Flat Iron hike in the Superstition Mountains, Arizona, 10km, October 2017

The adventure of a lifetime is over but I still have many unpublished hikes to put up. Here is one, it was great and it has been very enjoyable rereading it and looking through my photos. XxPCTGG

Turkey D, Mia and I (Quiz) have been in Phoenix all weekend staying with out PCT pals Bob/Goliath and Dave/Six Strings. Unfortunately Dave had to work but Goliath is retired and he is always up for some adventures. In true Goliath style (remember his off road diving over the dunes by Lake Isabella?) we knew we were in for something a little bit crazy. To quote Bob, “this is not a boring hike!”


Turkey D and Goliath approaching the Flat Iron

Bob was right, it was a great hike, but the second half was more rock scramble and rock climbing than hiking. We drove to the outskirts of Phoenix and arrived at the trailhead by 7am. It was still cool and the sun was sitting low behind the Superstitions, so we were in shade for most of the hike. The flat desert valley that is full of the city and Sequaro cactus (literally the ones that look like this emoji 🌵) quickly fell behind us as we climbed directly into the foothills of this very imposing mountain range. Mia chose to stay in the valley and paint while Turkey D and I followed Bob into the mountains. We hiked towards and then up into a steep valley that fell away from between the Range’s tallest peaks, and Bob pointed out the valley (really more of a gully) that we were following to the top.

As the path got higher, it got steeper. The rocks and sand soon gave way to large boulders and exposed rock face, never ending in beautiful curving rock valleys. For some reason the unpunctuated rock face reminds me of bowling allies. We were all already sweaty when we reached the halfway point in the climb and the place where most hikers turn around, a saddle the revealed the final climb. We sat and ate delicious marzipan busicuts that Bob brought back from the recent trip to Switzerland, and contemplated the track, that literally went straight up an incredibly steep gully. This is gonna be tough!
We started hiking and it got steep immediately. We climbed up and over rocks, some of them loose and slippery some naturally carved into square steps. The trail was so steep that we could rarely see far in front, and we seemed to move so slowly up the valley even though I felt we were keeping a good speed. The cliffs around us were steep and red and sometimes the cacti were arranged so perfectly it felt like we were in a garden.
3/4 of the way up the valley we stopped all feeling the climb and ready to be at the top.


Little did we know (Bob definitely knew!) that the steepest part was yet to come. The scrambling started to steepen into vague bouldering territory and soon we reached a 4m high vertical stone wall with a tree growing out of it. Bob delftly used the tree to heave himself up and over, Turkey D made short work of it and then I spent a good 5 minutes trying different leg combinations and manoeuvres as you had to hold yourself in some awkward positions, and finally made it to the top with some help from Bob. I was pretty fucking stoked with myself, a feeling the only increased as a short while later we were at the top of the Flat Iron looking at Phoenix from way way up in the air. What a great place, some smart people were camped up here in sheltered nooks in the cliff.

We sat and had more snacks and asked Bob many questions about all the surrounding landmarks and also the Arizona Trail that sounds flipping excellent! We then went exploring along the peaks hunting views to the east and the rest of the range. Such an ruggard jagged vista but breakfast was calling and we decided to make our way back to the car and a diner asap. The trip down was a lot faster but also a lot more painful on our knees. Turkey D and I are still sore 2 days later, especially in the upper body as to help our knees out we lowered ourselves down rocks with our arms. But we think it’s a great price to pay for such an exciting hike.

Thanks so much to Bob, Judi and Dave for having us stay, we are starting to dub our post PCT travels as the Lovely People Tour of America. Crystals later visited Phoenix and Bob took her on the same hike!


Mia perhaps wisely stayed put on the desert floor and painted this mini masterpiece

Shit Pot Crater, Arizona

2/3 of the PCT Girl Gang are back together with honoury member Mia who walked 10 days on the AAWT with us back in Australia (blog posts available). We are all staying with Mia’s friends in Flagstaff and plan to do many great day trip and maybe a few overnights in the next 2 weeks. Arizona from the window of the bus looks amazing and I (Quiz) am quite excited!
After picking Turkey D up from the Amtrak station this morning we all piled into a truck and commented how bizarre it was that 3 Melbournians were driving the desert together. We quickly left town and headed for the high altitude(ish) plains around Flagstaff, which reminded me of the desert leading into the Sierra, yellow from dry grass and covered in pines. The trees petered out and the yellow plains became punctuated with purple brown domes and and few jagged peaks covered with more pines. There is a fire to the south that is also casting quite a bit of smoke into the sky.

