Sunday, February 28, 2010

Saguaro National Park - Hugh Norris Trail

Well I thought the Hugh Norris trail in the Tucson Mountains was dog friendly.  We got there, with a truck full of dogs, and the sign said no dogs.  Hmmmmm well we are already here, there is only one other car in the parking lot.  I guess it can't hurt to just go.  What's the worst that could happen?  We get a ticket?

To get to the trail take Gate's Pass road over the Tucson Mountains and hang a right on Kinney towards the museum.  Follow Bajada Loop Drive into the park.  The trail head is about 3.5 miles past the visitors center on the right.  This is a great trail except in the summer when it is just too hot to climb in this area.  Much of the area falls in to the Ironwood Forest National Monument.

So we took all 3 dogs and started on the trail. This one starts right into things heading up.  Most of the trail is very well marked and kept.  Most of the vertical distance is gained in small steps.  Which are great and brutal at the same time!  It is a beautiful area of the Sonoran desert.

Once you make it up towards the first pass there are a lot of rock formations off of the trail that are easy to get to and fun to climb on.  These short side trails offer great views and vistas of the surrounding valleys and mountains.  Eventually this trail leads to the tallest peak in the Tucson Mountains - Wasson Peak.  We didn't make it that far as the clouds started to build and we eventually had a turn around and jog back to the car to beat the heavy rains.  The total distance to Wasson Peak and back is 9.8 miles.  You gain a little over 2000 feet of elevation and the last mile up the peak is pretty tough.  Definitely bring a lot of water and some snacks.

The dogs loved the trails.  I wish they would allow them so we could go back.  I just don't understand why they don't allow dogs on these trails.  Regardless, this is a great hike.  If you have the time definitely treck up to Wasson Peak for some amazing views.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hiking Pusch Peak - Tucson, AZ

I had no idea what we were getting ourself into. We didn't want too long of a hike so we opted
to give Pusch Peak a shot. It was about a 3 mile one way trip so how hard could it be? Wow were we suprised as we finally got into the climb. It starts out very nice and easy as you  stroll up through the foothills. But it quickly transforms into a steep climb up the side of the peak that is the toughest hike we have done in Tucson yet.

Note: dogs are not allowed on this hike.

At the trailhead the trail splits, go left and begin an easy climb up the foothills of Pusch Ridge. After a few minutes when the trail forks, go right and continue through the desert. After another 15 minutes or so you'll come up on a rusted sign that cannot be read. Veer to the right where you will start your steady climb up to Pusch Peak.

The climb is a lot of fun. Instead of the usual switchbacks this one really just follows the terrain straight up the mountain. You'll encounter areas where the trail is a little hard to spot but if you take your time at look around you can usually find footpaths were previous hikers have gone. The face of the peak doesn't look like it is too far off but it takes a while to make the way up. Not too far into the steep area there is a side trail off to the right that has great views of the Tucson valley. We decided to keep heading straight up to conserve energy just in case it was a tough climb. That was a good idea.

As you hike to the east of the face the trail seems to just go further and further and steeper and steeper.  Around each corner we thought we had finally made it to the the top only to find extremely steep trails going higher and higher!

There are quite a few areas of the trail that required us to really get on all 4's. Plenty of steep drops plus areas where I felt I was doing a little more of rock climbing than hiking. The views from the top are worth it though.  From the top of Pusch Peak there are 360 degree views; Mt Kimball and Mt. Lemmon off to the east and the Tucson Valley back to the west. There is a lot of room at the top to stop, rest and eat some lunch. Make sure to re-energize as the trip back down is tough.

Slow and steady is a great idea for this descent. Be careful with your foot placement, one wrong step and you are sliding pretty easy.

I highly recommend this hike. It is a great half day hike close in to Tucson that I would consider pretty tough or even strenuous. It will give you a great workout!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Enjoying Madera Canyon in the Winter

February 6, 2010 - I wanted to see some snow. I knew Mt. Lemmon would have snow but I really am not a fan of crowds and the rumor was that Mt. Lemmon is packed after fresh snow falls. Option B - Madera Canyon. The parking lot at the trails is around 5000 feet and the snow level was close to 6500. No problem.

