Sunday, November 29, 2015

Pusch Peak, 5,361', Pusch Ridge Wilderness

Essence: Half day hike to the Westernmost summit on Pusch Ridge, poised at the very edge of Tucson. Step immediately into the Sonoran wild. The good trail, occasionally steep and rubbly, is shaded on winter mornings. Relish the razzle dazzle summit covered in glistening, crystallized granite. A discussion on the plausibility of traveling east from the peak follows.
Travel: The Linda Vista Trailhead is in Oro Valley. From Ina Road and Oracle Road in Tucson, drive north on AZ State Route 77 for 3.0 miles to the signal at Linda Vista Blvd. Turn right/east and go 0.1 mile. The parking lot is on the right. No facilities, no water.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 4.4 miles, spur to Oro Point adds 0.4 mile; 2,750 feet of climbing
Time: 3:00 to 4:30
Difficulty: Trail; navigation easy; Class 2; no exposure
Maps: Tucson North, Oro Valley, AZ 7.5 Quads; or, Pusch Ridge Wilderness, Coronado National Forest, USDA Forest Service, 1:24,000
Latest Date Hiked: November 29, 2015
Pusch Ridge Wilderness Bighorn Sheep Closure: It is prohibited to travel more than 400 feet off designated Forest Service trails from January 1 through April 30, bighorn sheep lambing season. Pusch Peak is off-limits during that period.
Quote: Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.  Rachel Carson

Pusch Peak, The Cleaver, and Bighorn Mountain from Prominent Point West. (THW, photo)

Route: Walk southeast on the path that goes up the center of the Linda Vista Loop trail system. Link onto an unofficial, south trending track. Cross a draw and ascend the west slope of Pusch Peak. On the return, take a spur trail to "Oro Point." 

Linda Vista is posted No Dogs. Examine the site map at the south end of the parking lot. Two trails leave from here. The most direct route is the Featured Trail on the left. It bifurcates the established loop trail. To extend your walk by 0.4 mile, take the right fork and enjoy the southern half of the loop.

The Featured Trail takes direct aim at Pusch Peak, the first in a lineup of thundering bastions. To its left is Bighorn Mountain, and further still, Table Mountain. Image-right is our optional return destination, Oro Point.

The trail plows through a rich array of Sonoran vegetation. Walk through a top-quality natural nursery. Prickly pear are unusually lush and abundant as is the brittlebush. Staghorn cholla are gigantic. There are ocotillo and paloverde. In the spring you will see fairy duster, rosy desert beardtongue penstemon, and cream-colored poppies.

The trail splits a few times. At 0.14 mile, bear right and at 0.2 mile go left. As you rise off the valley floor, a line of ancient and magnificent green beings with multiple limbs will accompany. This is Saguaroland at its finest.

At 0.74 mile, intersect the loop trail and go left for a few yards. At 0.8 mile, a sign marks the start of the unofficial Pusch Peak trail. It is not a Forest Service trail and is therefore closed during the bighorn protection period. Looking at the image below, our route curves around to the right. The sunny rampart is the western bulwark of Pusch Peak.

The treadway hangs above the declivity between the peak and Oro Point. The rock is appealing Catalina Gneiss.

The hardscrabble track has tall boulder risers and occasional sheets of bedrock. (This image was taken on the return.)

At 1.2 miles, make note of the unmarked and subtle secondary path to Oro Point that branches to the right. At 1.5 miles cross the usually dry watercourse. The trail ascends the west-facing slope, topping out at the summit ridge. The zenith is just beyond the horizon, image-center.

Intrusive igneous granite cools below Earth's surface where large crystals of quartz, feldspar, and mica form. The slopes of Pusch Peak are comprised of granular granite bejeweled with dense, glistening crystals.

On a frigid morning in November we break into the sun just 500 feet below the summit. The route parallels the southwest ridge marked by a jutting line of incisors. Oro Point, image-right, looks diminutive from here. (THW, photo)

Gain the summit ridge at 5,300 feet and turn south.

