Arizona Summits

Arizona Summits: Ragged Top via the North Gully (3,907′)

The Road In. Ironwood Forest National Monument, 2016 (Ragged Top in the background)
The Road In. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016 (Ragged Top in the background, Terra the mountain dog and Brian in foreground.)

 

If you have never heard of the Ironwood Forest National Monument in southern Arizona you could be forgiven. This 129,000-acre preserve in the Sonoran Desert was created very recently–in the year 2000 by President Bill Clinton.

It was news to me, too!

Indeed, we were there last Saturday (Dec 17) for a “Three Brothers” climb of one of the most prominent peaks in the Monument, Ragged Top, and we never saw another sapien soul…just a white-tailed deer and plenty of fresh bighorn sheep droppings. So, I guess the word has yet to get out amongst the more intrepid of us human beans.

There is plenty of info online about how to get to the base of Ragged Top, so I will dispense with redundant navigation directions–you can figure it all out. And the pictures that follow will give you plenty of bread crumbs to follow once you are in the area.

One key recommendation: Make sure you pick a cool day to minimize the amount of water you have to carry. With highs in the 50s and calm winds, we chose the perfect day. This is definitely a winter season hike if you are in to reasonable comfort.

Other minor recommendations: Wear long pants, long sleeves, and sturdy boots. There is no defined trail, lots of loose rock, and the catclaw will ambush your every move, especially once you are confined to the narrow gully high on the mountain. Tweezers, a comb, and/or pliers wouldn’t be a bad idea, too, for pulling out those Cholla cactus needles from your boots, calves, and shins.

From the main dirt road, plan on 4-5 hours to cover the roughly four-mile and 1,700′ vertical out-and-back trip. There is a bit of Class 2+/3- in the last 50′ to the top, but below that it never really exceeded Class 2 if you chose your route carefully.

Conditions were not great for photography–this was a mid-day trip and there were almost no clouds in the sky for miles around. So, what follows is not so much “art” as it is helpful beta for your trip.

The object of our affections for the day…From the road the peak looks spectacular and quite improbable to ascend, but have faith as the massif will retreat into apparent simplicity the higher you climb up its slope:

Ragged Top Portrait. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016
Ragged Top Portrait. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016

 

A roadside oddity. I am hoping it was not due to human abuse:

Hanging By A Thread. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016
Hanging By A Thread. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016

 

From the main dirt road, the walking is pleasant and innocuous enough at the beginning, but gets more difficult as you climb higher. There is no trail, so pick your way toward the North Gully (see arrow below) as best you can using washes, sections of game trail, and more open areas:

Along the Wash. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016
Along the Wash. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016

 

The slope begins to steepen and the hardy Sonoran Desert vegetation–all of which scratches, sticks, pinches, pokes, or stabs–begins to thicken:

Cholla Forest. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016
Cholla Forest. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016

 

Ragged Top is quite am imposing mass of rock, but it is actually composed of many separate walls and spires. The standard route goes up the North Gully to that U-shaped low point in the middle of the picture:

Ragged Top Spires. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016
Ragged Top Spires. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016

 

Nearing the base of the North Gully, here is the view behind you. Greg (photographed there for scale) has stopped to fix his camera:

Saguaro Forest. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016
Saguaro Forest. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016

 

Looking up at the gully and wondering if it “goes”. It does, but expect some scrapes and cuts from rolling/sliding rocks, and the palo verde and catclaw:

Scanning the Route. Ragged Top, Arizona, 2016
Scanning the Route. Ragged Top, Arizona, 2016

 

A cold front had just moved through dropping the temperatures from the 80s the day before to the 50s on this day. I am not sure if the haze was residual humidity or a generous gift of gas from the lovely Los Angeles basin:

Hazy View. Ragged Top, Arizona, 2016
Hazy View. Ragged Top, Arizona, 2016

 

Greg works his way up the easy Class 3 rock of the last fifty feet to the summit, GoPro in hand:

Approaching the Summit. Ragged Top, Arizona, 2016
Approaching the Summit. Ragged Top, Arizona, 2016

 

Brian collects a few summit photos…and displays on the back of his shirt our increasingly common refrain. Note the vintage 1970s era water bottle. Yeah, I am probably being slowly poisoned by the toxic plastic:

