Monday, May 15, 2023

Tucson Five FKT - with John!

Apologies for all of the exclamation points (!) in the blog titles recently, we've just been having too much fun (!)

I enjoyed the Flagstaff Fearsome Four and Phoenix Phearsome Phour FKT's, so of course the Tucson version was calling my name.  New this time was the idea of driving between the peaks, as they are much further apart than the other Arizona versions.  Also new - John wanted to join me, sweet!

We picked a weekend toward the end of our current Tucson stay, to allow for some lead-up training, scouting, and snow melting.  We were aware of the likely higher temperatures but got lucky with a relatively cool set of days (only Sunday afternoon hit 90 degrees, and only barely).  Each morning was gloriously chilly, the tops of the peaks were lovely and breezy, and we purposely did the set of 3 first since Friday was the least hot.

With some basic planning in place, we set off early Friday morning to the Keystone Peak trailhead:

The starting gate, where our overall time officially began (and with a full moon setting in the background, hello moon!):

It's an easy road to follow, John didn't even need a light:

Soon it was dawn, and we just missed the actual sunrise at the top:

John had located the summit marker during a prior visit, so we went directly there.  One down, an excellent start:

Beautiful sunrise lighting, and apparently my camera liked it too:

We jogged easily down, trying to limit the downhill pounding in anticipation of a lot more downhill to come.  Our truck (Tug-E) seems to enjoy these FKT adventures too:

On the way up to Mount Wrightson, which is actually the highest of the 5 peaks but only the 3rd-most elevation gain because the trailhead is at over 5000 feet.  The top is somewhere behind those trees:

One of the best wildlife sightings of the weekend - he was strutting around near the road to the trailhead, probably trying to impress his lady friend across the way:

We finally found the Old Baldy trail (after taking the wrong way up once, and then Mom and I did the Super Trail recently as well):

We had an easy climb up to the saddle, and I think we were making good time:

Adorable baby tree - is it Groot?

One of many nice views for the day:

We got to the top surprisingly quickly, apparently it helped that the snow had finally melted out, and maybe our Keystone warmup run got our legs in the mood for movement.  John pulled out the summit register to sign:

Taking in the view from the top, possibly looking at Lemmon and Mica on the horizon:

It was a fun run downhill, with a brief stop so John could chat with a guy on a trail work crew.  More running, a pit stop on my part, then trying to catch up to John.  He assumed I would be way faster than him on the downhill part, but his legs were doing great and it took a lot of work for me to catch up.  That was a good sign for the rest of the weekend's efforts.

Back to the bottom, part 2 complete:

It's rather odd being in the truck DURING an FKT, I could perhaps get used to this:

We stopped for ice, reorganized our stuff again (I was switching between a vest and a pack and back on Friday), and found a nearly empty parking lot at the base of Wasson Peak.  We just had to get up and back before sunset (per parking lot hours) and it was looking very promising for that timeline.

Pretty cholla flowers:

A saguaro gateway to Wasson:

A more-typical FKT photo for me, diagonally and on the move:

A less-typical FKT photo, with John along for the fun (at the summit of Wasson):

Our notation in the summit log - happy Cinco de Mayo (a fitting date for the start of the Tucson 5)!

Thankfully there was wind to cool us off, and the ice in my arm sleeves and bandana worked really well.

It's not often we get a chance to try walking on a saguaro:

Back to Tug-E and happy to be finished for the day with plenty of time to spare!

We returned home, cleaned up and cooled down, and had a quick dinner.  The next day was a big one, especially for me.  I was expecting some challenge from Mount Lemmon.  John was pretty excited about this one.

Glad for another early (and cool) start at the Catalina State Park trailhead (right at 5 am when the park opens):

The river is now completely dry, no water-hopping this morning:

Good morning, moon!

There was still water flowing in Romero Pools, so that was a good sign.  I'd been to this point a couple times previously, while John had climbed from the bottom to the top recently (where I picked him up).  I was looking forward to all the trail miles that were new to me.  Crossing at the pools:

One of many examples of desert flowers that weekend.  Funnily, John noted one short section of Indian Paintbrush.  I noted a few isolated manzanitas.  It seems that the Catalinas are so steep, each has only a narrow zone to live in.

Along the section of trail that goes high up above the creek before returning down to it (in addition to other ups and downs along the way:

We treated a bunch of water to carry up into the dry "Wilderness of Rock", managing to select a spot that was almost but not quite the final water crossing.  We were just happy not to be carrying every single drop all the way from the bottom.  Enjoying the last bit of shade before popping out on the sunny ridge:

Yep, it's sunny!  With plenty of interesting rock formations to look at.  Except along the AZT section, because those couple of miles are so steep and technical, I could hardly spare a glance above me.

John showed me this excellent lookout spot, then I took a break in the shade before snapping a picture:

The intersection where the Arizona Trail heads off into more rocks while we continued up the ridge - thank you, AZT!

Once the AZT diverged, the trail got easier and we made decent time.  My legs were definitely tired from the previous day, and steep climbing is exponentially more effort for me compared to moderate grades.  John was bopping along with a ton of energy, excellent news!

