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Posts Tagged ‘Pima Canyon Trail’

Pusch Ridge is a series of four peaks extending westward in the Catalinas: Pusch Peak, closest to town, The Cleaver, Bighorn Mountain, and the tallest,  Table Mountain.  From town, Table Mountain is a dark-green-dotted diamond shape, but from Oro Valley you can see that three sides of the Table are massive sheer cliff walls.

Table Mountain from Tucson

Table Mountain from Tucson

I have had a longtime fascination with Table Mountain ever since I came across pictures of the summit views. The thing that most piqued my interest, though, was a photo of the campsite on the summit. Underneath a stately Juniper tree was a beautiful stone fireplace made out of Catalina granite. That was it- there was no way that I was going to hike Table without staying at the campsite on top.

The fireplace at the summit

The fireplace at the summit

There is only a short weather window for this peak because it is off-limits from January 1- April 30th for bighorn sheep off-trail restrictions. Most of the time that it is open, the weather is too hot. Two years ago, I had attempted to backpack to the top for a lunar eclipse, but had a shoe failure and had to turn around. Last year, the weather didn’t cooperate with my schedule. This year everything fell into place and the experience was even more amazing than I had anticipated.

All the trip reports I had read said to take the Pima Canyon Trail three miles to a steep, loose, brushy gully.  The reports made it sound unappealing and I was not looking forward to it. I remembered that Cowgill and Glendening’s book mentioned that there was a ridge option that would probably have more shindaggers. Then I came across a report by a woman who went by the name “Bloated Chipmunk” on NW Hikers.net that had pictures of the route. It looked way better to me, especially with a full pack.

The morning of December 17th, Wendy and I met at the Pima Canyon Trailhead, excited about the adventure ahead. Our packs were heavy with 7 liters of water and warm gear for our night at the 6265′ summit. We hiked about two miles on the Pima Canyon Trail and saw the slabs of our ridge route to our left, across the brushy creek.

Chilly start to the hike

Chilly start to the hike

First glimpse of our day's objective- looks far!

First glimpse of our day’s objective- looks far!

We followed the trail until it crossed the drainage. There was a distinct sharp smell of cat urine and a large sprayed area under an overhang. We decided that hit would be better to backtrack and try to cross the creek closer to the slabs. There was a spur trail and a small opening in the brush that allowed us to get into the creek. We took a break before beginning the ascent and  I spotted a pair of antlers in the creek. When I went to investigate, I saw an entire deer that had been picked clean, probably by our feline friend.

Our deer departed friend

Our deer departed friend

There were tufts of hair everywhere and the skeleton was picked clean

There were tufts of hair everywhere and the skeleton was picked clean

The beginning of the route was on large slanted granite slabs and was quite fun to walk on. There wasn’t a lot of vegetation and the views were great! The ascent was an off-trail choose your own adventure with the occasional cairn. Sadly, the slabs ran out and we picked our way through patches of prickly pear and ocotillo.

On the slabs of the ridge route

On the slabs of the ridge route

Me and The Cleaver

Me and The Cleaver

Out of the slabs and into the brush

Out of the slabs and into the brush

As we gained elevation, we lost most of the cacti and hiked into the sea of shindaggers. Wendy and I wove a path between them when possible, but sometimes there was no choice. The only way to deal with shindaggers is to step directly on the center. We reached a saddle and took a break for lunch with a fantastic view of our objective.

Shindaggers aplenty

Shindaggers aplenty

After lunch, we climbed steeply up and toward the Table, aiming above a rocky outcropping with scattered oak trees. The vegetation changed again with our first juniper and pinyon pines appearing near the base of the Table.

Our route went up the litle drainage above the oaks

Our route went up the litle drainage above the oaks

Getting closer!

Getting closer!

Base of the Table

Base of the Table

By this time, Wendy and I were getting pretty tired. We wished that we had a flat table ahead of us, instead there was another 1000 feet of elevation to go. We pressed on, but went a little far to the west and got into some boulders that made travel more difficult. The bonus was that we got to see the great views down the west gully right before the final ascent.  Somewhere along the way we were in a brushy area and I looked down and found a black case with a camera in it.