The Older I Get. Ragged Top, Arizona, 2016
The Older I Get. Ragged Top, Arizona, 2016

 

There are bighorn sheep somewhere in them thar hills. Not many, but they are indeed present–the only endemic herd left in Arizona and numbering maybe 75-100 sheep souls in total:

Hazy Horizons. From Ragged Top summit, Arizona, 2016
Hazy Horizons. From Ragged Top summit, Arizona, 2016

 

On the way down, the sun had moved a bit so I was able to get better images of the route:

Coming Down the North Gully. Ragged Top, Arizona, 2016
Coming Down the North Gully. Ragged Top, Arizona, 2016 (Brian and Greg)

 

North Gully Beta. Ragged Top, Arizona, 2016
North Gully Beta. Ragged Top, Arizona, 2016 (Brian and Terra)

 

A closer look with the telephoto at 200mm. Take care working your way up and down all the loose rock:

North Gully Up Close. Ragged Top, Arizona, 2016
North Gully Up Close. Ragged Top, Arizona, 2016

 

Looking through the haze and into the Silver Bell Mountains:

Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016
Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016

 

Saguaro detail:

Saguaro, #5. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016
Saguaro, #5. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016

 

A nice sunburst as we come out of the shade of the mountain and the slope lessens. The North Gully is actually on the very far left (wide-angle lens distortion here). That main gully just left of center with the white debris slide is not what you want unless you are looking for a longer and more mysterious adventure:

Solar Halo. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016
Solar Halo. Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, 2016

Arizona Summits: Picacho’s Peripheral Basalt Plug

Pink Desert Sunrise. Near Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016
Pink Desert Sunrise. Near Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016 (That’s “The Plug” sitting in the right half of the photo, with the Picacho Mountains in the background.)

 

This is not much of a summit as far as mountains go. In fact, the total climb barely exceeds 50 vertical feet–maybe as high as a good fire department extendable ladder.

Still, the formation is geologically veddy, veddy interesting.

When you zip by at 75-per on the nearby busy autobahn, you can see its dark turd-like countenance not far away on the east side of I-10 (opposite Picacho Peak), contrasting sharply with the light-colored, flat, and over-grazed desert. 

From the summit of “The Plug”, looking west toward I-10 and Picacho Peak:

Picacho Peak View. Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016
Picacho Peak View. Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016

 

A more artistic view of Picacho Peak from the railroad culvert:

Culvert View. Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016
Culvert View. Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016

 

Here I’ll offer up two more “beta” images for you, taken on another day (18 December) from what I would call the East Summit of Picacho Peak (a sub-peak of that massif).

In this first one (pre-dawn), you can clearly see the red and white tower (a good reference point), the culvert under the railroad tracks (a place to park and the best/safest way to cross the tracks), and the flat desert leading over to the plug (even an old concrete foundation can be seen just before the plug).

The Basalt Plug. From East Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016
The Basalt Plug. From East Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016

 

In this one (taken just after sunrise), you get a slightly bigger picture of a similar scene in which the oddness of the basalt plug is obvious:

East Summit, #3. From East Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016
East Summit, #3. From East Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016

Arizona Summits: Trifecta at Picacho Peak

Desert Sky, #1. Near Tucson, Arizona, 2016
Desert Sky, #1. Near Tucson, Arizona, 2016 (Back in the desert again!)

 

So, you have hiked Picacho Peak a few times, you enjoyed it, and now you want to do something different the next time the family heads out that way for a potato salad picnic.

Why not try the “Triple” next time!?

What is that, you ask? Well, instead of simply going up to the summit and back, via the wonderful, exciting, pseudo-via ferrata, Hunter Trail, you add on two more Picacho sub-peaks.

So, your tick list for the day would be:

  1. Picacho Peak main summit.
  2. North Picacho Peak (on the same “plateau” as the main summit).
  3. The Far North Picacho summit (north, along the ridge from the main saddle on the Hunter Trail).

[NOTE: For a fourth bonus summit, you could climb the minor mount just east of the main Picacho massif. The best approach to this pointy thing appears to be made by bushwhacking up from the southeast from near the park entrance. I’ll write this one up in another blog post once I actually get to it!]

If you are fast, you might do this trifecta in 2-3 hours (with some jogging, perhaps), but 4 to 5 hours would make for a more comfortable trip for the average hiker wanting to savor the views.

