Tom and I were back on trail last Tuesday, May 8th, for what we hopped to a quick little 17 miler. It appears to me that here in AZ our summer months have quickly invaded our enjoyable hiking adventures. Thinking that if we get up into the elevation of Mount Lemon this would at least save us from the scorching desert section proved to be a bad assumption. Stepping out of the car at the Gordon Hirabayashi trailhead, I immediately realized this was going to be a very hot hike.
I have broken up the Mount Lemon section of the AZT into 4 hikes, numbered 1 to 4, from north to south. This hike would be the farthest south of the group and called #4. Mount Lemon is the towering mountain that over looks Tucson toward the north and is the tallest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountain Range. If you recall back on Hike #31 coming out of Oracle, Arizona, we touched on the northern most section of the range hiking unto Oracle Ridge.
The Gordon Hirabayashi trailhead is actually a quick little drive outside of the far northeastern part of Tucson up the Mount Lemon highway and I would say is only about a 10 mile drive with a turnoff on the left side of the road. On trail, at about mile #2.5 you will also past directly through the Molino Basin Campgrounds, crossing the highway, which if you wanted to flip flop this hike would be a perfect alternative trailhead. You will find that trailhead on the Mount Lemon highway prior to the Hirabayashi Trailhead, also on the left.
If you review the elevation of this hike, you’ll notice this hike was a little bit of a “fishbowl” hike with all the big up hill gains to be found after the turn. Last weeks hike, Hike #42 by Roosevelt Lake, was more of a bell hike, with all the ups coming first and then all the downhill as you head back to the trailhead. Fishbowl hikes are the most challenging for me. I am not a great hill climber and when you add uphill, exhaustion and heat of the afternoon all together, you get a slow going sucky hike…. well…. at least sucky while your doing it. Someone once told me hiking is like what they called “class 2 fun”. Class 1 fun was something that was fun while you’re doing it and fun to think about once it’s over. Class 2 being not so fun while you’re doing it but thinking back after you’re done, it actually was kind of fun or at least fun to be done….. This hike was really class 2…. As I am typing this post recalling the hike, it was actually not bad…. but trust me it sucked most of the way. Now I do need to condition my statement here. If you did this 17 mile hike in the winter, I think it would have been 50% more class #1 fun. It really has awesome views and the ups are not really that bad… total elevation change being 2930 ft. and with only three climbs, the worst is 926 ft climb up in 1.7 miles. The suck here was the heat…… no clouds and just hot….
Tom and I prepared like we always do, 3.5 liters of water, 2 liters frozen the night before and hidden inside your pack to slow the melting. All I can say is we finished the hike without a drop left. A good rule of thumb on desert hikes is to only hike “out” as far as you have consumed 1/2 of your water. In general a good idea, on this hike with a good amount of the uphill on the way back, we purposely saved 2L each for the hike back to the car from the turn. Smart idea… and we still ran out, even bumming a liter off some mountain bikers at mile 15. Anyhow, be prepared and when temperatures are higher than 90 degrees, please know your limits, bring extra water, or just don’t hike that day. Heat stroke is a real thing and even 8 miles out of the trailhead is an impossible distance to hike if your struggling. Seriously, you can die out there… One last tip, on these hot hikes, keep your water inside your pack. Helps it stay cool and forces you to have to take “pack off” breaks. Cooling off under a shade tree, even if only for 5 minutes, is huge.
All in all, the hike was tough, but beautiful. You will hike downhill out of Gordon TH pass the Molino campgrounds (closed during the summer months and NO water) then up a good sized mountain ridge breaking into Tanque Verde Canyon with the Rincon Mountains in the background to the south. Originally we had thoughts of pushing this to a 20 mile hike but with the heat, we made the turn 8.5 out, which will just add another couple miles to the next section south. No big deal… as long as we hike that section in the winter. 🙂
In summary, a tough hike with the heat, a couple good challenging climbs after the turn but an easy trailhead to drive to. Enjoy the photos…
Oh…. one last thing to note. Buy a SIX MOON hiking umbrella. I used it on a good portion of this hike and it helped cool me off so much better than my hiking hat. Also I discovered if you hold the umbrella just a little bit away from you and towards the sun, you can actually shade nearly your entire body. A huge plus over a hat and your head can benefit from the occasional desert breeze. I want to say the umbrella is only like $50 and weighs 8 ounces. It obviously works in the rain too. Cool piece of gear and… it truly might have saved my life. Get one..