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Return to the Mountains

AZT Sunrise
Saguaro National Park on the AZT
AZT near Colosal Caves

A climb to Grass Shack Campsite was my goal for the day. I was looking forward to returning to the mountains.

Morning dawned clear and cold. My tiny thermometer, strapped to the outside of my pack, read approximately 46 degrees. Although I was moving quickly to generate heat, I did pause for a few minutes to admire the rising sun. It was going to be another clear, high desert day. I had started this hike on March 9th, and with the cool temperatures and abundance of water, I I had selected the time of year to begin the hike.

Glancing down at my watch, I saw it was still early. I would wait to call Pete. Yesterday, we had discussed him picking me up for a ride into Tucson. Weather forecasts were calling for up to a foot of snow up in Summerhaven (Mt. Lemmon) on Wednesday, so I was going to have Pete pick me up late Tuesday, resupply in Tucson on Wednesday, and recommence the hike up to Summerhaven, AZ on Thursday morning. This is commonly referred to as a zero day, implying we do nothing on that day. It should be called a 100% day instead. Chores fill these days, and they are usually anything but slow.

Colosal Caves

The early morning trail took me past Colosal Caves. This is a park that is hiker friendly, and provides the following:

  • Packages held for hikers at the gift shop
  • Grill with hot foods
  • Campground
  • Water

I had not left a package at the park, but planned to resupply in Summerhaven, AZ. In hindsight, I should have left a package at the park. Hiking from Patagonia, AZ to Summerhaven, AZ is a heavy carry. I should have followed my initial plan to carry no more than 5 days of food. I typically like to keep my resupplies to 100 miles or less. This is especially the case at the beginning of the hike where I’m usually adjusting to altitude and terrain.

La Sevilla

CCC Construction Near Colosal Cave Park
Desert Garden Near Mica Mountain on the AZT

After Colossal Caves, my next landmark of note was restrooms in the campground, that were located near the trail. This was not just a pit toilet, but a pit toilet in a stone building. After a few days on trail, a pit toilet is a treat. A large pit toilet in a building, with Purel dispensers, is gold! I was also hoping for a water source, but that was probably asking for a little much, so made a brief pit stop and moved on down the trail. Side note – the buildings in this park are pretty cool, as many were built by the CCC (see the foundation above).

The campground was a little eerie, and as I passed it I noted some old vans, and even older campers, scattered among some of the camp sites. This reminded me a little of a horror movie set, and I picked up my pace, only to come to an abrupt halt as I heard a voice. A woman was sitting on the trail just ahead.

Birdie was super nice, and offered me any assistance or help I needed – water, duct tape, ride to town, etc. She was a 10,000 miler, so she knew hiker needs, but ultimately she completely understood that I wanted to keep hiking. It was a beautiful day, weather was on the way, and I did not want to lose great hiking hours. I wished her well, after chatting about 15 minutes, and moved on to the La Sevilla Picnic Pavillion, where I got water from a spigot.

Climb to Grass Shack via Desert Gardens

AZT Desert Garden
Delicate Desert Flowers
Desert Garden
Bird Condo Near Mica Mountain

The section of high desert between Colosal Caves and Mica Mountain was absolutely gorgeous. Everything out here is a garden to this East Coast gal, but today’s hiking traversed what looked like staged gardens – landscapes you might find in a botanical garden.

There were a lot of people on this section (no surprise), and I stopped to chat with several “Snow Bird” couples, that loved Tucson due to it’s low cost of living and beauty. I was also passed by a couple of mountain bikers that gave me their cell phone number in case I needed to bail out of the snow on Wednesday. I’ve found the people along this trail to be incredibly friendly.

Rincon Creek was my last water source before I began my climb up Mica Mountain, in the Rincon Range, so I stopped to get some water and have a late lunch. I mixed True Water Flavoring into my water, and had tortilla’s with my favorite Justin’s Almond Butter with honey. I carry the 16 oz jar that usually lasts me for about two weeks. I need the protein, and it lasts for an extended time in my pack. The oils have leaked once or twice, so I always put it in it’s own zip lock bag.

There was no shade by Rincon creek, and it was pretty warm, so I ate quickly. I can’t imagine starting this trail a month later, at least not with my umbrella. I decided not to bring the umbrella on this trip, and I’ve found I didn’t really need it, but if I had started a few weeks later, I would definitely have needed some shade. One nice thing is that this has not been a very windy trail either, so I think a sun blocking umbrella would work nicely.

I packed up, and headed for the mountains, and my destination for the night, Grass Shack Campsite.

Mica Mountain to Grass Shack

Climb to Grass Shack on the AZT
Beginning of Climb to Grass Shack Campsite
Mica Mountain Climb to Grass Shack
Oasis on the Way to Grass Shack

The next nine miles included a 2,200 foot climb up to Grass Shack Campsite in the Saguaro National Park. This was my destination for the night, and required a permit, that I had booked via phone for at $8.00 (here).

The climb had beautiful views (see video below).

A few miles up I came to a cool little oasis. It was an exposed creek with nice clear water and very large pools. This would have been a great stop if it was not late in the afternoon. I wanted to get to camp before dark. Being the water opportunist I am though, I still switched out my two liters and drank a liter. This water was definitely better than Rincon Creek, where I thought I had seen a cow watching me from behind a bush, with a smirk on it’s lips.

Grass Shack Campsite

I arrived at Grass Shack about an hour before dark, and noticed the MSR tent set up across the creek. The campsite was silent, and there appeared to be nobody around. They could have been asleep in the tent I guess.

Grass Shack was a good looking camp, with a strong creek and mature Cypress trees providing plenty of shade. I headed down the trail to Site 1, which was large enough to hold multiple tents with room to spare. The site was on the creek, and held a bear box and large fire ring, although there were not supposed to be fires at this camp, due to the extensive grasslands in the area. The fire ring was also full of trash and burnt cans, which is always disappointing to see.

I set up my tarp quickly, inflated my sleeping pad, and threw out my sleeping bag to loft. Hunger was always at front of mind, so I made dinner next, boiling enough extra water to wipe down, and then left my meal to re-hydrate while I finished setting up camp.

After dinner I heard voices and headed back up to the main camping area, where I found two men talking. One was the owner of the MSR tent, and the other was a young man named “Crunchmaster.” Crunch had hiked the AT SOBO when I was on it in 2013. His father had maintained his journal, which I had followed, and we had communicated via email a couple of times. It was cool to finally meet him. The AT was his first trail I believe, and since then he had hiked the PCT three times. The thru-hiking lifestyle can be addictive.

I chatted for a few minutes, and then headed back to my campsite. Glancing to my left as I turned, I was excited to see a pit toilet up on the hill. I did not stay in established campsites often, but the pit toilets often made them worth the visits! The little joys…:-)


  • It was about 56 degrees when I went to bed, and about 52 degrees when I awoke the next morning. Grass Shack was at about 5,300 feet, so I was surprised it was not a little cooler, but there was a front moving into the area.
  • My trail meal was Cajun Chicken & Rice by Trailtopia. The portion was large, but it was a little bland, so I would give it a 3/5 stars. Of course Blue Agave Siracha improved the flavor, as it does everything.
  • Question of the Day – why are some large Cacti FILLED with bird condo’s, and others that look almost identical, pristine with zero holes?

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