Towering over Sabino Canyon at 5323 feet, Thimble Peak is a prominent feature of the front range of the Catalinas. For those of you not acquainted with sewing, (which I’m guessing is at least some of my readers), a thimble is a sewing aid that you wear on your finger to help push a needle through fabric. I was talking to my friend Bill Bens at a recent Arizona Trail trailbuilding event and mentioned that we should try for the Thimble soon. He said that he had a standing invitation from someone who knew the route- Steven, a man known in Tucson hiking circles as “Mr. X” of the X Hiking Club. As it got closer, Bill said that there would be 10-12 people going in the group including Matt Nelson, a friend of Steven’s and a professional guide that would help belay us up to the actual summit of Thimble Peak (most hikers only go to the lower, non-technical summit). Steven had scouted out a route to Thimble Peak that scrambled up all 7 Falls toward a drainage coming off the base of the peak. After summiting Thimble Peak the plan was to hike over to the NNW to a drainage that would deposit us at the end of the tram road.
On January 19th, ten of us met at Sabino Canyon and shuttled over to the Bear Canyon Trailhead, starting our hike around 8:30 am up the access road. We reached the Bear Canyon Trail at 9am and made our way up the canyon. I remember years ago when a hike to 7 Falls was the whole hike, today it was just a means to get to the real fun! The group spread out a bit and I was happy to get a little time to myself. There was a fair amount of water in the creek, giving a nice sonic backdrop to the easy stroll. Bill and I stopped before the descent to the falls to eye up our route across the canyon before continuing to the falls for a break.
After some snacks, Steven went over our plan for the day and some pointers about the scramble ahead. Then it was time for us to start scrambling up each level of 7 Falls. It was so neat to see each of the pools and look at the waterfalls from a totally different perspective. There was one that was quite large, with a rainbow visible in the spray. There were a couple of tricky spots, but Steven and Matt were there to spot us and talk us through the best way to go. We crossed the stream a couple of times and finally we reached what Steven calls “The Penthouse”. It was a gorgeous set of pools that I must revisit in the summer with my inner tube for some quality floating time. Here’s a video:
Today, there was no time for dawdling because we had places to go and a Thimble to climb. We bushwhacked up the drainage, which started out as series of broad ledges that made for easy scrambling. The drainage split and we followed the right fork. Pretty soon, our next objective came into view- a notch between the rocks that make up the base that Thimble Peak sits on and a tall rock face. I’d scouted the route on Google Earth the night before and it looked like it was going to get super-steep and nasty as we got closer to the notch. The scramble got progressively steeper and as we neared the notch, our nice ledges were replaced by unstable rocks and boulders. It was tough going, but we took our time and stopped for a couple of short breaks for shade and to catch our breath. Even though it was the middle of January, it was unseasonably warm and I was glad that we weren’t attempting this in any hotter weather. The views down to the Bear Canyon Trail and beyond were incredible. Here’s a video:
Conditions deteriorated further after we regrouped at the notch. The steep, loose, and nasty terrain made me long for the unstable boulders of the upper drainage. The rock wall that made up the east side of the notch was beautifully striated and dwarfed the hikers behind me. But the terrain was so steep that before long, I was towering over the rock wall with a wonderful view of Helen’s Dome and Mica Mountain in the Rincons.
After thrashing up the hillside, we reached the base of the rocks that Thimble Peak sits upon and contoured around on jumbled pink, white, and black-striped boulders to meet up with the conventional route that most hikers take to Thimble Peak from the upper Bear Canyon Trailhead at Prison Camp (Hiryabayashi). This point in and of itself is quite the destination at the base of Thimble Peak- great views of the Catalinas. By this time it was 1pm, and though we all wanted to be up top, we took a short, well-deserved lunch break first to refuel before the final push to the top of the peak.
After lunch, it was time to tackle the final chute and then climb a ten-foot wall to attain the summit. The chute was filled with giant boulders and had plenty of good hand and footholds. At the top of the chute, I put on a harness and lined up with the rest of the group to take my turn at the final obstacle. I was happy to have Matt belaying us up the wall to the actual summit, most people have to be content with the nearby non-technical summit which sits 10 feet lower. A couple of well placed feet and hands later, and I was hiking up the final slope to the flat-topped peak of the Thimble!
What a place- the summit is quite large and would make an incredible place to spend the night! The 360 degree views are spectacular in every direction and we all amused ourselves by pointing out different landmarks and trails. As we enjoyed the summit, we were visited by a soaring Peregrine Falcon. Here’s a video from the summit:
After many photos were taken, it was unfortunately time to descend. I watched as Matt and Steven showed how to get down the wall. It was my first time rappelling where I wasn’t in charge of letting the line out myself. I’m trying to get better at trusting the rope- but it is always a struggle, as I am pretty afraid of heights, especially descending. The reason that I push through it is that every time it has proved to be worth the momentary discomfort.
We went back around the base to where the grassy slope extends northward. The conventional route goes back to the upper Bear Canyon Trail via a route that contours to the northeast. But we weren’t doing anything the conventional way today. Instead we took the western slope of the ridge toward some large rock towers on our way to a drainage that would deposit us at Tram Stop #9, at the end of the Sabino Canyon Tram road. There were great views back to Thimble Peak and more scrambling.
As we found the correct drainage and started heading down it, the split between the two summits of Thimble Peak became visible. Tram Stop #9 would come into view every so often but the rugged terrain in the drainage made for slow going. Finally, the front people in the group reached the tram stop and radioed back, asking if we’d be interested in riding the tram out to the parking lot. I was surprised that there was a tram there at all, as it was almost 5pm, and radioed back that I was definitely on board. I walk the tram road pretty often as a night hike, and wasn’t really interested in a 3.7 mile roadwalk on hard asphalt to cap off an already tough day. Some in our group insisted on hiking the road, but a bunch of us hopped on the tram and enjoyed sunset views of Thimble Peak on the ride out.
Click the picture below to see the whole set of pictures from this hike:
|Thimble Peak 1-19-11|
What an adventure this day turned out to be- we had hiked from 8:20 am until 5pm and only covered 6.4 miles with 2600 feet of elevation gain. It was a great group and I had a smile on my face that lasted the rest of the week as I visited family in chilly Chicago for my grandmother’s 80th birthday. And now for something completely different: pictures of non-hiking situations on my visit to Chicago!
It was good to see my family and friends and everyone’s children. Brian and I did typical Chicago-in-the-winter things like sit at peoples houses and eat. Thankfully, we flew out before the “Snowmageddon” hit (or “Snowpocalypse” if you prefer) and buried everyone for two days. Now, for the Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture, here’s a trio of young Cooper’s Hawks that we had at the rehab in 2010. These three are among the 543 animals total that went through Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson last year: 113 bunnies, 124 quail, 54 hawks, 23 falcons, 38 owls, 13 waterbirds, and a whopping 267 songbirds!