I returned to the Grand Enchantment Trail this autumn for a westbound trek from Albuquerque NM toward Phoenix AZ. My spring ’05 thru-hike, eastbound, was a wonderful experience and great success, in that it proved the route, originally based almost entirely on map work, to be eminently walkable, challenging but enjoyable, scenic, and well-watered. This “field work” however revealed several segments of the trail that might benefit from further exploration in order to determine an optimal routing. Portions of certain segments also needed brush work and flagging in order to make travel more convenient.
Due to time contraints, I did not hike the entire length of the GET this time out. I did, however, accomplish many of the objectives necessary in order to finalize an “official” route and to improve travel along it. Among these objectives:
- Flagging – Many of the route’s critical junctions, turns, and areas of possible confusion are now clearly marked with orange or pink flagging ribbon. This ribbon also carries the GET logo (monogram) to help identify it, and is placed in such a way as to assist hikers traveling in either direction.
GET monogram – look for this symbol on high-vis. flagging tape, as placed along the route this fall.
- Corridor improvement – Cairns, and in some areas, brush and blowdown removal, now help to render the route’s tread and corridor better defined, and improve the ease and enjoyability of travel. This will be an ongoing project, however, as many of the trails used by the GET receive little use and no regular maintenance.
- Relocations – Segments of the GET as developed in the spring have now been relocated, in whole or in part, to improve the route’s scenic quality, its access to water or to improved trail & terrain. The result is a more enjoyable wilderness experience, with fewer miles of road walking, more diversity both underfoot each day and in the landscapes themselves, more places to fill up the water bottles, and even better prospects for primitive camping.
- Alternate routes – Several options have been explored that will allow hikers to substitute alternate routes where necessary or desirable, for example to avoid snowpack or high water crossings, or to visit other areas of interest not directly along the official route. A few side hikes have also been investigated, such as to slot canyons nearby the route or to off-trail summits.
I maintained a daily journal while on this trek, uploaded to the web upon my arrival at various town stops along the way (and in part, upon my return home afterward). Here I describe the day-by-day challenges and accomplishments of solo hiking along this newly defined route while at the same time assuming the duties of a one-man trail crew. As well in this journal I’ve tried to impart some of the journey’s magic, and to offer a sense of the trail’s rhythm and moods as experienced over the course of weeks and seasons. All told, I walked just over 600 miles of the 700+ mile G.E.T. while on this fall’s trek, beginning in Albuquerque in late September and finishing just west of the San Pedro River in Arizona in mid November. Trail “blazing” is slow work – your hiking pace may vary! To visit the journal site, click here.
Following this journey I’ll be updating the 7.5″ topographic map set (CD-ROM) to reflect the trail’s final routing. The G.E.T. guidebook will then be written as a companion to the maps and published online at no cost. This resource will include overview and detailed trail descriptions to each of 39 trail segments, background & planning material for thru-hikers, a “water chart” showing the milepoint and reliability of each water source along the route, and of course the town guide, image galleries, and 1:500,000 scale medium-detail overview maps already available on this website.
With any luck, all materials will be available in time for the fall 2006 thru-hiking season. A few of you have expressed interest in doing a thru-hike of this route, and I’m committed to bringing as much information to the forefront as quickly as possible. With this in mind, look for a BETA version of the 7.5″ map set to be made available in advance of the finalized maps and guide. Hundreds of hours went into the making of these maps, and although the final version will change somewhat to reflect relocations and new data, this BETA version should be fine for planning purposes and to get a strong familiarity of the terrain.
Maps on CD-ROM
The finalized map set will contain around 100 maps altogether of the 7.5′ USGS series, covering the entire route from Phoenix to Albuquerque, and perhaps half as many of the 1:100,000 series, also covering the whole trail. These digital maps are high-resolution bitmap image files custom-sized to highlight the route and its corridor, rather than being named individual quadrangles in series. This approach saves paper and ink when the time comes to print the maps, and at little or no loss in navigational info. (The maps are designed for printing onto standard 8.5″ x 11″ bright white inkjet or laser printer paper, double-sided.) Each map image is a high-detail, scaled, yet easy-to-read USGS base map, overlayed with the G.E.T. route, plus alternate routes, and with a plethera of annotational data such as feature-to-feature mileages, location of water sources and camp sites, road and trail names and numbers, significant field observations, and somewhere around 1000 GPS data point keys – many of them confirmed – all numerically keyed to a printable waypoint list rather than cluttering up the map itself. The guidebook will reiterate much of this map information and of course will expand upon the actual route descriptions.
Obviously this a lot of work for a one-man show, but well worth it considering all that the route has to offer. And the CD-ROM & guidebook will be value-priced, to boot. You could spend well over $1000 just on paper maps alone from your USGS map store. Or $200 to purchase the software used to make custom digital USGS maps. However, at the simblissity.net website, we’ll be offering such custom G.E.T. maps, meticulously rendered – everything you’ll need to travel the route knowledgeably and with minimal routefinding difficulty – for a tiny fraction of such costs. Save your money for more important things, like living it up on the G.E.T…. Here’s to a wonderful journey through a little-known land of enchantment!