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If anybody is prepared to take on the rugged Hell’s Gate Wilderness east of Payson, it’s a U.S. Marine.
Veteran Kyle Arsenault of Gilbert credits his Marine Combat Training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, with keeping him safe on Arizona’s most remote and difficult trails. “You spend a good chunk of time learning to use a compass and a map,” he says. “The biggest help this has been to me on the trail hasn’t been to save a life, but to answer the biggest question hikers have ever had: ‘How far do we have to go?’ I’ve gotten really good at using a map without a compass to figure out when I’ll be resting my feet!”
Having served as a cannoneer/artilleryman in the 10th Marine Division, the one-time corporal enjoys the camaraderie of hiking with other veterans. “If I’m not hiking with my wife, Linda, it’s guaranteed that I’ll be hiking with other vets,” he says.
Although not a doctor, Arsenault says hiking is a good outlet for former soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder or other related fall-outs from combat. “You may have heard the alarming statistic that 22 veterans a day end their life, and I think that talking to others with similar experiences can alleviate at least some of the pain that would drive a person to such an end.”
Given his background, Arsenault favors challenging hikes. “One of my favorite hikes ever in this state was a backpacking trip I went on with my friend, Garrett. He’s a veteran of the Air Force... He and I drove up to Payson to hike into the Hell’s Gate Wilderness along Hell’s Gate Trail 37. I loved it for its physical challenge, remoteness, beauty, cool temperatures and lack of other hikers on the trail,” Arsenault says. “We didn’t see another soul the entire time we were there. We spent a night on the ridgeline, which afforded us amazing views of the mountains stretching off into the distance, which were the perfect set for one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve had the privilege of witnessing.”
IF YOU GO
Hell’s Gate Wilderness Area
ELEVATION: 3,000-6,400 feet
GETTING THERE: Eight system trails and five trailheads provide access to the area. Trail conditions range from fair to poor and most are extremely steep and difficult to navigate. Only experienced hikers should attempt these trails. Download the forest service map to plan your trip. fs.usda.gov/detail/tonto/specialplaces
NEXT MONTH: An ultra-hiker tells us how she preps for a Grand Canyon R2R2R marathon.
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