Posts Tagged ‘Summit’

The Biscuit

If you look at a topo map of the Mustang Mountains, a small range northeast of Sonoita, you will see the northernmost peak is called Mount Bruce. This ordinary name belies the beauty of this peak, for it has a most interesting shape. Sheer walls on the sides with a domed top- locals call it The Biscuit.

The Biscuit is one of those peaks that can be seen for miles and miles. I have admired it from many other mountain ranges and always wondered what it would be like to hike to the top. I saw that the Huachuca Hiking Club was leading a trip up there and contacted them to ask if I could tag along. Boy, am I glad I did! This hike was a blast and the views were incredible in every direction. Bill and I met up with the others from the hiking club at Upper Elgin Rd. and Highway 82. We drove past 8-foot high sunflowers lining the road and marveled at the beautiful rolling scenery and views of The Biscuit. As we were waiting for the others to arrive, I saw a very large hawk with a grey back and entirely white underside. I looked it up when I got home and it was a Harrier Hawk. Cool!

The Biscuit from our parking area. We grasswhacked, then went up to the saddle and curved around behind the peak to a break in the cliffs. Came down a ridge not seen in the photo to make a loop back to the cars.

We drove down Upper Elgin Rd. for a ways and turned off onto a good dirt road leading through the grasslands. The road stopped at a gate and we parked the cars. Steve, the hike leader, described our route, which started with a grasswhack toward our Biscuit. We waded through knee-high grasses and I was thankful I’d brought the tall gaiters- it is grass seed season. It got a little brushy as we crossed several small drainages. There were patches with sugar sumac, ceanothus, and everyone’s favorite, cat claw. After we crossed the drainage that goes up to the saddle, we found a faint path that went up through an increasingly brushy and ocotillo-laden slope. The view from the saddle was very interesting- on the other side was the much greener and more lush Rain Valley between the Mustangs and the Whetstones. Above us were the sheer cliffs of the Biscuit.


Up to the saddle

‘Brella on the Biscuit

Getting brushy

View from the saddle toward the Whetstones, Rincon Peak in the distance

Monolithic Biscuit, can’t go up from this side without rope!

We took a break and then went up and contoured around near the base of the cliff. There was a break in the cliff once we got closer to the north side of the peak. The biggest problem with the route was that the rock was extremely loose and even large pieces were getting dislodged from the slope. There were a couple of spots that required scrambling, and where the rock wasn’t loose, it was razor-sharp. Sometimes it was both.

Sidehilling from the saddle

Scrambling up the break

Above the scramble, the hillside was covered in bright yellow goldeneye, which was such a treat. We found a large cairn marking another route up to the peak coming from the more gentle slope of the north side. We would use that as our descent and hopefully avoid coming down the sharp loose scramble. There were cairns on the route to the summit hidden in the flowers, and the summit finally came into view.

Mike takes a moment to take in the views on the flower-covered slope

View toward the Santa Ritas

Looking north, Rincons and Catalinas in the far distance

Where some summits have a cairn, or a post, or a mailbox, this one had a 4 foot tall circular rock wall. The 360 degree views were spectacular- so many different sky islands visible from just one spot!

Video from the summit:

Unexpected summit structure

Micro Chicken makes an appearance

Huachuca Hiking Club

We took a long break at the top, pointing out landmarks to each other. When it was time to go down, we went cairn-hunting in the flowers for the route back down the north slope. It was much easier than the route we had taken up. When we got close to the saddle, we contoured around the mountain to avoid several drainages and then descended back to the grasslands. The rest of the hike back was grass-seed hell, as we all got stabbed repeatedly. No mesh shoes for me next time! It was a short but interesting hike and I think we hit it at just the perfect time for wildflowers up top.

Cairn-hunting in the flowers

The more gentle northern slope

It may look serene, but we are getting stabbed by a million grass seeds on the way back to the cars

In wildlife rehabilitation fundraiser news, one of my favorite parts of volunteering at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson is getting to fly the raptors to see if they are ready for release. I took a beautiful Great Horned Owl out the other day and it did a great job and will be released soon. 100% of donations go toward animal rehabilitation.

Great Horned Owl

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View toward Patagonia from Josephine Peak

I am now back from working on the river this summer and transitioning to a land-based lifestyle. It may take a while, however- the other night it was storming and I woke up worrying about if everything on the boat was covered. I did six commercial trips this summer with Arizona River Runners and Grand Canyon Whitewater. It was amazing and I learned so much about the Grand Canyon and boating. Then at the end of my season, I was invited last-minute on a private 8-day trip on the lower half of the river just for fun. I’ll write about that in an upcoming entry.

As much as I love the Grand Canyon, I missed Tucson- every time I came back from a trip the mountains were more and more green. I didn’t have the time (or quite frankly the energy) to do any hikes around here this summer, so I was excited to get out in my own neck of the woods for a change. You know the place you live is pretty when you miss it while at the Grand Canyon!