Top out at 2.2 miles. The expansive summit, seen here from its companion peak, is comprised of effervescent, weathered boulders. (THW, photo)

The view is unstoppable from the western edge of mighty Pusch Ridge. To the east is The Cleaver, Bighorn Mountain, Table Mountain, and Mount Kimball. (THW, photo)

Gain an up-close perspective on Prominent Point West, The Thumb, and Rosewood Point. See the Rincon Mountains, Santa Rita Mountains, Elephant Head, Baboquivari Peak, and Kitt Peak. Below, a couple on the subsidiary peak is looking at the Tucson Mountains and Sombrero. Picacho and the Tortolita Mountains are off to the right. (THW, photo)

On the return, one mile below the summit at elevation 3,760 feet, look for the contour trail to Oro Point. This small flatiron is well worth the 0.4 mile round trip.

The jutting point is at once lofty and yet proximal to town. The entire climb to Pusch Peak is seen from Oro Point.
(THW, photo)

Upon reaching the loop trail go left briefly and then right onto the Featured Trail. Or, stay on the loop trail for a slightly longer route home.

Thwarted Attempt To Connect with Points East
We were curious about whether we could proceed from Pusch Peak to The Cleaver and then on to Bighorn and Table.  Specifically, on this day we wanted to climb The Cleaver. Below is a map of our exploration.

From the summit of Pusch Peak, we descended on the southeast ridge. At 5,180 feet, we left the ridge and had no problem working our way east to the cliff band at 4,800 feet, 300 feet above The Cleaver saddle. We cliffed out at a ten-foot, over-hung drop. Below it is a much taller technical wall.

We walked southeast along the rim probing every possible weakness. We dropped into a gully, shown, at 4,320 feet that would have worked. However, it seemed little better than the standard access from Pima Canyon Trail so we turned back.

Next, we will drop a shuttle vehicle at Linda Vista and then drive over to the Pima Canyon Trail. We will walk up the trail for two miles, thrash our way up to the The Cleaver, and then see if we can find a non-technical route up the escarpment. If successful, we'll summit Pusch Peak and descend to the Linda Vista Trailhead. Meanwhile, please drop me a comment if you know how to breech the barrier wall without ropes.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Finger Rock Guard, 6,475', Pusch Ridge Wilderness

Essence:  A spur route diverges from the Finger Rock Trail to scale Finger Rock Guard, a monolith seen widely from Tucson. It feels almost magical to free climb a 500 foot isolated earth pillar. A delightful, well-cairned scramble leads to the top of the pedestal.
Travel: From Tucson's Skyline Drive, go north one mile on Alvernon Way to the Richard McKee Finger Rock Trailhead. Park in a large lot on the left. There is a drinking faucet but no other facilities.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 8.0 miles, 3,900 feet of climbing
Time: 6:30 to 8:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation somewhat challenging; mild exposure on the summit block; Class 3 scrambling
Maps: Tucson North, AZ 7.5 Quad, or Pusch Ridge Wilderness, Coronado National Forest, USDA Forest Service, 1:24,000
Latest Date Hiked: November 22, 2015
Pusch Ridge Wilderness Bighorn Sheep Closure: It is prohibited to travel more than 400 feet off designated Forest Service trails from January 1 through April 30, bighorn sheep lambing season. Finger Rock Guard is off-limits during that time period.
Quote: The joy of Nature is older than the joy of man. Joseph Wood Krutch

Finger Rock Guard, left of center, glowing at twilight.

Route: Hike 2.8 miles on the Finger Rock Trail to Linda Vista, 5,240 feet. Take a social trail steeply down to Finger Rock Canyon and then up to Saddle 5,980', northeast of Finger Rock Guard. Follow a cairn'd scramble to the summit.

From Trailhead 3,070', at 0.1 mile the Pontatoc Trail branches off to the right. Stay on Trail #42. The trail is well known, in part because it provides the quickest access to Mount Kimball, 7,258'.  It is a somewhat challenging treadway embedded with boulders ranging from bowling ball size on up. Expect to wind around and climb over stones with a fair share of 18 inch step-ups. Stretches of dirt offer reprieve.

In the lower canyon the throngs of saguaro are so magnificent you'll think you are in the national park. Keeping company are ocotillo spikes, prickly pear, brittlebush, staghorn cholla and, in the spring, Mexican gold poppy. At skyline in this image is The Tombstone, Prominent Point (Pt. 6,628'), Finger Rock, and The Guard.