There are very few roads, road signs or even buildings along Highway 89, but we finally passed Hank’s Trading Post and knew it was the next left. The dirt road we took went through private property, passed a beat up letter box and directly into a land of cinder cones and lava fields. The drive in was great so we knew walking in this landscape would be even better. The road headed for the biggest cone of them all, crossed a lava field in a swirl of dust and we pulled over at a point where we thought the cone looked the lease steep. 

Our climb was divided into two, the first half was relatively easy as we walked up a ridge coming off the main cone. The ground was firm and we walked to the saddle pretty quickly, the car soon looking like small dot, our only distance marker in the huge plain. The next part of the climb was up the steep slope of the cone, and this was hard! The path quickly disappeared and we were left to make our own way up the scree slope which fell away from under you. Going was slow, and the vegetation scratchy and soon we were all panting, sweating and getting scratched up legs – it felt so good! I haven’t felt my calves burn since climbing up the well manicured long PCT climbs in the Northern Cascades, and I haven’t had to scramble around on screen since attempting to climb My Theildsen in Oregon and I haven’t had such wide horizon bound mind altering views since the Hat Creek Rim in NoCal. It has been impossible not to fall in love with this place! 

Having said all that I was happy to reach the large rocky rim of the cone and peer down into its internal red sandy depths. The rim of firm rocks at the top must keep the cone structurally whole as I felt like I was ageing it at lease 10 years climbing up with all the erosion I was causing. Mia is a plein air painter and set up an easel and got to mixing up colours once we hit the top. We all took turns in carrying her pack and painting gear up, but getting the fresh wet painting down the side of the cone without smudging it was actually the hardest part. On the top Turkey D and I did a bit of scrambling around, but we were too scared to go into the crater’s centre as we didn’t know if we would be able to get out. Walking down felt like walking on the moon, each step slipped from underneath you and became huge, lifting our knees high we kinda looked like monsters hunting and making shrieking call of glee to one another. We were back to the car in no time at all, covered in dust and feeling very satisfied. 

The cone was named Shit Pot (just S P on maps) by cowboys in the 1800s. Wikipedia puts is best – “when viewed from certain angles on the ground, the combination of the smooth round shape of the cone, the dark lava spatter on the rim, and the long dark lava flow extruding from the base do indeed resemble a toilet catastrophe.”

View more of Mia’s art at http://miaschoenart.blogspot.com/?m=1 or on Instagram @miaschoen

The Lost City Day 4 – Alojamiento Wiwa to El Mamay – 12km

We woke up to rain. It normally rains from midday till about 4 or 5 in the afternoon but last night we listened to the loud spatters on our bunk house roof all night. The group was incredibly sullen, which was fair. I out on my wet clothes from yesterday and asked for a third cup on hot chocolate. Please get us the hell out of here!! 
We waited till 7 to leave because of the rain. Which meant waiting around for an hour in wet clothes under shelter. I was in a bad impatient mood, which soon wore off when the rain stopped and we started hiking. 

The first hill was red clay and pretty slippery but not too much wet sloppy mud. I had convinced myself that I had bed bugs last night, which I immediately googled when I got back to town, however I think the itching was from an accumulation of dirt and some bites from midges. Over the last hill the scenery grew increasingly agricultural again. The mud formed large, unknown in depth puddles that Quiz and I tried to skirt around but got up to our knees. We washed our legs and shoes in every stream, hoping it might be the last puddle, but alas. 

We made it back to El Mamay round 11:30am. 12km later. We were all so happy to have showers and be bundled into a van heading for town. The tour, the the rain and in the inescapable crowds had begun to feel a little like a high school excursion gone wrong. I hope to reflect better on this trip, maybe some decompression time will hopefully do the trick. The Lost City was amazing in it frozen time transporting ways, however I think we are ready to have a break from outdoor elements for now. 

The Lost City Day 3 – Alojamiento El Paraiso to Alojamiento Wiwa + The Lost City (!), 13kms

Today was the day, we finally made it to Ciudad Perdida aka The Lost City! This has been a hard hike but what we saw today was totally worth it. We got up at 4.50 but moving in groups is so slow and I (Quiz) was ready aeons before the rest of our group. I also woke up with the runs which means the others in our group have no excuse. I won’t mention it again save that the jungle is full of very useful large leaf plants, thanks jungle. We finally got going after breakfast and hiked upstream along the river our camp was on. It was morning so the water was clear and raging but not crazy and silty as it was the afternoon before. After about 15 mins and a bit of rock scrambling along the banks we cut straight across the river, again unlike yesterday afternoon the water was only up to our mid thigh but still quite strong. Pedro one of the guides who is lovely and if I could choose my Colombia dad, stood in the middle of the river for at least 10 min helping everyone across.

