Saturday, December 11, 2021

Rosewood Point, 4,385', Pusch Ridge Wilderness

Essence: Rosewood Point is a small, unranked promontory on the south wall at the mouth of Pima Canyon. It is in the foreground of the Catalina Front and highly visible from town. This short but rugged off-trail loop takes the standard route to the peak and descends on the southwest ridge. Once the hike leaves the Pima Canyon Trail there are no cairns or footprints--in other words, no assistance. Views of the Pima Canyon headwall are spectacular from the summit. The hike is within the Pusch Ridge Wilderness managed by the Coronado National Forest.
Travel: From Tucson, drive north on Oracle Road, AZ-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. There is a drinking faucet but no other facilities.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 5.1 miles; 1,800 feet
Total Time: 4:30 to 5:30
Difficulty: Trail, primarily off-trail; navigation challenging; Class 2+; considerable exposure on the precipice can be managed; brushy, wear long pants; carry all the water you will need and hike on a cool day.
Map: Tucson North, AZ 7.5' USGS Quad
Latest Date Hiked: December 11, 2021
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. Rosewood Point is off-limits during that period. No dogs, ever.
Quote: The best runner leaves no tracks. Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Rosewood Point is just a little hill sitting out in front of the mighty peaks of the Santa Catalina Mountains. However, the hike has the allure of a granite block summit and an airy ridge descent back into the Pima Canyon runout zone. This image was taken from the southern slope of Bighorn Mountain. (Thomas Holt Ward, photo)
Route: Hike for almost two miles northeast on the Pima Canyon Trail. Leave the trail and ascend in the wash bed of a south fork of Pima. When the tributary turns northeast, leave it and pitch south to Saddle 4,140'. Climb northwest to Rosewood Point and Point 4,340'. Descend on the southwest ridge. Leave the ridge at a gendarme at 3,540 feet. Bypass a pouroff, working south and then west back to the Pima Canyon Trail.

From the Iris O. Dewhirst Pima Canyon Trailhead, elevation 2,920 feet, walk through private land on a thin easement. This treadway has been described numerous times in Earthline. It is the service trail for Prominent Point West, The Cleaver, Bighorn and Table mountains, Table Tower, and Mount Kimball. Besides being of essential use as an access corridor into the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, the rugged footpath is exquisitely beautiful. Mount up on bedrock slopes, ramps, and stone steps as you pass through a Sonoran arboretum with typical congregants: ocotillo, saguaro, agave, staghorn cholla, sotol, and prickly pear. If you do this hike in the spring, wildflowers paint the entire canvas with lavish color. At 0.4 mile, turn left on Trail No. 62, following the sign for Kimball "Peak," seven miles distant.

At half a mile, the Pima Canyon cristate lives on a slope about 100 feet above the trail.

As the path curves into the canyon, walls gather in. The southwest ridge of Rosewood is upcanyon right, pictured below along with the pouroff and bypass route. 
Cross the Pima Canyon wash at 1.1 miles. Surface flow is intermittent but in December there was a slip of water following heavy rain. The earth was moist and triangleleaf bursage grew amongst the cottonwoods. These shrubs look inconspicuous but their characteristic perfume gives them away. Point 4,340' is the hatchet-edged pivot point at the junction of two canyons.
The route up Rosewood leaves the Pima Canyon Trail at the south fork crossing. This critical juncture is a little over 1.8 miles from the trailhead and across from The Cleaver.
Prior to 2021, the standard cairned route left the trail in another tenth of a mile because the entrance to the waterway was choked with vegetation. The Bighorn Fire in 2020 and heavy monsoons during the summer of 2021 altered the landscape. The old route is now obliterated by heavy brush. The floods blew out the drainageway and it is now much faster and more accommodating than the previous route.
Just step up the drainage on the stone staircase. The granite walls of Rosewood Point will be on your right. Saddle 4,140' is image-center.
At 2.4 miles, about 3,860 feet, the south fork makes a 90 degree turn to the northeast at a 15-foot barrier wall, shown. The route to Prominent Point West climbs the wall, staying with the drainage. Our route leaves the wash and makes for the saddle between Rosewood and Point 5,173'. (THW, photo)

