I thru-hiked the Grand Enchantment Trail, starting outside of Phoenix, Arizona on March 18th, 2021 and finishing atop Sandia Peak, perched above Albuquerque, New Mexico on April 29th, 2021. The route was pretty much what I expected it to be. There were days that involved some of the hardest/crappiest hiking I’d ever done and some days that were fantastic for their scenery and remoteness.
This was not a hike for winging-it. There were no signs or markers except for a few old Forest Service blazes here and there. GPS was extremely useful and I would argue, almost essential. Overall I found the navigation well within my abilities…that is to say it was fairly straight forward since I had done my homework beforehand and was prepared. Resupply was a little tricky, as most of the trail towns were very small and sometimes a ways off the route.
Water was by-far the most limiting factor. Nearly all of the American West is suffering from severe drought over the past 10 to 20 years. Climate change is wreaking havoc in these areas, resulting in once-reliable water sources becoming spotty at best. Massive fires have also devastated forests and watersheds, resulting in significantly diminished flows of springs and creeks. Between fires and drought, I seriously wonder if hiking in the SW will be possible in coming years.
Even cattle ranchers are having a hard time making ends meet. Generally water can be pumped from deep wells (aquifers) via solar or wind pumps. But even these wells are going dry, so water has to be trucked in from elsewhere.
I had some of my best days on this trail and some of my worst. The worst were the 12 miles spent wrestling with blowdowns along the Mogollon Crest Trail. Thousands of trees had fallen across the trail and it was no longer being maintained. This was unfortunate, because the trail led to the highest point on the GET. Blisterfree designated an alternate and I’d probably recommend that future hikers take it. The area is still suffering from a massive 2012 fire that left the range pretty much devoid of live trees.
This is the trail…for miles.
My favorite sections were: the western part of the Superstions to Weaver’s Needle, White Canyon Wilderness, Holdout Canyon in the Santa Teresas, un-burned parts of the Pinalenos, Eagle Creek, Mineral Canyon, West Fork of the Gila, Diamond Creek, the Magdalena mountains (taking the alt to Socorro), the Manzano Mountains, and the Sandias. Section-hiking the GET in these areas is probably the best option, but I’m still glad I did it as a thru-hike. I’d go back to many of these places, but I doubt I’d thru-hike the whole route a second time.
Thanks to so many trail angels that helped along the way: Jon & Laurel, MJ Purple Angel, Sequoia, Violet, Klondyke General Store, Purple & Carnivore, Alma General Store, Deb & Dan, Doc Campbells, Gila hot springs, TinMan, Winston General Store, Pastor Jim, Forest Service peeps on Withington, High Country Inn, Tumbleweeds, Kate, Sam, Linnea, Electra, Dave, the Thompson’s, Tictoc, Cookie, Cashmere, Blue and Twerk! And all the many more I forgot or didn’t get names for when they gave us rides, water, advice, etc. This was a pretty lonely trail and yet still filled with wonderful folks at every turn.
Here are a few stats:
Total Miles Hiked: 752
Days: 40 (counting 2 planned zeros, but not the 3 unplanned illness zeros in Socorro)
Zero days: 5
Average daily mileage for days hiked: 20 mi/day
Most miles hiked in one day: 30 (on the CDT segment)
Fewest miles hiked in one day: 3 (getting into Doc Campbells)
Highest Point: South Baldy 10,783′ (not on the official GET route, we took an alternate)
Lowest Point: Gila River 1,750′
Nights I slept in my tent: 27
Nights I slept in a shelter: 1
Campfires: 0 (I advocate strongly for NO campfires in the the desert SW. It’s just not very practical, useful, or safe. Enjoy all the stars and vast darkness instead!)
Days with Rain/Snow: 5 (we managed to avoid getting wet by perfectly timing these days with shelter in towns).
Animals sighted/heard: 1 black bear, coatimundi, javalina, elk, mule deer, Coues white-tailed deer, cows, horses, goats, coyote, fox, western screech owls, great horned owls, Mexican Spotted Owl, ravens, hawks, vultures, great blue herons, roadrunners, curved bill thrashers, canyon wrens, cactus wrens, black-throated sparrows, Gambel’s quail, vermilion flycatchers, horned lizards, scorpions, 1 rattlesnake, and a few other non-venomous snakes.