Be sure to take plenty of water, especially if you aren’t going in the very dead of winter. It was an unusual 102 degrees when I set out to do this just a couple of days ago (late October, 2:15p.m. start) and I drank nearly three liters of water. The sun in the afternoon really bakes that western side of the mountain, even if the eastern side might be nice and slim-shady.

Here are some beta photographs for you, all from a hand-held Sony RX-100iv

A view of the main summit of Picacho Peak, looking south toward Tucson and Mt. Lemmon, from what could be called the “North Summit”. The white paint-like stuff is actually buzzard and raptor excrement–they obviously love a poop-with-a-view just like us human beans. Don’t let the big birds carry you or your boyfriend away:

Picacho Portrait. Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona, 2016
Picacho Portrait. Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona, 2016

 

The Picacho Peak summit offers the intrepid hiker one of the best desert views within earshot of big trucks rolling along a major interstate highway. On the far left, and close at hand, is the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch (no, I’m not kidding, take the kiddies for a visit). Also on the left, but in the distance, are the Santa Catalina Mountains (Mt. Lemmon, 9,157′). The long straight line is Interstate 10. On the right, in the distance, you first see the start of the Tucson Mountain chain with Mt. Wrightson (9,456′) and the Santa Rita Mountains in the haze beyond that. That plowed out area with the white structures on the right and on the desert floor is the Pinal Air Park with its hundreds of used-up airliners awaiting cannibalization, mothball treatment, or possible refurbishment:

View South. Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona, 2016
View South. Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona, 2016

 

Here, you are looking back toward the smoggy glob of Phoenix, some 75 miles to the north. In previous blog posts, I have referred to the “Far North Summit” as the “North Summit”. I’m not sure any of those secondary high points have official names. Anyway, counting the main Picacho Peak–where I stood for this photo–those are the other two goals in your trifecta challenge. What I am calling simply the North Summit is a great spot to photograph your friends as they reach this main summit:

View North. Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona, 2016
View North. Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona, 2016

 

From the previously mentioned “North Summit”, you can peer over the abyss to the north (but don’t let the abyss gaze into thee!) and the route to the Far North Summit becomes apparent. In a previous blog post, I called this route Class 2 or 2+; here I label it Class 3…whatever, there is a very minor bit of scrambling involved. Psychologically, that little knife-edged section might be the area that will give your climbing paws the most pause as it is a bit exposed on both sides. Luckily, the rock is reasonably solid there and you can grab the ridge with your sweaty palms for stability–braver souls can simply walk across. At the Hunter Trail Saddle, the smaller arrow indicates the route leading first down, then up, to the main peak:

Far North Picacho View. Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona, 2016
Far North Picacho View. Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona, 2016

 

The desert sky starts to get interesting as the afternoon wanes. In the middle of the picture, on the very farthest horizon, is the thumb-like head of Baboquivari Peak (7,730′), a worthy climbing goal for your list. Along that same horizon to the right of it is the big mound of Kitt Peak, of observatory fame (one of the domes is barely visible on top):

Toward Babo. Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona, 2016
Toward Babo. Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona, 2016

 

Something of what you might see along the ridge leading to and from that “Far North Summit”. The big prow on the left would be the “North Summit” with the main Picacho Peak just out of view on the left margin. Can you spot Mt. Wrightson, Baboquivari Peak, Kitt Peak, and the Pinal Air Park?

Skeleton View. Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona, 2016
Skeleton View. Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona, 2016

 

The rangers say you need to be off the trails by sunset. Too bad, as I would have preferred to have been on the summit at sunset for the grand photo op. Here, the shadows on the east side of the mountain start to deepen as I head back down to un-civilization. The main Picacho Peak summit is seen in sunlight:

Cirrus View. Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona, 2016
Cirrus View. Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona, 2016

 

Here are some additional links from previous trips I have made to Picacho Peak, all with nice, illustrative photographs:

February 13, 2016: Arizona Summits: Picacho Peak North Summit (Winter)

December 19, 2014: Arizona Summits: Picacho Peak (3,374′)

Arizona Summits: Picacho Peak, North Summit (Winter)

Picacho Peak, #1. Arizona, 2016. (The view of the main peak from the north ridge.)
Picacho Peak, #1. Arizona, 2016. (The view of the main peak from the north ridge.)

