Monday, March 29, 2010

Madera Canyon Camping Adventure - March 28, 2010

We have had the itch to do a camping trip since we moved to Tucson 2 months ago. We decided to try Madera Canyon as we had hiked there a few times and some of the camp sites are up pretty high in elevation and offer great views. Most importantly, we could bring our dog with us! I also wanted to try to get up to Mt. Wrightson again while we still had some snow on the ground. I knew it was going to be a bit chilly at around 8000' where we were going to camp. Chilly was an understatement, more like absolutely freezing!

We arrived at Madera Canyon on Saturday morning at around 10 am. It was 51 degrees, a nice start to a beautiful day. Since we had all day long to hike we decided to take the Super Trail to start since it was a little longer of a hike and we had already used Old Baldy from the parking lot a few times. After hiking the Finger Rock Trail the previous weekend the Super Trail was a breeze. Even with 35 pounds on my back we cruised up towards Josephine Saddle and 7000 ft quickly. There wasn't as much snow compared to what we saw a few weeks back up to this elevation. This made me think we could make it up to Baldy Saddle and camp overnight there.  We wouldn't make it quite that far.

We stopped and at Josephine Saddle for about 30 minutes. It was a busy day and there were quite a few groups of people in the area and passing through. Our dog had to make sure that he greeted everyone as they came through the area! After lunch we made the decision to head towards Baldy Saddle and see if it was suitable for camp.

A nice lady told us that there was another nice area about a mile past Josephine Saddle to camp. This is where we would end up setting up camp, around 8000ft in elevation. A nice area opened up as the trail went around a corner and you could tell people had camped there in the past. From this spot it was probably another mile up to Baldy but the snow started getting bad. With the air in the 50's the snow got pretty soft and we started to sink in quite a bit. Right before you start the switchbacks up to Baldy we found ourselves sinking thigh deep in the snow that seemed to be 3-4ft deep. Every step was a challenge and stressful. We decided that my girlfriend would stay behind at the spot we found for camp with the dog. I wanted to at least try to get up to Baldy.

The snow flat wore me out. Every step was a challenge, sinking and slipping in the deep, soft snow. I did make it most of the way up the switch backs but it took me at least an hour. Once you got into the switchbacks the snow wasn't nearly as bad but it was still tough after a long day.  I was getting tired, it was getting late and I was hungry! I decided to turn back as I was also getting a little uncomfortable with leaving them back by themselves. I turned back and made it back down a lot quicker than I was able to make it up. I decided to slide down about 100ft of elevation in the snow on my butt. It was fun and a lot easier than slipping and falling every other step!

So we set up camp and enjoyed the rest of the beautiful afternoon with great views of Mt. Wrightson and the valley below. We had a nice fire and just relaxed for the last few hours of the day. The only real excitement came when my bear paranoid girlfriend started seeing things and decided a bear was staring at us. She grabs some shoes and starts flaing and screaming trying to scare the imaginary bear away. It had to be one of the funniest things I have ever seen!  Too much discovery channel and animal planet paranoia going on there!

Another reason we chose this area is that there didn't seem to be much wind. Quite a few areas that we hiked through seemed very windy but our campsite area seemed pretty sheltered. We called it a night at around 9pm as the temperatures were dropping fast. Our wet socks that we hung on the trees to dry had already frozen! So here we are nice and cozy in the tent with the dog. We stayed plenty warm enough in our sleeping bags while the temps dipped well below freezing outside. Everything was great, at least until all hell broke loose at around 11pm!

The wind seemed to just come out of no where. You would hear the gusts start coming through the trees and eventually just blowing like hell over us. The tent held up for about an hour but eventually the gusts, which had to be 40 mph, pulled out stakes out and it collapsed. So there I am, in the freezing cold, half asleep, trying to put it back together in the dark. Some how I was able to get the tent back up. I tried to reinforce it with some big stones but within 15 minutes of trying to get back in and comfortable it collapsed again. We basically said screw it and just slept in the collapsed tent while the wind whipped it around like a loose sail all night long. The worst part was that the flap/cover of the tent blew off and the vent was right above us open all night with the freezing cold air coming in. Long story short, we didn't sleep. It was freezing cold and sucked! At first light we packed up and headed for the car which we made at about 8am.

What an adventure! I can't wait to get up there and camp again but this time it will be much closer to the summer!

A couple of additional pictures:

Max was freezing!

Looking up towards Baldy Saddle at sunset


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Finger Rock trail to Mt. Kimball - A killer workout!