On the other bank the notorious 1000 steps/400m elevation gain in 0.5kms started. It was these steps that bounty hunters discovered in the 1970s which led to the ‘discovery’ of the Lost City by the west/colonisers. The steps are old steep and made of piled rocks, some huge and some so narrow and small that your shoe cannot fit on the step. They each had a thick layer of green moss or slime and were quite slippery. Our group was behind another group and progress up the steps was slow, but one thing I have noticed about today is that that jungle is really thick and untamed on the steep mountain slopes, so much to look at. The flowers are bright and sometimes flash out at you from the green foliage or sometimes slowly change from green to bright orange and you have to look carefully to see them.
We made it to the top of the steps everyone covered in sweat by 7am. Pedro translated by Sergio stopped and gave us the first of many history lessons about the site. I can’t remember or type it all but I will put in some of the best bits. Site 1, lowest on the steep mountain slopes was mainly houses, built on elevated circles to honour the sun. Under each circle is where the dead of each family house were buried, along with all of their belongings. The Tayrona (indigenous people of the Lost City) were expert goldsmiths and elaborate gold jewellery was buried with them which is what the bounty hunters were seeking.

The Tayrona couldn’t write but they made a lot of maps

Another long flight of stairs led to the second tier of the city which was where the Sharman lived and included an alter and a huge raised rectangular platform where ceremonies were performed as well as the towns general meeting place. At its largest the Lost City had a population of 3000 and was one of the largest and most advanced permanent settlements in Colombia. The Spanish arrival brought with it a hord of diseases which killed many inhabitants and drove the rest out as they believed the city was cursed. When the city was first ‘discovered’ it was part of the thick jungle and not visible by air. Since the late 80s the government has slowly been restoring the site for tourists. I felt a bit compromised when I found out that the city is closed every September as the Shamen and leaders of the local indigenous groups and direct descendants of the Tayrona preform ceremonies to clear the site of negativity from the hords of tourists who come here. 

The third site is slightly lower and to the west of the first two sites and was tiered for farming crops like cocoa leaves, corn, yams and tobacco. Indigenous people still live on this site and farm it today. After spending 3 hours walking around this mysterious place, looking at the cloud hanging in the surrounding valleys, spotting the subtle changes in the jungle which is less tame here further from farm land and counting the number of waterfalls we could see at one time (four), we started our descent. 

Pedro talking about grinding stones

After 2 intense days and so much time with strangers I was happy to walk alone for the afternoon. We had lunch back at camp and then set off asap but only just made it back across the river before the rain started. Today I overheard enough conversations to make me lose respect for about half our group, even the friendly ones – male talk of how weak their gfs were (this has been a hard hike), surprise over PC and my speed at hiking because we are fat (and proud), and derogatory talk about picking up women and what to say to get them to bang you – you get the picture. My tolerance of this has decreased since doing the PCT and I actually said something to one guy in the bus on the way home to shut him up. But this also made me miss my PCT pals who were caring sorts and very open minded and a fucking pleasure to hike with!

Turkey D/Harriet and I did manage to walk mostly on our own for the rest of the afternoon. We saw some cool bugs, a bright yellow bird, and a gang of parrots screeching through the forest. The jungle minus people was lovely and wet and now that we are used to being wet it’s not such a big deal. The path this afternoon was also not particularly muddy which made things easier too. Just before camp we had to cross a river swollen with monsoon rains. Yesterday it was knee deep but today it was well up to our waists. Our Colombia dad Pedro was once again in the middle of the river, unphased and surefooted in the torrent, tying up a rope to help our crossing. In typical Pedro fashion he was grinning ear to ear and saying Bueno the whole time while everyone tentatively crossed. On the other side was shelter, showers, and dry clothes (thank you dry bags, far more useful on this trip than the PCT). 

The Lost City Day 2 – Alojamiento de Adan to Alojamiento El Paraiso – 14km

I didn’t sleep last night. The thick soft foam mattress dipped in the middle touching the hard boards below creating a bowl in which sweat is absorbed into the mattress. I think about all the other tourists sweating into their mattresses, combined with the feeling of never quite being dry made for a sleepless uncomfortable night. 