Bust south up to the saddle. Either climb the rock runners or the slope to their right. The short line of cliffs part way up the incline is easy to dodge. Morning glory, a tangle foot, trip-wire plant was somewhat annoying. It was not present in 2015.
Gain the saddle at 2.6 miles. There is a grand-sweep view of Tucson and the ranges off to the south. Some of you will be temped by the prominence northeast of the saddle, Point 5,173', shown. My partner climbed it previously and reported a series of Class 3+ cliffbands. The terrain is loose, exposed, and brushy. (THW, photo)
From the saddle, Rosewood lies to the northwest, beyond a small wall. By far, the easiest and most enjoyable tactic is to do the low Class 3 climb right up through the cliffs. However, if you prefer not to scramble, you can scoot around the wall on the southwest side. It's a bit of a thorny, narrow squeeze. If you do the bypass, return to the ridge at first opportunity. Both routes are shown on the map above.
The ridgetop ascent is pleasant through boulders and grass. The Bighorn Fire scorched shindaggers, teddybear cholla, ocotillo, sotol, and yucca. Some of the saguaro survived. Below, the Rosewood summit is the rounded rise, 285 vertical feet from the saddle, 2.9 miles. The crest was once crowned by a paloverde tree, now sadly burned. The peak register is also missing. 
And still, this lovely lookout with its far flung views enchants. The perspective on the peaks framing Pima Canyon is unmatched. Below, over on the right is the massive ramp leading to the Tombstone, the distinctive monolith seen from Tucson. Prominent Point West is out of sight, to the right of the string of spires. Topping the headwall are the aptly named Wolf's Teeth. Table Tower is hidden by the back slope of Table Mountain.
Whether you intend to retrace your steps or exit via the southwest ridge, walk north 0.2 mile to Point 4,340' across lovely terrain--granite slabs and grasses. Across the canyon is Pusch Peak, the westernmost summit on Pusch Ridge, The Cleaver, and Bighorn Mountain.
The dramatic cornerstone has been cleaved by the erosive power of two canyons.

Look directly down on the confluence of the south fork and Pima Canyon.

Southwest Ridge
We were curious whether the tempting southwest ridge was a viable exit route. Our first descent in 2015 was an exploratory gamble. We have since learned that the Southern Arizona Hiking Club (SAHC) has been descending on the ridge for years. It is for sure-footed hikers who enjoy scrambling and have a tolerance for exposure. The precipitous cliff edge can be avoided most of the time but there are a few airy pinches. From Point 4,340' descend north another 0.1 mile, halting a comfortable distance from the edge. This image was shot from there looking down on the first of three rollers.
From the first flat there is an intimate look at the 500-foot vertical sheer wall of Point 4,340'. (THW, photo)
We picked our way down steadily. There are no stone obstacles, just a tangle of spiny plants. Below, is the second roller.

Walk across a series of slanted slabs.
At about 3,900 feet the ridge steepens and progress slows. This section is great fun for scramblers.
At 3.7 miles, 3,540 feet, is a blade of stone, an obstacle that can't be defeated. You may walk out on the razorback to the tipping point. The following is a description of our bypass. The going got tough after we left the ridge, primarily because of vegetation challenges. 
Note: In 2021, we ran into a woman on the trail who began hiking with SAHC in 1986. She has led multiple hikes down Rosewood's southwest ridge. When she got to the blade, she scaled down on the south side of the gendarme through a "notch". Then she went down a steep slope to the Pima Canyon wash. She hasn't been on the route for 20 years so she doesn't know if it remains safe or viable. We will return to check it out.