Oro Valley, Tortolitas and Picacho Peak

Oro Valley, Tortolitas and Picacho Peak

Patches of snow at the top

Patches of snow at the top

Finally, we could see blue sky and the end of our climb. We went through some pinyon and junipers to a clearing with breathtaking views of the Catalinas and the sheer cliffs of Table Mountain dropping off below. We dropped our packs at the fireplace and toured the summit, dotted with patches of snow. Now came the payoff for lugging all our stuff up here- watching the sunset and sunrise from this incredible promontory and an enjoyable night by the fabled fireplace.

Cathedral and Kimball

Cathedral and Kimball

Prominent Point and the Santa Ritas

Prominent Point and the Santa Ritas

Snow-covered Mt. Lemmon

Snow-covered Mt. Lemmon

There was a small glass jar summit register near the fireplace and I read through it before dinner. The first name I saw was the woman from NW Hikers.net who’s triplog I’d read. The second entry I read was an entry from February that said “Lost camera in a black camera case” and gave a phone number! I was so excited that we were going to be able to reunite the camera with its owners. I lost a camera this summer and would give anything to have it back.

View Northwest

View Northwest

Wendy got our fire going and we had a decadent meal of cheese fondue with all sorts of items for dipping and chocolates for dessert. The fireplace was great- it had a chimney and everything which diverted the smoke upward. The fire warmed the rocks and it radiated heat all night long as we slept in front of it. We hit a perfect weather window and the temperature was quite reasonable for 6000′ in December.

One of my favorite campsites ever!

One of my favorite campsites ever!

A little chilly last night!

A little chilly last night!

The night was a long one, and it stayed cold for a while after it finally got light out. I spent the amazing sunrise hanging my head over the cliff face and watching the light change. We ate breakfast in our sleeping bags and didn’t want to leave.

View north from atop Table Mtn.

View north from atop Table Mtn.

Eventually, we tore ourselves away and started hiking downhill, packs much lighter after a day’s water and food were consumed. We followed what looked like the standard route down the face which was much easier than our ascent route. But if we’d taken this ascent route we wouldn’t have found the camera.

Incredible rock and views on the way down

Incredible rock and views on the way down

Bighorn and Pusch below

Bighorn and Pusch below

It was a beautiful, cool day and we shindagger-stomped our way down the ridge, taking short breaks and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. It felt like we were flying compared to yesterday’s ponderous ascent. The golden cottonwoods in the canyon got closer and closer and then we were back to our slabs down to the creekbed.

What a place!

What a place!

Getting closer to the bottom of the canyon

Getting closer to the bottom of the canyon

Our deer departed friend had been moved in the night and looked more macabre than ever. We found our way out of the creek and intersected the Pima Canyon Trail. Clouds started rolling in and the wind picked up. The last two miles back to the car on the trail felt like they would never end.  It felt great to look up at Table Mountain knowing we’d finally spent the night at the fireplace.

Slabby ridge

Slabby ridge

A look back at our ridge

A look back at our ridge

We had been talking for the last two days about what flavors of gelato we were going to get at Frost after our hike. The weather changed so quickly that by the time we got our gelato, we had to eat it in Wendy’s car with the heat on!

That night, I called the owners of the camera and they were so excited that we had found it! They had gone back up the next week to try and locate it to no avail. It had become a running joke between their friends that someone was going to finally find the camera that was lost on Table Mountain. I dropped it off the next day on their porch and they sent a lovely card thanking us for returning their long-lost camera along with some pictures from the day they lost it.

What an amazing, life-affirming couple of days on the mountain. I’ve found another of my favorite campsites and Wendy is always a blast to hike with. So glad I finally got to spend a night on Table Mountain and it certainly won’t be my last.

