Pima Canyon Gully is the route you want to take if you are hiking the mountain. In his book, Backcountry Rockclimbing in Southern Arizona
, Bob Kerry explains that some climbers choose to use this route as the approach to the climbs on the western cliffs. However, the approach makes for a long day and requires downclimbing and rappelling to the base. Therefore aspiring ascensionists typically will approach the rock routes from Catalina State Park
despite the steepness of the terrain and the nasty bushwhacking involved.
From the parking space at the end of Magee Road, head east then northeast on the Pima Canyon Trail. It takes awhile before it enters the canyon proper, but once it does, the scenery gets better and better. The walls of the canyon tower above and the cliffs remind one of alpine crags.
Follow the trail for approximately 3.2 miles. Pay attention to the west side of the canyon. Once you near the 3 mile mark, you will be able to see a large gully sliced into the canyon wall. That is the start of the hiker's route. Another landmark is a set of Native American grinding holes in the rock immediately in the middle of the trail. These come into view almost directly after crossing the wash near the 3.2 mile mark. The gully will be directly to your left (west).
Bushwhack your way through dense Manzanita bushes to the base of the gully. Another option is to backtrack down the trail to the wash and work your way up the wash and then to the base of the gully. We tried this on the return trip and didn't find it to be much easier.
It may also be possible to ascend the slope near the start of the Pima Canyon Trail all the way to the summit. I do not have any information on this, but I am guessing that it is full of shindaggers and it may be easier to hike the trail, thrash the Manzanita bushes and ascend the gully.
This is the hiker's route via the gully. "Hiker's route" is a bit of a misnomer since there really is no trail and it is all bushwhacking. Thanks to Walt (juh33) for allowing me to edit and use this photo.
Head straight up the gully. It is steep, dirty, and loose. It is also full of cactus, so be careful where you step and put your hands.
Once you get to the top of the gully, look down and to the south and you will have a spectacular view of Tucson and the southern slopes of Pusch Ridge. Head right (North) and up to ascend to the summit. Beware of all the shindaggers (Agave). These plants will spear you right through jeans, and sometimes even through leather hiking boots. The easiest way to avoid them is to step directly onto their centers. While it may seem like 'hurting' the plant...trust me! After a little while you will be thankful that you followed this advice.
The ridge is wide, but just keep heading north and up. You may want to continuously bear a bit to your left to avoid running into the east buttress. The hump up to the summit will feel long, and eventually you will enter more scrub bushes, and finally Ponderosa Pine.
The summit comes unexpectedly. The views to the south are non-existent because of the treed summit, but the views to the north and west are spectacular from the tops of the cliffs. Be very careful around the summit cliffs, they are very steep. The summit register is in a small glass jar on a large boulder hidden among the trees.
Apparently there is also a watering tank placed for Bighorn Sheep by the Forest Service somewhere near the East Buttress.
Return the way you came, and enjoy the views hiking down the slope to the south.
Bring plenty of food and water. Wear jeans for all the bushwhacking, and plan on bringing a map since there is no trail.
The USGS 7.5 minute map is Oro Valley (AZ).
Another great map choice (especially if doing more hikes and climbs in the Santa Catalina Mountains) is the Santa Catalina Mountains Trail and Recreation Map
published by Rainbow Expeditions, Inc. on behalf of the Southern Arizona Hiking Club
. You can pick one up at Summit Hut
in Tucson for $6.
There is a route description in Hiker's Guide to the Santa Catalina Mountains, Arizona
by Edgar B. Heylmun. They used to sell this book at Summit Hut
in Tucson but it is not listed on their website. This book is small and yellow and contains information on hiking much of the area that is not contained anywhere else. It was published by Shindaggers in 1975 and is probably out of print. The local libraries in Tucson do carry the book. You can also pick up copies at Amazon