My toes are cold until 1 AM. First numb, then pins and needles again, then just plain chilly. My entire body is finally warm, but my cold toes persist. Why?
I pull my hat over my eyes, make it dark to avoid the sunrise. A conscious choice to sleep in, something I almost never do. It’s just so cold. I want to stay in my quilt forever. When we finally rise, it’s 5:40 AM.
We wake up to a frosty wonderland. The tent is covered in a thick layer of ice, our water bottles are frozen. Our shoes are thick bricks, unwearable. I feel like the ice princess from candyland except very dirty and very gay. I am an ice princess whomst smells like an armpit.
We’re going to run out of food before we finish this section, both of us. Our hiker hunger is severe, all we want is endless donuts and Thai food and hot pots of steaming vegetables and protein and rice. I’d also like a salad bar and an Indian buffet and iced coffee with almond milk and homemade pumpkin bread, fresh from the oven.
Instead, we have chip crumbs and cookie crumbs and bars. Most of my calories are dust at this point, but I try to consume even the most crushed food, because I know I need it. Tomorrow we will hitch into Alpine, an early resupply. Alpine is 32 miles away from our trailhead and it is said to have about one car per hour of traffic, no guarantee of a pickup. But really— what choice do we have?! Without enough food, there is no thru hike.
We are determined that the hitch will be okay, we’ll make it work. We take turns folding and stuffing our ice crusted tent into its sack. It burns our hands and toggling back and forth is the only option. I put the tent into my pack, it’s my day to carry it, and it feels like it weighs twice as much as usual. Wow!
We ascend cross country in the ice as the sun spreads yellow across the drainage. I am hot and I am cold at the same time and my heart is pounding. Oh, to be a human! So many ways to feel alive.
Dropping into Schell Canyon is really the best we could ask for. We have an obvious pine needle covered trail, descending gently into a fully alive sun dappled forest. Dandelions dot the path and as we walk, we thaw.
It’s glorious! Except that I feel terrible. Almost hungover from yesterday, actually. I need to eat and sleep in a warm dark place for hours and hours and hours. It fucking sucks to have the threat of running out of food but I’m so grateful to have a day to get off trail and recalibrate. When we’re too tired to appreciate the beautiful stuff, what exactly are we doing?!
At lunch, we spread our things out to dry in the sun. As soon as we sit to eat, dark grey clouds float directly above us and seconds later, I feel rain drops. We set up the shelter, making a green house and pull everything inside. I eat my crushed chips from a ziplock with a spork and drink emergen-C and hot peppermint tea. I eat caffeinated jelly beans. I pump myself up. This section is hard, and we’re doing it anyway. How bout that?!
We pick our way out of the canyon, maneuvering around a slow motion obstacle course of blowdowns. Over, under and around downed trees we go. We are poked, prodded and scratched over and over and over again. It rains just a little but not a lot. I am bleeding from various spots but I count myself as lucky. I’m pretty dry.
Eventually, we’re out of Schell canyon and onto the rim. The trail becomes a morass of burn and blowdown, a mess that weaves steeply up and down, again and again and again. Once we make it through the rollercoaster, we’re cooked. We agree to go only as far as the next water source. That as soon as we have enough water to cook and drink and find a flat spot, we’ll rest.
We are blessed with one merciful road followed by another. We’re going fast, actually getting somewhere for the first time all day as the sun starts to set. After this, we have one more bit of trail to traverse, a downhill that descends almost 1500 feet. We meet at the trailhead and decide to climb down together.
Our tread is perfect at first. Gentle and soft and very direct. But nothing gold can stay, right? Perfect quickly gives way to intense erosion, leading me to slip every few feet or so. I lean so hard away from the drop off on the left side that I fear I may snap my pole.
Carrot finds water just by using her ears. She listens quietly for a half a beat and discovers A tiny trickle waterfall made just for cows. We climb above the trickle and find pool after pool after pool of fresh flowing water, not even on our maps. Carrot is a genius.
I am so grateful for her skill.
📍The Mogollon Rim trail is on Yavapai, Western Apache, Hopi and Hohokum land. I am a grateful guest