The decision not to summit the official route was reinforced by a night in the upper 20s. Later, after running into several of the AZTers we saw the first day, we learned that the temperature on top had been 10-15 degrees during the night. The first hiker we met said that it was pretty sketchy, but he seemed pleased to have gone up and over. The next two hikers had the wide-eyed disillusionment of a child opening a gift only to receive shit. They were pretty shaken by the experience and said that snow was knee-deep at least, there was a complete lack of visible trail, that descending was steep and slick, and that all the hikers seemed to be following each other out of sheer desperation to not get lost in the winter conditions on top. Asked whether they would go back on top they firmly reiterated NO.
We ate and got walking quickly to get our metabolic engines going in the morning cold. The forest road continued in front of us, rolling over several small hills while Border Patrol infrared towers and stations dotted the horizon. The grasslands continued their freaking gorgeous sways as we essentially walked west right along the border with equally beautiful views of Mexico stretching out to our south.
The alternate road walk continued to meander along the contours of the Huachucas before curving northward and intersecting with the official AZT. The road was saturated with rapid snowmelt and water continued to flow in what would usually be dead washes, meaning water carries were easy all day.
The road eventually crescendoed up a plain, gradually leveling out while a spiderweb of intersections ringed out dirt roads to Nogales and beyond. I made a mental note to return here and gravel grind after the trail. As the day continued, temperatures ran high and my feet began to swell. The arch under my right foot seriously began to hurt and I pulled out my insole to relieve the pressure around midday.
The road turned north to intersect with the AZT in a stunning sycamore and oak canyon where water ran clear and cold over fallen red leaves. I stopped and just felt completely absorbed by the biodiversity present in Arizona - he we were, sitting at the intersection of a mountain range, riparian canyon, and high grassland. Hummingbirds fresh north from Mexico flitted through the shade and ferns sprouted near rock crevices.
The trail traced the creek flow for several miles before making a hairpin adjustment and sauntering south again. Mid-afternoon, we approached Parker Canyon Lake, a reservoir set in the western haunches of the Huachucas. It held spectacular scenery with the mountain backdrop providing border to a framed water/grass interface.
Taking note from Guthook (an app that covers many long trails in the US and abroad), we climbed through a fenced double track that descended towards the lake. Simultaneously, my head began an explosion in a full-on migraine. I literally found myself stumbling down the hill, going blind in my left eye, and eventually just sitting in the shade. It was necessary to continue descending to the lake because it was our only sure water source for the night and morning, but we were unsure of where to camp. The surrounding area was now steep, rock-chocked, and uninviting to a good night’s sleep. I took ibuprofen before continuing down the long double-track to the lake. With each step, nausea swept up my core and I tipped towards the ground in a dry-heave.
Janna hiked ahead to scout a good place to camp and found an easy descent to the lake. Further from the water, we found a solid camp spot situated on a rise that provided 180 degrees of amazing views. As the heat of the day subsided with the arrival of evening, the cool temps and pain killers successfully eradicated my migraine. Pain abated, we made dinner with tortillas and cold-soaked lentils and mashed potatoes with hot sauce.
Feeling so much better, we walked further down the double-track to explore. One of the best sunsets I had ever seen widened over the lake and mountain range. Later in bed, a massive dry lightning/electrical storm opened up over the Huachucas and the lake, lighting up the inside of the Triplex with white and pink flashes throughout most of the night.