Patagonia Lake State Park

After my first three days attempting to thru-hike the Arizona Trail, I decided to get off the trail and re-group.  I spent two days exploring the campground at Patagonia Lake State Park with my aunt.  During this time, I washed my clothes in a bucket, went through my pack and tossed out any unnecessary items, and continued to communicate with my hiking partner in hopes that we would get back on the trail soon.  During one afternoon, my aunt and I went to the marina to see about renting kayaks to tour around the lake.  A very nice gentleman running the marina offered to take us on a quick pontoon boat ride to tour the lake since the wind was too fierce for a kayak trip.

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My aunt and I touring Patagonia Lake, Patagonia Lake State Park, Patagonia, AZ

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Patagonia Lake State Park, Patagonia, AZ

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Patagonia Lake State Park, Patagonia, AZ

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Patagonia Lake State Park, Patagonia, AZ

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Primitive campsite on the shoreline of Patagonia Lake, Patagonia Lake State Park, Patagonia, AZ

The lake and State Park were beautiful with lots of little primitive campsites tucked away which are only accessible by boat.  The two days I spent at Patagonia Lake with my aunt after the first three days hiking the AZT were perfect.  I believe that things happen for a reason, and even though I was feeling pretty low having to get off the trail so soon, the time spent at the lake was very special.

Arizona Trail – Passage 1: Huachuca Mountains

I would like to preface this blog post by stating that I am no longer thru-hiking the Arizona Trail.  After hiking only 34.6 miles, I made the very tough decision to get off the trail and end my thru-hike.  Before leaving Arizona, I decided to spend time exploring the state with friends and family.  I plan to share my adventures along the AZT and journeys throughout the state over the next few weeks in segments.  Here is the story of my first three days on the Arizona Trail:

3 days, 2 nights / 22.5 miles / 3000′+ elevation gain/loss

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Looking back towards the Mexico border from the Arizona Trail near Montezuma Pass

Day one:  Montezuma Pass to Mexico border to Bathtub Spring

10 miles / 3000’+ elevation gain

Nervous is the one word I would use to describe the morning of my first thru-hike attempt.  All of the planning and organizing had led up to this moment, and now that it was here, I was petrified!  Scared as hell, yes, but also ready for an adventure.

I woke up before sunrise on the morning of my first day on the Arizona Trail.  I was nervous, but excited knowing I would have my aunt joining me as I hiked the first 50 miles over the next five days.  In many ways she has inspired me to find a love in backpacking, and I was happy to finally share that passion with her.  She and I set out early that morning to catch a shuttle to Montezuma Pass with 3 other hikers I had met online several weeks before starting the trail.  As a group we made plans to try and hike at least the first 120 miles together.  It comforted me knowing that I had connections along the trail, and I was thrilled to be creating new friendships.

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Our group ready to start our first day on the Arizona Trail.

After a drive up a long and winding gravel road, we arrived at the Montezuma Pass parking lot in the late morning.  Mile 0 of the Arizona trail starts 1.7 miles from the parking lot and retraces its’ steps back.  Since my aunt did not intend to thru-hike the entire AZT, she kindly opted to stay in the parking area with our backpacks while we hiked the first 3.4 miles to the Mexican border and back.  This was it – we were finally starting this incredible journey!

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Signing the National Registry for the Arizona Trail

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Sign near the Mexican border on the Arizona Trail

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The monument at the Mexican border for the beginning of the Arizona Trail

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Our group at the Mexican border at the beginning of the Arizona Trail

The morning was nice with mild temperatures, blue skies and pure sunshine.  The first 1.7 miles of the trail descent down towards the Mexican border, making it a fairly easy hike.  The next 1.7 miles back up towards the parking lot weren’t as easy since we were finally starting our ascent up the Huachuca Mountains.  By the time we reached the parking lot we were parched and happy to take shelter in the shade for lunch.

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Hiking back up towards Montezuma Pass from the Mexican border, Arizona Trail

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Spring flowers, Arizona Trail

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Cactus, Arizona Trail

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Looking south towards the Mexico border, Arizona Trail near Montezuma Pass

During our lunch break at Montezuma Pass we had the opportunity to meet the founder of Warrior Expeditions along with three of his warriors kicking of their hike on the Arizona Trail.  I was so excited to be starting my hike surrounded by so many people.  I was energized and ready to throw on my pack and really start this adventure.  My aunt took our first ten steps together side by side grinning from ear to ear.

