The Sky Island Traverse is one of the most inspirational hiking routes that I have ever come across - Brett Tucker, the author of the route, described it this way in March of 2011:
"A route of my own making along ten of the region's standout ranges and across the adjoining valleys, with an eye toward finding a rewarding adventure, a workable travel corridor, and a "repeatable experience"...mile for mile arguably among the most scenic and biologically diverse long walks in the United States"
Since becoming aware of the route I have occasionally dreamed about hiking large sections of the traverse - or even a thru hike. But one morning while at work with my friends at the Summit Hut, still without solid plans to take time off and work out a long distance adventure, it occurred to me that with even the most distant parts of the traverse only a few hours drive from Tucson why not section hike this adventure with friends!?!
The Sky Island Traverse Page states that the Sky Island Traverse allows "for a way of experiencing the untamed beauty of the region in a more engrossing way, without the mind-affecting limitations that come with long road trips out from the city and a vehicle forever beckoning back at the trailhead" - certainly a section hike was not the original vision, inspiration or intent... But for us an excuse to adventure, visit old haunts and new locations, get a glimpse of the interconnected Sky Islands and do something now (rather than sometime in the nebulous future) was too much to pass up - two weeks later we coordinated days off and got started...
Section 1 - Cochise Stronghold East Campground to the Slavin Gulch Trailhead - Alison, Charles, Devin, Ryan, Traci
The East Cochise Stronghold Campground is our starting point - after a quick 'getting started' picture Ryan, Devin and I start across the Stronghold and Traci and Alison head to the Slavin Gulch Trailhead to hike in and meet us.
Starting in the East Stronghold Campground
We cross the bridge and start on the Stronghold Nature Trail (a right after the bridge) which quickly reaches a junction with the Cochise Trail. The day is a bit hotter than hoped for and we alternate hiking and running the gradual uphill of the Cochise Trail - a nice break at Halfmoon Tank - short pauses to admire the stunning Rockfellow Group - chatting about the chicken heads on the Cochise Dome - and then the Stronghold Divide.
Devin enjoying the break at Halfmoon Tank
On the Cochise Trail with the Rockfellow Group in the background.
From the Stronghold Divide we pick up the pace, enjoy the plunge downhill to the end of Forest Road 687 and then continue running along FR 687. Years ago I would have been unhappy including a dirt road on this adventure, but I am smarter now - the scenery is beautiful!
Running on Forest Road 687
We have to backtrack a few minutes along the road to find a good entrance to the off-trail section - it will take us east of the Whitehouse Ruins and across the Council Rocks area. At first we find an encouraging path, but it soons disappears and steep wash sides alternate with patches of Cat's Claw that always seem to be easier to avoid 'just over there', but never actually are...
North of Council Rocks pondering the best route...
The shade of a boulder stops us for a few minutes - the terrain has slowed us and it is nice to get out of the sun - it looks like we are headed into the nastiest section of Cat's Claw yet but a small trail appears - faint at first we tease it's intention from the sand and as we pass thru first one parking area and then another it becomes better and better! None of us have ever been on this trail but as we come over a small ridge and into the drainage that will take us down to the Slavin Gulch Trail we are all smiling - beautiful trees push into and over the wash and the running is joyous!
The wash down to the Slavin Gulch Trail
We pause to take a break from running in the soft sand - minutes later we find Traci and Alison perfectly positioned on the trail to intercept us!
Alison on the Slavin Gulch Trail
All together at last we finish off the day under the hot sun on the Slavin Gulch trail. Great company and a fun adventure - what a great day!
Slavin Gulch Trail Head - our stopping spot for the day!
Map of the day with comments - High Resolution JPEG (3.62 mb) or High Resolution PDF (4.51 mb)
-The Sky Island Traverse is a route and an adventure - while some sections are on well traveled trails many sections are not - it is imperitative that you excercise caution and good judgement when following this route!
-DO NOT MISS the excellent resources on the the Sky Island Traverse Page - map information, databook, links to Brett's photo journal and more!
-We are taking the Sky Island Route as we believe it was intended - from the Sky Island Traverse Page - "We're not actively encouraging others to hike the exact route layout as described, and are less interested in fielding specific questions about planning and hiking it. On a route as undeveloped as this, your hike should be your decision and responsibility, and this information should only serve as a catalyst for having a rewarding and ultimately unique journey across this remarkable Sky Island region. Happy adventuring!" - for example, in the off-trail section we made no attempt to follow the exact route, and certainly would not encourage anyone to follow our exact route!
-Brett Tucker is also the creator of another incredibly inspiring journey - The Grand Enchantment Trail!