So…. This was a “day of days” hike. On the road at 4:30am with Tom and our friend and hiking guest Shane. This time we were on our way to the beginning of the AZT on the Mexican / US Border. The drive from Phoenix to the trail was a little under 4 hours and I would have to say this hike was intensely hard and vastly different than I expected. As we drove into Coronado Monument National Park, I started to notice the dramatic incline and vertical nature of the Huachuca Mountains. Wow…..They seem to just come straight out of the ground and shoot up as the sky itself had pulled them on puppet strings. The approach road to the trailhead in my mind was to be a flat paved road….. But oh no, it turned out to be a single-lane, narrow, dirt, frightening, switchback road with dangerous 200 foot drop offs… Insane was my thought….. Is this the correct road……God I hope no one is coming down the other way on this road right now….. After holding my breath and taking each corner with white knuckles, we finally reached the top of this maze of a road. The trailhead was awesome and in complete contrast though. Bathrooms, covered picnic tables, historic marker signs, sitting benches and a paved parking. Like the whole area was magically dropped on top of this mountain. Very odd, who built this and managed to get all this up that little road.
Anyhow….This hike was to be a little flip flop from the trailhead, heading down to the starting terminus of the AZT 1.9 miles and then returning to the trailhead before heading north up to Miller Peak. Total miles would be around 13 on the AZT plus another mile or so for the “out and back” on the summit trail to the peak. Immediately upon stepping off, I realized this was not going to be a normal AZT hike. The trail was breath-taking with amazing views but the sheer drop offs were ever present. Hiking down to the border was a good consistent downhill and my first thought was the trail was leading us right back down to the base of the mountain range. Fortunately, as we rounded the corner of a mountain side, the terminus monument was right there. Couple quick photos and up the 770 feet we went back to the trailhead. Nice little warm up? huh guys…. So then our enjoyment really started. After a quick drink at the picnic tables we ventured across the trailhead parking lot to the real fun of the day, up to Miller Peak.
From the parking lot to peak this part was to be pretty much a solid 5.3 mile, 3000 feet uphill battle. The first part of the hike is a good amount of mountain side steep exposed hiking with a couple of cool breezy ridgelines. As we closed in on the peak though, it got aggressive… with nearly vertical switchbacks and drop offs all around. The terrain changed too… as we ascended, the weather cooled and the vegetation turned forested and green. It was truly amazing and a little scary too. One wrong step and it might be your last, we joked. It was very Afghanistan like terrain with rough rocky outcrops of overgrown bushes. We found ourselves taking many breaks in order to catch our breath and rehydrate in these punishing 5 miles. At the intersection of the AZT and the summit approach trail I was about to “call it” a hike, but Tom said… come on, it’s only a little more to the top…. Shane offered the best idea. “Let’s break here for lunch, eat something and see if we feel like moving on after.” He said. The top at this point was only ½ mile away but it was more uphill and at this point I had just about had it. The food helped and knowing the entire hike back would be all…and I mean… all downhill, I decided to push forward… one step at a time. Hitting the “hiking wall” is not the end, it’s really just time for a break and to slow the pace down. I knew that, but in the moment your mind just wants to end the pain as quickly as possible and I seriously felt like throwing in the towel. The break was great idea and even with a couple more switch backs in front of me. I took it slow and before I knew it…. We were there, the top of Miller Peak. Wow the feeling of accomplishment was unbelievable and the 360 degree views were well worth it. Couple photos and hi-fives and then down the mountain we came. Breakneck speed too. It was such a relief. Pacing a grinding 1.25 miles per hour on the climb up, in contrast, we now put it high gear and moved at 2.5 MPH all the way down.
All in all, this was definitely the hardest consistent uphill climb we have experienced to date on the AZT but the downhill “back” descend made the hike actually seem….. at least in retrospect…..easy. Seriously though, this was an amazing lifetime hike and I would encourage everyone to brave the scary approach road and make this one a bucket list hike.
Special note: I really have to hand it to our hiking guest Shane. Not being a seasoned AZT hiker with the advantage of numerous grueling, long, painful, hot, cold, sun baked and all consuming “conditioning” hikes, he pulled every up with Tom and I, without complaint, without hesitation and with equal pace. He took it to the top and back in full stride and really impressed Tom and I greatly. Way to go Shane!!! Enjoyed having you along and please join us anytime.
One more final thought…..quoting Winston Churchill really seems appropriate at this stage of our AZT hiking journey as we completed the beginning section of the Arizona Trail and move toward ending 2017. Churchill said after the Battle of Britain in 1940. “Now, this is not the end…. nor is it the beginning of the end…. but it is perhaps, the end of the beginning.” I heard this in my head throughout the hike. Just made sense… Anyhow…..590 miles down, 1010 miles left to hike.