Peak 5001 and the Saddleback Ridge

by Dave Baker Monday, April 11th 2011

The big ridge that separates lower Sabino and Bear Canyons is one of the great ridges of the Santa Catalina Mountains. To the north, this ridge rises out of Sabino Basin and runs southwest all the way to the mouths of the two canyons. Thimble Peak dominates the middle section, while the southern end is called Blackett’s Ridge. (On maps a distinctive saddle on the ridge is labeled “Saddleback”, so I refer to the entire feature as “Saddleback Ridge”.) The ridge’s magnificent location is hard to beat. Views along the crest take in an impressive sweep of some rugged and beautiful portions of the Catalinas.

Peak 5001 and the Saddleback Ridge

From the top of Blackett’s Ridge: Thimble Peak left, Peak 5001 center

With the exception of Blackett’s Ridge, no trails traverse the ridge top, and from Thimble Peak south, big cliffs and intimidating, steep slopes complicate the challenge of picking cross country routes to explore the craggy spine. An interesting high point on the ridge is the unnamed peak between Thimble Peak and Blackett’s Ridge, marked with an elevation of 5,100’ on the USGS 7.5 minute map of the area.

Approaching Saddleback

Steep terrain along the Saddleback Ridge

To avoid the many high cliffs draped around Peak 5001, it is best approached from the south; we chose to approach via the saddle marked “Saddleback” on the USGS map. There are several possible ways to reach this saddle: on our visit to Peak 5001, we picked a way down a steep gulley near the top of Blackett’s Ridge and then traversed some steep slopes into the saddle. From there we worked our way northeast up the ridge to the summit of Peak 5001, avoiding several cliff barriers along the way. Back at Saddleback on the return trip, we decided to work northwest down steep slopes into Sabino Canyon and on to the Phone Line Trail for the return trip to the parking lot.

Thimble Peak

Thimble Peak as seen from Peak 5001

Warning: Carefully consider the risks before attempting this hike. Several sections are very steep with loose rock and gravel, and cliff barriers -- potentially dangerous falls are certainly possible. Route finding can be difficult and it may be necessary to retrace steps to find easier alternatives. Mountain lions are known to frequent the area. Some other risks include heat, rattlesnakes and plenty of thorny cactus and shrubs.

View from Peak 5001

Blackett’s Ridge and Sabino Canyon from Peak 5001

Park at the entrance of the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, a short drive from mid-town Tucson. First find the Phone Line Trail and then the Blackett’s Ridge Trail. A short distance before the end of the Blackett’s Ridge Trail, we scrambled east off the top of the ridge and found a very steep gulley that plunges northeast through a cliff barrier. Near the bottom of the gulley, we contoured towards the “Saddleback” saddle across a loose, steep, and intimidating slope. From the saddle head northeast, angling up and right a bit to avoid more cliffs, and then work towards the ridge top and a spectacular walk to the top of Peak 5001. Back at Saddleback on the descent, we headed downhill towards Sabino Canyon, weaving around more cliff barriers to reach the Phone Line Trail below.

Season: Late fall, winter and early spring. This low elevation area is very hot in the summer.

Water: None. Bring plenty of your own

Note: This is a Forest Service fee area.

Difficulty: Difficult and advanced. About 8.5 miles total for the route described here, with 2,300+ foot elevation gain. The climb to Peak 5001 involves much cross-country travel, so advanced route finding skills are necessary; map, compass and/or GPS can be useful. Brushy; wear long pants.

Maps: Green Trails Santa Catalina Mountains

Map

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Trails

Babad Do’ag Trail

by Dave Baker Wednesday, March 30th 2011

Located a few miles up the Mount Lemmon Highway, the Babad Do’ag Trail follows an old bulldozer track up MacDougal Ridge on the southern flanks of the Santa Catalina Mountains. This old route had been nearly forgotten until the trail was rebuilt and renamed during the 17 year Mt Lemmon Highway road improvement project which began in 1988.

Babad Doag Trail

The old bulldozer track is evident on lower stretches of the trail

As part of the improvement project, Babad Do’ag Vista was also built, now the first major pullout on the drive up the Mt Lemmon Highway. An interpretive display at the vista explains that “Babad Do’ag” is the Tohono O’odham name for the Catalina Mountains, meaning “Frog Mountain”. Babad Do’ag Vista provides plenty of trailhead parking for the hike.

Babad Doag Trail

Oak chaparral and desert grassland near trail’s end

This is an enjoyable and moderate outing. The trail first climbs through stands of Saguaro cactus and other Sonoran vegetation and ends in eye-pleasing oak chaparral and grassland. Hikers are also treated to an array of great views along the entire route. Take care: summer heat can be intense on this hike, since it faces south and is low elevation

About 2.6 miles up the ridge, a metal sign marks trail’s end, though an obvious “social trail" continues past the sign. This marks the beginning of a cross country route that eventually joins the Soldier Trail a little over a mile to the northwest.

Babad Doag Trail

Agua Caliente Hill, Mica Mountain, and Rincon Peak are distant high points

Find trailhead parking at Babad Do’ag Vista near milepost 2.6 on the Mt Lemmon Highway. The trail begins a few hundred feet up the highway beyond the vista, on the north side of the road.

Season: Fall, winter and spring -- south facing and low elevation, so summer temperatures can be quite hot.

Water: None: bring plenty of your own.

Note:. This is a Forest Service fee area.

Difficulty: Moderate. About 2.5 miles one-way to trail’s end, with 950 ft elevation gain.