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My aunt and I about to take our first steps on the Arizona Trail

We set out on the Arizona Trail with a goal of making it to Bathtub Spring that evening hiking 6.6 more miles.  Right away the climb up was tough – temperatures were warming and the trail was completely exposed.  All morning my body wasn’t feeling 100%, but I assumed it was just nerves.  As the day progressed I continued to feel uneasy, but was able to slowly hike on.  The next four miles of the trail gain over 3000′ of elevation as it makes its’ way up towards the spine of the Huachuca Mountains.

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Looking south towards Montezuma Pass, Arizona Trail

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Arizona Trail near Montezuma Pass

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Arizona Trail

At some point my aunt and I stopped to rest in a rare shady spot, and one of our hiking partners arrived shortly thereafter.  He notified us that our other hiking partner was feeling ill after hiking a few miles.  She and her daughter decided to take shelter in their tent until feeling well enough to continue hiking on.  We suspected altitude sickness considering we started our hike at 6000′ and would be ending the day at just over 9000′.  We stayed connected using our gps devices communicating about potential camping spots along the way up.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before we all realized that the best decision for our ill hiking partner was to leave the trail as her symptoms continued to worsen.  By the time the three of us reached the highest point of our hike, we were exhausted and still had more miles to go.

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Just after reaching our high point for the day on the Huachuca Mountains, Coronado National Forest

As we hiked along the ridgeline of the Huachuca Mountains, the sun was beginning to set which created an urgency to move quicker.  The terrain changed with every turn of a corner, and before we knew it the sun had set and all of that beauty had whizzed by. Thankfully, we stumbled into the area near Bathtub Spring with moments of light to spare.  We were even more grateful that  the warriors were camping in the area and happy to share the very tight quarters with our group.  I have never seen six tents in a smaller area!

With headlamps running, the three of us set up our tents in the dark of night.  Shortly thereafter I puked behind a tree nearby.  My body had finally lost the battle with altitude sickness and I was feeling awful.  It took everything I had to drink water, send out sad messages to my husband on my Garmin about how awful the night was, and try not to fall asleep with dried bananas in my mouth that I was forcing myself to eat.  It was a very crazy first day on the Arizona Trail.

But it wasn’t until the middle of the first night on the trail that things really started to get crazy.  It was very cold with temperatures less than 30°, and as the night progressed a fierce wind storm blew in.  All I could hear is what appeared to be the cracking sounds of trees swaying in the wind around me.  I continued to imagine myself being crushed by a giant tree inside my tiny tent.  As time passed into the early morning hours, the wind storm brought rain, that turned to hail, and eventually turned to snow.

Day two:  Bathtub Spring to Parker Canyon Lake trailhead

12.5 miles / 3000’+ elevation loss

I woke up on the second day in southern Arizona surrounded by a light dusting of snow.  I crawled out of my tent still feeling sick to my stomach with shortness of breath.  I forced myself to eat a hot breakfast and hurriedly packed up for the days’ long hike ahead.  Our goal was to make it to the Parker Canyon Lake trailhead where we would be dry camping for the night.

The morning was beautiful as we hiked along the ridgeline of the Huachuca Mountains heading north.  As we made our way down the western side of the mountain range, the trail switched back and forth descending through diverse terrains.  We started our day with a chill in the air walking through patches of snow, and ended the day in the warm desert.

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My friend hiking through patches of snow near Bathtub Spring, Arizona Trail

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My aunt hiking down the western side of the Huachuca Mountains, Arizona Trail

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A view of Parker Canyon Lake viewed from the Huachuca Mountains, Arizona Trail

As I hiked down into a lower elevation I began to feel much better and was able to hike at a pretty good pace.  The downhill trek was toe-pounding and by the time we reached the base of the mountains my feet were beginning to get pretty sore.  I welcomed the flatter section as we made our way through Sunnyside Canyon.  A small creek flowed, only a trickle at times, alongside the trail for nearly 3 miles.  Near the end of what we believed was our last water source for the day, our group stopped and filtered water.  I carried 6 liters of water for the last 4 miles of the hike, hoping it would be enough until our next water source the following day.  Funny thing was, we continued to see water almost the entire way in intermittent pools along Scotia Canyon.

