The Grand Enchantment Trail
A trail that is definitely not a trail, and certainly the most mentally difficult hike which I have ever done. The remote seldom seen canyons, unpopulated ghost towns, and long expansive desert views stretching into the horizon were very inspiring and truly incredible. Other times however it was many miles of blowdowns and bushwhacking, navigating aimlessly down some steep burned out wash, only to find that it’s getting worse as I continue further. All together a hike and experience I will certainly never forget, which held more lessons than anything else that I have done.
- Start: March 28 2023
- Finish: May 6 2023
- Direction: Eastbound, PHX to ABQ
- Distance: 784 miles / 1,261 kilometers
- Duration: 39 days
- Average: 20 miles per day
- 6 other GET hikers I met (lonely trail experience)
- 30 GET hikers total I speculate were out there this year (a busy year)
- 2 bears
- 5 rattle snakes
- 5 normal snakes
- 7 javalina
- 300+ elk
- 34 turkeys
- 1 large group of antelope
- 2 days I got rained on
- 2 days I got snowed on
- 2 times I did actual laundry
- 7 times I ‘washed’ my shorts and socks in a sink
- 7 times I showered
- 4 pairs of shoes (all of the shoe problems)
- 4 pairs of socks
- 3 broken tent stakes
- 4 resupply boxes (Klondyke, Glenwood, Doc Campbells, Winston)
Birds I saw: Western tanager, north rough winged swallow, black chinned hummingbird, chipping Sparrow, yellow rumped warbler, blue grey gnatcatcher, house finch, gila woodpecker, yellow warbler, gambles quail, american coot, vermilion flycatcher, white crowned sparrow, brewers sparrow, house sparrow, greater roadrunner, hermit thrush, phainopepla
And a whole bunch else, but on the more common side.
Much of my writings about this hike may come across as ‘bleak’ at times. It really is anything but, I just want to paint a picture of the difficulties for anyone who is considering doing this trail. Better that I think, than to make it seem like every second is wonderful and easy and beautiful and friendly. Frankly, I’ve received mixed messages about how to depict this experience from others. The theme though has been it would be best to talk more about the hard realities, rather than the blessings. This hike is not something everybody would enjoy, but I think we will get into that more deeply here soon.
I can’t quite explain it but I think if you really loved the PNT and everything that hike involved, maybe this would be closer to your kind of thing. By comparison the GET is less official, less maintained, less marked, less people, smaller towns, less water, and more obscure. Which even that is an understatement. So don’t hold me to it, it’s just a thought which has no real bearing. The opposite is likely much more true, if you hated the PNT, you would very likely not enjoy this.
In the end, as I told my family before I started… this is not a trail, there is no trail.
“The Grand Enchantment Trail is a 770+ mile wilderness trekking route across the Southwest U.S., connecting mountains, deserts, canyons, and places of cultural and historic interest. Beginning in the Sonoran desert near Phoenix Arizona, the route meanders eastward, crossing unique and diverse Sky Island mountain ranges, deep and water-blessed desert canyons, the pine-studded Continental Divide, and toward the southernmost Rocky Mountains, where it descends dramatically to the outskirts of Albuquerque New Mexico at its distant terminus.”
https://www.simblissity.net/get-home.shtml – Everything you need is found on this website; maps, water report, descriptions, guides, etc. I recommend you read all of this multiple times, if a thru hike is what you’re after.
For me this was a 784 mile hike, which I tracked daily as I like data and statistics so I know that number is accurate. Given the nature of such a ‘trail’ I could easily see it being likely to do a bit more than 800 miles, or as little as 760.
Some alternates are shorter, some are longer. Some harder, some easier. There is definitely a true, main, official, original, intended route. Though many times that seemed to be recommended against, due to fire damage, snow, or high water. Given that much of the trail is very remote, I personally did not wish to take too many chances or unnecessary risks, so often I played it safe. I think the main route would maybe be the more beautiful option, while the alternates are more akin to bypasses or reroutes.
Prior to starting I thought the record winter would be to my advantage as water might be more available, which was true. It also however meant that many sections would be significantly more dangerous, and that a lot of us would just route around them, which was unfortunate. Though I enjoyed the alternates, every one of them, they held the feeling of going against what was once intended.
