kind of demoralizing, but I know it’s the right choice.

I gather water from the spring, which is kind of like a well, but set flush with the ground. It’s actually a bit creepy, because the water is cloudy in a strange, almost silvery way — it looks as if it’s a portal to some other world, and I suddenly have an irrational fear of falling in and being lost forever. But the water filters clear and just tastes slightly earthy with a vague sulfur smell. There are big grey clouds in the sky now, so even though every forecast I looked at before leaving town said no precipitation, I set up my tent early, right next to a small manzanita and near some healthy pine trees, hoping they’ll block the wind a bit. I eat instant mashed potatoes and a Snickers bar, and read my novel. When I walk away from camp to pee, I see a small pile of bear scat. It looks pretty fresh. Hopefully a bear will not slobber all over my (bear-proof) food sack tonight and crush my food. I snuggle into my quilt, willing the wind to calm down enough for me to actually sleep.

Camp for the night.

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