Mt Wrightson
(We hiked it just once ...)

7 Apr 2013 - by Sonja Dieterich

Once a year, a business trip takes me to Tucson, AZ. My friend David also lives in town, which means I get to visit with him. This year, we decided on hiking Mt Wrightson (9451 feet), which dominates the view south from the city, It is the high point of Santa Cruz County as well as the Santa Rita mountains. A 1 hour drive, passing the Mission San Xavier Del Bac (Dove of the Desert) and up Madera Canyon, found us at the trailhead to Old Baldy trail at 4500 feet. The trail is very straightforward and well maintained. Very unexpectedly, the trail is shaded for most of the 4000 foot ascent.

Reaching Josephine Saddle, we found the memorial for the three boy scouts who perished in a snowstorm in 1956. It is hard to imagine how the weather on these "Sky Islands" can be so dramatically different and severe from the mild climate of Tucson itself. Some sections of the trail just before and after Josephine Saddle lead through a burn area, which has recovered very well in the last 8 years. Starting at Bellow Springs, we saw little snow patches here and there.

At Baldy Saddle, the trail switches to the north side of the mountain. In winter, snow and ice may require technical gear, but now in early April there were only patches in some of the gullies left,. The trail gets a bit rockier as the view opens up. After 3.5 hours and a little over five miles, we reached the peak with the remains of the old fire lookout. A research station run by the Smithsonian can be seen at a lower peak. The view is magnificent. Mt Kitt with the Observatory, the city of Tucson, Mt Lemmon, Nogales in Mexico and Saguaro National Park are spread out below.

It was a joy to watch the aerial acrobatics of five crows playing in the winds. It is the most fascinating view for me to stand on a peak and watch the birds fly below me. There was also a swift hunting insects around the peak. It whizzed by at unbelievable speeds, the noise of the air rushing by its wings causing us to duck instinctively.

The hike down was speedy an uneventful. Hiking poles definitely help protect the knees. Once I posted the pictures on Facebook, Louise Wholey mentioned an event dubbed the "Mt Wrightson Massacre" taking place a number of years earlier. The objective was to hike Mt Wrightson as many times as possible in a day. Lousie did an impressive 3 climbs; the winner managed 4 climbs.

I was quite content just to leave it at one ...

But if you ever get to Tucson with a free day on your hands, I highly recommend this hike.

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