Monday, December 12, 2011

Winter Training Hike: Bear Canyon Trail-Coronado National Forest

View at the beginning of Bear Canyon Trail
There are some really unique hikes in southern Arizona that you will not find anywhere else.  One popular local area is Sabino Canyon Recreation Area in the Coronado National Forest, which includes Bear Canyon Trail (aka:  Seven Falls Trail), Sabino Canyon Trail and many others.  Sabino is only 30 minutes from downtown Tucson and therefore very popular with locals - up to 1.25 millions visitors a year.  These trails also connect to Mt. Lemmon and the Santa Catalina Mountains.  It is possible to hike through several different eco-zones; from lowland deserts up into the "sky island" forests of pine, fir and spruce trees.  This is the elevation equivalent of hiking from Mexico to Canada.  What a great way to train for an ACTUAL Mexico to Canada PCT thru-hike!

A relatively young Saguaro
On Sunday I chose to do a relatively short day-hike on Bear Canyon Trail, approximately 8 miles roundtrip, to start breaking in my new Vasque shoes and get my trail legs ready for longer training hikes.  It was beautiful weather for southern Arizona; low to mid-60's and wisps of clouds - perfect conditions for a winter desert hike.

Anywhere you look in Tucson you will see the Giant Saguaro cactus which grows exclusively in the Sonoran Desert.  The Sonoran Desert ranges from southwestern California across two-thirds of Arizona and down through northwestern Mexico, including parts of the baja peninnsula.  The Saguaro can live up to 200 years and grow up to 50 feet tall!


If you are not familiar with the Sonoran desert, you may be thinking - this doesn't look like a desert; where are the sand dunes?  Actually, the Sonoran desert is nothing like the Mojave or other dry deserts - The Sonoran has the greatest diversity of vegetative growth of any desert worldwide.  In addition to the familiar Giant Saguaro, some of the more common and distinctive plants you see are the many varieties of Barrel Cactus (see picture at the end of this post) and the Ocotillo.  The Ocotillo may look brown and leafless in the winter, but in the spring the plant leafs out and sprouts brilliant red conical flowers at the tip of each stalk which attract hummingbirds.  Most cactus have brilliant red, orange or white flowers that bloom in the spring or summer, and it is worth making a trip out here during the right time of year to catch these blooms.  The desert really does go through a dramatic metamorphosis in the spring and I hope to be able to post some spring scenery photos in my blog before heading to Campo, CA in April for my thru-hike.

The Bear Canyon Trail winds up into the canyon criss-crossing Bear Canyon Creek several times.  In case you had any doubts, there are flowing creeks in the Sonoran desert, and many flow practically year-round.  This creek is filled with rain-water from recent winter storms we had last week.

Bear Canyon Creek

At the end of the 4-mile trail I was rewarded with a series of desert waterfalls (thus the alternate trail name of Seven Falls Trail).  It was a little chilly to take a dip but on warmer days it is a great place for a picnic and a swim.

Two of the Seven Falls - click to see full size
As for me, I held up pretty well on this 8 mile hike.  After completing a marathon last December and from being an avid runner, I believe I have a good base level of cardio-fitness already.  My bigger concern is conditioning the specific muscles and tendons in my legs, ankles and the rest of my lower body that get abused on a long-distance hike.  If I can abuse them now, albeit slowly and with lots of rest in between, I think I'll stand a better chance of completing my thru-hike without any injuries or major inconveniences.  I will eventually work up to some longer day hikes - 15-20 miles - which are available by linking several trails in the Coronado National Forest.

Gear-wise, I have determined that I need insoles in my Vasque hiking shoes.  My feet tended to slide in my shoes too much (a half size too small?) and this agitated my big toe-nails which got jammed up into the toe-box too much.  It doesn't help that my toe-nails are already black due to a previous hike in eastern Arizona where I hiked through some recently burned-out forest covered in black-sooted burned down trees, and over major rock slides.  My Montrail soft trail-runners were no match against these conditions and I am surprised my toe-nails did not fall completely off!

Here are some additional photos of my Bear Canyon Trail hike.

Fishhook Barrel Cactus - do not use as a trail bench!
View down the canyon toward Tucson

Dead Saguaro - reminds me of that robot in Futurama


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PCT Northern Terminus

PCT Northern Terminus
On September 30, 2012 I reached the Northern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. Thanks to everybody who supported and followed my journey. It was a life-changing experience!