In the past there have been hikers who needed to be rescued off this route before, so I did not want to do that. I wanted to make educated decisions based on my experience level, current conditions, past reports, and what gear I had for aid. Those alternates and reroutes exist for very good reason. If I was not comfortable, I tried to be honest with myself and the potential risk.
One of my biggest mileage days was while on the AZT, which compared to the rest of this hike felt like a super highway. Even the segment that shares miles with the CDT felt like a super highway. I say that not because either of those trails are easy, as they are not! But by comparison they are well maintained, nicely graded, and well marked. While the rest of the GET is… slow. Very slow. Not necessarily the most physically demanding, but certainly the most mentally demanding. As far as ease of use goes, this is far from the experience of a hike on the AZT.
There’s actually a whole page on the official website imploring the user to go slow. As they say, this isn’t the type of trail for speed, there are other hikes for that. So I personally took that about as seriously as I ever have. I told myself not to night hike, sleep in, take my time, take breaks, touch a flower, look at the clouds, count the birds, moo at cows, setup my tent even though I don’t have to. I told myself to go slow. I actually wish I would have done this with someone else, or found a partner along the way. I likely would have gone even slower.
The terrain itself does not lend itself to making miles, and I voluntarily gave that up immediately after leaving the AZT. Some days I did 15, some days I did 25. Usually depending on how much road, how much bushwhacking, how many thousands of times I had to look at my map, or whatever it may have been. Leaving every town was met with at least some confusion on just how much food I needed as it seemed hard to judge what I would be able to manage in the proceeding days. Often I would roll into the next town full on empty and hungry, or more than a few times I still had an extra day or two of food in my bag. It’s a strange thing that what I expected and planned for could vary so wildly in such a short time. I don’t know if I ever really ‘nailed it.’
This is the desert southwest, and bushwhacking is unfortunately not through a field of green damp ferns. Instead it is through a wide variety of plants, all of which have thorns. So many thorns. It is surprising that neither my shorts or sun shirt actually had any major tears but I think I got lucky there. So naturally it is recommend that you wear pants, and I can’t argue with that. Pants certainly would have saved me blood and frustration. I chose to go against that in an effort to really “take it all in.” I sure did!
So bushwhacking is another way to say that there is no trail. You will at times be wandering what can feel aimlessly in one direction or another. Seeking the path of least resistance, when in reality there isn’t such a thing, and all paths resist.
The gps track, the map set, the water report, and the guide pages all aid you in your decision making and routing. I wish I hadn’t in hindsight, but I chose to forgo the paper maps. They really would have been helpful many more times than once, given how frequently I felt the need to check my gps and waste my battery. Some days and many sections I felt like I was looking at it every other minute, so having that second option would have been very useful. The map set also has some information that was not present in other sources.
So all this to say, use all resources available to you. They will provide extra value to your adventure, allowing you to travel more safely, and make more educated decisions.
The guide pages themselves are also quite wonderful. You may not need them to survive, but they provide so much information that is so incredibly valuable and interesting. They talk about the history, the environment, the geology, the plants, the animals, the alternates and options, and the trail you are supposed to be following. Every little thing has been meticulously documented for our enjoyment and benefit. I personally would read the entire next section before I would begin it, as often the guide changed my plans which required me to carry more food or less. The guide taught me so much about the area I was hiking through, and was truly one of my favorite things about this route.
Suddenly around halfway into the hike heading eastbound, the guide abruptly ends. For those who start in Albuquerque they have about half the trail until they get to read its blessings! So yeah, unfortunately it is not complete.
I cannot imagine how much effort went into writing what is included, and it is immensely appreciated. I really did feel like it offered so much and was such a joy to read.
I remember on the PCT someone asking me a question around mile one thousand, they had their phone out with farout open, and I asked to see their app so I could point out their answer. I very quickly saw that this person did not have the surrounding maps downloaded for the area. They were just following a line through an empty abyss devoid of topography and information. This is probably akin to me not carrying paper maps on such a hike as the GET. But hey, lesson learned.
