Both of the conventional routes up Cathedral Rock begin in Sabino Canyon. To take the Esperero trail, park at Sabino’s Visitor center and either start walking up the Sabino Canyon road or take one of the paths (there’s a very good one on the right/east side of the road) up the canyon. After .6 of a mile, the Esperero trail heads north, while the Sabino Canyon road continues up the canyon to the northeast.
The approach to Cathedral Peak is long and through varied terrain. There’s also a bit of elevation loss on your way up, as you drop into various washes and canyons on the way. Like most of the Catalina trails, the Esperero is easy to follow at first and becomes faint and harder to stay on as you get higher up and fewer people use the trail. For the first couple of miles you’ll mostly be hiking through low desert – and in and out of washes, including the mouth of Esperero Canyon itself. You then climb steeply up out of the canyon onto a ridge – this section’s locally known as “cardiac gap.” It’s actually not that bad – or, at least, there’s much steeper stuff to come.
Once you reach the ridge the trail contours around the east side of the canyon, and finally drops back down into it. This next section is more level and follows the canyon bottom, crossing the wash numerous times. It’s easy to lose the trail in the canyon bottom – watch for cairns. After a while the trail rises out of the canyon once again and switchbacks up onto a ridge. The intersection with the Cathedral Rock “trail” is close by – it goes to the right (east). The Cathedral Rock trail contours around the mountain to a saddle ESE of the peak, if you can stay on it – in places it’s little more than a route marked by cairns. From the saddle an equally indistinct route, also sporadically marked, moves up toward the summit. Some scrambling and bushwhacking will probably be involved, although fire damage has thinned the forest considerably. You’ll soon find yourself in the maze of rock towers that constitutes the summit plateau. The highest tower is one of the furthest to the north and west on the peak, although it may not be immediately apparent which one IS actually the highest until you’ve climbed one or two.
Once you locate the highest tower, the easiest way up it is to circle around to the west side and find a crack slanting up. The crack’s mostly 3rd or 4th class, although there’s one 5th class friction move about twenty feet up. When I was last on the peak (December 2005) some kindly soul had left part of a climbing rope anchored to a tree above the crack. At this point the rope was fairly new, so it would have been possible to just batman up the rope on the way in, or to use the rope to aid descent. However unless someone’s planning on replacing the rope every year, I wouldn’t count on there always being one there OR it always being in good shape. Bring your own gear or solo it.
*** Update, May 2008: Last month I heard from SP member RedTreachery that the rope is now gone.
To hike to within fifty feet of the summit you don't need any more than typical hiking gear. For the last fifty feet you may want rock shoes or even a rope and light rack, depending on your skill and comfort level.
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