The 800-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail (AZT), while short by long-distance hiking standards, packs a lot of diverse scenery and elevation changes in its length from Mexico to Utah. When most people think of Arizona, they envision it to be hot, dry and flat. However, the AZT ranges from elevations of 1200 to 9000 feet and goes through the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the whole world, from rim to rim in the Grand Canyon, through pinyon-juniper hills and grasslands, Sky Island mountain ranges and classic Sonoran desert with towering Saguaro cacti. The trail is commonly hiked northbound in the spring and southbound in the fall.
Gossamer Gear Brand Ambassador Heather “Anish” Anderson is known for simultaneously holding the self-supported Fastest Known Time (FKT) on both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. On October 27th, she added the Arizona Trail to that list.
Anish completed the Arizona Trail in 19 days, 17 hours and 9 minutes, making her the only person to ever hold the Fastest Known Time on three National Scenic Trails at once. Many had attempted to beat the previous self-supported FKT of 21 days, 14 hours and 16 minutes set by Adam “Krudmeister” Bradley in 2011. Most underestimated the terrain and the difficulty of the trail and fell short.
Here’s some thoughts from Anish about her experiences on the trail:
Besides the shorter length, how was your FKT on the AZT different from your AT and PCT hikes?
Anish: The AZT was different in terrain, obviously. It was drier and had fewer on-trail resupply points which meant I had to carry a heavier pack (between food and water) more often. I routinely carried a 25-30lb pack on the AZT, compared with about 15 lbs on average on the other two trails.
What was it like to return to the Grand Canyon, where you first discovered hiking 15 years ago when working at the park?
Anish: It was a magical start to this hike! There was so much nostalgia and excitement before and during my crossing. It also reminded me of why I love the Grand Canyon so much and rekindled my desire to get deeper into the Canyon and explore.
Most challenging moment(s)?
Anish: There were several very challenging times on the trail. I’d say the most difficult was my first full day when I got hypothermic and had to stop very early simply because it was unsafe for me to continue. That was demoralizing, especially so early in the hike, not to mention physically taxing.
How did the conditions of the AZT influence what gear you brought?
Anish: I knew the Arizona Trail would be mostly warm, with a lot of dirt roads and sun exposure. I chose a max cushioned road shoe (Altra’s Paradigm), lightweight layers, warm weather sleeping bag, and a desert sun hat by Ultimate Direction. I also used the Sawyer All-In- One filter to ensure I didn’t get sick from the less than ideal water sources. I took a gamble with the colder weather up north and had to deal with hypothermic conditions one day. My gear choices were spot on for the rest of the trail however. The only thing I would have done differently is gotten a longer gaiter for the overgrown sections in the south and used 3 pairs of shoes instead of 2.
Most surprising thing about the AZT?
Anish: Grasslands! I was not expecting the southern portion of the trail to be so overgrown and have so many grass seed pods stabbing into my feet!
What&’s your next project?
Anish: Right now I’m planning a peakbagging trip to Mexico in January to climb 2 of the 3 highest peaks in the country as well as several other summits.
To read the full narrative of her journey, read it here on Anish’s site!
Follow her adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @anishhikes
To learn more about the Arizona Trail, visit aztrail.org