There is no guthook or farout app for this. Nor should there be, nor will there ever be. So you’ve got the paper maps, you’ve got the gps track, and you are diving deep into the wanderings of the guide. The last piece of this puzzle is the water report. All the cool hikers update the water report as they go, as this hike is crowd sourced in a way. It relies on those ahead of you, behind you, and those who hiked the years before you to really work well. Of course each year someone has to go first and be what I thought of as ‘the guinea pig.’ But overall it is very important in my opinion that everyone adds something.
The water report is the easiest of that, but I also found it very helpful that one group ahead of me would post on facebook about the section I was about to do. I was quite sad when I eventually passed them, partly because of the nice reports, but also and especially because I never actually got to meet them when I really had wanted to. But such is the way of the GET.
In many ways the GET has had a very rough time over the past 10 or so years. I don’t say this because I didn’t have an extremely rewarding experience out there (I did,) I say this because of wildfires. Nearly every section of this hike has been impacted by fire, and in a lot of ways that is the cause of many problems you will face while hiking. It is quite sad to see, but a stark reminder that this is hiking in the west, and a problem not even a trail like the PCT can avoid.
Some sections are worse than others with hundreds of blowdowns across the trail, tricky camping among dead trees, overgrown sections with whatever plant grew back first, areas that are maybe now neglected entirely, and many reroutes exist that maybe aren’t true to the original intention of this trail to help you avoid all this.
I have wanted to be clear about this because I think most people would come out here, and not enjoy it because of these things. There is unfortunately no way around it, a mountain range visited by some of the biggest fires in the states history is going to affect the view. I know quite a few people that only hike these things ‘for the view’ and despite there still being many great ones and a lot of other wonderful things about this route, this may not be the trip for them.
So I knew all this before starting, and still wanted to do it, still wanted to see it, and still wanted to experience it. Some of my favorite trips of the past have been the lesser known trails, and that’s definitely part of it, but there’s a few other things here that really interested me.
In a small way it is having lived in a van all around Arizona for the past 3 years, and traveling across New Mexico in all sorts of different ways, I wanted to see my home in a more intimate manner. From my vans window I always looked off into the land and wondered what it would be like hiking out there. To be traveling across these desert valleys, or to be up in those mountains. To have nothing but my backpack in the very middle of nowhere. What these small towns would be like to roll in not on wheels, but to be on foot. To talk to the locals for longer than it takes me to just get gas. These areas are familiar to me in so many ways from those years, but I didn’t feel like I actually knew them. The Arizona Trail helped give me a greater insight into the one state, but there was still so much more I wondered about.
I first became privy to this hike sometime in 2014 after Dirtmonger had done what he dubbed ‘The Vagabond Loop.’ A ridiculous hike connecting many trails in the desert southwest creating a route that would likely kill most people. His route included the GET as the final section of that loop. These were the beginning years of me really obsessing over anything thru hiking, and to say I was inspired would be an understatement.
I also remember reading about Chance and her experience on the GET (and many of Brett Tuckers other routes.) Chance, similar to Dirt was someone else I very much was inspired by. I was nowhere near ready to do anything even sort of like what they were doing, but the idea of these routes definitely stuck with me as maybe something I would try later, once I had more experience.
They were just hiking these trails, but then naturally Brett created them. I hadn’t even really considered doing one of them yet, but they existed in a realm most trails didn’t. Difficult and remote, passing through areas no other trail did, and while a lot of hikes are very fun these were something else entirely. The views or landscape often took a backseat to my own mental wanderings of these people who had done this before me. In the water report there are still small indications of those people. Sources that haven’t been updated in ten years, and still bare their name. I love that.
The final reason I wanted to do this hike, was that I felt it was time to expand my horizons. I wanted to learn and grow as a hiker. I wanted to spend more time looking at topography on a map. To follow herd trails made by animals, to make decisions, to not be on one exact path, to really have to plan and research, to be alone. I wanted to know what this would be like, and what I might gain from it personally as a hiker.
