Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lemmon Overnighter II


My big bike tour of the year! Two nights up in the cool forests of Mt. Lemmon.

August 3, 2011

Just getting back from a little hike up canyon here at the Hitchcock campground on Mt Lemmon. I feel surprisingly good after the brutal ride to get here.

I left home in a light rain shower and had good cloud cover until after lunch at Molino Basin. Almost bonked before I got there, so figured it was a good time to stop.

Fritos for lunch in Molino

Once I got moving again the sun was out in full force and I was losing water fast in this humidity. Cramped up for a while, but had one descending cyclist really cheer for me while I was stopped. That didn’t help for long.

View from Seven Cataracts

I limped into Hitchcock, where I camped last year (same site too!), and found it empty, except for the forest rangers cleaning up. I said a hearty, “Howdy, looks like I have the place to myself!”, to which one replied, “Yeah, but you still have to pay the fee.” Thanks for the warm welcome…

I really took it slow up here knowing the trip wasn’t too far, but it really hurt. Got lots of photos. Only two hours ride time, but four hours total. Didn’t think I had stopped for that long. I was thinking it would be difficult for me to do this ride unloaded right now, so loaded down with lots of extra water and all my camping gear was a tough ask. But I am really happy to have all this water! Lots of it is still frozen too, which is wonderful! I should have enough for the ride up to Spencer canyon tomorrow.

Bear Canyon

Relaxing in the site


Little tent

The bird list is going well so far, but I plan to keep it in my head for this trip. I did see a couple of vocalizing Cooper’s Hawks and the usual Peregrine Falcon family down near Seven Cataracts.

So much for the quiet camp tonight. Some guy just showed up and is now splitting wood in the site right next to me. Why, with a whole campground of sites…? Time to eat.

Day 2

What a day (and night)! So my neighbor’s buddy shows up at 10 pm and they talk and play music until about 1 am. Then about 2am, the rain has finally moved in, so I jump out and put the fly on the tent. The rain cool things down quite a bit and my thin sleep sack is no longer keeping me very warm.

I try various combos of clothing, but for the most part I am cold for the rest of the night and don’t sleep very well.

After the hard ride and unbearable night, I am seriously considering all my options. Bail out completely? Come on. Go down to Prison Camp where it’s warmer and mooch water from some other campers? Could work, but the day would be hot. I’d like to enjoy some cooler climes. Ride up 1500 ft higher to get water and bring it back down to Hitchcock? Doesn’t make sense. Definitely going up to Spencer at 8000 ft would be a colder night and include too much climbing that I am now not really in the mood for.

So, a great compromise is to go up to 7000 ft and camp at Rose Canyon Lake. Yeah, there will be yahoos, but I figure hanging out by the water with the anglers will be a relaxing way to spend the day. Hopefully I’ll be warm enough if I sleep with all my clothes on!

After the mayhem of two hikers losing control of three dogs in my neighbor’s site where they had two other dogs, I leave Hitchcock quietly with the sun already beating down on me on the way up to Windy Point. A passing rider jokes that he was going to ask if I needed anything, but figured I already had everything. I told him I had too much.

On the way to Windy Pt.


I took a bunch of photos, made a call to Elizabeth, and the ride up to the lake is a good one. As usual, I score the best site in the place (they are often overlooked). Creekside (bone dry), shade, tall Ponderosas and shrubbery shielding me from the road, and only one other site next to me. I had to walk across the creek to get here, that’s why no one wants this site!

The best site

I had a very relaxing time at the lake, walking most way around and finding a shady spot to sit and watch the anglers and the clouds build.

Rose Canyon Lake

I got to thinking about how different this was from the Sonoran desert and the city commotion below. Parents were spending time fishing with their kids, the snack shop was doing a brisk business, campfires were being lit. People were enjoying the pines and being outside! All of this, and yet I still realized that I was not on the edge of some vast forest wildness, but on the tip-top of an island surrounded by life that was drawing my thoughts downward.

Day 3

My tactic of wearing all my clothes worked great last night, I wasn’t cold at all.

After a good sleep-in, I went down to the lake again, but this time I took the trail. It was great! Big Ponderosas, boulders, lots of birds and even some pools in the creek. The lake was hopping compared to yesterday. You can tell what the weekend will be like, and I don’t want to be here. The amount of car traffic really picked up and the competition for sites was fierce.

Great mountain scenery right off the road


As I packed up, the day’s thunder was already starting and there were big storms to the east. I was surprised to realize that the road up and out of the campground is one of the best roads on the mountain! I rode down into the heat and sweated my way across town only having to stop for one light the whole way!

This was a great get-away and some much needed time to myself. I figure I said only a handful of words to other people for the roughly 50 hours I was out. Not one person asked me where I was going or where I was from. I guess things are different on Mt Lemmon, a road to nowhere. Instead of being a wayward traveler enroute to some far off destination, I was just some weird loner guy, suffering up a mountain to camp by myself. Just what I needed!!

72 total miles
4500 ft climbed
?? birds

Read the Tucson Audubon Blog for the more bird-oriented account of last year's trip.

More photos:

Babad Do'ag vista

Molino Basin

Prison Camp valley