Friday, March 23, 2018

Green Mountain Ridge Tour: Peak 7,135'; Guthrie Mountain, 7,281'; Green Mountain, 7,904'

Essence: The point of this hike is to string three ranked peaks together via a system of ridges. Visit somewhat neglected mountains on the east side of the Catalina Highway. The ridge is brushy but the scrambling and stone features make for great fun. This hike requires off-trail and navigation acumen.
Travel: We typically do this hike from the bottom up but you could reverse the direction. A short shuttle is required. Drive up the Catalina Highway past Windy Point and drop a vehicle at San Pedro Vista Point, mile marker 17.3. Park on the right shortly above the 7,000 foot elevation sign. The hike begins from eastside parking at mile marker 11.6. This is the lower end of Green Mountain Trail and upper end of Bug Spring Trail (just above Middle Bear). No water at either trailhead. 
Distance and Elevation Gain: 6.4 miles; 3,440 feet of climbing
Total Time: 6:00-7:00
Difficulty: Off-trail; navigation moderately challenging (You could get lost out there.); no exposure; carry all the water you will need; plenty of light scrambling; long pants are a must to protect against graythorn and assorted thickets.
Maps: Agua Caliente Hill; Mount Bigelow, AZ 7.5' USGS Quads; Green Trails Maps, Santa Catalina Mountains, #28865 (A poor substitute for this hike.)
Latest Date Hiked: March 23, 2018
Quote: One never quite knows the mountain, nor oneself in relation to it. However often I walk on them, these hills hold astonishment for me. There is no getting accustomed to them. Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain

The Green Mountain Ridge Tour is visible from Lizard Rock. Starting from the left is Green Mountain, Guthrie Mountain, and Peak 7,135'. (THW, photo)

Route: There is a back story. In 2014, my hiking partner and I were looking for a recovery hike so we decided to check out the Green Mountain Trail. We mistakenly started out on the Bug Spring Trail. Being lazy, we didn't want to turn back. One thing led to another and pretty soon we'd climbed these three mountains on a stormy, snowy day. It was a pretty sweet hike so we repeated it with a couple of friends in 2018.

Here's the hike: Starting from the lower Green Mountain Trailhead, hike south on the Bug Spring Trail. Leave the trail and climb east to gain the southwest ridge of Peak 7,135'. Hike northeast over Point 6,810' and summit Peak 7,135'.  Dive into a drainage and climb the southwest ridge of Guthrie Mountain. Take the trail northwest to Bear Saddle. Leave the trail and climb west to Green Mountain. Finally, descend northwest to San Pedro Vista.

Peak 7,135'
From the shared trailhead, elevation 5,900 feet, be sure to go south on the Bug Spring Trail, NOT north on the Green Mountain Trail.

The crushed granite path with wooden stairs ascends a small ridge. Judging from the tracks this trail is popular with mountain bikers. Trail-side vegetation includes madrone, oak, ponderosa, piƱon and juniper, and manzanita.

At 0.45 mile, 6,300 feet, turn left off the trail as it begins heading down and south. Your landscape marker is a rock pillar standing on a platform off to the right. Plow through a cluster of manzanita onto a little rise leading onto a ridge, shown. Follow the access ridge southeast. There is light evidence of use.

It will be obvious when you arrive on the southwest ridge of Peak 7,135' at 0.55 mile, 6,460 feet. The next goal is Point 6,810', the second knoll from the right in the image below. Walk left of nature's cairn. Class 2+ scrambling begins in characterful rocks and continues throughout the hike.

While we skirted right of the first gendarme, either way works. When confronted with ridge obstacles there is room to move as you please throughout the hike, enhancing playfulness.

Reach a small platform at 6,660 feet where the ridge jogs to the east. On the north side of the slope are toothpick-like tree skeletons. In July, 2017, the Burro Fire ripped up this slope while burning over 27,000 acres. In 2014, the hike was hampered by great thickets of graythorn. Post-fire, the pesky shrub is still present but not as dense.

Crest Point 6,810' at 1.0 mile. Pause and sort yourself out. An appealing stony ridge goes south toward the Rincons but it is way off route.

The ridge doesn't give itself up easily and you will be following it moment to moment for a long way. The passage unfolds as you make progress. At Point 6,810' the upward ridge jogs from east to northeast. The mathematician amongst us wondered whether there was a mathematical explanation for the zigzagging. You know, some sort of earth standard. In this image shot from 6,810', Peak 7,135' is image-right and Guthrie Mountain is to its left.

A dominate feature of the hike is the Catalina Highway. The roar of internal combustion engines overpowers silence.