So finally, the year is 2023, I have a fair amount of experience navigating with tools other than farout, I have hiked quite a bit in the desert southwest, I am confident in my ability to plan a trip, and I am confident in my ability to just be happy doing weird things. I finally felt ready to take on something like this route. I had the interest, the motivation, and I hoped the experience.
I think somewhere Brett said that some really take to routes and what that involves, while most find very quickly that it is not for them, and proceed to hike the PCT another time. I still don’t know where I fit into that spectrum as in many ways I would be happy to hike the PCT or AT into oblivion, but also have a lot of interest in doing trails more similar to this. I’ve read that the GET would be a tough first route to do, I think I can see why.
Somewhere in me I want to walk 500 miles down the coast of Oregon drinking from cafes every day, but then on the other hand I also want to hike high ridgelines devoid of trail through remote areas. I think in a lot of ways I am happy to just be out there seeing something new, despite what that may involve, and will just continue to take things year by year.
This really is a special route, that goes through some very unique places which are seldom used. I can only imagine what it was like to scout, map, and eventually have hiked it back in the years of creation. It is incredible to connect all of these herd trails, cow paths, long lost hiking trails, well known hiking trails, dirt roads, paved roads, canyons, washes, fence lines, property lines, and everything else this thing includes into one coherent adventure. Everything feels as though it belongs.
Despite the fire damage there are many sections and miles and places and canyons and rivers and mountains that are exceptionally beautiful. The flowers still bloom, the cat claw still bites, the sun still sets, water flows, trees sway, and animals are in abundance. The great desert expanses, and the tall mountains rising like islands from them… are still incredibly beautiful, and something I was always marveling at. To look off into the distance and know that there is no water, no people, no roads, nothing, creates a unique and forever interesting environment to be thrown into.
To follow a canyon from its opening, all the way to the top of a mountain seamlessly felt the most special to me. The many canyons and washes of this hike were without a doubt my favorite part, which is maybe evident from my photos. With towering walls besides me and seemingly no way out but forward or back, everything about the canyons I loved. Sometimes a small stream trickled through, and other times I went thirsty. I looked up and around those walls for mountain goats, coatimundi, or whatever other animal may be watching me from above. I never did see anything too special in that regard, but they surely saw me.
I felt that on this trail I saw a lot more wildlife than what I would have expected. Compared to the Pacific Crest Trail, the Grand Enchantment is about one third the length and took me about one third the time. Yet I felt I saw more animals here than there, despite the length or time. Hundreds and hundreds of deer, large herds of elk, entire flocks of turkey running together, an incredible variety of bird species, snakes and lizards of all kinds. My list goes on and on.
There were a lot of times I felt that this hike reminded me of my first thru, which was of the International Appalachian Trail. During that experience I only met 4 other hikers total, none of which did I actually get to hike with, and all of which were only doing a section. For the most part it was just me and whatever locals who would talk to me. It was lonely yes, but because of the obscurity (most AT hikers don’t even know the International portion exists) it felt like a true adventure. I would go days without seeing anyone, and not out of luck or chance, there just wasn’t anyone else out there. I marveled back then as I did on the GET, that I could sit in one place for days and no one would find me.
In total I met 6 other hikers in the near 800 miles I was out there. I’ve talked to some others who only met one, in that same time. Most of the time I really liked the solitude but I could see how that lack of community and lack of people could be quite the deterrent for many. There were more than a few times it really got to me too. Mostly I used the silence and isolation to think. How I’d like to improve, what I value, what I love doing, where I’d like to spend my time. I took endless notes on these topics throughout the trip, and I am grateful for all of that as well.