Maps: Green Trails Santa Catalina Mountains

 

Map

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Trails

King Canyon Trail

by Dave Baker Monday, March 7th 2011

The King Canyon Trail is an excellent way to enjoy Saguaro National Park West, which protects a major portion of the Tucson Mountains west of Tucson, Arizona. The Sonoran Desert ecosystem is on full display along the trail, featuring Saguaro cactus groves, Ironwood trees and Jojoba shrubs, to name just a few plant species.

Wasson Peak

Wasson Peak, from Tucson’s west side

Hikers will also encounter plenty of evidence of the mining history of the Tucson Mountains in King Canyon, including a few mine shafts right beside the trail. Indeed, King Canyon Trail is named after the Copper King Mine, which was active in the area in the early 1900’s and briefly during World War II.

A section of King Canyon is also home to ancient Hohokam petroglyphs; down canyon a bit from the Mam-A-Gah Picnic area, which is about a mile up the trial.

King Canyon petroglyph

Ancient rock art in King Canyon

Located on the west side of the range, the King Canyon Trail provides the most direct route to the high point of the Tucson Mountains – Wasson Peak (4,687 ft). A final bit of history: Wasson Peak is named in honor of John Wasson, the first editor of the Tucson Citizen newspaper in the late 1800’s.

This is a beautiful and rewarding hike, but note that the Tucson Mountains are relatively low elevation and can be dangerously hot in the summer, early fall and late spring. Winter, late fall and early spring are the best times to take advantage of the Park’s trail network and enjoy the unique scenery and landscapes.

Along the King Canyon Trail

King Canyon Trail

The trailhead is on the opposite side of Kinney Road from the entrance to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Kinney Road is easy to reach by following Speedway Boulevard west past I-10. Speedway eventually becomes Gates Pass Road, which continues up and over Gates Pass before descending into Avra Valley. Gates Pass Road ends at the junction with Kinney Road where you turn right (north). Look for a dirt trailhead parking lot just past the entrance to the Museum, on the right (east) side of the road. The first mile or so of trail follows an old jeep road which begins at the back of the parking lot.

Avra Valley viewed from Wasson Peak

Avra Valley from Wasson Peak

Season: Fall, winter and spring. The Tucson Mountains are low elevation and very, very hot during summer months, late spring and in early fall. This hike is most enjoyable on cool winter days.

Water: None: bring plenty of your own.

Note: Dogs and pets are not permitted on this trail. Though fees are not collected at the trailhead, Saguaro National Park is a fee area.

Difficulty: Mt Wasson is 3.5 miles from the King Canyon trailhead with a 1,900 elevation gain. Moderately difficult.

Maps: Green Trails Maps Saguaro National Park

Map

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Trails

Sweetwater Trail

by Dave Baker Thursday, January 6th 2011

One of the four mountain ranges that cradle the Tucson valley, the Tucson Mountains are home to Saguaro National Park West and the world renowned Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The range is a showpiece for the Sonoran Desert and its exotic ecosystem of desert-adapted plants and animals.

Wasson Peak from the Sweetwater Trail

Wasson Peak and the Sweetwater Trail

The Tucson Mountains are relatively low elevation and therefore blistering hot in the summer as well as in early fall and late spring, so winter is the best time to take advantage of the Park’s trail network and enjoy the unique scenery and landscapes. The range is a very popular hiking destination during winter months, attracting out of town visitors as well as locals.

Located on the east side of the range, the Sweetwater Trail is very easy to access from the Tucson metro area. The trail ends after 3.2 miles, when it joins the King Canyon Trail at a high saddle on the crest of the range. From the saddle many hikers choose to walk the additional 1.2 miles up the King Canyon Trail to the high point of the Tucson Mountains -- Wasson Peak. The 360 degree panorama at the top of Wasson makes the extra effort well worthwhile.

Saguaro and Barrel cactus

Young saguaro and barrel cactus

The Sweetwater Trail presents a great display of Saguaro cactus, the Sonoran Desert’s signature plant species. You’ll also see many specimens of Ironwood trees and Jojoba plants. Easy to access, wonderful views, and a fine experience of the ecology of the Sonoran desert -- sorry for taking advantage of too-obvious play on words, but this is a sweet hike!

Sweetwater Trail

Sweetwater Trail

Find the trailhead by exiting I-10 at the Ruthrauff exit. West of I-10, Ruthrauff becomes El Camino Del Cerro which is simply followed west to the end of the road, and trailhead parking. A hundred yards or so up the trail a junction is reached – the left (south) fork is the Sweetwater Trail. The trail weaves its way south for a while, up and down across a few drainages, before finally swinging west and settling into a steady uphill climb to a prominent saddle and the junction with the King Canyon Trail.

Wasson Peak

Approaching Wasson Peak summit on upper King Canyon Trail

Season: Fall, winter and spring. The Tucson Mountains are low elevation and very, very hot during summer months, late spring and in early fall. This hike is most enjoyable on cool winter days.

Water: None: bring plenty of your own.

Note: Dogs and pets are not permitted on this trail. Though fees are not collected at the trailhead, Saguaro National Park is a fee area.

Difficulty: The trip to trail’s end at the saddle is 3.2 miles one way with a 1,100 elevation gain. Those who continue to Wasson Peak will walk 4.4 miles one way and take on 1,900 feet in elevation gain. Moderately difficult.

Maps: Green Trails Maps Saguaro National Park

Map

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Trails

The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!

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