El. 9456 ft
10.6 miles roundtrip
4000 feet elevation gain
Climbed on March 4th, 2005
I never though of Tucson, Arizona as much of a hiking or climbing destination until I had to go there on family business in early March. I was always a little afraid of desert because of stories of rattlesnakes, and scorpions and cactus with in spines so sharp they could penetrate a bone. None these really appealed to me. Neither did walking up mountain with no vegetation in an extremely hot day.
But I knew Tucson had some mountains and I knew that if I didn’t hike that this was going to be one blown opportunity to get out and do some good hiking. With a couple of clicks on SummitPost I found my mountain. Like many others on the web page I decide to go for the largest mountain in the area, Mt. Wrightson.
After receiving information that early March was not rattlesnake or scorpion season I decide on the Old Baldy Trail from Madera Canyon. The drive into Madera Canyon was absolutely nothing short of stunning, with the summit of Mt. Wrightson almost looking like something of the Tetons. I began to question my information, all stating that it was an easy class 1 trail with no scrambling of any importance.
Still I had to climb this mountain. From the trailhead (5400’ elevation) to Josephine Saddle the Old Baldy Trail stayed at an even 10-degree pitch with stunning shot of Mt. Wrightson off to the left throughout much of the first stages of the hike. I could see snow on the summit and was now thanking myself for bringing the crampons. On the way up I saw to deer down below who quickly ran off when they saw me Still though the summit was a good four miles off and I just kept staring at that cliff. I hit the special monument set for the three boys that died during a freak November snowstorm. Hard to believe especially considering how beautiful a day it was and that there was no snow in the saddle that day.
I continued up the Old Baldy Trail which continued to climb up at about a ten to twenty degree pitch through the west side of the mountain. At roughly 8500 feet I began to hit some small patches of snow along the side of the trail. The trail though maintained its easy ascent through a large number of switchbacks. The views off to the west were absolutely dazzling and any fears or negative thoughts about desert hiking quickly subsided. I was amazed at the great beauty of this region. I continued up the switchbacks until I reached Baldy Saddle (8800 ft.) There I saw the summit of Mt. Wrightson with it’s north side completely covered in snow.
This section was the last section of the trail. But would it remain easy. As began my last climb up I saw a guy walking down in tennis shoes?? despite the trail down being covered in snow. I put on the crampons only to discover another large part of the trail being snow and ice-free. I hit the north switchbacks switch were again covered in ice and snow and decided to put the crampons on though the trail was very level and wide. There was a large drop-off and I didn’t want to take my chances slipping off the edge. This last for about 500 yards until the trail then hit the southern section of the summit rocks where the trail was snow and ice free again. From there the climb to the top was very smooth.
All I can say is the summit views from Mt. Wrightson are nothing short of spectacular. The Hopkins and the Observatory to the south look mighty small in comparison to Mt. Wrightson, which looks like the king of the desert for quiet a long distance. Judging by the views there was easily a 70 to 80 mile view from the summit. I sat there on top of the mountain for what must have been about an hour just mesmerized by the amazing views. All I can say is a trip to Tucson is not complete without a visit to this peak.
Unfortunately my hands started to turn yellow and I began to get cold. It was my turn to leave the mountain. I carefully took my time down Mt. Wrightson especially on the northern switchbacks. As soon I hit Baldy Saddle I quickly began to warm up again and was now heading down at a steady pace. During the evening all the views that where great before became even better and if it wasn’t for my leg being a little sore I would felt as if I was on another planet.
In about three hours after I left the summit I was back. I noticed that it was beginning to get cloudy on the summit as soon I left the park. By five o’clock the Santa Catalina’s north of Tucson were covered by rain-clouds and by nightfall it had started pouring rain.
I thought I had my camera stolen so I headed back to Mt. Wrightson. When I got to the park I saw the mountain covered in storm clouds and when there was a clearing I saw it covered in snow. No I wasn’t even going to try it again. Luckily after I left the hotel found my camera and all is well. Even if they didn’t I wouldn’t ever get the beautiful mountain out of my head if I tried. This was a real beauty of mountain and a total highlight on a great trip.