Palisades to Prison Camp
It has been a long time since I have been backpacking- since my Royal Arch via Point Huitzil trip in April. I was super-excited to put the big pack back on and spend a night out close to home. I have been trying to complete all the trails in the Catalinas, so I searched the map for something appropriate. Last summer, I did a hike on the Box Camp Trail and spent the night at Hutch's Pool before hiking out to Sabino Canyon. I decided that the Palisades Trail, with a night at Hutch's Pool and out to Prison Camp, would be a good day and a half adventure, albeit a little toasty in the lower reaches. I parked my car at Prison Camp, also known as Gordon Hirabayashi Campground, and checked out the signs and the ruins since I was a bit early. Click http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado/forest ... tory.shtml
to read the story of the Prison Camp, it's very interesting and sad. I waited by the side of the Catalina Highway to get a ride with some friends from the Tucson Hiking Meetup group that were driving up to hike the Mint Springs Trail near Summerhaven. While I was waiting, I saw a skateboarder coming down the mountain, followed closely by his friend in a pickup truck. Don't see that everyday! Bill Carter was kind enough to let me hitch a ride up to Organization Ridge Road, where I started my trek.
It felt so good to strap on the big pack, even though it was heavy with a gallon and a half of water. It has been a very bad year for precipitation and a lot of the usual water sources have been dry, so I carried all I'd need to get myself to Hutch's Pool, one of the sure-fire water sources in the Catalinas. I walked the short distance down the road to the Palisades Trailhead- there were quite a few cars there for 9am on a Wednesday morning. The trail marker said 6.8 miles to the East Fork junction. I was super-excited about the prospect of seeing fresh scenery in the Catalinas, and was practically dancing down the trail. There were low-hanging clouds and the occasional rumble of far-off thunder. I immediately came upon several stands of wildflowers.
The trail was wide and easy to follow as I came into a burned area. I got my umbrella out since my tree cover was gone. The views of the front range were obscured by low clouds that would burn off as the day progressed. Here's a video taken near the wilderness boundary- you can hear how excited I am to be out backpacking: http://youtu.be/2ufpr3HE4w4
The trail followed the burnt ridgeline for a while, passing more boulders and rock formations as I lost elevation. Then rugged Pine Canyon came into view. As the trail traversed into Pine Canyon, views opened south to an interesting view of Thimble Peak. I stood aside to let a large group of Southern Arizona Hiking Club members pass by. One of the hikers stopped to ask me about my plans, and looked a little worried when I told her I was heading downhill in the heat of the day. I told her that I was carrying about 6 liters of water and that I hike all summer long. Right after my encounter with the hiking group, I walked into a muddy area full of bright green ferns known quite aptly as Mud Springs. I didn't go investigate the pools that are supposed to be in the drainage, but there was a trickle of water running across the trail. The trail had been mostly cool, with cloud cover up until this point, so I didn't really need extra water. Video just below Mud Springs: http://youtu.be/aw_PO9D-Ddk
I knew that the trail between Mud Springs and the East Fork gets a lot less use, so I wasn't sure what to expect as far as navigation. Fortunately, someone had cairned the heck out of the lower trail, so there was hardly a spot that I didn't know where to go. The trail criss-crossed the dry creekbed, sometimes through stands of oak and juniper, but most of the time on exposed grasslands. I crossed an old, rusty wire strung across the trail several times and saw a broken white insulator. The trail gave great views of a 150-f00t waterfall in Pine Canyon. Sadly, it was dry. The trail then made a traverse across the nose of the ridge through some great rocky outcroppings, one that had fantastic views of the whole Sabino Basin. here's a video: http://youtu.be/J6TkVCunuPc
After the rocky outlook, the trail switchbacked down with views of Palisades Canyon, Sabino Canyon Trail, and the Box Camp Trail where it meets the West Fork. The trail does not match the old alignment shown on the Topo map, it was very clearly cairned in the tall grasses. I could see the canopy of the East Fork and couldn't reach it fast enough- my head was getting increasingly hot even underneath the umbrella. It was 12:30 and toasty by the time I crossed the bone-dry East Fork and reached the trail junction. I was a little sad that there was absolutely no water to be found. I took a break at the junction, and it was completely bug-infested, so badly that I had to wear my earphones to drown out the sound of the no-see-ums and mosquitoes. After eating and cooling off for a bit, I went to investigate the weather-I had heard thunder and saw that there was lightning over the West Fork, right where I was planning on staying at Hutch's Pool.
I had a decision to make. I had only two liters of water left, and it was around 3pm when it started to rain. I made one last-ditch attempt to get some more water by turning my umbrella upside-down, but only collected about two cups of rainwater. My desire to sleep out under the stars plummeted as I realized that it would be a hot, buggy night at Hutch's Pool and I was already covered in bites. I decided to hike all the way out and had cloud cover for the lazy switchbacks that climb out of the East Fork. I passed the Bear Canyon junction and made my way toward the Sycamore Canyon reservoir, but didn't make the trip over to visit. I have always found the water I've filtered from there to taste disgusting. I had the one last climb out from the reservoir to Shreve Saddle, a climb that I have always approached at the end of a long day, and it always kicks my butt. There is the most hilarious giant Arizona Trail sign at Shreve Saddle- they put the big metal signs in the most unlikely places.
At the saddle, it began to rain again and I called Mr. Sirena to tell him that I'd be home early. I reached the Soldier Canyon Trail junction, which is about a quarter mile from the trailhead, and my right quad started to spasm with every step. Good thing that didn't happen a couple of miles back! Finally made it back to my Jeep just before 6pm, quite a long, hot day for the middle of the summer. I would not recommend this hike in the summertime to people not acclimated to hiking in the heat.