Thursday, March 21, 2013, 42.80 KM
After more rolling around in the Canelo Hills this morning, the trail climbed to a dirt road with beautiful views and various traps to lure inattentive hikers away from the trail (pink markers, gates with the ‘please close’ sign). It then passed into pastureland with mean-looking cows that demonstrated no interest in running away or doing anything but staring menacingly. I took a detour through the forest to avoid some of them.
Middle Canyon had pools of water, but cows drink from them, so don’t expect a nice taste. I filtered two litres and classified it as ‘cooking/emergency drinking water’ before starting a long climb up to a high point in the hills and a subsequent steep drop to the Canelo Pass trailhead.
At the trailhead, I drank some of the cooking/emergency drinking water. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be – it did have a bovine taste, but didn’t taste as bad as it smelled, and taste isn’t hard to ignore when you’re thirsty.
The trail climbed again to an obvious saddle, then descended. Initially the scenery was on the level of Scotia Canyon, but transitioned into lovely meadows where I would recommend camping if your (future hiker) day is wearing on.
After the lovely meadows came horrible country where every inch of the ground was covered with brambles, rocks or cow droppings. I was still trying to find a campsite in the awfulness when the sun set, so I thought… ‘might as well walk to Patagonia‘, the first of the AZT trail towns.
To be clear, I think that walking rocky trails in the dark is risky and should be avoided whenever possible. Moreover, Patagonia was far from my starting point, 42.5 km (about 27 miles), and route-finding was tricky sometimes when the trail vanished at washes. A more powerful headlamp would have been helpful. Not to place all the blame on my weak ultralight headlamp, before sunset I encountered a confusing spot at a cattle tank with an AZT post directing hikers one way and mountain bikers/ATVers the other. If you go the hiker route, you cross water to a sign that says ‘no camping for the next 1/4 mile to protect sensitive habitat’, then the trail disappears. If you head back towards the AZT post, you see an AZT sign on the near side directing you to the mountain bike/ATV route. That sign would have been nice on the other side, no? Anyway, you’re meant to walk down the gully until you reach another dirt road.
I ended up walking in the dark for around four hours. As far as I could tell, the scenery for most of those hours was pasture, but near the end I vaguely detected it improving with grass-coated hillsides. The final section was on road, then finally Patagonia! I must have looked like the walking dead by that point. A border patrol officer stopped to ask whether I was all right, saying that he had never seen anyone walking on the road so late before. I guess that illegal border crossers keep more reasonable hours.