My Daily Splits:
Day 01 – 07mi – 007 weavers needle beautiful views and cool canyons
Day 02 – 26mi – 033 canyons, sparce trail. Shoe failure, need new
Day 03 – 34mi – 067 31 azt hikers passed, missed a turn and stayed on AZT
Day 04 – 20mi – 087 Kearny and friendly angels
Day 05 – 05mi – 092 Short day out of town, broken tooth, need dentist
Day 06 – 25mi – 117 final full day on AZT, mouse chews through pack strap
Day 07 – 23mi – 140 goodbye AZT, hello aravaipa
Day 08 – 25mi – 165 Klondyke, “town” day
Day 09 – 09mi – 174 short day out
Day 10 – 15mi – 189 cross country with lots of thorns, slow going
Day 11 – 22mi – 211 into Pinalenos
Day 12 – 24mi – 234 high elevation all day, bad snow, no rare squirrels
Day 13 – 22mi – 256 Safford, into town
Day 14 – zero
Day 15 – zero dentist
Day 16 – zero
Day 17 – 20mi – 276 leaving town
Day 18 – 22mi – 298 good canyons, lingering tooth pain
Day 19 – 19mi – 317 Morenci, cool copper mine, great town great people
Day 20 – 06mi – 323 out of morenci, hwy 666
Day 21 – 24mi – 347 some forest service road walkin
Day 22 – 22mi – 369 New Mexico! into Alma/Glenwood
Day 23 – 21mi – 390 outa town
Day 24 – 24mi – 414 low routes avoiding snow, high route above swollen river
Day 25 – 24mi – 438 Gila cliff dwellings! resupply Doc Campbells
Day 26 – 20mi – 458 black range alt, worried ab canyon flooding, storm above
Day 27 – 29mi – 477 CDT black range! beautiful easy trail
Day 28 – 31mi – 508 Winston, goodbye cdt
Day 29 – 16mi – 524 out of town, routing around private property
Day 30 – 18mi – 542 blowdowns, overgrown, hard day
Day 31 – 21mi – 563 more blowdowns, but easier day overall
Day 32 – 27mi – 590 feet hurt with new shoes, high winds
Day 33 – 10mi – 600 Magdalena, tumbleweed cafe is great
Day 34 – 26mi – 626 cool canyon, still shoe problems
Day 35 – 35mi – 661 ranching roads on a nice mesa, alkaline water
Day 36 – 19mi – 680 Mountainair
Day 37 – 23mi – 703 manzano wilderness
Day 38 – 29mi – 732 crest trail and some snow
Day 39 – 31mi – 763 Tijeras, great walking, up the sandias!
Day 40 – 08mi – 771 end, +13 miles as all of the above was rounded for simplicity
– 784 total miles hiked
In the past I have valued consistency a lot. I think looking at my daily miles here, it’s good that I’ve given up on that. Some sections of trail (any trail) are just going to be harder than others. You can try all you want, but forcing something like miles I’ve found can lead to bad decisions or injury. Just do what you can and be happy with it was maybe an underlying motto of this entire hike for me.
Towns: Kearny, Klondyke, Safford, Morenci, Alma/Glenwood, Gila Hot Springs, Winston, Magdalena, Mountainair, Tijeras.
Morenci was my favorite of all the towns, even though most skip it entirely. I liked seeing the Morenci Mine which is one of the biggest in the country. The people were friendly, the hotel was nice, and across the street was both a grocery store and a movie theater. Your milage may vary, as the hitch into town is known to be difficult, and the restaurants have weird hours/days they are open. It could be your least favorite, as I said, most skip it.
A thing to note is how small many of these towns are. I would be surprised if a few of them had a population of more than 50 people. Actually I just looked it up, and about half of these towns really do only have a population of 50. There is nothing more than a very small general store in most of them, many of them do not have cell service at all, and wifi is not always possible to use. The locals may have some vague idea that you are hiking, but please be kind, be a good example, and make a good impression for anyone to come after you.
Water: For the most part water was pretty good, but I did hike in an extremely wet year, a record wet year. I had a couple occasions where I had to carry 17 to 20 miles worth but that was the extent of it, and usually water came more frequently than that. Now keep in mind, this is not a 3 or even 2 mile per hour kind of trail. A 20 mile water carry could take nearly twice the time as you would normally expect, and thus you need more water than you think for these distances.
Someone I know who hiked in a more normal year had a 30+ mile carry, so I would recommend the extra capacity in water bladders, and play it safe. This is not the kind of trail where you could get bailed out, or find help easily. So pay attention to the water report! I swear the one time you let it slide could be very bad.
