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(April 2nd, 2008 - Catalina Mountains, Southern Arizona)
I know I have a bias, but it seems to me that the Catalina Mountains are the crown jewels among the sky island ranges in southern Arizona. They are big, steep, rugged and spectacular. The hike out of Sabino Basin up to Summerhaven shows all of this off, and then some.
The Arizona Trail offers two routes through the Catalinas. You can bypass Summerhaven, and travel down Canada Del Oro, then climb up the Oracle Ridge to Dan’s Saddle before proceeding north along the Oracle Ridge. An official alternate route is to traverse the Wilderness of Rocks on your way to Summerhaven, from which you walk down the head of the Oracle Ridge to Dan’s Saddle.
We chose the Wilderness of Rocks way. First, this route is just plain beautiful, especially the walk along Lemmon Creek through all the granite rock formations. Second, they serve killer pie and ice cream at the Mount Lemmon Café in Summerhaven. We hoped (desperately) that we could reach the pie shop before closing.
I was surprised at how steep and primitive the trail is from Romero Pass up to the Wilderness of Rocks. Huff, puff, switchback, climb, grunt! The Wilderness of Rocks was idyllic as expected, and at Marshall Saddle we decided to take the Mint Spring Trail into Summerhaven, because it appeared to be a shorter distance on the map than the alternate route into Marshall Gulch.
The Wilderness of Rocks
However, the Mint Spring Trail runs directly through an area especially hard hit by the 2003 Aspen Fire and now, 5 years later, the burnt and dead trees have begun to topple and fall to the ground in large numbers. Though passable, the Mint Spring Trail is littered with fallen trees, and we soon learned just what a difference a clear trail makes when it comes to covering miles in reasonable time. Each barrier presented a choice. Should we duck under, crawl over, balance beam and hop off, or (boring!) walk around?
Rappel Rock from Mint Spring Trail
No Hurry, whom we passed earlier in the day, decided to take the faster, clear route, and we met him on the road to the pie shop when we finally got off the Mint Spring Trail. Happily, the pie shop was open and still had plenty of pie and ice cream. I ate so much pie that I skipped dinner that night at a very windy camp near Dan’s Saddle. Our seventeen miles today should have felt easier, but we were plenty tired and piled into our bags shortly after darkness fell.
Time for Pie!