Arizona Trail: Part 1 – Snowfields & the Hills of Death

March 22, 2019

Nobody said it would be easy. It would have been a lie anyway.

In the middle of March , two nice trail angels are dropping us off at Montezuma Pass, the closest location to the Mexican border that you can reach by car. It is four ambitious hikers that start today: the American Rand, the Swedish girl Emilie and us Germans. From Montezuma Pass, we have to hike around two miles to the southern terminus… and back again. After quite a long photo stop there, taking pictures in front and behind the barbed wire that separates the US from Mexico, our ways already part. Well, at least Rand is running far ahead.

Passage 1 of 43 is one of the hardest, since you have to climb up the Huachuca Mountains from the very beginning. 3.900 feet over 11 miles. We have to sweat a lot more from climbing than from the burning sun while the three of us are crawling around the endless switchbacks. Our goal for today is Bathtub Spring, where fresh spring water is flowing into an old bathtub.
Emilie wants to do the whole thruhike in only 25 days, covering 35 miles every single day without a zeroday. Looking at the terrain,that seems impossible to me. I am taking it slow, starting with 16 miles a day. As the miles go by, Emilie is feeling more and more sick. She even skips the short climb up Miller Peak What a pity, it is a fantastic view from up there.

Right on the trail, we find a plastic bag with hiking clothes and a sleeping pad, wondering, who might have lost or left it there. It is already 5:30 pm when a huge snowfield covers the Arizona Trail and slows us down again. It is dangerous and strenuous. We reach Bathtub Spring right at sunset. Since we are tired as hell, we pitch our tents as fast as possible, eat and sleep. We are already in thruhiker mode.



What goes up, must come down again

The next morning, the Border Patrol checks us out by helicopter while we prepare our breakfast. Emilie has already left, because she still has a long way to go today. At 9 o’clock the slow descent begins and allows gigantic views over Arizona and Mexico. Due to the heavy rain and snowfall, the riverbed in the picturesque Sunnyside Canyon is flowing with crystal-clear meltwater. We filter anyway, you never know if there is a dead animal lying around upstream.

I walk a few steps and hear it rustling. Then I look at the coati strolling in the forest. Such an animal can be seen only in the Berlin zoo! After we leave the forest, the grasslands await us, without any shade. For the first time I use my umbrella, which provides little shade. Underneath, it is still very hot. The Border Patrol checks us out again, this time from the car. We do not seem to look very Mexican. The first cows appear on the trail.


After 13 miles today, we complete the first passage of the AZT, still about 3 miles left to the planned camp spot. It is strenuous again, but the prospect of a hot meal and sleeping bag are pushing ahead. I hear the small stream rippling and right next to it is an idyllic place for the tent.

The Hills of Death

Day 3 leads through the Canelo Hills. A harmless altitude profile in contrast to the first day, I think. What I have not considered: three times up and down is at least as bad as a steady climb. The sun is blasting from the sky and the two liters of water with which I started are already drunk before reaching the next water source. We are incredibly happy about the fact that water flows here in the middle of the desert. Last year, there was only one flowing river in southern Arizona. The stream is not flowing very fast, but it is sufficient. The comments in Guthook from the hikers who were here a few days before me are really helpful. I take a small amount of water without filtering and hope to be able to exchange it for public gallon water at the next trailhead.


But there is no public water at the trailhead. All I find is a half-empty gallon of a hiker, which is declared public only from tomorrow. Therefore, the decision to walk another 4 miles to the next water source is easy. But my feet hurt and I’m tired. Fortunately, there is only a climb over one mountain saddle, then it should be downhill to a pond, from which a dozen cows are drinking. I don’t care about the slalom around cow dung, as well as the fact, that I have to set up camp next to it. The important thing is to get water for my meal, the shoes off my feet and some decent sleep. I wonder how Emilie is dealing with 35 miles a day…



At 6 am, a howling pack of coyotes wakes me from far away. Time to get up. It is one of those rare moments when the super moon can still be seen on the horizon in the west, while the sun is already rising in the east. The trail is merciful today. There is a lot of downhill, little uphill and there is plenty of water from large metal tanks.

My feet can stand less miles every day before they begin to hurt. There is no trail with more rocks than the Arizona Trail. Above all, the loose rocks make my ankles twist again and again. More than once, my trekking poles save me from falling.

At 3 pm we reach today’s destination, the small town of Patagonia. The last 3 miles roadwalk have worked hard on my feet and it is difficult to cover the few yards from the pizza place to the trailer where I will spend a day without trail miles tomorrow. My body needs regeneration. From Emilie, I receive the news that she left Patagonia this the morning.

– Continue with Part 2 – 

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