On New Years Day, I picked up my nephew-in-law, Aaron, at his house at 8:00 a.m. He had just moved to Tucson in December and was anxious to try out some of the beautiful mountains surrounding his new home. Samaniego Peak seemed like a manageable, if not easy, climb for both of us. The day before, I had climbed Mount Wrightson (the highest peak in the Tucson area). It was a laugher, and I didn't expect Samaniego to be much harder. I was wrong. Based on Wrightson conditions and other information, I had budgeted 5 hours for Samaniego. Wrong!
As we drove up into the Santa Catalinas, we marveled at the dense forest of Saguaro cactus at the base. Less marvelous was the road closure about two miles below the trailhead. Add 80 minutes round trip. Arriving by foot at Mount Lemmon's summit, the snow cover made it difficult to find our trail. Add 10 minutes. Further on, we lost the Southerland trail altogether, and paid dearly for that. We had to crash up and down hills covered with dense stands of thorn bushes. Along the Samaniego Ridge, we bushwhacked through brush, fallen trees, and more thorn bushes. Add 40 minutes. The alleged Samaniego Ridge Trail did not exist, for all intents and purposes. Blame it on the 2003 forest fire and add another 15 minutes for route finding and second guessing. Expecting a continuous, undulating ridge, we instead encountered deep ravines between sections of ridge. Someone's trip report on HikeArizona.com said that the elevation gain was 2000 ft. Wrong! Try 3800 ft, not counting the closed road and other miscues. Add 60 minutes and a fatigue factor.
Not easily discouraged, we arrived at the summit minutes before we should have been back at the car. The last hundred feet requires some real scrambling and the summit block is very exposed. I touched the summit pin with my fingertip, whereas Aaron was brave enough to sit on it. On a calmer day he might have stood on it. The summit register showed only one party had visited Samaniego in all of 2004. It being New Years Day, we were the first visitors in 2005, if not the last. The views were spectacular, as advertised. After photographs, we hurried down out of the wind, without even a lunch break.
Returning, we found more lost pieces of trail, which helped our speed. We ran out of water, out of food, out of daylight, and froze to the bone, all at about the same time. Fortunately, we also reached our vehicle at that point. Was it worth it, being wrong on Samaniego? You bet! What better way to spend the first day of the new year.
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