Saturday, April 27, 2013 – 16.25 km
When I woke up today, I discovered that the wind had shifted and was now carrying the scent of horse dung directly to my tent. Yuck. I filtered water, packed up, studied the AZT sign, went in the wrong direction, returned to the sign, studied the sign, ignored the sign and got on my way.
For those unfamiliar with the AZT, I’m now hiking through the Mazatzal Mountains, which have suffered greatly from forest fires and are the place where most people who get lost on the AZT get lost. They’re notorious for being rocky, overgrown and all other kinds of trail evil. The segment from McFarland Canyon to the wilderness boundary was where I started to feel the evil, though I was less annoyed with the trail than with the fact that the cairns – the few there were – were uselessly positioned. If you don’t want people to get lost, build cairns at junctions rather than positioning them five minutes after the junction, and don’t position a cairn directly between two paths heading in different directions (though I acknowledge that navigation is ultimately the hiker’s responsibility, and only the hiker is to blame for getting lost).
Leaving the wilderness area was like waking from a bad dream. A short rocky segment was well-marked with cairns, then the trail was nice all the way to the junction with the Mazatzal Divide Trail. The junction was marked only by a cairn and red tape, no sign. And such a friendly trail it was for the first 6 km/4 miles or so, beginning with perfectly graded switchbacks up Mt. Peeley. I met two women from the Superstitions search and rescue team. One of them was happy, bubbly and admiring of my solo hike while the other stared at me with a shocked look and pointedly asked for my first name as if to say ‘I’ll be watching for it in the newspapers’. The other woman smoothed over the situation with that wonderful skill of completely ignoring what someone else is trying to get at. They continued on to the trailhead and I continued on along the AZT, which gradually worsened until a bad section around mile 5.5-5.7 where the trail was frighteningly eroded, rocky and overgrown. I remembered seeing something about a washout in the databook, so I checked and yes – this was it, listed as starting at 5.7. It made me feel better to know that it was notable and not something that I would be seeing frequently throughout the Mazatzals.
I made camp almost immediately after completing the dodgy section. The site was pretty, though it must have been prettier before the fire. Since the highway I’ve been plagued by tiny flies whose life purpose is apparently to ensure that I can never rest without being swarmed by tiny flies, but here I found a magic tree behind which they wouldn’t bother me. I also discovered that a pine cone was hitchhiking on my pack. I named it Piney and am going to take it with me. You know you’ve been too long without human companionship when…