 

Some desert images from last week’s quick visit to Tucson…

First, a note…For more complete details of Picacho Peak State Park, and photos of the main trail and the exciting, must-do, cable route to the summit, see my previous blog post from December 19, 2014.

So, you say, you have been there and done that already? Great! Here is a nice variation to explore the next time you stop at this wonderful, lush, desert oasis o’ peace during your bumper-to-bumper I-10 travels between Phoenix and Tucson: the North Summit of Picacho.

Trail details:

–This route is significantly shorter than the climb all the way to the main summit. You can get up and down the North Summit in roughly two hours depending on how much you dawdle along the way. For comparison, the climb up and back to the main summit will likely take you a minimum of three hours.

–I would call it a Class 2+ hike (with a brief bit of titillating exposure on the “Knife Edge”!), albeit with the opportunity to try out some Class 3 or 4 terrain if you wish–but the rock quality is not up to Yosemite standards, so be careful!

–The route to the North Summit deviates from the main summit trail once you get to what I call the “Main Saddle”. This is the place where you have your first views of the western horizon and the main summit trail drops steeply down the west side of the mountain.

–As with all desert hiking in this area, October through April are your best months. Woe to those innocent tyros who would attempt this in the oven of summer!

–This North Summit gives you a unique perspective on the Picacho Peak massif and it will definitely be a sunrise/sunset photography destination for me in the future.

Here are some images to guide you. They were all made with the small but powerul Sony RX100iv, the first at sunrise, the others in late afternoon…

The big picture, from the entrance:

Morning Light. Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016
Morning Light. Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016

 

At the Main Saddle, looking toward the ridge leading to the North Summit. Stick to the Class 2 Gully unless you want a bit more excitement. The short headwall will go at easy Class 3 to Class 4, depending on where you climb. Once you gain this headwall, cross the cactus-garden plateau and aim for the narrow ridge above:

North Summit Route. Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016
North Summit Route. Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016

 

A closer view of your headwall options:

North Summit Route, Initial Difficulties. Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016
North Summit Route, Initial Difficulties. Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016

 

A look at the narrow upper ridge. The “Knife Edge” section may give you some pause if you aren’t used to exposure, but the rock quality is good and there is a nice stone “handrail” for you to clasp with your death grip. If you are comfortable on this kind of terrain, though, you can actually just walk across:

North Ridge, Final Section. Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016
North Ridge, Final Section. Picacho Peak, Arizona, 2016

 

The view back down the ridge as you approach the North Summit:

Picacho Peak View, Arizona, 2016
Picacho Peak View, Arizona, 2016

Wasson Peak in Monochrome

I tend to use color for the photographs I use to document a trip (as in yesterday’s Wasson Peak blog entry, and many of my Colorado 14er reports). I move to monochrome for the images that strike me as being more emotional, more artistic…more laden with mood and meaning.

At least that’s my sense.

For these color “documentary images”, I often feel obligated to say exactly where the place is and what you are looking at. I often point out interesting or popular landmarks.

With my black and white photographs, though, I feel like it doesn’t matter where the images were captured…it is more about how they make you feel on a gut level.

Here are four monochromes from Wasson as an example. Compare these with the more conventional, documentary, and postcardy-type images in yesterday’s trip report. What do you think? Do you see a difference in emotion? Do you not find the monochromes to have a deeper layer of feeling?

Mt Wrightson and Cloudscape. From Wasson Peak area, Arizona, 2015
Mt Wrightson and Cloudscape. From Wasson Peak area, Arizona, 2015

 

Tucson Mountains, Mid-Morning Light. From King Canyon Trail, Wasson Peak area, Arizona, 2015
Tucson Mountains, Mid-Morning Light. From King Canyon Trail, Wasson Peak area, Arizona, 2015

 

Saguaro Family Under a Desert Cloudscape. King Canyon Trail, Wasson Peak area, Arizona, 2015
Saguaro Family Under a Desert Cloudscape. King Canyon Trail, Wasson Peak area, Arizona, 2015

 

Scarred Saguaro. King Canyon Trail, Wasson Peak area, Arizona, 2015
Scarred Saguaro. King Canyon Trail, Wasson Peak area, Arizona, 2015

Arizona Summits: Wasson Peak (4,687′)

Saguaro and Ocotillo, Cloudscape. Tucson Mountains, Arizona, 2015
Saguaro, Ocotillo, and Cloudscape. Tucson Mountains, Arizona, 2015

 

Wasson is sort of a nondescript desert summit, amongst others of a similar nature in the Tucson Mountains, but it is the highest point in this small range just west of the Old Pueblo. So, for that reason alone, it might interest you as a nice winter hike.