Meanwhile, here's a description of our bypass. Bail to the south and get on a stone sidewalk. 
It leads into a drainage with an impassible pouroff. 
Walk east on the slope above the watercourse until you can cross it and climb another 100 feet to get above the sidewalls and other obstacles.
Hike south to a ridge leading to the valley floor, image-left. In 2021, bufflegrass was so thick we couldn't see our feet.
This image looks back at the exit route from the final knoll. From there, bear west aiming for the wash. Scramble down through a short cliff band.
We crossed Pima Canyon at 4.4 miles, 3,060 feet. Then we hauled straight up the stony slope to the trail to close the loop.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Miller Peak, 9,466'; Carr Peak, 9,237', via Carr Peak Trail, Huachuca Mountains

Essence: Majestic Miller Peak and its companion Carr Peak reside opposite one another on the Miller Canyon rim. This hike ascends both mountains and spans their common ridge. There are multiple approaches to Miller Peak, the undisputed highpoint of the Huachuca Mountains. This description begins on the Carr Peak Trail and transitions to the Crest Trail, accessing Miller from the north. Given the total domination of Miller, the vast visual sweep of flowing grasses in the upper basin, three diverse rock formations, unparalleled vistas, and the sensuous forested folds of the range, this landscape serves nicely as the definition of beautiful. The Huachuca Mountains are a handful of miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. The range is managed by three jurisdictions: Department of Defense (Fort Huachuca), National Park Service (Coronado National Memorial), and U.S. Forest Service (Coronado National Forest and the 20,190-acre Miller Peak Wilderness where this hike is located).
Travel: From I-10 in Benson, drive south on SR 90. In Sierra Vista, segue to Buffalo Soldier Trail and turn right on SR 92. Just south of Mile Marker 328, turn west on Carr Canyon Road and measure distance from the junction. At 1.3 miles pavement ends. Pass through an open gate at 1.4 miles and enter Coronado National Forest. There are two caution signs: smuggling and illegal immigration may be encountered, and vehicles over 20 feet are prohibited. 4WD with low range and sturdy tires is recommended. The road is graded but becomes increasingly rubbly. It climbs aggressively--a whopping 2,740 feet over seven miles. Two lanes narrow to one with turnouts. There are ten switchbacks that become increasingly tighter as you climb. This road is not for people with a fear of heights. The narrow shelf is considerably exposed. At 6.2 miles the Reef Townsite Campground is on the right and Old Sawmill Spring Trail is on the left. The road improves. The large Carr Peak trailhead parking lot is at 7.4 miles. Ramsey Vista Campground begins at the far end of the lot. 
Camping: Both of the U.S. Forest Service campgrounds have spacious, private, wooded sites with fire pits and grills, picnic tables, pit toilets, trash cans, and tent pads--but no water. Fees apply. First come, first served. Ramsey Vista has eight sites and Reef Townsite has 16. There is an option to walk from Reef Townsite on the Old Sawmill Spring Trail and intersect the Carr Peak Trail. In December, we were the only visitors at either campground.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 12.4 miles; 3,350 feet 
Total Time: 6:00 to 8:00
Difficulty: Trail; navigation easy (four trails, signed junctions); Class 2; no exposure; carry all the water you will need. Huachuca is a Pima word that translates, "place of thunder." Let this be your summer monsoon warning--be off the peaks by noon. The Carr Peak Trail is cut into steep slopes--avoid when snow covered. Spring and fall are optimal.
Map: Miller Peak, AZ 7.5' USGS Quad
Date Hiked: December 7, 2021
Quote: The heart from the moment of its first beat instinctively longs for the beautiful. Richard Jefferies. 
Miller Peak is one of five mountains in Arizona with over 5,000 feet of prominence. Coupling the summits of Miller and Carr is a reasonable one-day quest for most hikers thanks to well-engineered and maintained trails.
Route: Bear south on the Carr Peak Trail. It swings west along the southern slopes of Carr. Take the Carr Peak Spur to the summit either coming or going. Circle Miller Canyon basin and intersect the Crest Trail heading south. The Miller Peak Trail climbs to the highpoint of the range. Return as you came. Note: The Miller Peak topographical map has 25-foot contour intervals.
Carr Peak Trail
The trailhead is located on the west side of the parking lot, elevation 7,375 feet. Posted, no bikes in the Miller Peak Wilderness. Ascend gradually through a mix of manzanita, madrone, alligator juniper, and ponderosa in the upper reaches of the Madrean pine-oak woodland. Cross the wilderness boundary at 0.1 mile on an interior ridgetop. A connector trail from the north end of the Ramsey Vista Campground joins here. This is one of many softly rounded, north-bearing ridges in the upper Carr Canyon basin. Look over the manzanita tunnel to the north slopes of Carr Peak. In December, aspen and oak have shed their leaves and the mountain is cloaked in gray. The Huachuca Mountains support 19 rare plant species and 26 avian species of conservation concern. In December, blossoms were absent and so were the birds.
We walked straight into the winter sun, low in its southernmost realm. Trees part to reveal grand views of Sierra Vista already 3,000 feet below. Ranges to the east ripple off one after another in variegated hues of blue. 
(Thomas Holt Ward, photo)

