I have summited Mount Wrightson, highest point in the Santa Ritas at 9456 feet, many times. It is one of my favorite hikes in all of Southern Arizona. The 360 degree views from up top are worth every ounce of effort it takes to get to the summit. Every time I hike up there I think about how amazing it would be to camp at Baldy Saddle, which has an incredible view of Wrightson and the surrounding area, and last week, I finally did it. Tucson has been oppressively hot, so 8,750′ Baldy Saddle sounded like the ideal place to hike up and out of the heat.
I had the best intentions of getting an early start, but didn’t end up setting foot on the Old Baldy trail until almost 9 am. The Old Baldy trail is well shaded and mercifully, it was overcast for parts of the climb that were in an exposed burn area. There were hundreds of butterflies on the lower part of the trail.
I got up to Josephine Saddle at 7100′ without incident and took a short break. My very first solo backpacking trip was an overnighter here with my dog Zeus back in 2005. Unfortunately, I no longer feel comfortable camping there by myself due to the increase in drug smugglers using the area. Thankfully, they seem to stay away from the highcountry. The Old Baldy Trail is the route I usually take to Baldy Saddle, but there are several different trails that intersect there. When it is cooler, I will try out some of the other trails. The temperature was much cooler above Josephine Saddle, and I took my time on the hike up. Normally, I’m rushing up this trail to summit Wrightson, it was nice to not have the time constraints of a dayhike. There were many wildflowers, and blooming bergamot beautifully scented the air.
I reached Bellows Spring at 8100′ and took a break to eat a snack and drink and filter a bunch of water. Baldy Spring, which was close by my camp, was reported to be bone dry. So I filled up every container I had, because I needed enough for a dry camp and also for the next day’s explorations. Two gallons weigh about 16 pounds, but it was the price I had to pay for a ridgetop camp with a view. When I put my pack back on to ascend the 32 switchbacks up to Baldy Saddle, it felt like a moose had slipped into my pack. Ugh.
Those last couple of switchbacks are usually tough, but even more so with a pack bulging with water. I reached Baldy Saddle around 2pm and scouted around for a campsite. There was one right at the Crest/Summit trail intersection, but I was looking for something a little more secluded. There is a small peak just above Baldy Saddle with a commanding view of Mt. Wrightson, Baboquivari, and the Whetstone, Mustang, and Huachuca Mountains. Home for the night. I also came up with a plan of where I would move my camp if there was a storm with lightning. (very important, as monsoon season was to start any day now)
I saw some rain in the distance, and set up my tent. I was dismayed to find that I was missing a tent stake. I was able to improvise with a hiking pole, but the pitch was sloppy and the fly made a lot of noise. It started to sprinkle and I went into my tent and took a nap. The rain didn’t last long, and I spent the rest of the day reading, writing in my journal, and admiring the views. I could trace the path of the Arizona Trail below (one of my favorite pastimes from a high vantage point), and even saw the Border Patrol Blimp in the sky. The clouds were in perfect position for an epic sunset and I had a front-row seat at the top of my little peak.
I could try to describe the sunset, but these shots will give you a better idea than I could with mere words:
The evening was windy and it rained again for a little while- my tent was blowing around and making a bunch of noise so I was relieved when I woke up around 1 am and the skies had completely cleared. I dragged my pad and sleeping bag out of the tent and slept like a baby under the thick canopy of stars. The next morning, instead of summiting Mt. Wrightson again, I went on the Crest Trail to explore a bit and summit Mount Ian. It is the highest point on the Santa Rita Crest at 9146 ft. The Crest Trail was incredibly beautiful- even though much of it had been burned int the Florida Fire. Unfortunately no tree cover made for exposed hiking and it was getting warm, so I didn’t go all the way to Florida Saddle. Instead, I turned back toward camp and did a small bushwhack to the summit of Mt. Ian. This little-visited colorful peak has commanding views of Mount Wrightson and the surrounding area. I wrote up a hike description on HikeArizona.com that you can refer to if you’d like to bag this peak. I signed and read the register on the peak that went back over 10 years. I was the first person to sign it since May 22- a month and a half ago.
After being swarmed by ladybugs, I hiked back to my camp and took a quick nap. I awoke to find clouds mounting and decided it was time to head down the mountain.
I made it to Josephine Saddle without it raining and I couldn’t bear the thought of going back down to Tucson, where temps would be over 100 degrees. I decided to stay at Josephine till the rain started in earnest. Finally, around 2pm, I started down the trail, using my umbrella. It worked so much better than a hot, stuffy rain jacket! I took a couple final looks back at the mountain and hoped that I’d be back in the Santa Ritas soon. I had no idea…
I ended up having a rare Saturday off and went with the Tucson Hiking Meetup group on a beautiful loop hike to Roger’s Rock. Any day in Madera Canyon is a good one and I jumped at the chance to go back even though I had come back from Baldy Saddle only the day before yesterday. The hike up felt like a sauna, but at least there was plenty of shade and cloud cover. There are some really gorgeous sycamores on the route, but not much flowing water until after we visited Roger’s Rock.
Roger’s Rock is a perfect lunch spot, and if I had been hiking alone, I would have probably thrown in a nap as well. As good as the view was, nothing beat the show that we got from two vibrant-blue male Mountain Spiny Lizards:
They were incredible- pushing each other around, doing push-ups, and menacingly opening their mouths without a care about the fact that there was a group of people taking pictures and talking right above them. The reason that they were especially colorful is it is the season to look nice for the ladies.
We hiked back to the Super Trail and took that downhill. I haven’t been on this trail in a long time, and I enjoyed the running water in the creek and more giant sycamores. When we got back to the parking lot, we had a potluck picnic and it turned out to be a pretty great spread. One of the guys works as a baker in Tubac, and he brought all sorts of delicious breads and brownies. Just as we packed up after our picnic, it started to rain. A great day spent with a very friendly group.
On the Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser front, it is still the season for babies, and one of the people I volunteer with specializes in rehabbing baby hummingbirds: