AZTBAM Part 1: Picketpost to Lake Roosevelt

AZTBAM Part 1: Picketpost to Lake Roosevelt

AZTBAM stands for “Arizona Trail By Any Means”

Over the course of 2019, I hope to complete the entire AZT by using multiple modes of transportation. My goal is to bike the best rideable singletrack on the AZT, but also hike the most remote and beautiful wilderness areas.

For my first section, I decided on hiking Picketpost to Lake Roosevelt (passages 18 and 19). Given the wet winter we’ve had, it was a great time to tackle this section. I also had a prototype backpack that needed testing and the Superstition Wilderness seemed like the perfect place.

Day 1: The Shuttle

I know enough people in AZ that I probably could’ve worked out a ride, but the low carbon footprint of hitchhiking is hard to pass up (the price point doesn’t hurt either). So I parked my car at Roosevelt Lake, stuck out my thumb, and made it to the Picketpost Trailhead in just a couple rides.

I had gotten a late start out of Flag and it was 4pm before I started hiking, but I could avoid a dry camp by hiking 6 miles in to the first water.

The desert was verdant, with a carpet of green grass underneath the chollas and saguaros. The ocotillos were in bloom and there were wildflowers everywhere. The temperature was moderate, but the setting sun felt hot on my neck. Foreshadowing for racing the AZT300 in April?

After a couple hours I reached Whitford Creek and settled in for the night between a tree and a shelf of rock. I was glad I didn’t need my tarp, because that was one of the windiest nights I’ve ever experienced and the flapping of a tarp would’ve kept me awake. Another one of the joys of cowboy camping.

Day 2: Water, Water Everywhere

The next morning the trail headed up canyon. Between Whitford Creek and Reavis Trail Creek, the next 12 miles had several dozen creek crossings. I managed to keep my feet dry without much trouble, and soon enough I was climbing steep switchbacks up Montana Mountain.

I was pretty happy with how my legs felt, despite my recent sedentary lifestyle. Between working on the new website and our epic snowfall in Flagstaff, I’d only taken a couple days off in 2019 before this trip. But I managed the 2000 vertical feet in about an hour at a moderate pace.

From the summit, I could see back the way I came to Picketpost Mountain. The desert beyond it is where I’ll be in a month’s time, biking the AZT300 route. To the West, Weaver’s Needle just poked up from behind a ridge. I climbed the Needle back in my conservation corps days and it was nice to see it again.

A couple miles of road walking followed, during which I had a funny exchange. I passed two ATVs parked with some adults and kids milling about. One of the kids asked “Why don’t you have a Razor?”. I couldn’t think of a good response so I just said “I’m hiking the Arizona Trail.” The kid followed that up with “Your legs are gonna get tired”, to which I replied “That’s the idea!”

Day 3: A Beautiful Ridge Walk

I had slept that night beside Reavis Creek (once again, a cowboy camp next to a babbling brook!). In the morning I had the place to myself, and it was a lovely quiet walk through one of the busiest campsites in all of Arizona’s backcountry.

I quickly realized there was no keeping my feet dry in Reavis Ranch, but once I climbed up out of the creek my shoes and socks dried quickly.

Rounding a corner, I came to an awesome view of the Four Peaks. I’ll be there sometime in the Fall, to complete that section but also climb all four peaks while I’m at it.

The view down into the Salt River drainage was impressive. You can easily see how the river cuts through what could have been a continuous mountain range from the Superstitions into the Four Peaks.

It’s a common theme in the Southwest, rivers cutting through mountains. The geologic history of it is unclear in many places, although on some rivers there’s ironclad evidence of basin overflow, which is definitely the most evocative option. Imagine a torrent of water flowing over a pass, from an overfilled proto-Roosevelt Lake down into the Phoenix valley!

I’m not a geologist and I don’t know the history of the Salt River, but from up high on the ridge it was easy to imagine a basin overflow scenario.