You can see the full set of pictures at https://plus.google.com/photos/108844153292489172003/albums/5826811070181856545

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news, I was going through old pictures when I came across this shot of mama and baby bunnies from 2010. So cute! You can read their story here.  Click below to donate to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson.

Baby bunnies that were born at the Wildlife Rehab to a broken-leg bunny

Baby bunnies that were born at the Wildlife Rehab to a broken-leg bunny

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Peak 4910- The Cleaver

Peak 4910- The Cleaver

This was such a great hike, with much less blood loss than expected. Eventful parking lot, there was a large fire crew when I got there and tons of Pima County Sheriff conducting a search for someone when I left.

Weaving my way through the ocotillo and staying away from the nastier cacti, I kept to the ridge to the left of the drainage. The Cleaver loomed above. I reached a point where I had to travel in the drainage but it was not for very long.

Weaving through the desert vegetation

Weaving through the desert vegetation

Working toward the saddle

Working toward the saddle

Soon I was able to pick my way up toward the saddle on another ridge that was quite steep. It helped that the Alt Hiking Meetup group had been through here recently, their mashed-down vegetation made my travel a bit easier.

View NW from the saddle

View NW from the saddle

It was a relief to finally reach the saddle and the base of The Cleaver. Only one tough part left. There were two short scrambles near the base, then a bouldery ramp to the summit. The short climbs would have been nothing if I had been hiking with someone, but solo they got my heart racing a little.

Base of The Cleaver

Base of The Cleaver

Short climb at the base of The Cleaver

Short climb at the base of The Cleaver

Ramp to the summit

Ramp to the summit

The summit of The Cleaver- what an amazing place to be! I so enjoyed the challenge and seeing Pima Canyon from yet another perspective. Such a great thing to live in a place where a wild and rugged summit like this is in a canyon so close to my home. I took a lengthy break and read through the small summit register.

Summit Register

Summit Register

View down the drainage I came up

View down the drainage I came up

Micro Chicken atop The Cleaver- Prominent Point and Mount Kimball across Pima Canyon

Micro Chicken atop The Cleaver- Prominent Point and Mount Kimball across Pima Canyon

As I headed back, I was a little nervous about getting back down to the saddle. I remembered what Wendy does when she gets nervous: she sings Irish songs. I don’t know any Irish songs, though- the song I chose was Paul Revere by the Beastie Boys. It worked well, especially the “one lonely Beastie I be” line.

Prominent Point- another Pima Canyon peak I have my eye on

Prominent Point- another Pima Canyon peak I have my eye on

East face of The Cleaver and Bighorn Mtn.

East face of The Cleaver and Bighorn Mtn.

After the saddle, I saw a helicopter flying up and down the canyon. That can’t be good. I worked my way back the way I came. I was on the ridge on canyon right and saw the helicopter go up Pima Canyon, flying low. Trying to sidestep some prickly pear, I misjudged and ended up with a cheekful of spines. Great. Out came the tweezers and I tried to get the spines out before the helicopter flew by and caught me with my pants down. I managed to tidy myself up just in time before they flew over me.

I traveled the rest of the ridge down to intersect the Pima Canyon Trail. I was feeling tired and realized that I hadn’t really eaten a whole lot for how long I had been out. It was nice to be able to stretch my legs for the mile and a half to the trailhead.

Just before the trailhead, I came upon a Pima County Sheriff carrying a very large rifle and another with a backpack. They told me to talk to the other Sheriffs at the trailhead. I told them I had seen only two people all day- two men out taking pictures in the morning. They said that it didn’t fit their description. I wished them luck with their search. I wasn’t able to find out anything on the web later about who they were looking for.

A couple of hours after I got home, my body got revenge for not eating enough and I got the worst leg cramps I have had in a long time. But The Cleaver was totally worth it.

Still smiling!

Still smiling!

