When I came to Arizona in March, I had a few ideas of what I thought it would be like. Most of these ideas were influenced by spending my whole life in New England. For starters, I thought Arizona would be sunny all the time (wrong). I thought it would be dry (also wrong). I thought it would be warm (double wrong). The biggest misconception I think I had of Arizona, was that it doesn’t snow there. This is the story of how unbelievably wrong I was.
The Colorado Plateau
Just a few days after leaving Pine, our group rose above the lowlands to the top of the Colorado Plateau. This massive land feature covers 130,000 square miles in 5 different states, and let me tell you, it is FLAT aside from the Grand Canyon. Although it has very few features, it is still 7,000 feet above sea level, and so I probably should have expected it to be at least a little bit colder up there.
On our second day on the plateau, I awoke to the sounds of my companions hitting tents and tarps with trekking poles, followed by the soft “shhhh” of four inches of snow sliding off of nylon. Not ready to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag, I picked up my legs under my A-Frame style tarp and kicked both sides of my shelter to alleviate the weight of the sudden winter. It had snowed off and on the day before. Big, fat flakes that I would stop and try to catch on my tongue. None of them stuck to the ground, they only served to get our boots wet and make the mud more like quicksand. Overnight, snow continued to fall. Colder now, the snow accumulated around us while we slept.
Of course, we checked the weather. We all knew that this was going to happen. I may have been a bit in denial about it until I woke up to a winter wonderland that looked more like my home in New Hampshire than the desert. I was actually pretty thrilled to see some snow. My ski season was cut short because of this trip, so it was nostalgic for me to still see winter. I was also struck by how rare an occurrence this might be, and blessed that I got to experience snow in one of the hottest places in the country.
Falling Out of Love
My positive attitude and good mood lasted about half the day. Hiking in fresh snow is difficult, and while we all took turns breaking the trail, I was still exhausted by lunch. Muscles that had not bothered me in ages were aching. My feet were soaked and cold. By the time we had arrived in camp that night, I had gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Still, I was able to be grateful that I could now at least take my boots off and get into my warm dry sleeping bag.
The next morning was the most challenging morning yet. I woke up still tired from the day before. The cold was bitter, making it near impossible for me to get out of my sleeping bag. I packed up everything and found myself sitting under my tarp, ready to go except for one thing. My frozen solid boots sat in front of me, blandly staring back at me. Every minute I procrastinated, my feet grew colder. I picked up one boot and started wrestling with it; pulling at the laces, bending the sides, trying to cram my foot into it. Eventually, it worked. I had one frozen boot on one cold foot.
Quickly, I started to work on the other boot. I knew the sooner I got it on the less time I would spend being cold. I didn’t work quickly enough. I had barely started working on the second boot when the foot that was in the first boot demanded my attention through the biting pain of slowly freezing and losing feeling.
I tried everything that I could to keep it warm, short of going out and running through the snow with only one boot on. I flexed my toes, I kicked the ground, I did some a workout. Nothing worked. My foot was slowly freezing. The sharp pain that accompanied this was unlike anything I’ve ever felt. Eventually, I pulled my knees to my chest and silently screamed into my legs. That didn’t help either, but Zelzin noticed my pain. She brought me her hot coffee and dumped it on my foot. Instantly there was relief. Thank god for trail family.
For the next two days, we trudged through snow and mud. My pace was hindered by both of these things, and my muscles struggled to adjust to the increased demand. If there is one thing about thru-hiking that I don’t like, it’s road walking. However, when the group decided to hit the pavement for a day after our run-in with Old Man Winter, I didn’t complain even a little.