Monday 30 April 2012

Arizona Trail 2010 - Part 3, Vail to Oracle

Vail was a quick resupply stop and I was soon ready to press on towards Oracle. To rejoin the official AZT required a road walk to the La Posta Quemada ranch.

It was here that I got to see my first Sagauro Cactus which is basically the tree of a desert. You would often find large hollowed holes in the upper stems that were being used as nests by various birds. These are certainly well protected from predators! Sagauro can live for up to 150 years and can reach a hight of almost 14 m. Most I saw were much smaller but still very impressive.

I couldn't resist a picture with what was the largest I had seen so far. Much larger Sagauro would be passed later in the hike.

The following day you reach the base of the Rincon mountains. You need a permit to camp in this wilderness and I didn't have one, I would need to cross the range in a day. It turned out to be a long but highly enjoyable hike.

Climbing up towards Mica Mountain was this handy resting spot with great views all around. The climb is long and steep and very hot on the lower slopes.

Manning Camp (2438 m) was a bit of a surprise with its wooden lodge. It was built in 1905 as a summer home for the Manning family. The cabin is locked and now owned by the Forest Service. Route finding from here was a bit tricky with many unmarked trails heading in different directions.

After safely passing through the Rincon Mountains you have a day of undulations to Molino Basin. Here you can see the Catalina Highway weaving its way down the valley. The popular Molino Basin Campground is just over the road and as I was hiking through I was grabbed by a lovely family from Tucson. They were supporting a fellow hiker that we called "John the Gentleman". He certainly lived up to his name, and in later sections of the hike he would help enormously by leaving water caches in particularly dry sections. They told me that a German lady called Christine was a day ahead. Christine, or trail name GT (German Tourist), was a bit of a legend and by far the most experienced hiker I would meet. Before leaving to find a place to camp I was fed and watered in another example of kindness that you only find on the trail. Thanks! 

Heading up Sycamore Canyon with the Santa Catalina mountains in the background. I hiked the first few miles with John before going solo when things got steeper. This was the toughest climb so far and I was completely exhausted. Worse though was that I had run out of food. I had dehydrated meals but no trail food and was getting hungry! 

The official route goes over Mt Lennon but this area has been spoilt by its big ski resort so an alternative route via Summerhaven is recommended. Summerhaven has pizza, Mt Lennon and its ski resort was closed for the summer . Guess which route I took? By now I had completely run out of energy and had to stop to cook up a meal and rest. 30 mins later all was good and I pressed on.

Appropriately named the Wilderness of Rocks this area was truly spectacular. A major storm had struck earlier and fallen tress were everywhere. Climbing over all these trees made hiking slow. I didn't expect to make Summerhaven till after 5 now and wondered if the pizza cafe would be open...

Arriving in Summerhaven my first stop was the cafe. It was just closing and the ovens had been turned off. Nooooo... Probably seeing my misery and feeling pity they opened up again. Just for me! That was a great pizza guys! The village of Summerhaven was all but destroyed in 2003 by a forest fire but has since been rebuilt. In the background you can see the fire damaged forest with just stumps remaining.

The next day Oracle is reached. Oracle is a basic town that only really has one place to stay and thats a couple of miles outside of town. The accommodation is old and basic but adequate for a hiker, and cheep. Resupply using the facilities was easy and there is a Post Office in the centre.