Well… this was a shitty hike.
A couple weeks back, a few friends and I tackled the Catalina Mountains, north of Tucson, bright an early on a Saturday. If we had known how the day would end, we probably would have stayed tucked in and called it good.
But back to the beginning. We all woke up before 5 am, put down a hearty breakfast, and headed out the door.
The goal? Mount Kimball, which sits at 7,200 feet on the south-west side of the Catalinas. We started somewhere under 3,000 feet so our total elevation gain was around 4,300 feet – quite the workout.
We were blessed with a beautiful sunrise as we headed into Pima Canyon, making the start of the day pretty fantastic.
Annnnd that’s about as good as it got. (Mostly.)
Route Up: Pima Canyon to Mount Kimball
Route Down: Finger Rock
Distance: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,300+
All Trails Hike Information here.
Hiking Diffculty: Strenuous
The initial trail, maybe a mile or two into the canyon was doable with a gradual incline. Nothing too bad. Then, as we wove our way deeper and deeper into the canyon, the trail became less maintained and we were skimming bushes left and right. All the while, Mount Kimball was tucked behind various ridges, giving us a blind approach which is never fun for hikers.
These bushes, however, had these sticky things that wouldn’t come off easily and when you tried to brush them off, they’d break open and liquefy in a sense. For the last three to four miles going up, we were all in a weird mood – caring little for bushwhacking up the switchbacks. We expected to do reach the top around 10ish, but we didn’t get up until after 11:15.
The Decision on Mount Kimball
After a lunch off the Mount Kimball summit (because the summit kinda sucked and didn’t offer much of a view) we decided that due to our lower levels of water, we would cut the hike short and take the four-mile route down and on the 10.
This was a life-saving decision.
Even though we were up at 7,000 feet, it was warming quickly. Temps in Tucson were going to be 105 that day and it was felt with every step-down Finger Rock Trail.
Normally, I (and the group) can do nearly three miles an hour downhill. The issue with Finger Rock is the top section is super technical, requiring to you navigate slippery gravel, loose rocks, and large steps that dramatically slow down your speed.
At the same time that our speed was slow, we were quickly running out of water. And I mean quickly. With three miles left and the Arizona sun beating down from above in a canyon with little to no shade, I had just over 20oz of water left.
And I had already begun rationing before this, meaning I was very much on my way towards dehydration.
After a final group stop with a little over a mile to go, I took the lead and simply kept walking. No stopping. No breaks. Just focused on keeping my forward momentum going as I took the smallest sips of my ever-warming water.
It was rough.
I stopped sweating near the end. I felt a little nauseous.
Before writing this, I thought I had heat exhaustion, but after looking it up, a cause of Heat Stroke is not sweating – and that’s much, much worse.
Either way, things were not going well.
As the first person down, I was personally tasked with finding water. I hopped a gated fence and knocked on the first house I saw. (Thank god there were houses directly at the trailhead.)
It ended up being that the house I knocked on was undergoing repairs and the painter answered the door. The kind gentleman gave us a gallon of water, a water bottle, and two Gatorades. If he was on the trail, I’d call him a Trail Angel, but I guess I’ve got to stick with calling him just an Angel.
I laid down while the rest of the gang arrived – no longer than five minutes later – and we all downed the delicious water.
Minutes after I hydrated, my sweat began pouring out of my pores. From a human anatomy viewpoint, it was remarkable to witness.
Thirty minutes after drinking up, we all felt worlds better. I mean, we were understandably exhausted from doing a 10+ mile hike but considering the other plausible outcomes, we were in good shape.
However, I won’t be returning to that hike anytime soon – mainly because of the bushwacking that took place.
I would be remiss to not remind you all to bring MORE water than you expect to consume. We are all experienced hikers and even we miscalculated and made a potentially life-threatening decision.
With that, the cooler weather is coming, and summer is in the rear-view mirror. Enjoy it and stay safe out there.
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.