Madera canyon is an amazing place in the winter. The scenery is just gorgeous with the snow covered peaks in the background. And a big plus - pets are allowed on the trails here. We brought Max our chocolate lab who has never really climbed up any terrain like this before. I had no idea how well he would do. We ran into quite a few people with dogs while we were there.

We decided to start up Old Baldy trail and just climb until Max was worn out. It turns out he did great and never really wore out on us. He was always running ahead and then back to us. The trail jumps right in to some fairly steep paths winding uphill. Although at first the trail is wide and flat and pretty easy walking the terrain gets rockier and tougher pretty quick. As you climb the views of Mt. Wrightson are amazing:

We climbed for about an hour before we got into the thick snow. It was patchy in the shady areas but I would guess we were about 6000 feet up before it got fairly thick and was covering the ground. Fortunately other hikers had been there recently and we could easily follow their path. If we had been the first to arrive after a snow storm I can imagine it would have been really difficult to follow the trail.

Max was absolutely having a blast. He stayed well ahead of us, stopping at the corners so we didn't get out of sight. 4 legs were really a benefit on this day, he kept his footing a lot easier than we did.

We made it through the Old Baldy trail and decided to keep going towards Mt. Wrightson until we either got too tired or the trail was too difficult with all the snow and ice. Well we didn't make it too much further. There must have been at least a foot of snow on the ground. It was beautiful and just a ton of fun climbing. We probably went another mile but at the point the snow was so deep that Max had trouble with his footing. The path left by other hikers was great for us but he was having trouble with the deep holes his paws were slipping into. We turned around probably 3.3 miles of the 5 miles to the top.

We just had a great time. The canyon was awesome, the views were amazing and the weather perfect. If you plan on making it to the top I would highly suggest waiting a couple days after any serious snows unless you have snow shoes or something to trek in the snow with. A couple of walking poles makes the world of difference on the descent down to the bottom over the snow and the ice.

Anyone who hasn't been to Madera Canyon in the winter really is missing out!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hiking Wasson Peak - Our first official hike as Tucson residents

We officially relocated from Jacksonville, Florida as of 1/30/10. Well our stuff arrived on Saturday so we figured Sunday would be a great day to do a nice hike. We moved to the west side of town and the Tucson Mountains are in our backyard. So we figured we would start there since in the summer it will be too hot to hike these mountains as their elevation doesn't get too high.

We really didn't plan well but we headed to the Camino del Cerro trail head and started on the sweetwater trail. There was a sign that said Wasson Peak was about 4.5 miles so I figured we would give it a shot. The Tucson Mountains aren't that tall so it couldn't be too tough right? The trail starts out very easy with little elevation gain wandering through the Saguaros. The trail is pretty wide starting out with dirt/gravel but eventually gets rocky as the elevation gains. The pic to the right is near the beginning of the trail. The landscape was great and the further we hiked the more picturesque it became. As you start winding into the mountains the views of Tucson are awesome! Here is a nice shot on the way up:

Hiking the sweetwater trail in Tucson, az

About 3.5 miles in you get to an area where a couple trails meet. Kings Canyon Trail and Sweetwater Trail junctions here at about 4,000 ft in elevation. There are great views of the valley to the west and back to Tucson. However from here the trail gets much tougher as you start winding your way to the summit of Wasson Peak. As you continue the summit to the right just looks like it is forever away. Although it is only 1.2 miles from the crossroads up to the peak it is definitely a tough 1.2 miles. Very scenic and beautiful but tough too. The views at the top are definitely worth it. The view below is looking over the Tucson's towards the SE:

Views from Wasson Peak in Tucson

This is a great trail and route. 9.2 miles total round trip and about 2000 feet of elevation gain. Make sure to hike this in the winter, spring or fall. It is a scorcher in the summer!  Don't let the first few miles fool you - the last 1.2 up the switchbacks to the peak are a definite good challenge.  There were quite a few people hiking but not bad for a beautiful Sunday.  Some people actually hike this at night time to get to the top to watch the sun rise over the catalinas.  I am sure this must be an amazing hike but I am sure there a lot of wildlife at night. Anyone does this one at night?