Cross the draw at 0.9 mile and then pass Finger Rock Spring. The climb starts in earnest at 1.2 miles. The trail launches onto a rising, northeast traverse, staying well above the canyon bottom on its southeast side. While clinging comfortably to the edgy hillside, the middle path threads between cliffs above and below. This is the most open of Santa Catalina Mountains' major front range corridors with ever-expanding views.

At 2.8 miles, 5,240 feet, reach Linda Vista (N32 21.623 W110 53.416). It is a place that insists on a break to admire Baboquivari Peak, Kitt Peak, the Tucson Mountains, and perhaps your home.

Linda Vista is where our route diverges from the on-going Finger Rock Trail so take a moment to get oriented. The trail to Mt Kimball is marked with a cairn; it heads east and bends around Pt. 5,730'. The Guard course uses an unmarked, thin track heading north. The image below was taken from Linda Vista and shows our next objective, Saddle 5,980', right of The Guard.

Plunge down a well-trampled, steep social trail losing 150 feet in less than 0.2 mile to the bottom of Finger Rock Canyon. Cross the usually dry wash on Santa Catalina Gneiss with veins of white quartz. Don't count on gathering water.

The use trail to the saddle is distinct, direct, and periodically steep. It presents nothing more and nothing less than necessary to get the job done. Sotol and beargrass dot the plantscape. This image looks back on Linda Vista, the narrow bench at the base of Pt 5,730'.

Reach Saddle 5,980' at 3.6 miles (N32 22.010 W110 53.583). It is a beautiful place, a small clearing in trees. Walk a few steps east for a look at Tucson's landmark Table Mountain from a different perspective.

It is 0.4 mile from the saddle to The Guard; roundtrip takes an hour. Look for a faint path heading southwest, aiming right at the crag. The cairned route is up the northeast side. Pay careful attention to these little rock piles for the passage is convoluted as it wends its way up through a congregation of pinnacles. It's going to feel playful, unlikely, embracing and almost secretive. When can you so easily scramble up a 500 foot, all-tower prominence? If the exposure is bracing, back up and find the correct route.

You will come to a 15 foot wall with two routes. As you face the wall, the left has better holds and is more protected. Squeeze between rocks and trees, scramble up short pitches. It is enchanting.

 If you climb for the sheer joy of it, this is your world.

To get on top, do one airy move--scale a four foot overhung rock with good holds and mild exposure. Stand on top of the first of three towers.

From this comfortable pinnacle, Finger Rock is a breath away to the north, camouflaged by Prominent Point East. In this image, it is just left of center with a rock stack on its top.

Traverse to the slightly higher middle tower by walking on pedestals. Exposure increases dramatically but the footing is excellent. This freefall observation point is muted slightly by the subsidiary third tower.

On the descent, stay alert for there are alternative cairned routes, some trickier than others and one heading off towards the west. Stay on the northeast side of the prominence. Once past the short airy downclimb, look for this squeeze.

Slither down the wall.

From Saddle 5,980', return on the social trail to Linda Vista.

Descend on Finger Rock Trail's extensive inclined sidewalk.

Time it right and see Sun set over the Tucson Mountains from the trail.

Prominent Point Exploration:
We were hoping to climb Prominent Point from Saddle 5,980' but found it well-armored. We tried four approaches, all unsuccessful. The entire backside of the ridge is complicated with towers. However, we did discover cairned routes to the notches on either side of Finger Rock. From the saddle, take a vague trail northwest. It wraps around the base of The Guard. There are series of cliffs to negotiate so follow cairns carefully. There are abrupt elevation changes, ledges, and exposed scrambling. Climb very steeply to the notch between The Guard and Finger Rock. It is a tiny opening and Tucson is obscured by trees. We descended to another cairned route that climbed to the notch between Finger Rock and Prominent Point. This notch was more open with bigger views to the southwest.  Daring and skilled climbers may be able to achieve the base of Finger Rock from these notches (see below). Slithering up a hopeful crack we lucked out on a superb vantage point of Finger Rock. This optional exploration, only for navigational-savvy desert climbers, added a mile and 700 feet of elevation gain.

