Monday, February 8, 2016

Hike #51: Hunter Trail, Picacho Peak State Park

Length: 4 mile

Located directly on I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson, Picacho Peak is impossible to miss and amazingly easy to access (it's just feet from the interstate!) Picacho Peak is run by the state park department, which means there is an entrance fee - though it also means paved parking, restrooms, and well-marked trails.) Although the park had two trails leading to the top of the peak, the most popular (by far) is the short, but very challenging Hunter Trail.

The trail immediately begins as an upward climb (which is hardly surprising since the trail covers so much elevation in such a short length!) Fortunately, the first mile of the trail is little more than a set of stairs leading up the northeast face of the mountain (which also meant much welcome shade.) Just before the mile point, you reach a saddle, which feels likes it should be near the top - though in a cruel twist the trail descends nearly 250 feet straight down (with a guide wire to assist) before continuing around the southern face of the mountain.

Once you've rounded the mountain, you are exposed to full sun (which wasn't exactly a horrible thing in early February.) Unfortunately, this segment requires you to regain those 250 feet - plus many, many more! This segment also proved to be one of the most challenging since it required several near vertical climbs up rocky ridges, with nothing to assist except wire railings. (Bring gloves!) At least the views from this side of the mountain were quite spectacular!

Eventually, you arrive at the top of Picacho Peak for panoramic views of the desert below (and it was a view well-worth the climb.) From here, it is a difficult trek back down the mountain along the same trail. (Those cliffs were even harder to descend!) The good thing was that I was able to complete the hike far quicker than expected; all the books stated 4 hours, but I was down in less than 3 hours. Since I was done so quickly, I decided to add the short (1.4 miles) Calloway Trail that starts at the same points he Hunter Trail. Although this trail might have been impressive had I begun here, it was a little less impressive after having the better view from the peak's top.

To view more photos of Hunter Trail, click here.

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