From a photography perspective, it merits consideration because it gives you relatively quick access to 360-degree views of Tucson and the surrounding Sonoran Desert–an excellent sunrise or sunset perch.

Finally, it takes you through some classic Sonoran Desert flora and fauna. I happened upon a herd of deer near the summit of Wasson today–a nice surprise.

Here is a quick trip report based on the King Canyon Trail access (7 miles, 2000′) and hiking at night with no moon and a Costco headlamp…

Trailhead: Park your dinosaur grease-eating vehicle just across Kinney Road from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in an unmarked dirt lot.

Starting out: You have two options from the back of this dirt lot…You can hike up the old dirt/gravel road or you can take the footpath just to the left that will deposit you in the wash. I chose to take the road up and the wash on the return. Keep your eyes wide open in the wash as there are some small remnants of petroglyphs to be found.

The trail: Going up the old dirt road from where you parked, you will immediately run in to the gate and the usual trail intro signage. Beyond that, although the trail is well-used and well-signed, there are maybe three places where you could potentially choose the wrong route on a dark and stormy night:

1) At about 0.9 miles, the old road/trail you have been following will deposit you in the wash. Don’t turn left toward the Mam-A-Gah Picnic Area. Instead, continue straight another 200 yards or so up the sandy wash. (The sign here doesn’t indicate the direction for Wasson Peak.)

2) At a second sign, 200 yards up this wash, the arrow will indicate Wasson Peak to the right. You will see the stone staircase about 15 feet beyond this sign to the right. In the dark, you could possibly miss this.

3) Once you gain “The Pass” and have your first view of Tucson far below, a third sign with four options will suggest that you turn left to start up the last 1.2 miles of steep trail to Wasson’s summit. The sign is correct–just do it!

Another trail comment…This route would be a great option for trail runners. You get some 2,000 feet of altitude gain/loss over a seven mile trail on footing that is pretty good for the most part (on the relative trail running scale, of course). WARNING: Just be careful not to catch a shoe tip and launch forward like a torpedo out of a submarine and sprain a pinky finger and gash open a palm (not that I did anything like that).

There are several other trail options that will take you to Wasson Peak, some that will help you create a nice long loop hike. I’ll let you investigate the possibilities. (Look for Hugh Norris, Sendero Esperanza, and Sweetwater trails.)

Time requirement: Runners could do this…well, as fast as you can run. Maybe an hour and a half round-trip? I hiked fast and jogged a bit here and there and it took me 1+15 up (in the dark) and 1+05 back (looking for petroglyphs along the wash). A more typical hike-and-rest time would be 3-4 hours for the entire trip.

The photography: The machine used was the 16mp Fuji X100s range finder look-a-like. The lens on the camera is a fixed 35mm-equivalent and I carried no tripod. For most shots I tried to brace myself on rocks as best I could. The Fuji was certainly a lot lighter to haul up the hill than my usual D800 and three lens/tripod Gulag brick bag, but obviously not as capable or as flexible.

Here are some sample images from this morning:

Arizona sunrises and sunsets are legendary. If there at least a few clouds in the sky to reflect the light, this is a reputation well deserved. Mt. Wrightson (9,453′) is visible on the horizon to the right, and a few lights from south Tucson can be seen on the left…

The View to the Southeast. From Wasson Peak, Arizona, 2015
The View to the Southeast. From Wasson Peak, Arizona, 2015

 

A similar view as the colors change and the Earth’s rotation brings the Sun closer to the horizon…

The View to the South. From Wasson Peak, Arizona, 2015
The View to the South. From Wasson Peak, Arizona, 2015

 

First light on Baboquivari Peak and Kitt Peak. That is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum at the bottom left…

The View to the Southwest. From Wasson Peak, Arizona, 2015
The View to the Southwest. From Wasson Peak, Arizona, 2015

 