Elevation: I felt like I did quite a bit of research before this hike, and yet somehow I didn’t quite realize just how much of this trail would be above 9,000ft (and higher.) Which this early in the season can mean quite a bit of snow. Again a good thing in regards to water, but can also mean swollen rivers and impassible canyons requiring a reroute.
Although this may be desert, it is very high desert, and one should not make assumptions about the word desert in this context. It is often very cold, it can be very wet, there will be snow you have to travel on, and the elevation and lack of oxygen makes the walking more tiring. There were two sections where I personally would have been very happy to have micro spikes, but instead I very carefully progressed at 0.25 miles per hour, for many hours, to safely kick in steps and progress forward. This is not a traditional desert hike like the AZT in this regard. The high elevation and high mountains make for a very different experience, and one that should be well considered in planning.
- Pants 🙂 I think Brett or Melissa tells everyone to wear pants. It sure would make your life easier, it would make progress faster, and your days bushwhacking through thorns would be a whole lot less frustrating.
- Cold weather gear of some sort I think would be important. I had many nights down into the 20s and was quite happy to have my neoair to sleep on in those temperatures. I also used a 20 degree bag and was happy for that as well.
- Shelter and rain gear. I personally think it would be irresponsible to not bring a shelter or rain gear. This is not your average desert hike, and big storms can and do roll in at high elevations. One of the rescues I’ve heard about was caused by two hikers who didn’t have a shelter, and didn’t have rain jackets. They were lucky to get help, but shouldn’t have put rescuers in that situation in the first place. I’ve heard many other stories similar that didn’t get quite as bad, but still near hypothermic.
- Sun protection! I was happy to have a sun shirt as many sections are quite exposed and really could tell the difference it was making. I did carry an umbrella for sun as well, but did not use it as often as maybe I should have. So at the very least I would say sun shirt and large hat. I got extremely tan. Like my legs are the color of a football.
- Sun glasses were so important for me, walking east (or west) you are basically staring into the sun for half the day. I don’t normally wear sunglasses often but on this hike it was an everyday kind of gear item, and I was very happy to have them. Also needed for the sections with snow.
- Trowel to dig into the hard compacted desert ground is a must have tool. Without one I definitely would have deeply struggled to dig cat holes. Please use a trowel and practice leave no trace.
- Robust tent stakes and none of those cute carbon fiber ones. I broke 3 of my stakes, and bent another quite badly. I was using my tent every night instead of cowboy camping so maybe that’s why, but still, if a storm rolled in and you needed to setup, a hearty stake would be important. I hardly ever was able to just push them in with my shoe or hand, while 19 out of 20 times I had to hammer them in with a rock.
- Water filtration system that is high quality, would also be highly recommended. I used the Sawyer Squeeze, but some of the water really is bad and I think maybe the Platypus Quickdraw filter would be better, as it’s much easier to clean. You should clean it often, and clean it well. As for water capacity, I carried 4 liters given it was a very wet year. I would highly recommend having the ability to carry 6 liters or more, and assume that you may have to go 30 miles between sources at some point.
- Tweezers to remove cactus needles was another thing I used nearly everyday. Just the ones that came on a swiss army knife, but maybe a real pair would have been better considering how often I was removing thorns from one part of my body or another. Many times I thought of my tweezers as the mvp of my whole kit.
So I would like to thank Brett and Melissa. First Melissa for being so welcoming when it came to such a daunting thing such as this hike. I certainly had concerns coming in, and hearing from you lifted those spirits and kept them high for quite some time. I very much appreciated it. I am sorry for not wearing pants.
The biggest of thank you to Brett for putting this trail together, the wonderful and in depth guide, the answering of endless questions online, and the herding of all us cats. The love of the area comes clear, and though at times I questioned myself, by the end everything hits as to how many amazing places this route has taken me. Some I have been before, some I will return to, but most I never ever would have seen or heard of without your expertise. It really has been a great time, and the amount of work you have put into it is endlessly appreciated.
Brutal and scratchy and slow, it has showed me many things I need to work on. More than any other trail I’ve done in recent years. But it’s also been fun and adventurous, lonely in the best ways. This really was a hugely rewarding trip for me.