Enjoying the rock shapes:

We hauled ourselves up to the tippy top, or at least as close as we could get next to the observatory area.  Four down, one climb to go!

We were happy to find the gushing pipe from Quartzite Springs and filled up a couple bottles.  That made this day relatively easy, pack weight-wise.

Admiring Mica and Rincon peaks across the way - see you tomorrow, Mica!

On our way up we had passed a trail work crew carrying a sign and some equipment.  We found this on our trip back down, so perhaps we were one of the first to get a picture of it in place:

The beginning miles of the descent were relatively easy, but then we got to the rocky AZT section which slowed me down considerably.  On the plus side, it made for a pleasant hike for John, who is part mountain goat.  We agreed that we'd love to come back sometime and explore other parts of the AZT but not on any kind of time schedule.

Back down into the Romero drainage, where I was happy to have my trekking poles for the steeper sections.  At the first creek crossing I noticed that there was almost no water flowing, while earlier in the day there had been water.  The 2nd creek crossing was the best for filling up my filter bottle, so I did that just to be sure.  It was almost as though we were watching the creek dry up for the summer, although it could also be some kind of morning/afternoon cycle?

Traipsing down the trail, my eyes caught some movement and then my brain said "Snake!" and my legs leapt about as high as I've experienced lately while my heart jumped into the action and started beating faster.  The snake seemed equally astonished, quickly slithering away, but not before John got a decent look at it.  We think it was an Arizona black rattlesnake, OK then!

I spent the rest of the descent watching the trail much more closely, without further animal encounters.  Still looking for our first Gila monster sighting.

A brief break in the shade on the way down:

After a few more short climbs and a bunch more rocks, we returned to the Catalina State Park trailhead:

It was nice to sit for a few minutes, even nicer because a folk band was playing nearby!  Thank you for the excellent live musical interlude while we gathered ourselves for the drive home.

We didn't have much time that evening, just enough to shower, eat, and get to sleeping.  We debated on an even earlier start time for Sunday morning but decided to stick with the original plan that would get us to the trailhead right before dawn:

One last climb on another cool morning in the desert:

Hello moon!

A pretty sunrise over the Catalinas, looking over at Mount Lemmon... somewhere over there:

I love the eastside trails of Saguaro National Park, so much more my style compared to the previous day.  John told me to just run and he would try to keep up.  He kept up very well!  We moved efficiently up to Douglas Spring campground, where we found just a tiny trickle of water moving between a couple deep pools.  At least the pools had pretty clear water.  Hmm, I guess we were nearing the end of flowing water season around here (the ranger I called had heard the creek was flowing a week before).

We paused and filled up 2 servings of Spiz plus a water bottle and a half.  I was kind of counting on the creek up high near Helen's Dome, but if that didn't work we were reasonably confident we could make it back to this spot with the water we had.  At least it was our last day, so some amount of dehydration wouldn't put us in a hole for a continuing journey.

The climb up to Cow Head Saddle went great and we enjoyed being back in the trees:

There was motivation in our steps, feeling good about the final climb, especially since it's not too steep except in a couple spots.  We noted the occasional view of Rincon Peak - eventually we hope to get over there in person:

Near Helen's Dome we heard a rushing waterfall but it was in an inaccessible spot.  Further up the creek was almost completely dry.  Except in a couple places - which looked like we could make work on the way down.  Nice.

Up into the pine trees, hello ponderosas (and others)!

On a scouting trip in December I had trekked through a bunch of snow, getting confused around Spud Rock and running out of time to figure it out.  No such issues this time, hello Spud!

One last half mile that was new trail to both of us, and then we were at the top of #5, yay!

Here's the one bit of moving creek, which was plenty "good enough" for filling the filter bottle and adding water to everything we were carrying.  Thank you, little stream!

That added some weight to the packs, so we took it easy on the steeper stuff, giving us motivation to keep drinking it down.  We were happy to skip the Douglas Spring pools while still having plenty of water on us all the way down.  I even dumped some before realizing I should have poured it on myself instead.

As expected, the last few miles were warm, probably the warmest of the whole endeavor, but at least we had some breezes plus the knowledge that we were almost done.  John was wearing a new-to-him GPS watch (thank you Kip for the donation!) and tracking our miles and pace.  Playing with numbers was fun, as we were still running and making good time.

Back to the flowering saguaros and ocotillos:

And beautiful cholla blooms:

I couldn't quite believe how many stairs there were in the final short sections of trail.  For some reason that was tough on my legs.  No matter, almost done!

Yay for the shady bench at the end after stopping the clock - wow, we just did that!  Well done, John!

Enjoying some post-FKT sweet potato fries at Beaut Burger, yum:

In some ways that seemed so doable and in other ways it wasn't clear how we were going to do it.  I'm grateful for John's company the whole time, thankful for the FKT concept that keeps us doing interesting adventures, and appreciative that this one was within our reach.

Thank you, five mountains of Tucson!