Views of our first camp

Breakfast was salty scrambled eggs, sweet white toast with pineapple and papaya. We all ate around a big picnic table and left camp by 6am. The mornings walk began through more agricultural land, mostly cattle farming. The path remained wide enough to be a jeep track however the mud got so bad in parts, we were scrambling up the side of banks, holding onto barbed wire fences to prevent slipping into puddles of what could be knee deep mud. At parts the path had been concreted in, however these were now raised islands, showing the height of the old road with chaotic slushy messes on either side. We passed many small streams and cute cascading waterfalls amongst lush jungle foliage and interesting parasitic plants. 

Parasitic plants

Waterfalls and jungle views

We ascended up and over a ridge eating watermelon on the way, provided by our guides. The trail was bustling with what seemed like at least 50 other tourists. Mostly Europeans, we counted many Germans, Dutch and Belgian. After our decent into a valley we stopped at an encampment called Alojamiento Wiwa for lunch. We were earlier than anticipated (there are many British fitness freaks in our group, including a vegan investment banker who is into ‘Tough Mudder’, lol great) so our guides took us to a waterfall for a swim. It was quiet amazing, falling about 20m down a cliff and crashing dramatically on a rock right next to a deep swimming. The spray and wind generated by the falls is astounding has created a hyper-humid micro-climate, even chilly in temperature. 

We swim for 20 minutes and head back to the camp for lunch, vegetable soup and rice. I look at my phone and realise it’s only 9:30am and I am starving. The PCT has conditioned me to eat little and often, cramming in as many calories as possible. The local food on this trip is large in portion size but incredibly low in calories, causing a bloated and stodgy feeling whilst walking. I think about the documentary/book called Guns Germs and Steel and how jungle environments make for difficult food cultivation in terms of high calorie and high protein ingredients. 

After lunch we walk up a spectacular river valley. In the middle of our group, Quiz and I manage to get a few kilometres of solitary walking in. We cross a bridge over the blue grey torrent and begin a steep long climb up a mountain ridge. The afternoon rain begins at 12:30pm today, earlier than yesterday. We get in a hiker traffic jam of individual dodging slippery mud and puffing their ways up the hill. No sleep and crowdedness make for gruelling times for me, and I am beginning to dislike my time out here. It never gets truely cold out here but the constant wet feeling is grinding my gears. Also on a side note quite a few of the ‘ultra-fit’ meaning skinny hikers make condescending comments of surprise at how fast Quiz and I are considering our builds. After the PCT I don’t have a competitive bone in my body for hiking and truely feel at ease with my capabilities and body and feel totally confused by these comments. 

Footbridge, max 3 ppl at a time

The last 3 kilometres are gentle and scenic, through mountain meadows covered in mist and light rain. As the valley narrows we cross a river than goes above my waist! Pedro our local guide gives me a helping hand and I am grateful for it. We get into Alojamiento El Paraiso by 3:30pm and hustle for a shower. I am a hermit nerd so I hung out in my mosquito net and read the Philip K Dick book Quiz bought me and passed out. Only 1km to Lost City! 

Inside the bunk house

Misty mountains

The Lost City Day 1 – Machete Pelao to Alojamiento de Adan, 7.4kms

Today was a baptism of mud! We were picked up from our hostel at 9am but getting out of Santa Marta took some time. We collected the other 6 people in our group slowly filling up the back of a 4WD. It was hot and muggy this morning but little did we know that it was nothing on what we were about to do.
After lots of faffing we finally set off 12 of us in one 4WD; two indigenous guides, a translator, a cook, our driver, and 8 tourists. Obviously this is a very very different operation to the PCT. You must travel with a guide, we will be walking max 15km in one day, it rains all afternoon and it’s hot and muggy and overcast most of the time, it’s just approaching monsoon season. But the crown of this hike is the lost city we will reach on day 3, thousands of years old ruins lost in the jungle (to colonialists/non indigenous folks) till the 1970s but more on that later.
After 1 hour driving on a nice sealed road we pulled off and drove for 45min along a very pot holed, steep drop off jungle track. My butt was numb from bumping around when we finally arrived in Machete Pelao a tiny town in the middle of the jungle, and had a very traditional Colombian lunch of meat (this time fried chicken), rice, salad and plantain fritta. 