And finally, the image below was shot from the ridge just below Mt. Kimball. It clearly shows the upper portion of the entire hike: Saddle 5,980', Finger Rock Guard, Finger Rock, and Prominent Point East and West.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Table Mountain, 6,265', Bighorn Mountain, 5,660', Pusch Ridge Wilderness

Essence: Tucson's rarely visited legendary landmark on the west side of the Santa Catalina Mountains. This precipice bastion is perpendicular on three sides with square corners. Stand on airy edges. Eschew the spear and spine-choked standard gully route in favor of a gneiss slab ridge. On the return, climb pleasant Bighorn Mountain. Optional foray to The Cleaver.
Travel: From Tucson, drive north on Oracle Road, Hwy 77. Pass Ina Road and turn right on Magee Road. Go 1.5 miles to the Iris O. Dewhirst Pima Canyon Trailhead. Or, from Ina Road take Christie Drive north for 1.4 miles and turn right on Magee. The generous, paved lot is on the right. Donʼt overshoot the entrance in the dark; exit spikes will flatten your tires. There is a feeble drinking faucet but no other facilities.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 9.8 miles, 3,900 feet of climbing for the two-mountain Black-Line Route
Time: 8:00 to 9:30
Difficulty: Trail, primarily off-trail; navigation challenging; no exposure while climbing but breathless exposure at cliff edges; carry more water than you think you will need
Maps: Tucson North, Oro Valley, AZ 7.5 Quads; or, Pusch Ridge Wilderness, Coronado National Forest, USDA Forest Service, 1:24,000
Latest Date Hiked: November 20, 2015
Pusch Ridge Wilderness Bighorn Sheep Closure: It is prohibited to travel more than 400 feet off designated Forest Service trails from January 1 through April 30, bighorn sheep lambing season. Table Mountain and Bighorn are off-limits during that time period.
Quote: This curious world which we inhabit is more wonderful than it is convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired than it is to be used. Henry David Thoreau

From the left, Cathedral Rock, Table Mountain, and Bighorn Mountain define the eastern earthline over Oro Valley.

Route: Following the Black-Line Route, walk up Pima Canyon Trail for two miles. Leave the trail and head northeast up a broad ridge. Stay near the breathtaking northwest precipice while summiting Table Mountain. Climb Bighorn Mountain before descending on the ridge route. The Blue-Dot Route is suggested if you wish to climb The Cleaver. The Red-Dot Route is the standard gully approach. Note: There are other routes up Table. Technical climbers should check out Crescent Crack, "...clearly observed from Oracle Road as the obvious crack system that cleaves the intersection of the North Buttress and West Face of Table Mountain." Visit: Mountain Project.

From the Pima Canyon Trailhead, 2,920', walk through private land on a thin easement. The treadway is admirably constructed, a pleasant mix of bedrock and dirt. Walking is easy as the path threads its way through a lush jumble of typical Sonoran plants: stands of ocotillo, congregations of the mighty saguaro, brittlebush, verbena, orange globe-mallow, agave, back-lit golden grasses, staghorn cholla, sotol, and prickly pear.

At 0.4 mile, go left at the sign, staying on Trail No. 62 toward Mount Kimball, 7,258', seven miles distant. This is a classic, don't-miss Pusch Ridge hike for another day.

At 0.6 mile the east face of Table comes into sight for a brief time (left of center in this image).


Cross Pima Canyon Wash at 1.1 miles. The drainageway is generally dry and while surface water may be intermittent, don't count on it. Walk under the north face of Rosewood Point. The unmistakable Cleaver comes into view to the north.

At 2.0 miles look across the wash and locate a broad ridge with slabs of Santa Catalina gneiss, our climbing route. Leave the trail, thrash across the drainage, and acquire the stone sheets. Climb northeast. In 2014, I used the undeniably miserable gully route. By contrast, this ascent is pure delight.

Shindaggers come alive in droves at 4,200 feet. These are agave schotti, not lechuguilla which are prevalent in Big Bend. At 3.4 miles, 5,300 feet, intersect the gully route, shown below. There are multiple ways to attain the summit from here; I've been all over the Table. My favorite is to make directly for the northwest rim.

But first, when you get onto the Table proper, there is a distinctive shift in vegetation associated with changes in the rock. The metamorphic gneiss transitions to granitic gneiss. You will find quartz veins and pegmatite clusters with chunks of mica and feldspar, along with gorgeous nuggets of quartz. As you proceed, there are manzanita thickets, Mexican piñon, and three kinds of oak: silver leaf, Arizona white, and scrub.

