Friday, November 26, 2010

Account of Catalina State Park to Mt. Lemmon round trip

Peter J. from Alaska sent me this account of doing Catalina State Park to Mt. Lemmon, round trip (27.6 miles, 6360 elevation change), as a day hike (pretty impressive!):

I'm a visitor from McCarthy, Alaska, where I've worked for the rather mountainous "Wrangell-St.Elias National Park" and am presently spending time in Tucson, doing near-daily forays into Catalina State Park's Romero Canyon.   Usually to the 'second' pools, where I watch creatures such as 'toe-biters', snakes & frogs before turning around.   Not surprisingly, the thought of going farther i.e. to the summit of Mt. Lemmon, kept creeping up, along with the question "could I really do it"?   Not that I'm new to longer trips, I've worked as mountain guide some decades ago and been involved with other activities as well, but have tapered off due to knee injuries, among other reasons.   For lack of shuttle contacts here, the hike to the summit was to be a round-trip. 

It finally came to happen on Nov. 23rd with a 6:40AM start around daybreak.  Cooler than expected, I felt foolish just wearing shorts, sweater and wind-breaker, but knew a good pace would balance this out.  The initial jaunt to the pools and beyond to the 'Old Camp' (ca. mile 5) went smoothly, as that part is traveled quite frequently.  The few wiggles back and forth across the dry stream bed beyond that is followed by a section of pesky thorn-bushes, underlining that I was wearing shorts, but that rapidly improved, once reaching Romero Pass.  Here I "had" to take pictures, simply to keep track of time, since I never wear a watch.  Already I had consumed a bit more than three hours.  My ego wanted me on the summit within 5-6 hrs, but now, looking up at the great vertical relief still ahead and thinking how elevation tends to hamper performance, summit dreams looked more iffy. 

The consolation was that I could try for the Sutherland-Romero junction, turn around and be happy with a good work-out and leave more ambitious plans for a spring visit.  Since I don't 'feast' when my body is distracted with intense physical activity (I believe digestion of heavy food works against you and affects hydration), my first pint of water and the banana had to do.   From Romero Pass into the rockier segments of the trip, the trail tends to disappear at times, save for some kind and not so kind previous hikers' markings.   The kind ones patiently placed rock cairns in all those places where the trail became questionable.   The 'not so kind' hikers (probably not so patiently) left toilet papers strewn around.   I would hope that most folks have better taste than that.  Still, the Sutherland trail came into view shortly before the junction itself suddenly appeared just a few minutes after noon.   This was also the time when a cool wind picked-up considerably and clouds made their appearance.  

Assessing data was in place.   Seeing the clouds as potential threat was one factor.   The "only 1.5 miles to the summit" another, and not least or last "do I have enough stamina if things got nasty" a third one.   Many times what appears to be a "slight" threat turns into a deadly one, and seeing remnants of frost crystals in shady places was not an indication of summer temps.  At the least I wanted to reach familiar ground again before it got dark, even with headlamp, extra batteries and some survival gear in my pack.  With all things considered, the rush for the summit was on, reaching the Observatory gate almost exactly six hours into the trip.   The wind allowed for only a picture stop, in order to keep legs warm and ready for the descent.   Luckily, the now familiar trail, completely devoid of people, went by much quicker.   I felt lucky and blessed to reach the parking lot as the setting sun was illuminating the once-threatening clouds with the fascinating colors rarely seen anywhere else than the great South-West.
Toe-Biter at Romero Pools


View to the west from Romero Pass

View to the south from Romero Pass

At the top

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