My friend Sarah and I scrapped our original plan to do a Kimball Peak summit today thinking we might run into a lot of ice and slush up there. Instead, we opted for this hike, which is a little easier (2000' less elevation) but certainly not a stroll through the park. After my abysmal performance at Ventana a couple of weeks before, I was not sure how this was going to go, and I was fully prepared for hiking out in the dark.
Turns out my worries were for nothing. My legs and lungs felt good and strong, and the trail is so much less technically challenging than Ventana that I really felt able to step out and keep a reasonable pace. Sarah and I left from the parking area a little after 8am, and we pulled back in just before 4. Not a bad day's work, if I say so myself. We even managed to pass up the temptation of the tram ride
The trail was in excellent shape, and exceptionally easy to follow the entire way. There was water in Bear all the way up until we left it's canyon, and flow on and off in the East Fork of Sabino most of its length as well. East Fork has long been my favorite of the Catalinas trails, and this hike only reinforced it. It's fun, relatively easy hiking, with huge payoffs in views, water, vegetation and places to sit and eat lunch. We ate ours just below the junction of the East Fork and Palisades trails. We could see the clear path of the Palisades heading up the hill - I think that trail will be much easier to follow this year than in previous trips through the area.
Also of note were several very excellent camping spots as we climbed along Bear above Seven Falls. One of my favorites was just before the trail brakes off to head up and over the ridge. It's just a beautiful area, and there are a number of additional side canyons to explore. At the head of the canyon you can see the Catalina Highway far above you, and at the base, you get just a bare peek at Tucson. It's fantastic.
Up and over the ridge on a trail that's uphill but lacks the Catalina's characteristic sadistic style. Then back down, slowly descending to a low saddle between Sycamore and Sabino Basins. Here is my favorite view ever - looking west along the entire Sabino Basin, thick with oaks and grasses, seeing the hint of a trail at the far end of the bowl. It's like the promise of beauty and adventure laid at your feet. It always gives me awe.
Weather was perfect, crowds were low (thanks to the Steelers and the Packers) and we had a glorious time on the trail. We were treated to some bunnies, quail and a few lizards, but otherwise it was a quiet day for wildlife as well.
Man. This really IS the life! Seriously - GO HIKE ARIZONA!