This hike was by hands down one of the toughest hikes we have done so far. Setting out on the morning of 10-24-2017, Tom and I sped up the Beeline highway to a small AZT section southwest of Payson, Arizona that would cross over the East Verde River at a place called the LR Ranch. Now normally heading to the AZT has been a pretty easy affair with nicely marked trailheads or dirt road connection points that either the Tahoe or the Jeep could accomplish. This section though was to be a pain. Heading east out of Payson on Main Street, we continued to the Doll Baby trailhead and the infamous locked gate for LR Ranch. You are allowed to hike past this point but no cars are permitted. From what I understand LR Ranch is owned by a nice woman that is very hiker friendly but the gate remains locked, period. So, on a 2 dimensional map the approach trail to the AZT appeared like an easy 3.5 mile windy road, in reality it was a boulder infested dirt road, crossing over three mountains of aggressive ups and downs. As we hiked it I could not stop wondering how the people at LR Ranch managed to get back and forth from town. I mean this dirt road was rough and tough. Finally connecting with the AZT you virtually hike into the ranch on its eastern side, with the sounds of dogs barking for a mile. You’ll follow the East Verde River until you get to a shallow river crossing which is technically the trail. Seeing a sizable river on the AZT was simply awesome and we were able to forge it will little issue other than a couple wet feet. Continuing past the river it was an “up” “up” uphill battle with an immediate 12%, 840 foot climb. The AZT hike for the day was only to be a 14.5 mile out and back section but the approach trail adding another 7.5 miles, it really made this a long fought day. To our pleasure though, AZT miles 4.5 to about 9 were actually somewhat flat and we were able to make good pace. You actually ascend to a plateau which offers amazing views all around. On the return, we sloshed through the river crossing again and being a hot day and nearly out of drinking water…. Again… a cold side stream and my trusty Sawyer Water filter offered relief and pulled our spirits back together. Hobo hat was even used as a bucket as I dumped cold stream water over my head…. WOW was that a nice feeling only an overheated hiker could enjoy.…. One thing about this hike was there are a number of water sources along the trail, the river only being one. Leaving the AZT at mile 18, we then tackled the three mountain passes and the approach dirt road with tired legs and all I can say in retrospect was ouch… was it a challenge. The crappy thing about it was, in our AZ Trail future, we have to come back to the exact same trail connection spot and then head south into the dreaded Mazatzal Wilderness. A section of trail that I am not looking forward to in the slightest.
Back at the Jeep, I quickly pulled our cheap $6 Home Depot foldable chairs that are a main stay now on every hike and ripped off my boots, a normal process for us. This time to my surprise, my feet were more shriveled then I have ever seen before and I quickly discovered the reason my feet were in pain for the last 5 miles.. I have in the past had wet feet and had submerged them even in streams but those were with trail running shoes, ones that would dry out quickly. This year I had purchased a tough pair of Merrill Moab waterproof mid boots and up to this point they had really been pretty good. Even in the Monsoon rains of Northern Arizona last summer. Crossing the East Verde River though must have been too much for them and a lesson to learn, if water gets in them, it does not come out. I should have taken them off at the turn and dried out my socks… A lesson a thru hiker knows well, but day hikers rarely would have trouble with.
All in all a very challenging hike on a beautiful desert but remote section of the AZT.