One of those gorgeous days with so many photos I had to divide the day into two posts. This is Part I.
A drizzling night led to a damp morning with overcast skies. The rest of the day would threaten complete storms, hail, and visible downpours occurring in discrete patches around us. Most of the pictures of distant scenery from today have a large downpour occurring in some frame of the photo. The temperate morning was a welcome relief to the heat of yesterday. This ensured that our nearly continuous day of solely uphill travel from the low desert would be much cooler.
We started up from our campsite overlooking Roosevelt Dam. Roosevelt Reservoir and the further Sierra Ancha would serve as a backdrop for the rest of the day. We eventually hit an upper rounded mesa with a small radio tower for town. Skirting it, the four peaks rose monstrous before us - massive rakes dead ahead. The AZT became undulating, moving around the contours of hills and ducking under massive saguaro. Even here, large fields of 4 foot tall vibrant green grass swayed with the rippling wind. Behind us, the Apache Trail, a famous dirt forest road, wound into the confines of canyons quickly building around us as we ascended. The route eventually collided with Four Peaks Trail 130 and joined a different dirt road. Using recent Guthook comments, we had only carried a little water up here (to reduce the strain on the climb). We went off-route and rounded a bend to a dead end with one of those descending stair wildlife tanks. Newly built in the last few weeks, we filled up what we needed to get us high up on the peaks.
The Arizona Trail now left the dirt road and went straight up a rounded ridgeline. Valleys sloped off to our lefts and rights, descending to far canyons below. Massive downpours with clearly demarcated edges erupted water from above around. We kept our eyes on those cloudbursts, expecting one to open the heavens above us. Somehow, we kept in a moving and constant gap of non-cloud/sun. The sky above us often was blue, but curtains of water threatened to hit us from even a quarter mile away.
And all that rain brought out a profusion of flowers. What new species we had yet to see were busting out color on every hillside. Succulents swollen with rain put forth rare blooms. The creams, violets, and yellows blanketed hillsides dressed in green growth. Janna and I both commented that the rich, damp plant life along with the overcast day reminded us the pacific northwest.
We eventually summited out at a parking lot where the Butt’s car was stationed. We had plenty of water so didn’t grab any - pushing on. Now, the real effort began in earnest as the slope steepness increased and the trail became narrow/rocky singletrack hugging the hillside. But visual sensory overload: mountains, canyons, flower blooms, cloudbursts, the blue swathe of a massive reservoir in the gold desert. After some time, based on conversation with some older locals out on a day hike, we navigated off-trail to an unmarked Native American ruin at a location not to be given. Old structures with original stacked rock walls and pottery pieces everywhere. It was affirming to see a place not pillaged by “art collectors” or “artifact hunters” - namely people taking a piece of someone else’s history as their own personal collection item or to be sold. Leave No Trace Principle 4: Leave What You Find.
As the day rolled on and rain continued to roll in waves, we reached higher points in the trail where it began to fill with chaparral. The path came over a small rounded peak and descended into the thick of brush as small streams flowed nearby. We ran into Gummy Bear, a thru-hiker who had done the PCT last year. We talked to him for a bit before continuing our climb upwards. Chaparral became juniper, and juniper became pine. The trail began taking a sandy wash and passed several large and excellent campsites before beginning an outward trek around mountain on the contour line we were walking. As the trail swept around the eastward flank of the mountain, the Four Peaks dramatically came back into view.
To be continued in Part 2.