The first section of my Arizona Trail By Any Means adventure: Backpacking passages 18 and 19 through the Superstition Wilderness.
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.