By the time we reached our destination after hiking more than 12 miles, we were spent.  Well, my aunt and I were spent, but our other hiking partner was an experienced section hiker who was just getting started.  It was at this time my aunt let me know she couldn’t hike any further.  She was planning to hitch a ride from Parker Canyon Lake campground the following morning.

Arriving at our destination with little daylight to spare once again, we hurriedly setup camp and prepared a hot dinner before sunset.  After a certain point in the day, I stopped looking around me, stopped taking pictures, stopped enjoying the moment.  During the sunset on the second evening of my hike on the Arizona Trail I was able to stop and look around me and be in that “Kodak memory moment,” as my aunt would say.

That evening was emotional for me and I had a lot to think about.  Even though I knew my plans would be shifted as soon as I started the trail, I was panicking as it felt like everything was falling apart around me.  What started out as a group of 5 was now down to a group of 2.  My only hiking partner was a skilled section hiker with plans to hike 15+ miles each day; a pace I could never keep up with.  My options at this point were to either continue hiking the trail alone or leave the trail with my aunt and regroup.

On day 3 of my thru-hike attempt on the AZT I decided to get off the trail.  I hoped to reconnect with my original hiking partner and her daughter and get back on the trail soon.  It was a bittersweet moment that morning as we said farewell to our new friend who was continuing his journey along the Arizona Trail alone.  I was so proud of those people that could hike on, but so disappointed in myself for not being able to.

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Looking back towards the Huachuca Mountains from the Parker Canyon Lake Trailhead, Arizona Trail

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Parker Canyon Lake view from the Arizona Trail

Through the kindness of others and connections we had already made on the trail in only 3 days, my aunt and I found our way back to Patagonia Lake State Park.  It was here where I spent the next two days reconnecting with my original hiking partner and coming up with a new game plan to get back onto the Arizona Trail.  This adventure was not over yet.

The Lower Enchantments – Car Camping and Day Hiking: Part 1

 

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Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

As the summer was nearing its’ end here in the Pacific Northwest, my husband and I were itching to get outdoors a few more times.  Last month we woke up to a beautiful, sunny Saturday in Seattle with no agenda.  We spontaneously threw our camping gear in the car and headed east over Stevens Pass.  Our plan was to head into Leavenworth for a few supplies and go from there.  As we approached Leavenworth, we noticed smoke filling the skies above the city.  A large fire was burning alongside the hills to the northeast of town.  Helicopters were scooping large buckets of water out of the Wenatchee River to dump onto the fire and emergency vehicles were coming into Leavenworth from all directions.

After a brief stop in town for supplies, we stopped at a local coffee shop and asked our barista for camping suggestions.  She led us towards Icicle Road explaining that it was the best camping around.  Without knowing it, she had led us straight into the Enchantments for our very first time!  I have read about The  Enchantments online, and even applied for a backpacking permit in the lottery this year, but didn’t actually know where it was located.  The drive along Icicle Road is breathtaking as it winds its’ way through the valley along Icicle Creek.  Craggy mountain peaks surrounded us in every direction.  Out of curiosity, we stopped at a trail-head parking lot only to find we were at the entrance into the Enchantments via Snow Lakes.  What I have only read about until this point, was now directly in front in me!  I was almost giddy from the excitement of wanting to hike these trails.  I snapped a quick picture of the map at the trail-head before hopping back in the car.

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Trail-head Map, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

Our plan was to find a camping spot along Icicle Road and take a short evening hike as the sun set…but unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly as planned.  Every, single camping site was full (with the exception of dispersed camping which we weren’t prepared for.)  We made our way all the way to the end of the road stopping at each campground checking availability.  As we headed into one of the most beautiful areas on one of the most beautiful weekends in the PNW that morning, we were prepared for this.  Our backup plan was to head into Leavenworth and have a local brew and use the breweries’ WiFi to find a hotel to crash in for the night.  Before heading back out of the valley, we stopped at a quite picnic spot to enjoyed dinner beside Icicle Creek.  By the time we arrived back in Leavenworth, the sun had completely disappeared behind the mountains.

It was when we finally arrived back in town that our plan really started to fall apart.  The fire that had starting burning earlier that day had the entire city without cell service and WiFi.  After enjoying a quick pint at Icicle Brewing Company and discovering our latest challenge, my husband and I made our way around town on foot hoping to find cell signal or accommodations.  In one brief moment of cell service, we sadly discovered that every, single hotel room was booked in town.  Our last hope was to see if the KOA had availability or was even open that late at night, as it was nearing 10:00 pm.

