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In the middle of it all
Nestled inbetween the would be valley separating the Catalinas and Rincons actually stands a rather tall peak or hill, if you will, named Agua Caliente Hill. From the right perspective it is obvious, from others you would never even know it's there. Well it's there and there is actually a very nice trail to the summit, though this trail is not even mentioned on the Coronado National Forest website trail directory. I set out to find it today and was rewarded with a great new hike, with good distance and elevation to boot.
From the trailhead cruise straight through a hikers gate and immediately start switchbacking up the near foothills to access the ridge north. You gain elevation quickly and the views of everything are immediate. The trail is well-maintaned. You have a strange top of the world feel on this hike as you can almost always see the whole range of the Catalinas and Rincons. The trail scrambles along rigdes, foothill summits and through drainages for about 1.5 miles.
At this point you descend to a cleared out grassy area, with a dry pond bed to your left. The trail splits here. Follow a small cairn and go right here, otherwise there are no challenges in navigation here. The trail continues a slightly more earnest climb up and along smaller canyons, crosses the drainage and starts a climb up the ridge to a saddle located 3 miles out. The views rock here and to the north you can actually see the summit (in retrospect...see below). A sign at the saddle tells you to go right and follow the trail north and up. Forest Service Road (not a road) scrambles off to the west. From here it is 1.5 miles to the summit according to signage, 1.9 mi is more accurate.
The climb picks up intensity and heads straight for a grass covered peak. Which it then skirts around in one of the best false summit fakeouts I've encountered in a while. Yes, I am a dork because in retrospect it is obvious that this could not be the summit. Oh well, at least no one was with me to point it out. As you skirt right of this summit the real peak is obviously ahead and still much work to do.
You scramble along a ridge to the base of the peak. Final push to the summit is all that's left. This however is no small task. This last push is a bruiser, hands-on thighs huffing and puffing to the top (hamstring singing along all the while). Here fantastic panoramic views greet you in all directions: Catalinas, Rincons, Galiuros, even Pinalenos in the horizon. It was clear, calm and pretty cold up here...awesome.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.