Santa Rita Panorama- click to enlarge

I called Wendy to see if she wanted to go to the Santa Ritas, but it turned out she’d already made plans with Cindy and her friend Bobby to do Josephine Peak, so I got to tag along. This was a great destination that I probably wouldn’t have thought of, as it is off the Super Trail and I always take Baldy up the mountain.

Josephine Canyon

We had perfect weather, big fluffy clouds with a couple of sprinkles just before we had the final push to the peak. The Ritas are super-lush with wildflowers everywhere. We took Baldy to Josephine Saddle, then the Super Trail to Riley Saddle and the turnoff for the Josephine Peak “Trail”. I really enjoyed the open views and easy grade on the Super Trail.

Our objective comes into view

A parade of Chrome Domes

We hit the peak turnoff and then the fun immediately began. Cairn-hunting, log-hopping, side-hilling, and brush fighting. Some of us were more successful than others at the brush fighting and a certain person who I hike with often had an up-close and personal encounter. Friendship is plucking pricklies from a posterior that isn’t yours…

Wendy comes through the downed trees and mini-pines

Just a little brushy…

Rincons in the distance

We went up along the ridge that goes from Riley Saddle for a bit and then had to sidehill toward another ridge that led to the summit. After we reached the summit ridge, the tread became more apparent and switchbacked steeply up toward the summit. The summit had fantastic views of Wrightson to the north and I could see the path of the Arizona Trail below. Cindy had her celebratory beer and I got out Micro Chicken for his summit shot.

Hiking up the final ridge, there were switchbacks among the downed logs

Wrightson, Bobby, Cindy, and me

Video from the summit:

Micro Chicken bags another summit

After the enjoyment at the summit, it was time to fight the brush again back down to the Super Trail.

Cool tree courtesy of the 2005 Florida Fire

Log-hopping and sidehilling through brush (also courtesy of the Florida Fire)

Looking back at the summit ridge of Josephine Peak

Glad to be back in the Ritas!

Aaah, back to the big, fancy trail.

We were elated at the wide tread and log-free Super Trail and Cindy turned into Downhill Turbo Cindy.  At Josephine Saddle we decided to take the Super Trail to the Roger’s Rock/Pipeline route because Wendy hadn’t seen it before. It was gorgeous, with running water and changing sycamore trees. Spent the whole day on the mountain and topped it off with ice cream on the way home. I don’t think days get much better than that.

Through the flowers on the Super Trail with Hopkins on the left

Mountain Spiny Lizard

Beautiful sycamores and running water on the Roger’s Rock Route

I am also back volunteering at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, I missed my birds and other critters!
I had a memorable encounter the other day when a Harris Hawk jumped onto my back while I was cleaning its cage. Normally this would not be a good thing, but this particular hawk was raised for a month in someone’s bathtub when it was very little. It has been around people its whole life. After a bit, it made itself comfortable on top of my head! It’s good to be back.

100% of donations go toward housing and feeding the animals at the rehab:

Silly Harris Hawk!

Harris Hawk Head

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I have had non-hiking visitors in town and have been trying to get away for days to see the wildflower bloom in the Tucson Mtns. This morning I woke up at 6am and snuck out the door before anyone was up. Hiked to Wasson Peak using Sendero Esperanza to the Hugh Norris Trail.  Sendero Esperanza’s wildflowers were great on the switchbacks up to the ridge, but the Hugh Norris Trail is completely carpeted for much of the way to the peak! I had a wonderful hike and experienced wildflower-induced giddiness that lasted all day!

Desert Chicory

Penstemon with Ragged Top in far center


Blooms line the trail, Kitt Peak in the distance

Lupine and poppies line the trail

Hedgehog Cactus bloom

I have gotten a lot of emails about the pictures of cute animals from my Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser, but everyone really loved the bunnies- so here’s some more:

A lap full of tiny bunnies waiting to be fed

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When I worked as an archaeologist, I did a pipeline survey that went from the New Mexico border up to Phoenix. It was great work, getting paid to hike along the pipeline and record archaeological sites. One of the areas the pipeline went through was what is now the Ironwood Forest National Monument. There was one peak that really caught my attention with it’s jagged appearance:

Ragged Top

Now, by the looks of this peak, and knowing that there is no constructed trail on it, you would never guess that it is hikeable. For years after seeing the peak up close, I would look longingly at it when in the Tucson Mtns. or driving up to Phoenix. I eventually read about a way to get up to the top that required bushwhacking (traveling without a trail) and 2nd and 3rd class scrambling. Here’s a description I found of 3rd class scrambling: “steep scrambling with exposure. An unroped fall on 3rd class terrain would likely be fatal.” A couple of years ago, I would have never attempted such a hike. But since climbing Baboquivari last year, I realize that in addition to being just this side of terrifying, scrambling can be a lot of fun! I asked Dave Baker, the owner of Summit Hut who had taken me up Babo, if he thought that it was similar to the scrambling we did there, and he said similar, but easier. He said that I probably wouldn’t have a problem with it. I scouted this hike solo in November, but upon reaching the steeper parts, decided it was best to come back with at least one other person.

