Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mt. Wrightson, Santa Rita Mountains

If you want to do one hike in the greater Tucson area, Mt. Wrightson would be my recommendation. The 9453 foot peak is in the heart of the Santa Rita Mountains, in the Coronado National Forest, about 30 miles south of Tucson.

The trail head begins at the end of the lovely Madera Canyon road at around 5400 feet. There are two trail options according to the guidebooks and maps. There is really only one you'll want to take if your target is Mt. Wrightson -- Old Baldy Trail. The Super Trail 134 will get you there but over twice the distance. The climbing is more gradual until Baldy Saddle, and at that point, they join for the last 0.9 mile to the summit. The scenery is about the same.

The trail is the best maintained trail I have ever hiked over to a peak of this elevation. It is a strenuous hike with plenty of switchbacks. It is a very clean trail -- I did not see a single piece of trash. It is not overly rocky either. On the negative side, I did see lots of people. If isolation is your goal, this hike is not the one. Not only are there plenty of hikers, there are plenty of runners. One guy told me that someone has a record of running the 10.5 mile up/down 6x in one day (during the daylight hours). I spoke with one runner -- three times. He started with me at around 6:40am and he was beginning his second assent. He passed me on my way up as he was coming down. He passed me again as I was coming down and he was on his third assent. He said he was going for four round trips today. A bit on the obsessive side, but more power to him and those like him.

For the average hiker, it will take you three hours to get up and two to get down. My time was a little longer because I took the Super Trail down at Josephine Saddle to see if it was worth it. It wasn't, just added two extra miles.

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