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Oracle Ridge - AZT #12
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mini location map2014-04-04
3 by photographer avatarSredfield
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Oracle Ridge - AZT #12Tucson, AZ
Tucson, AZ
Backpack avatar Apr 04 2014
Backpack16.50 Miles
Backpack16.50 Miles3 Days         
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Nine hardy souls departed Marshall Gulch TH around 10:00AM Friday, decked out with picks, saws and loppers as well as back packs for a two-night maintenance effort on the AZT passage 12a. Segment Steward David Rabb organized this foray to clear deadfall and chop out thorny brush. (They were calling it cyanosis but Google says that is a medical condition, so I don’t know what the name is. It is a smaller dark green bushy plant with thorns, but that describes half of all known species in AZ.)

The pack weight seemed just fine until I added an axe, wedges, bow saw with extra blades and 7 pounds of pick-mattock. Oh well, we would be going slow. Temps on the Wilderness of Rocks trail were predicted to be pretty cool Friday night so long johns went in also.

We worked our way west, finding only a few deadfall between Marshall Gulch and the Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail junction. This had been reported as clear but the trees come down whenever they want to so no trail up here stays entirely clear for long. West of the junction there were several more, some quite large with many branches that have to be removed before you can cut the main stem. Patience is a good thing when doing these.

We were all surprised by the number of hikers we encountered. One remarkable young lady was thru hiking the AZT; she had started at Prison Camp Friday morning, and was about 5 miles from Marshall Gulch at about 3 PM. You Go Gurl! She was looking way too fresh to be a thru-hiker but she explained she has relatives in Tucson who were supporting her locally, so they had dropped her off and were picking her up. Over the entire trip we saw several groups—nice to see on this remote tough trail.

We camped just short of the junction with the trail that goes up Mt Lemmon. Water was plentiful and there was ample room to spread out on nice level spots. Temps started dropping precipitously as soon as the sun fell below the horizon; the extra layers were comforting.

Up the next morning no one seemed to be in any rush bet we got started on several more deadfall by 8:00. Near the high point the dead fall petered out so we did a little tread work. Then we started encountering the thorny brush, so switched from saws to pick mattocks. Sawing is easier. These nasty bushes have a knob just below ground from which they sprout branches. Past pruning just encouraged them to send up more branches. Several swacks with the pick chops off the branches and begins to reveal the growth point. Digging and clawing exposes it, then several more (always just one more) swack chops the knob off the roots. We hope this eliminates the plant for good, but I have a disturbing suspicion they just grow back from the exposed end of the roots. The only way to know is to go back in year to see, which is about how long it will be before I feel like doing this trail again.

All was going well as we worked our way towards Romero Pass. But the brush was plentiful and the picks were few, so progress slowed. That drop to the pass is interminable, seems like you never get there. We found and corrected a few reroutes of convenience, where the trail has migrated around some temporary blockage, like a dead fall or encroaching bush. Slowly, as we got lower, the thorny brush stated to peter out, but there was always one more, until finally we hit the pass and the end of David’s segment. A short rest and we were off to the camp spot at the Cathedral Rock Trail junction—a pristine spot with water in the oak trees.

But just around the corner was one more deadfall. We couldn’t leave it simply because it wasn’t “our” segment, so we dropped the packs, unsheathed the cross cut and removed it. There is always one more.

The word was that the trail from Romero Pass to the camp was a gentle, easy 2 miles. After the day of sawing and chopping nothing was easy—I was beat. It had been 4 years since I was over this piece of trail, and it is in much better condition. A youth corps crew worked it 12-18 months ago, widening the tread and clearing brush.

The camp spot was lovely, shaded with lot of room to spread out. A double dose of Mountain House was welcome, then early to bed. Some critter came by during the night but we were not introduced.

Everyone was a little more anxious to get going on the last day, so we were out of camp before 7. We had reports of one more deadfall near Hutch’s Pool that was waist high and a pain to get past. We encountered and cleared several of those “one more” deadfall trees between camp and the junction with the Sabino Canyon trail.

I was dragging by the time we reached the junction; this trail has always beat me up and this trip was no different. Eventually it ended and we were at the upper end of the tram road in Sabino Canyon. We had dropped vehicles at stop 8 to ferry us and the gear out, so those who were there first watched for the others and as soon as we saw them coming down the mountain we walked down to stop 8 to get the vehicles. Imagine our surprise to see citations on the windshields for “unauthorized vehicles in Sabino Canyon.” A little communication snafu that was soon resolved.

We waited for the trams to clear, then drove up to stop 9 and loaded the gear and crew into the two vehicles, then made our way slowly past all the pedestrians down the canyon. I kept waiting for some irate person to challenge our presence in the vehicles but no one did. There have been incidents though I’m told.

At the FS yard we unloaded, took the requisite group photo and then everyone was off. This extremely remote and rugged section of the AZT has been in need of love and affection for quite some time and it is getting it. Thanks to a great many people—including David, Lee, Kevin, Jackie, Chris, Rick, Doug, and Scot on this trip—the improvement in the 4 years since the first beating it gave me is dramatic.
Trail Maintenance
wildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observation
Wildflowers Observation Isolated
Saw some nice penstemon.
The bear went over the mountain to see what he could see.
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