Trip Report Home
Santa Catalina Mountains Backpacking Trip
Friday - March 23, 2001
In 2001, I modified my celebration of Cactusfest and decided to invite others to join in on the fun. Knowing that there would be a slight risk that I would have to limit the number of fit females in the group, I went ahead and went public. After the votes were counted and much to my dismay, there was not a Kim, Karen, or Katherine in the bunch; only my two friends, Tom Slater and Lee Bollinger, would join me in Tucson!
My flight took me from Nashville to Tucson through Dallas. At the Tucson airport, I waited a couple of hours for Lee and Tom to arrive from Phoenix. When they arrived, we drove our new Ford SUV to Catalina State Park to get a campsite for the night. At the park, there were no campsites available. The park ranger did offer us some words of encouragement telling us that there would be water along our planned backcountry routes. This was a relief; Tom, Lee, and I had planned on packing 3 gallons of water apiece in addition to our gear for this trip. We had one minor problem, though - none of us had packed in a water filter. On our way to Sabino Canyon we stopped at a local outfitter to purchase a filter and more water carriers. Each of us needed to re-organize our gear for the trip ahead, so, we opted to stay at a local motel for the night instead of using flashlights to pack up. The pizza was good too.
Saturday - March 24, 2001
Upon our checking out of the motel, we hit the Golden Arches for breakfast and traveled to the Sabino Canyon Visitor's Center. I have to stop and give my compliments to Tom for driving the SUV for us. Tom always made sure that there was an engine under the hood before we left anywhere; you don't find that quality much in a chauffeur anymore. Get your hand away from that hood release, Tom, it ain't no parking brake! :) When we arrived at the Sabino Canyon Visitor's Center we paid our parking fees and purchased tickets for the tram that would take us to our jumping off place. With our packs on, we were definitely drawing a crowd as many people would stop and ask where we were heading. Along the tram's route, the driver made the mistake of pointing out the high summit of Cathedral Rock and mentioning that pine trees and bighorn sheep exist on it's slopes. This became our unspoken goal for the trip.
We began our hike at the Sabino Canyon roadend and traveled up Sabino Canyon to the intersection of Sabino Creek and West Fork trails. The first part of our hike was in typical Sonoran desert environs: cacti, rocks, wildflowers, sticky bushes, heat. On the West Fork trail the desert eventually disappeared into a riparian environment complete with grasslands and a creek with small trees. We had planned on getting our water at Hutch's Pool, a natural pool, however we missed the cutoff for the pool and abruptly started up some tough switchbacks. It was after we cleared these switchbacks that we saw Hutch's Pool, way down below us. We debated on whether or not to descend back to the pool for water, but, we decided to chance finding another source of water along the trail. We reasoned that one gallon of water should last us for quite some time. We continued uphill on the West Fork trail for a good 6 hours stopping briefly under a tree to eat our lunch. Although the temperatures on the trail were bearable, the intense sun made sunblock a necessity. We finally arrived at the intersection of the West Fork and Cathedral Rock trails and made our camp there. A great campsite spot in the forest under the trees and close to water. We topped of our water, fixed a good backpacking meal at night, and went to sleep around 7PM.
Sunday - March 25, 2001
I woke up early this morning to the weird callings of birds that I had never heard in my life. We ate breakfast and broke camp early around 8AM. Our challenge for today was to climb 1400ft in 1.8 miles to our second campsite at the base of Cathedral Rock. After stopping at a small waterfall to fill our water carriers, Lee headed uphill with Tom and I following. The switchbacks in the first hour of this route were quite good but were steep. After about an hour and a half of hard hiking, we stopped, dropped our packs, and starting eating our gorp/cliff bars etc. While stopped, a group of older men equipped with only fanny pack and two quart bottles met us; they were JOGGING the trail and we were awestruck. I did see the words "Senior Olympics" on one of the gentleman's cap. This group had just completed the Esperero Canyon leg of our trip (8.5 miles/4000ft climb) this morning and now it was all downhill for them. I consoled Tom and Lee mentioning several times that we all had several more years before we would have to match their performance! With packs back on, we wrestled with the overgrown trail another mile or so until we came to a saddle. To the right of us was the trail leading toward the Cathedral Rock summit. We decided to march up this rough trail and find a place to camp. There were acceptable established campsites in several places on the trail; we searched around and chose the best ones. We dropped our packs and rested from the morning's climb. Tom and I had some pretty bad scratches on our legs from the hike up. Lee was nursing a cut on his hand. Lee and Tom would have tied in the battle scar contest.