Mitch and Bill

And so it was that Mitch Stevens, Bill Bens and I came together on a perfect winter day to hike to the summit. Mitch will be leading this hike for the Sierra Club in a couple of weeks and wanted to scout it out beforehand. Bill and I have corresponded with for a couple of years, but never met before. He runs the Tucson Hikers Yahoo Group. It was nice to finally meet him! Bill had been up Ragged Top before, but not on this route. We used a description by Dave Baker on his Trail Talk blog that can be found here.

Ragged Top Map

Mitch had 4WD on his truck, so we were able to drive up to the base of the mountain. When I had scouted this in November, I had to park my un-trailworthy Thunderbird on Silverbell Rd. and walk an additional 1.1 miles in. We started hiking at 8am after taking a bunch of pictures of the early morning light reflecting off the peak. I had done some map and GPS work for my previous attempt that would prove to be really helpful in figuring out the way to go. There is no constructed trail in this area, but there are several game trails that aid progress up to the Wolcott Peak- Ragged Top saddle.

From the saddle, we contoured under Ragged Top’s peak with great views. There are many interesting rock spires along the way.

Photo by Bill Bens

The hike up to the ridgeline was one of my least favorite combinations: steep, rocky, loose, and unstable. I was glad that we were doing a loop, so that I wouldn’t have to come back down this way. We took a long break when we got up to the ridgeline to take pictures and scout out the route. The next part of the hike went up a steep chute.

Up this chute to the summit

The chute was also loose and rocky, and required use of hands in places. The rock was so unstable, we would step on large rocks, only to have them move. The rock was also rotten, so every hand and foothold had to be tested before putting weight on it.

Up the Chute- Photo by Bill Bens

I tried not to look down too much- I am somewhat afraid of heights, though I can usually fight my way through it. Going up is not nearly as bad as coming down, and that was what was concerning me. Each bit I climbed, I would have to come back down. I was not looking forward to it. Thankfully, the views made it all worth it.

Enjoying the view-Photo by Bill Bens

Photo by Bill Bens

As we got to the top of the chute, the climbing became even more exposed and I got a little freaked out by where we were headed. We were so close to the top, but the last push was pretty scary. Any misstep would be bad news.

Tricky maneuvers near the top- Photo by Bill Bens

Final push to the summit- photo by Bill Bens

Finally, we made it to the summit, which had an old mailbox that housed the summit register.

Summit Mailbox

Me and Bill at the summit with Picacho Peak in the background

The views from the top at 3907 ft. were incredible! The summit is a lot larger than it looks from the bottom of the mountain. We took a break to eat lunch and take pictures. Here’s a video from the summit:

After spending a while on the summit, it was time to head down. Now we had to climb down the scary part we’d just come up, only this time, the view was all the way down the mountain to the chute.

Coming off the summit- photo by Bill Bens

I took my time and tried to find the best line to scramble down, and when I got down to the chute, I used my tried and true technique of sliding down/crabwalking on my butt. The way I figure it, if I’m already on the ground, then I can’t fall. Dave Baker called it “rumpage” (it sounds best if you say it like it’s a French word)

Butt-scooting down the chute- photo by Bill Bens

As we were coming down the chute, we saw a man coming toward us and he stopped to talk for a minute. He owns the ranch in the valley and said that he hikes Ragged Top every day when he is in town. He went up to the summit, and came back down at an unbelievable speed while we were still negotiating the chute.

We finally made it down to the second saddle, and we went down the North Gully to continue our loop back to the car. We stayed to the right on a good game trail that made travel a lot easier than the way we had come up. It was still steep and loose, but there was a pretty well-defined path and it did not feel as exposed as the South Gully. The path even had steep switchbacks in parts. I continued my rumpage down the mountain:

Scooting down the North Gully-photo by Bill Bens

The North Gully was a lot shorter than the way we came up the South, and before we knew it, we were down at the level that we needed to contour our way around the mountain back to Mitch’s truck.

Looking back at the North Gully

We made it back to the truck at about 5 1/2 hours after we started and I was shocked to see that the entire hike was only 3 miles! That is one of the most scenic, exciting 3 miles I’ve ever hiked. What a wonderful, rugged route- but I would recommend it to experienced hikers only, and only when temps are cool. Even just up to the first or second saddle could be a destination in itself if you’re not comfortable with the climbing part. I am so happy that Bill and Mitch accompanied me up to the summit- our group meshed well and we are planning some more off-trail adventures in the future. The rest of the day, I was floating on an endorphin high. I said at the summit that I probably wouldn’t want to do this hike again, but now that I have completed it safely, I have a sneaking feeling that this wasn’t the last time I’d see the summit of Ragged Top.

Catalinas, Rincons, and Tucson Mtns. from the summit

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