Sometime during the night, the nausea passed, my body successfully caught up on fluids, and I recharged. I woke up completely refreshed and pumped to up at Manning Cabin again. Chris was up and out early, trailed close behind by Peanut (Nora), a backpacker who was section hiking the AZT and then building her own route to hike the surrounding peaks of the Rincons and the Santa Catalinas. We took our time to enjoy the cool pine forest with frost crisping everything while snow piles slumped on hillsides.
Post-breakfast, we followed up the AZT north and further into the Rincons than we had gone before, meaning this was new territory and my eyes were open wide to absorb everything. The AZT sticks to the top of this range, which topographically has a wide berth on top with small valleys, meadows, and a few peaks - all of which is an old growth ponderosa pine forest. The trail traveled alongside a stream that coursed the terrain and dropped as a waterfall near our campsite the night prior. The water was clear and cold with snowmelt, every rock on the bottom sharply seen. As the AZT snaked further into the forest, it began to slowly ascend a rounded hill, and MIca Mountain came into view to our northwest. The slow rise was coupled with increasing amounts of snow in the forest and over the trail while streams and creeks rushed small waterfalls.
The trail descended the northern part of the range with a precipitous drop in elevation. Walking through the pines and firs we were met with an open view of the lolling desert and high grasslands some 50 miles to the northwest. Pine needles matted by footsteps and horse prints marked our route as the AZT stuck to a series of switchbacks that pitched into a brutal descent that tore up both Janna’s my own knees. It was a 4,000 foot loss of elevation in around 6 miles. The trail on this side of the mountain range was clearly less used, so it was rockier, studded with more debris, and seemed to ignore a gentle incline in places, just to more quickly plunge straight down towards the high grasslands of Redington Pass. In a brush of yucca and juniper, we exited Saguaro National Park back into the Coronado National Forest.
However, the views were spectacular. As plant life became dominated by chaparral and scrub oak, the underlying geology was exposed as massive granite outcropping reminiscent of Joshua Tree - all of which was filled with multiple creeks and springs flowing ubiquitously. We eventually at Tanque Verde Wash, which was in the throws of being a river of full force. We met up with Peanut who was getting water and soaking her feet. I guzzled several liters straight that morning, my body seeking to fill the deficit from yesterday.
After Tanque Verde, the AZT proceeded to flow for the next 11 miles up and down high grasslands with the occasional acacia or mesquite studding the hills. Isolated plots of violet and yellow flowers grew trailside, as did small patches of hot pink petals. My knees were very grateful for the gentle grade. We crossed Redington Pass Road (a notable gravel grinding route that plunges down into Tucson) while being grateful that high cirrus clouds were cutting the heat. It was pretty amazing to be on this high grassland pass with views of Mica Mountain and Rincon Peak to our south and the dominating Santa Catalina range to our north. I was mind-blown that we had crossed the southern range in a matter of two days.
Water was scarce on this part, so had previously filled up from a spring up on the mountain. As the day went on, we passed a “pond” that was really a dirt tank for cattle, which I declined. The miles continued until we were near mile 17 for the day. The maps indicated Agua Caliente Wash would be up ahead and based on what we had seen, I was betting it had a good flow of cleaner water. Sure enough, as dusk rolled in, we came to the stream which was deep, clear, and flowing. It was here that we met-up with both Chris and Peanut. We climbed the far banks and setup our tents next to a dirt road on a flat spat of ground. The goal was to be 200 feet from the water and high enough to avoid the condensation and cold desert air that settles in the frigid ravines each night. We all ate dinner stretched out in the bunch-grass, Peanut telling us stories about having hiked the PCT the summer before. An amazing sunset lit the two ranges before and behind us, promising a cold with wicked clear views of the stars.
I should also mention a massive goal Janna achieved today. For several days, she had been complaining of a large splinter lodged horizontally at the root of her fingernail soft tissue. And she pulled it out at dinner. I’m not even kidding, it was this long:
A solid 1.5 inches if not more. I was stunned. She, of course, was super relieved. It apparently got lodged in there during a break when she brushed up against a yucca and the tip of a blade broke off suddenly in the soft tissue at the base of her nail. Insane.
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