The lower part of the trail is rubbly. Chipped rock mitigates trenching of the old treadway which plows through limestone boulders. At half a mile, enter an extraordinary, elegant and well organized Apache pine forest. Limbed, straight-up trunks culminate in crowns with long needles in bundles of three. These attractive trees can grow to 120 feet.

At 0.65 mile, the Old Sawmill Spring Trail comes in from the Reef Townsite Campground. This is the first of many very old and charming trail signs.
Soon after, a series of ten switchbacks mount up the far eastern rim of Carr Canyon basin. Limestone sheets are uplifted naturally at an angle and subsequently were blown out to make passage. Watch for a limestone sinkhole to the right of the trail. Gain the northeast ridge of Carr Peak at 1.3 miles, 8,100 feet. From here, the road to Reef Mine and the platform's east-facing escarpment are visible. (THW, photo)
Four significant fires have rolled across the Huachuca Mountains since 1977. The most recent, the Monument Fire in 2011, began on the U.S.-Mexico border, burning south into Mexico and then turning north and scorching 38,000 acres in the Huachucas as far north as Carr Canyon. The fire was at its highest intensity in the Carr Peak area, wiping out vast tracks of conifer, including this grassy ridgetop. (THW, photo)

The trail is a constantly evolving overlook in and of itself. Miller Peak makes its first appearance at 1.5 miles. At ground level, we were fortunate to spot a ptarmigan brood dressed in earth-colored camouflage. The footpath soon slides off to the north side of the ridge and doesn't regain it for over 600 vertical feet. Post fire, an opportunistic, young aspen forest has taken the place of Douglas fir. Northwest are the remarkable limestone ramparts of Ramsey Peak.
The trail returns to the northeast ridge at 8,750 feet and begins contouring below Carr on the south side. The pathway is cleaved into a steep slope that crashes down the east wall of the range. Above are exfoliating limestone cliffs. Freshly broken boulders were scattered on the trail. Some places on the planet flash red when you pass--don't linger.
Round the corner and see the rim of the Miller Canyon bowl encompassing the two peaks. In December, the tapestry of color was vivid. Grasses were burnt gold. The Apache pine, brilliant green. The rock formation had transitioned from gray limestone to a deep purple rhyolite. (THW, photo)
The Carr Peak Spur takes off at 2.5 miles, 9,000 feet. We saved the short jaunt up Carr for our return trip, described later in this post. The image below was taken from the spur. The route to Miller from here sweeps west, south, and finally, east. Over the next mile the trail gives up 450 feet.

The Monument Fire incinerated the south-facing slope leaving an open, park-like environment with milk-white quartz blocks and an abundance of perfectly symmetrical agave.
Crest Trail 
The Carr Peak Trail ends at the junction with the Crest Trail at 3.6 miles. The Crest Trail comes in from the west and continues south past the Miller Peak spur to its end at Montezuma Pass. The 790-mile Arizona Trail tracks along with the Crest Trail in the Huachucas before transitioning to the Yaqui Ridge Trail. The southern terminus of the AZT is less than ten miles from here. For Miller, turn left on the Crest Trail and descend another 150 feet. We were so dubious about the elevation loss that we climbed back up to double check. Trust the sign and disconcerting drop.