Approach the rim at approximately 5,550 feet. The drop is a staggering 1,600 feet. Stay as close to the edge as the terrain allows while negotiating complicated stone structures and obstacles. Thread through cracks, walk around cliff bands, enjoy minor scrambles.

Periodically, the route will leave you standing breathless at Table's edge or gawking at a cliff face.

The western edge is the best segment of all. Walking on the rim rock is like being on the roof of a skyscraper, only here, Table is undercut.

My hiking companion walks happily along the west rim of Table Mountain.

You will reach the summit at about 4.5 miles, depending on your route. Walk all along the northern edge of Table for different perspectives on the incomparable vista. Below, I am standing on an airy perch above a 2,000 foot vertical drop. Dominating the lookoff is Mt. Lemmon, Cathedral Rock, and Mt. Kimball. Way off in the north are Four Peaks and Weavers Needle. There is good picnic seating all along the cliff edge.  (THW, photo)

If you are not climbing Bighorn Mountain, see the map above for a shortcut back to the gneiss ridge. Bighorn is a quick and pleasant climb from Table. Seen below from the west rim, Bighorn Mountain is the less than obvious prominence in front of Pusch Peak. To hasten the process, from the skyscraper go east of the boulder jumbles and then return to the rim.

Acquire Point 5,462', image center- left, and drop to the low point between Table and Bighorn, elevation 5,350 feet. From here, the east slope of Bighorn is absurdly pleasant with open walking through clumps of sotol and beargrass. Cross to the highpoint at the west end of the summit ridge. Reach it at six miles, elevation 5,660 feet.

The summit register is tucked under a boulder on the west end. Table and Bighorn get to admire each other all day long.

The assuredly best way back to the Pima Canyon Trail is to return to the east saddle and drop to rejoin the upcoming ridge route. All other choices are deeply troubled by unavoidable slicing plants. The Pima Canyon Trail will feel like a paved highway. Savor the wind down.

Blue-Dot Cleaver Route: We had time and energy enough for The Cleaver, Point 4,910', so we descended southeast from Bighorn. Soon we were standing at the base of the east wall. We were about to contour around to the west side, Class 3 route when we realized we were essentially out of water. So we dove down to the Pima Canyon Trail on a wretched route, little better than the standard gully. I've done some research and the map indicates the route I will take when I make the next attempt. The image below captures The Cleaver and Pusch Peak. (THW, photo)


Red-Dot Standard Gully Route: If you must adhere to the standard route up Table be prepared to launch into spiky and steep terrain where plants are the fourth dimension. Parry with cutting swords! At 3.2 miles, 4,000 feet, leave the Pima Canyon Trail. Use the landscape for location confirmation. This is the first plausible weakness in the cliffs to the northwest. In the image below, the objective is to climb the gully just right of the metamorphic cliff band on the left, topping out on the grasslands at the horizon.

Access the declivity by clobbering you way down to the Pima Canyon dry wash, shown, and go up it to the right for a few yards. It is possible to stay in the wash until you intersect the gully. However, it seems slightly better to start climbing the open slope left/southwest of the cleft. Hiker's choice.

Start up the slope and then drop into the gully where it is least offensive. We experimented with both sides; the rock is best and there are fewer plants in the bottom of the defile. Wear protective armor because the shindaggers are horrendous. They are hidden under grass keeping company with prickly pear. Cat claw seems tame compared to these sneaky swords. Sure, the route is steep, gaining 1,000 feet in 0.6 mile, but progress is largely slowed because of spear-dodging. Cairns in the trench are superfluous; find your own way. Be snake aware; my hiking partner woke a rattler. Emerge at 3.8 miles, 5,000 feet. From there, do a comparatively soft ascent for about 300 feet to join the ridge route described above.

Birds: We were fortunate to have an ornithologist with us in December, 2015. Here are the birds he identified: curved-billed thrasher, rock wren, cactus wren, rufous-crowned sparrow, house finch, white-throated swift, ruby-crowned kinglet, peregrine and prairie falcons, harrier hawk and red-tailed hawk, bushtit, and Mexican jay.

Table is a distinctive and mighty mountain that garners respect. Here's how it appears from Pima Saddle.