Day 4: Back to the Saguaros

After descending from the ridge I had yet another night under the stars, tucked in under a tree next to green grass and dried cow patties.

In the morning the last few miles passed quickly, but even though the trail is close to the highway it was still scenic, winding in and out of drainages amongst the saguaros.

I got back to my car by noon, and was treated to an amazing view of the east side of the Mazatzal Mountains on my drive back to Flagstaff. Weather permitting, I’ll be down there in a couple of weeks hiking the longest wilderness section of the trail.

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5 Reasons I Love Cowboy Camping

5 Reasons I Love Cowboy Camping

Sleeping under the stars.

Sounds magical, right? Lots of us say we do it – but then we go ahead and put a rain fly between us and the night sky. I think that’s a real shame. Here are 5 reasons why I love to ditch the tent on my trips in the desert southwest.

1. Get to Know the Night Sky

In my years of camping under the stars, I’ve learned the constellations and how they move through the sky. I’ve become intimately familiar with the phases of the moon, and I’ve seen more meteor showers than I can count.

I’ll never forget seeing a total lunar eclipse in the predawn light from my sleeping bag, or watching the Geminids glow blue and green from a campground in Lake Mead.

I took this photo from the summit of Kendrick Mountain on a balmy November night.

2. It Makes the Outdoors Feel Like Home

Nothing makes me feel more connected with nature than sleeping out. It’s like your campsite is your bedroom.

Sometimes I miss the days when I worked for a conservation corps and would sleep out a couple hundred nights each year. I was acutely aware of the phase of the moon and the weather, and felt a connection to my surroundings that I’ve never since replicated. I came close in 2018 though!

This photo was taken in the Grand Canyon, before settling in for a night of cowboy camping on top of the Redwall.

3. Sunrises From Your Sleeping Bag

There’s nothing like being woken up by the predawn light, then watching the sun fill the landscape with color in front of you – all without having to get out of your sleeping bag! It’s my favorite way to start the day and I feel privileged I’ve been able to see so many sunrises this way.

This photo was taken from my sleeping bag while camping below the Vermillion Cliffs in northern Arizona.

4. Less Stuff to Carry

You can spend a lot of money on lightweight gear – or you can just carry less stuff. That can mean bringing a small tarp instead of a full tent – or not bringing a shelter at all if the forecast is good (Note: I always have my groundsheet as an emergency backup).

For bikepacking this matters even more than backpacking. Space and weight are at a premium and anything you can leave behind will help – especially on our rocky singletrack here in AZ.

This photo is from Colorado Trail trip. I had a small backpack in addition to the bags you see. I did carry a tent for Colorado, but the photo still shows how little space I had to pack!

5. Convenience

Putting up a tent doesn’t seem like a big chore – until you get used to camping without one. Get to camp, roll out your groundsheet, pad, and sleeping bag, and you’re done! If you’re bikepacking, you can sleep right next to your bike and have easy access to all of your bags, right from your sleeping bag.

This might seem like a small bit of convenience, but it’s very important to me. The easier it is to camp, the more I’ll camp. The more I camp, the happier I’ll be. It’s a pretty simple recipe.

This campsite was on the top of the Tapeats Sandstone in 75-mile canyon. After a long day of hiking, I was set up and ready to sleep in just a couple minutes. I also went stoveless for maximum simplicity.

And that’s a wrap! I hope you enjoyed those photos, and perhaps it will inspire you to ditch the tent and join the cult of the cowboy on your next trip out! It’s a wonderful way to experience the desert southwest.

Speaking of wraps … you should¬†always have a backup plan. In that last photo you can see my groundsheet – a piece of heat shrink film from a window insulation kit. In a worst-case scenario I can drape that over myself and hold it down with rocks. It’s not perfect and I end up a bit damp from the condensation, but it’s enough to get through a night. That actually happened the night I took that photo, and it was just fine!

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