A person could return time and again to this ridge and never tire of messing around on the rock stacks festooning the spine.

Climb up and over several knobs.

This wall resides on the rise shown above.

At 1.5 miles, give up 160 feet. A cluster of beautifully weathered granite boulders signifies the beginning of the climb to Peak 7,135'.

The moderately steep slope is thick with brush. A sharp-sighted friend points out a fresh cougar track and piles of rabbit scat. In this image, Peak 7,135' is left of a false summit. Crest the first mountain at 2.4 miles. The peak is vegetated but an opening affords a view of the entire hike.

Guthrie Mountain 7,281'
There is a discrepancy about the proper location of Guthrie Mountain. The 1996 7.5' USGS topographic map, Agua Caliente Hill, shows the mountain at Point 6,466', more than two miles southeast of Bear Saddle. The Green Trails map, revised in 2013, situates Guthrie Mountain at Point 7,281', the highpoint on the ridge one mile southeast of Bear Saddle. The consensus is the USGS location at Point 6,466' is incorrect. Viewed from Peak 7,135', Guthrie Mountain is a broad bulky hulk.

We debated the best route to Guthrie. Should we contour north, head the drainage, and intersect the trail on the northwest ridge? We agree to repeat our 2014 route which proved quick and efficient. The Burro Fire cleared out the underbrush and walking was easy on charcoal.  So, from Peak 7,135', stay on the eastward ridge a short distance and segue onto a subtle, rounded northeast ridge.

In just 0.4 mile, after descending 475 feet, bottom out in the drainage at 6,660 feet. In March there was a skiff of water in the channel but not enough to capture. Escape the creek and then move right to gain the southwest ridge of Guthrie. Footing is good on a stable mix of soil and rock. This image looks back on the descent route from Peak 7,135'.

It is a great pleasure to climb right up blobs of rock embedded with shiny crystals.

The fire was sporadic on the ridge so we drifted in and out of the zone. If anything, favor the burned areas for ease of travel. When the ridge constricts the summit is not far off at 3.2 miles. It is hard to peg and we blew right by it and had to backtrack. The mountain was burned to a crisp but it still has its charms. Solitude is guaranteed. (You can still hear engines roaring on the Mount Lemmon Highway.) There isn't a register on any of the three peaks.

There is a big swing view on Guthrie arcing from the Rincon Mountains, Mount Wrightson, Baboquivari, Mount Lemmon, Mount Graham, and Bassett Peak. This image captures the golden ridge north of Edger Canyon and the San Pedro River Valley.

Change orientation to northwest and descend from the peak on the Guthrie Mountain Trail. It starts out on a steep stone pitch but it feels like a highway and progress is fast.

The beautiful trail stays on the ridge while rolling over Point 7,134' and down to Bear Saddle. All the while you will get a good look at the final challenge, Green Mountain.

Green Mountain, 7,904'
Bear Saddle, 4.3 miles, elevation 6,940 feet, is a splendid location featuring weathered granite slabs. Here is the very beginning of Bear Canyon which descends for miles to the southwest, eventually passing through Sabino Canyon Recreation Area to its confluence with Sabino Creek near Snyder Road.

Meet the Green Mountain Trail at Bear Saddle. If you've had enough off-trail hiking simply head right/west on the trail. It is shady and pretty, winding through rock towers, as it swings around the east and north sides of Green Mountain.  

For those climbing the east ridge to Green Mountain, allow 1:00-1:30 to cover the next 1,000 feet of vertical. 

The climb begins ideally on crushed granite with towers above and below. The ridge is studded with wonderful stone features to weave around. Cairns are superfluous. Simply stay on the narrow ridgetop unless forced off momentarily. (THW, photo)

An ancient alligator juniper holds down the center of the ridge. Graythorn (distinguished by the Mercedes symbol on spent flower heads) and heavy brush are a little annoying in places. 

About 300 feet off the top there is a choice--stay on the ridge or contour left and then make for the summit. The east ridge is especially sweet henceforth so stay on it.

Green Mountain has a big broad piney top. Walk south to a nearly indistinguishable highpoint at 5.6 miles. Tree cover is too thick to see much. Descend the northwest ridge. At 7,700 feet, a peninsula projects northeast. It is worth walking to the viewpoint at the edge of the cliff.

From there you can look down on Green Mountain's north face spires and monoliths.

Also visible from this vantage point is Radio Ridge on Mount Lemmon.

In 2014, we cut down through the boulders holding up the promontory, shown. In 2018, we descended a steep wildcat trail.

Walk over a rise in the ridge at 7,480 feet and finish at San Pedro Vista. (THW, photo)

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