|Guide||♦||3 Triplogs||1 Topic|
Like Sabino Basin, but smaller and with no people
This is a fun day hike (or quick overnight) into an easily accessible, yet relatively pristine spot in the middle elevation of the Catalina Mountains. For an off-trail hike, it's straightforward and worth the effort.
Hollin Basin is listed as a route in my copy of Cowgill's book with two possible approaches. At approximately 6000' of elevation with southern exposure, vegetation ranges from manzanita on the exposed hillsides to a few healthy stands of ponderosa in areas where the creek flow slows. This is a beautiful area which serves as a good introduction to the natural state of the heart of the Catalinas.
In addition to being relatively untouched by people (save for a few campsites), the basin is almost completely untouched by any recent fire. Except for the pine stands and the higher hillsides the vegetation is extremely overgrown. If / when fire makes it to the basin the result will be devastating. If you do camp here please BE CAREFUL with your fire.
This is one of my favorite spots in the Catalinas since it is so undisturbed. It's a quiet place to enjoy nature which is, sadly, becoming a rare commodity.
There are a couple of routes that access the basin from the North and a couple of others that access it from the south via the east fork of Molino Canyon. The northern routes are more readily accessible to the typical hiker and are the ones detailed here.
Both northern routes start at the Upper Bug Springs trailhead off of Catalina Hwy. After about 0.3mi you will reach a saddle and it's decision time. From here you can continue on the Bug Springs trail for another 0.7mi to the typical route over the ridge or you can hang a left here and do a ridge walk that parallels the trail.
I prefer the second option for the following reasons:
1) The elevation gain from the trail isn't too bad and the subsequent ridge walk is easy.
2) If you continue on the Bug Springs trail you're going to lose a lot of the elevation you just gained only to have to gain it again in 0.7 miles.
The ridge walk is a bit more of a bushwhack, but I think it's easier. The GPS track shows both routes (ridge walk into the basin and drainage walk on the way out) but I'll focus the description on the ridge walk.
Off-trail section (unmarked)
Look for a twisted tree snag on your left that's about 6ft tall and charred then pick a route along either side of it. Find a path through the maze of manzanita and keep heading up the top of the ridge. This is a choose your own adventure situation, but try to stay on the spine of the ridge that leads from the peak to the saddle. You'll come across an old fire line. Follow this up to the top.
At the peak, you'll get your first view of Hollin Basin which is anchored by Airmen Peak on the far end. From here you turn right and follow the ridgeline over the top of the next peak and eventually down to a high saddle. I've found that when I need to deviate from the ridge top I have better luck on the right side of the ridge, but never have to get more than a few yards from the ridgeline.
You'll reach a granite outcrop that plunges into the valley to your right toward the bug spring trail. The adjacent drainage is the pathway up from the other entry point mentioned above.
You're now through the hard part as someone has taken the trouble to thoroughly mark the rest of the route.
Off-trail section (marked)
From the upper saddle, look out for cairns as you make your way across the spine of the saddle. There are a number of them and they're easy to spot. Follow them across the saddle and down to the left into Hollin Basin. This is a steep trail but it is extremely well-marked (both with cairns to mark the right way and branches/rocks to block the wrong way). Go slow and keep an eye out for the markers and you'll be fine.
After some time you'll arrive in a sand wash bed which may or may not have some water in it. Welcome to Hollin Basin. Note the location (it's cairned) as this will be your exit point.
If you continue on the Bug Springs Trail you will come to a spot in which the trail makes a hard right and then almost immediately switches back (about 1 mi from the trailhead). This coincides with the entry of a drainage and a large granite outcrop on your left. Don't cross the drainage and look for cairns marking a very steep path up the side of the ridge. Follow the cairns to the top and you'll end up at the saddle detailed above. I don't like this route and save for documenting it haven't used it otherwise.
Exploring the basin
This is very much a choose your own adventure hike and there are several paths to take. For your first time, your best bet is to turn right at the wash and follow it downstream. This will eventually become the west fork of Molino Canyon.
As you walk you'll notice some changes in vegetation which appear to be due to a combination of sun exposure and water penetration. From the Manzanita you experienced on the way in you'll transition through patches of juniper, oak, and other riparian species then into some very mature pine stands. For the most part, the pine stands are the only areas which aren't severely overgrown and if you exit the creek to explore them you'll find a few campsites.
As you continue down the wash you'll encounter a large rock outcrop in which the stream has carved several basins and tinajas. This is a beautiful spot to enjoy when the stream is flowing. The easiest passage through this area is to climb downstream right.
Farther down another drainage will enter from your left and if you remain on your current path you will enter the west fork of Molino and can follow this path all the way out. The exercise is left to the reader, but it can get technical and you should only attempt if you are properly prepared.
Right now you are at the base of Airmen Peak and if you're up for more bushwhacking you can follow the side stream to the left then up the hillside to the saddle that separates Hollin Basin from Molino Canyon. It's a fantastic view and worth the effort if you have the time.
Otherwise, it's hard to get lost so have fun exploring!
Re-trace your steps back to the point that you entered the wash. From here it's back up the ridge to the saddle and then choose your route down.
I explored quite a bit on this hike so my path meandered quite a bit. The posted route shows both routes over the ridge up to the point of entering the wash but doesn't show any further exploring of the basin. Once you're in the basin it's up to you to figure out what is worth exploring. To see a good portion of it plan on a 6-mile round trip rather than the posted 3-mile route.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
This is a moderately difficult hike.