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news, I’ve begun to plan next year’s Birds, Blues, and Bellydance event to benefit Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson. We’ve had a blast the last couple of years and next year’s event (probably late April) will bring some new performers to the eclectic mix! Of course, our educational birds will be attending as well- Elfie the Elf Owl, Citan the Harris Hawk, and Luna the Great Horned Owl. Click below to donate to Wildlife Rehabilitation:

Citan the Harris Hawk

Citan the Harris Hawk

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I had a grand plan: to watch the eclipse from Granite Beach in the Grand Canyon as part of a 5-day Hermit to South Kaibab trip. The soggy weather forecast (four days of cold rain) changed those plans, so plan B was to hike to the top of Table Mountain in Pima Canyon, spend the night and watch the eclipse. I have been wanting to hike up Table for a while, it’s a very rugged off-trail bushwhack and I was excited that I was finally going to get to see the top. I didn’t start until 10 am, because I figured that I had all day to get up there.

Since May I have been wearing light hiking shoes instead of boots, but I wanted boots for the bushwhacking through shindaggers and such. They felt strange when I put them on, but I figured my feet just weren’t used to them. My pack was heavy with water for a dry camp and I made good time hiking up the Pima Canyon Trail. Right before the dam, almost 3 miles into the hike I realized that my boot was falling apart, the sole was flapping off and there was a big hole in the bottom of the boot. I was surprised- I hadn’t worn these boots since May but I didn’t remember them being in such bad shape. I realized when my boot fell apart that I wasn’t going to make it to the top of Table Mountain and I was really disappointed. Crushed is more like it- where was I going to watch the eclipse?

I didn’t want to stay near the dam on the Pima Canyon Trail, so I regrouped and came up with plan C: hike out, grab new shoes, drive over to Molino Basin and hike the Arizona Trail south to a place I’ve always wanted to spend the night- the saddle with a great view of Mica Mountain.

When I went to put my boots back on, I realized why they felt so weird- I had mistakenly grabbed the wrong boots! You see, I hiked the whole Arizona Trail in one pair of boots. When I was done with the trail, I felt kind of sentimental about them and instead of throwing them away, I stuck them in my shed. My husband had recently cleaned the shed and the boots migrated back to the house. My new boots look the same as my old boots from the top and I had grabbed the wrong pair. This lightened my mood instantly, how could I get upset over something so silly?

I was feeling a lot better as I was hiking out and about a mile and a half from the trailhead, I saw another backpacker. I was a little surprised- I hardly ever run into other backpackers, and he complimented me on my Golite Chrome Dome umbrella. I saw he was carrying one too. He asked, “Are you Sirena?” and I said yes. Turns out it was long-distance hiker Guino out for an extended trek in the Tucson area. He has hiked part of the Arizona Trail and Grand Enchantment Trail, and all of the Pacific Crest Trail and we’d read about each other’s hikes on trailjournals.com. We found a spot to drop our packs and sat and looked at maps and chatted for a while before we eventually had to part ways. On the way back to the parking lot, I hiked with Renaat from Belgium, who comes to Arizona each year to hike. We had a nice conversation, and toward the end I found out that he was one of the first men from Belgium to climb the North Face of the Eiger in 1977. Two very cool encounters that I wouldn’t have had if I would have made it to Table Mountain.

I went to Molino Basin, hiked south on the AZT as the sun was setting and set up camp on a knoll next to the saddle. I was worried about missing the eclipse, because my phone was dead so I couldn’t set an alarm. Fortunately, I awoke after midnight, the sky was clear and I had an incredible view of the eclipse over my head right from my sleeping bag! It glowed orange and it lasted for quite some time. I would watch it for a while, doze off, then awake and be amazed all over again that I had such an incredible view.

The next morning, I relaxed at the campsite, reading and writing in my journal until I hiked out in the afternoon. Oh, and the boots final resting place? I thought it was fitting that they be thrown out on the Arizona Trail in the garbage cans at Molino Basin so I don’t make that mistake again.

Sorry, no pictures this time, my computer is acting up. Hope everyone has a happy and safe New Year’s celebration and I look forward to sharing my wanderings with you in 2011!

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