The trail bottoms out at the junction with the Miller Canyon Trail, 8,550 feet. It's anyone's guess how a bathtub got hefted to the trailside spring. The Forest Service recommends purifying the water.
The contouring Crest Trail takes direct aim at Miller Peak. Look deep into Miller Canyon and to SR 92 crossing the San Pedro River valley heading toward the Mule Mountains and Bisbee.
Pass through the Miller-Carr saddle at 4.3 miles, approximately 8,540 feet. The trail tracks along the east side of the ridge. We saw almost no wildlife but between our coming and going a bear happened along pawing rocks to scrounge for grub. Aspen were taking hold post-fire and the rock formation transitioned to an intrusive igneous diorite granitic. The north face of Miller features weather-scoured and eroded stone.

We tripped a surveillance camera in the forest as we approached the west ridge of Miller. Soon after, we got repeatedly buzzed and inspected by a Border Patrol helicopter. Trip reports warn of running into immigrants on the Crest Trail. We saw no evidence of this in 2021. However, hiking solo is not recommended. Arrive on the west ridge at 9,000 feet. (THW, photo)

Miller Peak Trail
The Miller Peak Trail leaves the Crest Trail at 5.4 miles, 9,100 feet.

The spur switchbacks moderately steeply through boulders on the north side of the ridge before returning to the center line for the finish. 
Arrive on the broad summit at 5.9 miles. With a rise of 5,011 feet, this is one of the supreme vantage points in Southern Arizona. Only the foundation of an historic fire lookout tower remains. All I could find was a 1962 reference in the Tucson Daily Citizen: "The Miller Peak Lookout in the Huachuca Mountains will be flown by helicopter to the top of the mountain whose upper elevations still are covered by deep snow."
The great circle of the horizon is spellbinding by sheer immensity. In the south, Sierra San Jose is the conical peak beyond the arrow-straight border wall. Vanishing into the blue distance are the vast and mysterious reaches of Mexico. (THW, photo)

Directly below to the south (and out of sight) is the Lutz Canyon Trail, yet another access option for Miller. Bob Thompson Peak is image-left and Montezuma Peak is image-center. The Coronado National Memorial is south of their shared ridge. Coronado Peak, within the monument, is southwest of Montezuma Peak.

Well to the west is monolithic Baboquivari Peak. Northwest, Mount Wrightson has earned its supremacy in the Santa Rita Mountains. In the foreground are the Crest and Carr Peak trails circling high in Miller Canyon.
To the north, the Whetstone Mountains lie west of SR 90. The Border Patrol surveillance blimp is on the ground because of high winds. Finally, Carr Peak our next quest, is on the left.
Retrace your steps to the Carr Peak Trail. This image was shot as it swings back east above Miller Canyon. Carr Peak is over on the right.
Carr Peak Spur
From the Carr Peak Spur at 9.3 miles, the summit is only 0.3 miles afar with 237 feet of elevation gain. The out and back takes about half an hour, including time on top.

This trail affords one of the biggest views of the Miller Canyon headwall. Wend through boulder gardens, first rhyolite and then limestone.

The gravely domed summit is a superb observation point with a rise of 700 feet. If you are short on time, Carr would be a wondrous journey all by itself. Huachuca Peak is to the right of unmistakable Ramsey Peak.

 Miller Peak is only 229 feet higher than Carr.

Sharply down to the north is vertical-walled Carr Canyon. On the broad, treed flat a white vehicle is parked at the trailhead. You can make out the trail on the initial ridge and the elegant forest, image-right. The land plunges abruptly to the valley floor. Return on the now familiar treadway back to the trailhead.
Personal Note: I'd like to offer a brief comment on the Covid-19 pandemic that has ravaged humanity for two years running. I am so sorry for those of you who have suffered physically, emotionally, or economically during this pandemic. Or worse, lost a loved one. Thirty years ago I put Miller Peak on my master wish list. Life takes inexplicable turns and my quest was delayed time and again. Ironically, this opportunity arrived while I was still in the midst of a case of breakthrough long-haul Covid. Therefore, my relatively slow hike was imbued with profound gratitude and heightened awareness for the beauty of the natural world, and Miller Peak in particular.