Crazy Climbers Approach
The magnificent conical rock formation called Leviathan can be seen from Oracle Road, and it’s distinct shape has attracted us for a while. We made a recon trip up Alamo Canyon a couple of years back but got off in a canyon to the south that went nowhere and ran out of gas. Recently we gave it another shot, mainly because the scrambling and boulder hopping up Alamo Canyon was so much fun. The formation just beyond and above Leviathan (which is about 5550 feet) is Wilderness Dome (unk 6079 on the Oro Valley quad). It’s claim to fame is that it has a 5.9 trad climbing route named (according to Mountain Project) “Smokin’ a J at the See Saw”. I leave it to you to decide whether the person that named the route is insane or just on the weed. The approach is listed as 3-4 hours, but I think it would take a lot longer with climbing gear. Mountain Project drily put it like this “you probably won’t have to stand in line for this one”. Anyway, hiking to the base of Leviathan up Alamo Canyon, past Buster Mountain from Catalina State Park, is one of the better scrambling, boulder hopping experiences around Southern Arizona and a great day out, you are not likely to see another human after leaving the Romero Ruins area, and..... there is an actual trail for a mile or so.
You start at the large parking area for access to the Catalina State Park Romero Ruins and veer to the right just before reaching the ruins. The hike is initially flat and easy, but after a mile or so you arrive at a nice small gorge on your right that is obviously frequently visited. Coordinates for this point are 32.40889, -110.91102, WGS 84. This is where most people turn around, and there are a couple of Forest Service signs that announce that past this point you enter the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area. Dogs are prohibited beyond this point. The faint trail continues for a quarter mile but eventually disappears and you drop into Alamo Canyon to begin the boulder hopping in earnest. The canyon proceeds to the southeast around the south side of Buster Mountain. After a few turns in the canyon, the noise from Oracle Road finally disappears.
After a bit, you encounter some massive, house-size boulders that have dropped into the canyon from the cliffs above. These rock falls have created several caves and sheltered areas that are used by wildlife. Even as dry as it’s been, there are several pools in the wash, but no running water. The scrambling is usually class 3 or less, but there are a couple of places where the moves feel like class 4, especially on the way down. There is about a mile here that the waist deep grass makes it difficult to safely place your feet. Watch particularly on the way back. You will encounter a few places where the pour-off or boulder arrangement is severe enough to look for a way around. Do what you need to do to stay safe.
Watch as you pass the drainages to be sure you stay in the main one until just below Leviathan. From here, the climb is very steep and footing is iffy. Just take your time up and down. We took a short rope but didn’t use it. This might not be one to do alone. As usual, there are several cairns in the lower canyon, but few up where you really need them. If you attempt this, I recommend a good map and GPS. It is very important not to get off in the wrong canyon, unless that is your goal, but it would be hard to get completely lost because of the canyon walls. The stats for this hike are not intimidating, but it is definitely a tiring hike because of the complex terrain and difficult footing.
The last quarter mile is very steep and good footing is hard to find. To reach the base of the rock, you have to fight your way through some manzanita and other bushes, but it’s not too bad. Retrace your steps back to the car.
After you leave the Catalina State Park and enter the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area, this hike is off limits from January 1 to April 30 of each year because of the Bighorn Sheep Re-introduction Project. Dogs are never allowed past the lower canyon for the same reason. This is not a summer hike.
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.