Not much up and down
Background: It’s hard to find a place in Tucson from which you cannot see Pusch Peak, the most southwest peak in the string of peaks and mountains in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area leading up to Mt. Lemmon. The area has gained recognition most recently as a central release point for Bighorn Sheep being reintroduced to the Santa Catalinas. One down side to that project is that access to Pusch Peak is closed from January 1st to April 30th each year (the lambing season). Consequently, lots of people try to get up there before the restricted season begins. If you wait till May, you’d better go early because of the heat.
The established trail to Pusch Peak begins at the Linda Vista Trailhead, located off Linda Vista Boulevard behind the Pusch Ridge Christian Academy baseball field. It is important to clarify how the sheep reintroduction project affects trail use in this area. First, hiking on the Linda Vista Loop (essentially the lower canyon area) is not restricted at any time of the year, except that dogs are prohibited at all times. However, the trail from the top of the loop leading further up the canyon to Pusch Ridge and eventually to Pusch Peak is considered to be a “social” trail and is therefore considered to be off limits to hiking during the lambing season (January 1 – April 30).
The TH parking lot can hold 10 or so cars, but parking along the road is permitted. Most hikers starting here aim to hike the relatively easy Linda Vista Loop. There is an information board with a map at the TH showing the loop and the bisecting trail which leads straight up the canyon. The departure point for heading to the peak is at the top of the loop, and is marked with a metal sign marked “not a USFS trail beyond this point”. I’m not sure what this bureaucrat-ese means, except that it is not maintained (obviously) by the USFS.
Hike: The uniqueness of this hike is that it is a point-to-point from the Linda Vista Trailhead to the Pima Canyon Trailhead by way of Pusch Peak (or return). There are two excellent descriptions and tracks on HAZ that cover up-and-backs to Pusch Peak from each of those trailheads ( Pusch Peak and via Pima ). The first covers the trail hike up from Linda Vista and the latter covers the “bushwhack” hike from Pima Canyon. Please refer to those descriptions for additional details.
The beauty of this hike is that it can easily be done in either direction with approximately equal difficulty. When we did it recently north to south in December, there didn’t seem to be any best way. If you start at Pima, you’re looking at substantial uphill bushwhacking but a knee pounding slog down Pusch Peak Trail. If you start at Linda Vista, the uphill to the top is steep and manageable, but the downhill involves some scree sliding below a prominent rock formation (poles are very helpful here).
Describing it northbound from Pima, hike ½ mile in on the Pima Canyon Trail #62 and turn up the ridge. Don’t miss the nice crested saguaro about 50 feet north of the trail at this take-off point. About 1/3 mile up the ridge, go to the right (east) side of a sharp, prominent rock formation surrounded by 100+ feet cliffs. It looks unclimbable, but there is a class 3 scramble on the upper east side though a slot that is fun to climb. Be careful, the rocks are a little fractured. The steep scree slope is just before you reach this formation.
From here, pick your way up the ridge to the peak, avoiding the shin daggers and cats claw where possible. There is nothing above a class 2 anywhere along the way. At the top, rest up a bit and head down the other side to the Linda Vista Trailhead.
The best views are from the top of Pusch Peak, but take time along the ridge to the south to look at some pretty unique views of the Cleaver, Pima Canyon, Prominent Point, and Rosewood Point. This hike doesn’t have high distance or aeg, but it’s a good workout, even for most fit people. I wouldn’t recommend it for the summer, especially north to south, where the south-facing slope would get the brunt of the full mid-day sun (there is little shade anywhere).
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.