In the early afternoon, we climbed up to several of the Cathedral Rock summits and admired the view of Tucson and surrounding areas. From Cathedral Rock, we could easily see Biosphere II, Window Peak, the Window, Mt. Kimball, Mt. Lemmon, and the town of Tucson which engulfed the valley floor below us. Descending Cathedral Rock, we took several wrong turns and followed spider trails to several dead ends. Lee's trusty GPS and compass helped us back to our camp. We made camp and walked to the nearest snow bank, that's right, SNOW BANK to get our water for the night. It was a first for all of us; boiling snow for water. Not the most fuel efficient way of getting H2O, but, we didn't go thirsty. Lee pointed out a scorpion crawling near him as we boiled water. I finally saved him from an icy grave. At night, we ate our supper and went to watch the shimmering lights of Tucson from our lofty perch. When it got cold, I left the lights for my sleeping bag.
Monday - March 26, 2001
With our accomplishments fresh in our minds, we broke camp and made our descent from Cathedral Rock to the Sabino Canyon Visitor Center via Esperero Canyon. The trail was, for the most part, pretty much downhill all the way. After a couple of hours, we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls to rest briefly and refill our water carriers. We talked to an interesting 76-year-old man - again with minimal gear and a small water bottle - in the vicinity of the falls. When we asked him about the water, he told us that he usually just dipped his bottle in the stream and drank directly from it. Lee asked him if he ever had been afraid of the parasites in the water. He replied "No, I haven't been sick once." "But, that might explain why I've had the runs all my life!", he continued. :)
From this point, we followed the Esperero canyon trail downhill from the forest back into the desert again. As we started descending what is locally known as Cardiac-Gap, I was noticing that my feet were getting pretty sore from the weight pounding my toes into the front of my boot. Even with laces tight, my feet were not that comfortable. The terrain in this section of the trail was very rough. The main benefit of traveling Esperero Canyon during this time of the year was the wildflower show. Reds, Blues, Whites, and Yellows: the colors were out in full force due to the abundance of rainfall this year. Lee was once again our leader on the hike today; he left us in a splash. Tom and I brought up the rear and took our time. We stopped briefly for a rest on either the Rattlesnake or Bird canyon floor. Tom saw some kind of varmint that he pointed out to me. All I saw was brown fur; this animal was too big to be a squirrel and too little to be a coyote. Up until now, this day had been overcast but the sun broke out as we were resting making us believe that the temperature on the canyon floor was 100+. With about 12 ounces of water left, I mentioned to Tom that I was ready to get out, so, we tailed up one side of one canyon and crossed another canyon. The only wildlife that I saw in this final section of the Esperero Canyon trail was one small yellow-green gecko. Tom and I finally met up with Lee at the intersections of trails leading back into Sabino Canyon. We snapped a few final shots of the highcountry from whence we came and returned back to the Visitor's Center. Jack-In-The-Box, by the way, is the closest fast food near the Sabino Canyon parking lot. We ate there and re-hydrated ourselves. After a short side trip to a cactus nursery, we traveled to South Tucson and booked a room for the night. The pizza in that part of Tucson was good too!
Tuesday - March 27, 2001
We checked out of our motel and ate a Grand Slam breakfast at Dennys. Lee and Tom were up to seeing the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, so, we headed that way. I didn't know that all of us would enjoy the museum, but, this museum is the tops! Plants, Animals, and Geology of the Sonoran desert: a pretty interesting subject to me. Everyone enjoyed the museum. After the museum, we stopped briefly at a rock shop and then to eat. Tom and Lee dropped me off at the Tucson airport and they continued on to Phoenix. One more great start to the hiking/backpacking year!