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.
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.
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 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.
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.