Day 12: the push to Pusch

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I can see clearly now, the rain is gone….What a gorgeous day!

This morning Bangles dropped us off. It sprinkled off and on and the cloud patterns were intriguing. The trail was hilly and pleasant for the first many miles.

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Tikimon, ten minutes ahead of me

As we walked, the wall of clouds around Saguaro National Park swirled. I was very sad to have bounced around (much of) Saguaro, but there were no permits available, and the 17-mile, 4000+foot up-and-over in bad weather just did not seem possible or safe. “Uninhabitable” was the word the ranger used to describe the mountain. I was so grateful to be hiking with Scratch and Tikimon, who had experienced Miller Peak in all its winter weather glory: they too were rightly leery of climbing into bad conditions. None of us were interested in “uninhabitable.”

Here’s my really long rant of the day (feel free to skip to the bottom of this where there are pictures):
The current system for hikers trying to get over Mica Mountain in Saguaro National Park is not a long-term solution and it’s not safe. Hikers used to make reservations by phone and could plead their case. Now it’s all online and the human element is gone, so there’s no flexibility.

Permit hoarders and inability to predict weather/timing 10 days out (heck, 2 days out) is going to create very unsafe situations where hikers force themselves to do a day that’s too hard by almost anyone’s standards, or hikers will force themselves to camp in the park during bad weather because it’s the only time they’ll be able to. Either way, hikers are going to end up getting hurt and thus, will put a strain on trail angels and park personnel. To say nothing of ruining a hike.

There are a few solutions:
1.  There is a bike route around Saguaro National Park but it’s almost entirely on roads and is confusing – it isn’t in Guthook, making navigation a real pain. At a minimum, this route needs to go into Guthook and onto all AzT maps, making it a viable alternative, even if it’s sucky. Water and camping information needs to be collected for this route, as it is currently missing.

2. Saguaro National Park could reserve one campsite at the 2 campgrounds for AzT hikers in March and April (and whatever the sobo season is). Site capacity is 6, and the chances of there being more than 6 on any given night is minuscule. Saguaro National Park could charge AzT hikers double for the flexibility; we’d gladly pay it. This is a pain for Saguaro National Park but is it more of a pain than the inevitable upcoming issues?

3. AzT could change the route through Saguaro National Park to be a “choose your own adventure” situation. This would disperse hiker use on paths and in campgrounds, making it easier, though still not guaranteed, to get a reservation.

For early spring hikers, when most of us are out here, Saguaro National Park will always be hit or miss under the current system and people will put themselves into dumb situations under the current model.

Okay, rant over, let’s get some pictures:

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I hiked up to the saddle on the left side of the hump.

Did I mention the day was gorgeous?

We climbed up 800 feet to a saddle and down to Molino Campground where we regrouped. At this point I was feeling iffy about making it to Summerhaven on our current schedule. We had planned to meet up with Bangles there in a couple of days, but the trail was slower (but more pretty) than anticipated.

Near the end of a long day we finally crested a hill and looked into Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area.

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We plummeted down to a lovely stream.

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Rainbows and a colorful sunset painted the day. It was one of the most dramatic and rewarding AzT days I’ve had. I was happy to share it with Scratch and Tikimon. Pusch Ridge Wilderness is my new favorite part of the Arizona Trail.