Looking back at Wasson’s nondescript summit with the excellent trail visible. The Santa Catalina’s can be seen on the far right edge of the photograph…

Wasson Peak in Morning Light. Tucson Mountains, Arizona, 2015
Wasson Peak in Morning Light. Tucson Mountains, Arizona, 2015

 

Note the long shadow cast by Wasson Peak onto the desert landscape…

The View West. From Wasson Peak, Arizona, 2015
The View West. From Wasson Peak, Arizona, 2015

 

The spring wild flowers are not far away. The ocotillo are already looking very green and happy, ready to burst into bloom…

Ocotillo Spring with Landmarks. Wasson Peak Trail, Arizona, 2015
Ocotillo Spring with Landmarks. Upper Wasson Peak Trail, Arizona, 2015

Arizona Summits: Cat Mountain (3,852′)

Yet another short-but-fun outing…maybe three miles round trip and 1200′ vertical in total from the parking lot at the end of Sarasota Boulevard. What a pretty crag! If you have ever driven west out of Tucson on Ajo Way, you have surely admired it.

Once again, I carried only the Fuji X100s and no tripod. So all photographs were with a 35mm equivalent fixed lens and hand-held (or braced on a rock).

Here is a portrait of the west side of the peak made from a viewpoint somewhere along South Kinney Road (the traffic whizzing along just behind my butt).

Cat Mountain Portrait. Tucson Mountains, Arizona, 2015
Cat Mountain Portrait. Tucson Mountains, Arizona, 2015

 

From the Sarasota Boulevard trailhead, you can climb either the east or west flanks of this prominence, but the idea is to eventually gain the summit ridge. From there, it is a fun scramble to the top–some of it Class 2 (or higher if you stray).

With either option, once you leave the main hiking trail, and start up the peak itself, you’ll be doing some lightweight bushwhacking, and following intermittent trail sections and half-assed cairns. I refuse to give you a better route description so you can have some adventure, too!

Here are some color images from the summit area…

Note the bizarre white “rock” which is actually a human construction that houses some sort of weird repeater used by the National Security Agency to spy on all of us. (Just kidding…I think.) The peak on the right is Golden Gate Mountain, subject of Wednesday’s blog post:

Cat Mountain Summit, #1. Tucson, Arizona, 2015
Cat Mountain Summit, #1. Tucson, Arizona, 2015

 

A slight shift in perspective revealed some graffiti that had me wondering if I needed to take extra care on the down scramble back to the car. I hoped it wasn’t an omen:

Danny Fell Here. Cat Mountain, Arizona, 2015
Danny Fell Here. Cat Mountain, Arizona, 2015

 

The Tucson metropolis with the Santa Catalina Mountains (Mt. Lemmon) in the background:

Tucson and the Santa Catalinas. From Cat Mountain, Arizona, 2015
Tucson and the Santa Catalinas. From Cat Mountain, Arizona, 2015

 

That is Ajo Highway leading off toward Kitt Peak. You can just barely make out some of the white observatory buildings reflecting the morning sun. Baboquivari Peak is in the distance just left of center–a southern Arizona attraction for many climbers:

Kitt Peak View, #1. From Cat Mountain, Arizona, 2015
Kitt Peak View, #1. From Cat Mountain, Arizona, 2015

 

A couple of obligatory “cactus-in-the-foreground” images:

Tucson Mountains and Shadow. From Cat Mountain, Arizona, 2015
Tucson Mountains and Shadow. From Cat Mountain, Arizona, 2015

 

Tucson Mountains and Shadow, #2. From Cat Mountain, Arizona, 2015
Tucson Mountains and Shadow, #2. From Cat Mountain, Arizona, 2015

 

Now, a couple in monochrome…

The sunrise:

Sunrise Over Tucson. From Cat Mountain, Arizona, 2015
Sunrise Over Tucson. From Cat Mountain, Arizona, 2015

 

King of the desert:

Saguaro. Cat Mountain, Arizona, 2015
Saguaro. Cat Mountain, Arizona, 2015

Arizona Summits: Golden Gate Mountain (4,288′)

Sunrise on Golden Gate Mnt Summit, #3. Tucson Mountains, 2015
Sunrise on Golden Gate Mountain Summit, #3. Tucson Mountains, 2015

 

Have 2-3 hours to spare whilst in the Old Pueblo? Here is a fun one…

Drive west on Speedway, into the Tucson Mountains, and over Gates Pass. Drop down the west side of Gates Pass about a half mile and turn in to the paved parking lot at the David Yetman West Trailhead.