Times I wished I carried a weapon or bear spray: 0
Trail Town & Resupply Stats:
Trail Towns/Resupply Stops: Phoenix, Superior, Camp Sequoia/Freeman Rd, Mammoth, Klondyke, Purple C Ranch, Safford, Alma/Glenwood, Doc Campbells, Winston, Magdalena, Socorro, Tijeras, Albuquerque.
Nights spent in a hotel / B&B: 9…Mammoth, Safford, Glenwood, Winston, Magdalena (2), Socorro (2), Albuquerque.
Nights hosted by Trail Angels: 15 (Phoenix, Superior, Purple-C Ranch, Socorro, Albuquerque, including 7 nights before & after the hike)
Rides from Trail Angels / hitches: 18 / 8
Resupply boxes: 2 boxes mailed to Doc Campbells & Winston General store; Dropped prior to trip: Superior (MJ), Freeman Rd (Sequoia), Klondyke, Purple C Ranch, Glenwood (D&D).
Longest gap between resupplies & showering/laundry: 4.5 days (Safford to Alma/Glenwood) Twice we did laundry in a motel sink and once at a hot springs. Clothes got very dirty from all the dust.
Longest stretch between water sources: 26 miles but this can vary considerably. We hiked during a drought, getting lucky a few times and running out of that same luck a couple times too. We also took some alternates to have better chances with water. There are several sections that could involve some really long water carries, it just depends on a myriad of factors.
For the GET, I carried pretty much all the same gear that I had on the CDT and AZT. You can see that gear list here.
Pairs of shoes: 1 Altra Superior 3.5…it was a real stretch making these last through the whole hike. The cross-country sections and lava rocks were really hard on shoes. I punched a hole in the side-wall about 200 miles in and had to make a patch using dental floss. The uppers had holes everywhere and the tread was non-existent by the end. I really should have changed shoes by Magdalena or Socorro, but I was stubborn and cheap. I threw these poor shoes away in the trash can in Albuquerque first thing, they were were so bad.
This was definitely my HMG 2400 pack’s last thru-hike. Sun, dirt, thorny vegetation, and a whole lot of miles/time rendered it pretty much dead. The DCF was de-laminating and shrunken throughout the pack body, making it almost too small to carry a load and no longer water resistant. It was in serious danger of falling apart altogether. The dynema pocket material was also starting to rip in several places. It survived close to 10,000 miles and 6 thru-hikes (TA, PCT, CDT, AZT, LT, GET). I was really hoping that it could make it through the AT so I could say I completed the Triple Crown with almost all the same gear. At least it was along with me for about 300 miles on section hikes of the AT and also was my cherished pack for my dyslexic Triple Crown (TA, PCT, CDT), so that’s good enough.
Farewell my beloved pack. What a journey it’s been.
My Zpacks Solplex tent is still hanging in there! I need to do some more inspection and patch work but I plan to use it on the AT. That may need to be the final hike for this tent and I have a Plexamid on standby should the rainy East Coast prove to be too much for my poor old Sol. What a champion this tent has been and I just love it so much. I’m so sad that I couldn’t replace it with a new one but the Plexamid is pretty close…a lot more interior space at least.
My Katabatic Alsek quilt performed as well as could be expected on this hike of extremes. I suffered through my coldest nights of any thru-hike yet while on the GET. One night was probably down into the mid 20’s, since both my water bottles were close to frozen solid in the morning. Surprisingly, I wasn’t too terribly cold on this night. There were a few other nights where I was pretty chilled but I had an ace up my sleeve for this trip…hand warmers! I could activate one of these and have a nice little heat source for over 12 hours. They were worth the 1-2 oz of weight. My Alsek will be in standby for the AT, as I’ll be switching to my lighter 30 degree Palisade to begin the summer.
The rest of the gear was pretty much the same-old story. My Black Diamond carbon Z-poles needed new tips but were still going strong after all this time. My Thermarest women’s Neoair Xlite had one night that made me think it had gotten a hole, but it was just the extreme cold. I had yet to get a hole in any of my Thermarests but I do take great care to clean the area under my tent each night, especially in the desert. My umbrella took a bit of a beating from all the bushwhacking but I was able to patch it. I had to get a new filter right at the start, but the new one did a good job of getting the cow poop out of my water. All the rest of the small stuff performed as expected. I didn’t loose any items and I didn’t feel that I was lacking much, save for some extra layers when it got really cold.
My next post will be an update on my AT planning. Thank you for following along in this adventure and I hope you enjoyed!