So after my first Tucson hiking trip to Mt. Kimball two weeks ago, I decided I definitely needed to get down there again. I looked into different trails but the one that kept calling my name was Rincon Peak. I've been wanting to hike that one for a good 2+ years now, ever since I saw the write-up about it.
Desert-boonie and exchanged a few e-mails and of course he was up for the challenge so yesterday we met at his place and left about 4:30 for the 3 hour drive down there. This hike is close to Tucson by air, but it's a full hours drive past it by car to the TH. The last 12 miles are a nicely graded dirt road with minimal wash-boarding and pot-holes. I wouldn't think twice about bringing my car down it unless it was after a heavy rain as it does cross a few washes. We did cross one spot were the water was maybe 1.5ft deep in the middle, but you could have drove along the edge and been in a few inches of water most likely. We did see 3 cars past that point in the road so they obviously made it w/o a problem. There are also 3 or 4 good areas to camp just off of this road.
We got to the Miller Creek TH around 7:30 and got loaded up the backs. We were the only ones there but 2 guys got there in a Chevy Cavalier just before we headed out. The weather was about 50 degrees if I remember right. Just brisk enough to keep to you cold in a t-shirt. The first mile or so of the trail follows a creek that was maybe 3-4 feet wide, it criss crosses it from time to time but finally the trail leaves the creek and starts climbing through boulders on the left side of the trail. The trail climbs up at a pretty good pace, mostly thru boulders with a little bit of overgrowth along the trail. Trail finding was never really an issue, they do have little metal markers along the trees every 50 yards or so in case you did lose it from time to time. It reminded me of Flat-iron at first but I like them later in the day.
After 4.4 miles you reach Happy Valley saddle which I think is at about 6100 feet, it's a nicely tree covered area with area for camping. You walk thru a mostly leave area for a 1/2 mile before you reach the Rincon Peak trail. This area was the first and pretty much only place to camp along the way, I took a bunch of pictures around here. There was a small creek flowing, but I doubt it runs year round, someone else who is more familiar with the area may know.
Once your on the Rincon Peak trail it starts to climb again, pretty soon we found our first patches of snow and also got our first view of the peak itself and where we were going. We crossed another creek that had a lot of flow to it clearly from snow melt again I don't think it would run year round. The kept climbing and contouring around threw a few inches of snow, but soon that got much thicker. We were also the first people up here since it had snowed as there were no footprints. The trail gets a lot steeper for the last mile and we found ourselves in ankle to knee deep snow most of the time. This was difficult given the steep terrain, also those little tree markers came in very handy at this point, w/o them it surely would have been much more difficult to make the summit. The last 500 vertical feet or so also became much more rocky, so when you did try and plant your foot you would find a rock and your foot would slide down a foot or two.
We finally found ourselves on the summit and the forest service log just before the summit had the last person at January 14th I think. We actually made the summit in about 4 hours, I figured given the snow it would have taken a while longer than that. On the summit there is a huge man made cairn. Our feet were drenched and cold so we took off our shoes and socks and "played" lizard, just baking in the sun on the rock. It felt really great and after 10 minutes we were warmed up. We had a snack and soaked in the sun for a while and just as we were getting ready to do down the other two guys showed up. We talked with them a bit and they thanked us for our footprints in the snow.
Going back down was actually easier than I thought, it didn't feel as steep as the climb up did and we just kind of slid our way down our old footprints. This worked great until the occasional frozen crusted snow which just tore our ankles up. We came upon 3 guys and a god that were making there way up, probably had an hour to go. The dog was a shepard/rot 8mo old puppy and was playful, you can tell it was having a good time. After talking with them for a few minutes we were on our way down again. Soon out of the snow and I filled up my water at the big creek, just love cold water. Soon we were back to our flat forested area then back on the miller peak trail. Does it always seem longer on the way back? Finally after meandering back and forth down the creek we were back at Ken's jeep and I had 2 nice gatoraids (which I had forgot to throw in my pack) waiting for me. Would have much rather had some beer and brats so it was decided we would plan better for the next hike. The hike took us 8 hours and 10 minutes in all. 16.2 miles in all and about 4500 feet elevation gain, it's a butt kicker for sure, but definitely worth it!
The drive back was a pain with traffic then once we finally were back in the valley they had 3 lanes closed off on I-10. It took us 40 minutes to literally go 2 miles. It sucked, neither of us had ever been in traffic like that in the valley. I've experienced it once or twice in CA, maybe Chicago after a Bears game but not here. Thanks again for driving Ken, great to finally do another hike with you as well. Can't wait for Rainier now! Co Cubs!
I posted my pictures already Here:
Ken there is a album there for you if you get around to uploading your pictures too.