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Climb to Grass Shack – AZT | Average Hiker

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 started this hike on March 9th, and with the cool temperatures and abundance of water, I 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 called a zero-day, implying we do nothing on that day. However, it should be called a 100% day instead. Chores fill these days, and they are usually anything but slow.

The early morning trail took me past Colossal 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 box 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 five 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 usually adjust to altitude and terrain.

CCC Construction Near Colosal Cave Park

After Colossal Caves, my next landmark of note was the 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 the 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 probably asked for a little much, so I 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 campsites. 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 friendly and offered me any assistance or help I needed – water, duct tape, a ride to town, etc. She was a 10,000 miler, so she knew hiker needs, but ultimately, she understood that I wanted to keep hiking. It was a beautiful day, the weather was on the way, and I did not want to lose great hiking hours. So, after chatting for about 15 minutes, I wished her well and moved on to the La Sevilla Picnic Pavillion, where I got water from a spigot.

AZT Desert Garden

The section of high desert between Colossal Caves and Mica Mountain was gorgeous. Of course, 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 many people on this section (no surprise), and I stopped to chat with several “Snow Bird” couples that loved Tucson due to its 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 tortillas with my favorite Justin’s Almond Butter with honey. I carry the 16 oz jar that usually lasts me for about two weeks. After that, I need the protein, which lasts for an extended time in my pack. The oils have leaked once or twice, so I always put them in its 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 need it, but if I had started a few weeks later, I would 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.

Climb to Grass Shack on the AZT

The following 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 $8.00 (here).

The climb had beautiful views (see video below).

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

I arrived at Grass Shack about an hour before dark and noticed the MSR tent 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 an excellent-looking camp, with a strong creek and mature Cypress trees providing plenty of shade. Next, I headed down the trail to Site 1, large enough to hold multiple tents with room to spare. The site was on the creek and had 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. Unfortunately, the fire ring was also full of trash and burnt cans, which is always disappointing.

I quickly set up my tarp, inflated my sleeping pad, and threw my sleeping bag into the loft. Hunger was always in my 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 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 several times. So it was fantastic to meet him finally. I believe the AT was his first trail, and since then, he has 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 the hill. I did not often stay in established camps, but the pit toilets 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 following day. Grass Shack was at about 5,300 feet, so I was surprised it was not a little cooler, but a front was 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 3/5 stars. Of course, Blue Agave Siracha improved the flavor, as it does everything.
  • Question of the Day – why are some giant Cacti FILLED with bird condos and others that look almost identical, pristine with zero holes?

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