We pulled into the KOA full of doubt, but to our surprise the campground was open and had plenty of availability.  There was one minor problem – the campground was on a Level 2 Evacuation because of the fire burning on the hilltops just across the river from the campground.  This meant we would need to be ready to evacuate within 15 minutes if notified at any time during the night.  Preferring not to make the drive back to Seattle at such a late hour, we set up camp and the Leavenworth KOA and called it home for the night.  My husband and I reminisced about our very first camping trip in WA during a vacation over four years ago.  Before calling it a night, we took a short hike down to the Wenatchee River that flows alongside the campground.  Across the river along the tops of the hills, the glow of the fire could be seen against the nights’ sky.

The next morning we woke up safe and sound, and were excited to head back into the Enchantments for a day hike.  After a quick breakfast, we broke camp and made our way into the mountains once again. Now that I knew I was going hiking in the Enchantments, I looked in my WTA backpack and found the hike description for Lake Stuart.  I have seen many pictures of this hike online, and now it was time to see it for myself.  We drove back down Icicle Road this time turning onto Eightmile Road towards the trail-head.   Our car climbed deeper into the mountains along a narrow, dusty forest road.  As we pulled into a mostly full parking lot, we were thankful to have arrived early enough to have access to a space to park our car.

Lake Stuart:  9 miles round trip / 1665′ elevation gain

It was the perfect day for hiking in the PNW!  We were filled with energy as we stepped into this new and unfamiliar territory known as the Enchantments.  The first two miles of trail are shared with hikers headed to Colchuck Lake, a much steeper hike up into a different valley.  We chose to hike to Lake Stuart in hopes that it would be a little less crowded since it is a slightly less popular destination.  The trail was packed with trail runners zipping by as they made they way back towards the parking lot from an unknown distance out of the mountains.  It was not our intention to run this trail, but the excitement of trail runners grinning as they ran by had us pumped to do the same.  We decided right away we would hike up to Lake Start and trail run our way back down.  We continued along the trail slowly climbing into the valley switching back and forth between trees and boulders.  At some point we stopped for a quick snack and watched a squirrel break for lunch as well.

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Squirrel, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

It wasn’t long before Lake Stuart came into view and dominated the landscape.  The blue waters reflected the craggy mountain peaks and the bright green grass along the shoreline.  I quickly ran to the edge of the water and took off my socks and shoes.  The cold water felt amazing on my tired feet from the hike up.  As I dug my toes into the sand, I noticed specks of glittery flashes reflecting from the sun.  With further investigation, my husband and I noticed tiny specks of gold like flakes all throughout the sand along lakeside.  I hate to make such a cliche statement, but it truly was an enchanting place!

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Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

 

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Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

 

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Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

After a quick lunch, I slipped my shoes back on ready to explore the trail along the shoreline of the lake.  Perfect little camping spots were tucked beneath the trees along the edges of the water.  Large boulders jut out into the water creating the perfect viewing spots with mountain peaks in every direction.

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My husband enjoying the view of Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

 

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A perfect day in The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

We knew at some point we would have to leave the beauty of the lake behind us, but were excited about the adventure of running back towards the trail-head.  With our packs strapped on tightly, we headed down the trail filled with enthusiasm.  Since I had not been trail running on a regular basis, I cautiously picked each step between the rocks and tree  roots that covered the pathway.  As I gained confidence, I picked up my pace as the trail zigged and zagged its’ way through the valley.  Like the runners I had seen earlier in the day, I was now grinning from ear to ear myself – this was my happy place!  Just as I was feeling most confident in my footing, rocks suddenly slid beneath my feet causing me to dive forward onto the ground.  I quickly pulled myself up off the rocks as to avoid embarrassment from the nearby hikers.  I took a short glance at my right elbow and saw a stream of blood pouring down my forearm.  At this point, I thought it’d be best to ignore the pain and just finish the hike at a slightly slower pace.

It wasn’t long before the cars in the parking lot came into view, and our journey in the Enchantments was ending.  My husband doctored the few wounds from my earlier crash including two cuts on my arm, a small gash on my pinky finger, and a little road rash on my knees.  Even with my small injuries, the hike to Lake Stuart was one of my favorites to date!  I knew that was the first of many adventures I was going to have in the Enchantments.  As we headed back to Seattle, we instantly began making plans for the following holiday weekend to return to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.