After 1 we set off on the trek. While eating we saw heaps of people returning covered in mud. This is a popular crowded trail. After crossing a stream we started climbing and climbed for the next 5kms. This meant that views came quickly as the trail was steep and the higher we climbed we left the cleared farmland behind and the jungle started to grow denser. The trail was a jeep track that zig zagged up the side of the steep mountains, the only style of mountains in this area. The clouds we’re hanging low and we were climbing to meet them. It was so hot and muggy that after only half an hour sweat was dripping from us and our tee shirts were stuck to us.

We stopped to eat some excellent watermelon after 1.5hours of climbing and the thunder started. It was so loud and the clouds were so close! Then came the lightening which felt next door and filled my head with sound and light. It was exciting being so close to a storm. But as usual the show precedes the downpour that happens every day between 3-4pm. I put on my raincoat and thankfully all my clothes are in dry sacks but the rain was so hard and the air so muggy that only the clothes in my bag remained dry.

Climbing in the rain was fine. After only a few minutes the track had become a stream of mud. When we hit the steep downhill I got out my walking pole and slipped and slid my way down the final 2.5kms. Once I realised it was impossible to stay clean and dry it was fun getting stuck in thick mud, slipping and nearly but not quite falling on my butt. Turkey D fell but saved her butt instead deciding to sacrifice her legs to the thick mustard mud. It was pretty incredible how the trail transformed. 
At the bottom of the hill, out of the rain haze a beautiful flower garden emerged full of huge tropical flowers in orange white and red. Basic open shelters full of bunks under fly nets greeted us. Unfortunately we put our phones away in dry bags and immediately got out of our muddy clothes when we got to camp so we have no photos of our mud caked shoes and calves, sorry! We tried to shower but they didn’t work but we were so wet I really didn’t feel I needed to. I washed my shoes by literally dunking them in a bucked and hung up all my clothes to dry knowing my chances were pretty slim. Our excellent cook made us a traditional Colombian meal with fish and we could buy beer from a small canteen. Perfecto! 

After dinner one of our many guides explained many customs from his local indigenous group the Wiwa. Everyone walks barefoot to connect with the earth, wear white which symbolise purity, sleep in round huts to commemorate the sun, never cut your hair as it will cause the river to stop flowing. We have seen many Wiwa already and as they are the local group will see many more tomorrow. He also explained Poporo to us as pictured with Turkey D. They are gourds boys are given when they become men. Men sit around chewing cocoa leaves, which they mix with sea shells they grind in the gourd producing a glue which they rub on the white top part of the gourd into shapes of their own design. I think there must be more to this ritual than that but it is a good excuse to chew cocoa leaves!

Day 155 – Hopkins Lake to Canada! 10km

The day we’ve been walkin for. Well not really but an important one in the saga. We hit the road at 6:30am and begin descending into the final valley. We are slack packing because we left our tent at Hopkins lake. After visiting the monument we have to hike 30 miles back to Harts Pass to get a ride into the big smoke. 
Walking this morning was not comfortable. I began to notice yesterday that we were pushing ourselves to the very end like some strange personal pilgrimage. It was tainting my appreciation of the landscape, not being able to stop and take it in. Also it was excruciating to be this close but still be walking, then all of a sudden it is a if the forest ejected you into a strange linear meadow, there is the monument. 

There is a cleared stripe of trees to denote the border along the 49th parallel. I just stared at it for a while, grinning from ear to ear, it was 8:30am. Then all of a sudden Quiz emerges from the forest and starts to tear up. We have a big hug and proceed to make whisky coffee and get photos with the monument. No Show arrives and shows us where the log book is. The 78th marker is the second statue but in by the US Government along the border, when you remove the top there is the ultimate pct log book. I write Turkey D’s first official Female Wresting advertisement! 

No Show hits the road back to Harts Pass and we have some alone time at the border. All emotions on the spectrum are felt; disbelief, euphoria, sorrow, hysteria and this feeling of epic time, in terms of how much older and wiser we all feel. It also feels as though a huge weight has been lifted, we walked from Mexico to Canada and we were so dedicated to that for so long, now our tasks were small in comparison. For a second I felt invincible, even though we are far from it. It’s amazing what you can build on day by day and how that can accumulate into something ginormous. 

While our path has not been continuous or in any way linear, we have had a completely different experience of the pct than compared to other years. Personal goals have been abandoned and questioned when things have never been easy or predictable. To keep hiking with the knowledge that nothing is technically ‘finished’ and making your own journey out of that was a huge challenge and humbled us to the natural environment which was at times totally inhospitable. Still finishing feels like an acceptance of our limitations and a celebration of the skills we have gained. Be kind/gentle to yourself, love your body and bask in these feelings while you can I say.