What it’s like to trek 800 miles on the Arizona National Scenic Trail

Chicago Tribune (April 27, 2020) by Melanie Radzicki McManus

Fat drops of rain tap out a mournful melody on the nylon ceiling stretched over my head. Peeking out from under a thick down quilt, I watch tiny rivulets of water drip down the sides of my tent and sigh.

It’s not supposed to be raining here, at the entrance to Arizona’s Saguaro National Park. Not in March. Not here in the Sonoran Desert. But rain is the least of my problems.

I’m just a week into a 45-day trek along the Arizona National Scenic Trail, or AZT, which unravels northbound from the state’s Mexican border to Utah. Here, in its southernmost passages, the path stumbles up and over Mica Mountain. The problem is that Mica’s summit hovers around 8,600 feet. If this storm weeps over the mountain all night and much of tomorrow, as forecast, Mica will be socked with 2 or 3 feet of snow — not something I want to hike through.

I pull the quilt over my head and pray the storm drifts far away. And soon.

The AZT is one of 11 National Scenic Trails in the U.S., an elite group that includes the Appalachian and Pacific Crest pathways. While on the shorter side at 800 miles, the AZT is billed as one tough trek. You traverse the Grand Canyon and climb up and down a slew of mountains along the way.

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