From your parked machine, hike roughly south on the roughly obvious, rough, old road/trail for nearly a half mile to a low pass where several trails intersect (signed). Continue straight through and downhill another 200 yards or so until you see the cairns on the right side. Start threading your way through the cat claw and cacti up the slope of Golden Gate Mountain at this point.

The photos below will add some visual cues to this description.

The path up to the summit is lightly cairned and somewhat intermittent, so dust off the route-finding hill skills. Mainly, you’ll just stay in the main arroyo in which you started until nearing the upper section. Somewhere up there, you’ll cross over a sort of ridge or shoulder to the northwest, and then on up to a grassy “flat”. From the grassy area it is a hop, skip, and scramble to the airy, rocky, top.

This morning, I climbed by the light of a 96% waning Moon with first light coming on as I neared the summit. The winds were ferocious by Tucson high desert standards–maybe 20-30mph gusts. I was almost wishing for ski goggles.

The only thing I carried, though, was my fixed-lens Fuji X100s camera–no tripod or heavy DSLR on this trip…sort of an experiment. Once up there, and witnessing the dawn’s beautiful light display, I did find myself wishing for my full kit of 36 megapixels, three lenses and tripod–but you do what you can with the tool at hand.

And that was really the point of the exercise–to force myself to “see” and make images with a simpler, lighter, and less capable camera to find out what might happen creatively within my little right-brain grey cells.

Nor did I carry water or a pack of any kind. In cool weather, with a mere one hour twenty minutes up and fifty minutes back, it was a very quick journey, all within screaming-for-help distance of un-civilization and the human beans and their Otto-mobiles commuting over Gates Pass to work in the metropolis.

Some selected images…

View of Golden Gate Mountain. Tucson Mountains, Arizona, 2015
View of Golden Gate Mountain. Tucson Mountains, Arizona, 2015

 

First Light Over Tucson. Golden Gate Mountain, Arizona, 2015
First Light Over Tucson. Golden Gate Mountain, Arizona, 2015

 

Sunrise from Golden Gate Mountain. Tucson Mountains, Arizona, 2015
Sunrise from Golden Gate Mountain, #1. Tucson Mountains, Arizona, 2015

 

Sunrise from Golden Gate Mountain, #2. Tucson Mountains, Arizona, 2015
Sunrise from Golden Gate Mountain, #2. Tucson Mountains, Arizona, 2015

 

The Summit Cairn. Golden Gate Mountain, Arizona, 2015
The Summit Cairn. Golden Gate Mountain, Arizona, 2015

 

Summit Ridge. Golden Gate Mountain, Arizona, 2015
Summit Ridge. Golden Gate Mountain, Arizona, 2015

 

Bird's Eye View. From Golden Gate Mountain, Arizona, 2015
Bird’s Eye View. From Golden Gate Mountain, Arizona, 2015

 

Finally, here is what you might see off of the right side of the aircraft as you fly the ILS RWY 11L into Tucson International Airport:

Airborn view of Golden Gate Mountain. Tucson Mountains, Arizona, 2015
Airborn view of Golden Gate Mountain. Tucson Mountains, Arizona, 2015

Arizona Summits: Thimble Peak (5,323′)

Thimble Peak, #6. Catalina Mountains, Arizona, 2014
Thimble Peak, #6. Catalina Mountains, Arizona, 2014

 

As a farewell to Tucson, here is an image of a prominent peak left unclimbed but is on my list for the next time I’m down there. From the city, you can see it just above the Sabino Canyon area, calling out to adventurous souls to come bushwhack up steep slopes and caress her steep rock walls.

This particular view is from Mt. Lemmon Highway and was made during a clearing storm–nothing like unstable weather to make for more interesting scenes.

(Additional note: Depending on your screen size and resolution, on the far left of the image, you might be able to just make out the “A” on A Mountain as well as some of the high buildings in the downtown area.)

Thimble Peak looks like a great tripod platform for some sweeping photographic vistas of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the mini-glob of Tucson. I’m looking forward to it!

Adios, desierto. ¡Estoy de vuelta a la alta montaña de Colorado!