3-21-2010 - Finger Rock Trail to Mt. Kimball

I don't know why I continue to underestimate the difficulty of some of the hikes around the Tucson area.  We had planned all week for an all day hike on Saturday, so I chose the Finger Rock trail.  I had hiked this area before but never hiked the whole thing.  Mostly it was quick mile runs up and down the trail before work so this will be the first attempt to summit Mt. Kimball.

We got to the trail head near Skyline and Campbell at about 9am.  I figured we were a bit late as the parking lot was already pretty full but there was still room for us.  The trail starts up into the canyon running along a very nice soothing stream.  It was running pretty well this trip which I assume is from all the snow melt from the previous few weeks of snow.  The trail starts pretty easy for a about a mile as it winds its way along the creek.  Enjoy it while you can as you are about to gain over 4000 feet in elevation in the next 5 miles!

Once you start ascending up into the canyon you begin to realize what you have got yourself into.  The trail climbs relentlessly for the next 4 miles.  Switch back after switch back will gradually take you up and away from the saguaro's and cacti into grassy areas and mesquite and eventually into a pine dominated forest at the top. It is quite an amazing transformation in such a short distance.  About half way through the trip there is a side trail that goes off to the right towards Linda Vista.  We didn't have the energy for the extra distance but it looked like there would be a nice view into Tucson towards the South and West.

From here the trail isn't as miserably difficult for a few minutes.  You gradually climb around through the canyon and eventually back out to the north.  There are some amazing views of the mountains and flat walls in this area.  The faces get colorful with green moss covering some of the sides.  After about 15-30 minutes you start to head back up towards the top of the canyon pretty steeply.  The vegetation changes so quickly here and you eventually find yourself in a forest.  Your last stop comes as you get to the ridgeline with Finger Rock trail heading off into the catalinas and Pima Canyon trail heading north towards the summit of Mt Kimball.  The rest of the trail is about a half mile long and not too difficult.  Our GPS showed 7255 feet at the summit of the mountain.

You'll hit one more fork in the trail, stay to right to get to the summit.    The very top is pretty much covered in forest but just continue towards the end of the trail.  At the end there are some amazing views back towards town and over towards Mt. Lemmon.


Coming back down, at least for us, was rough.  Especially the last 3 miles the trail seems like it is never going to end.  I kept glancing towards Finger Rock waiting patiently for us to get past it!  It took forever!  My legs were just done and the trail kept going.  It took us (moving slooowwww) about 8.5 hours to complete the hike.  3 days later and my legs are still sore!  If you hit this trail in the summer make sure to bring a lot of water as the lower elevation sections of Finger Rock trail will be very hot.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Not really hiking but - San Carlos fishing report

I guess I should have titled this blog something more relative to general outdoors but oh well.  We spent the last weekend down in San Carlos, Mexico for the first time.  It is truly a great place to experience the outdoors.

For being so close to Tucson, San Carlos has some surprisingly great fishing and water sports.  On top of that there is also supposed to be some great hiking there as well.  Unfortunately we didn't get to try it out this trip but I am sure we will be back soon.

We fished with Captain Bryan on the Margarita V boat on Saturday 3/13.  The wind was supposed to blow by noon so we got an early start at 6:30.  The mountains fading straight into the ocean is just amazing.  The water is very clear and definitely has a tropical look to it.  We trolled some lures out of the pass and started catching sierra immediately.  Our main focus was yellowtail though.  We quickly put out some live baits and trolled them for a bit.  We ended up catching 3 yellowtail in about an hour's work.  By 1030 or so the wind started picking up so switched to trolling lures for sierra.  I was amazed at how fast and furious the action was - we probably caught 12 sierra in 30 minutes!  It was a great time.

After fishing we cleaned up and headed over to the Soggy Peso for a couple drinks.  Wow - their margaritas are a lot stronger than they taste.  I think after 3 we were both feeling pretty tipsy.  We stayed there for an amazing view of the sunset and then called it a night.  It isn't the cheapest place for drinks but by far the best place right on the beach with a sunset view.

On Sunday we decided to do some kayaking around the rocks and points in San Carlos.  We rented kayaks from Ocean Sports at the main marina for 30 bucks for a half day.  All of the different rock formations into the water made it a lot of fun.  We were able to find 2 spots where we could kayak through caves or cutouts in the rocks from one side to another which was really cool.  With a little wind and tide it was a little hairy but definitely fun and exciting!  If you make it down rent a kayak for a couple hours!

We also spent some time exploring the different points.  Climbing and scaling around all of the rocks at the base of the mountains at the edge of the ocean is a lot of fun.  Just be careful you don't get stuck out there with the tide coming up!  I also tried a little freediving but the visibility was pretty poor at probably 6ft.  Supposedly it is usually closer to 30 ft so I will have to give it a shot again next time we make it down.