Sunday, January 1, 2012

Running from Sabino Canyon to Prison Camp

I got this crazy idea in my head to do a point-to-point trail run as my long run over the weekend. Looking at my maps, it was possible to run from Sabino Canyon to Prison Camp (Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site) on Mt. Lemmon, just past milepost 7 on Catalina Highway. So I filled my hydration pack with water and snacks, and coordinated some shuttling with Zac. He would drop me off at Sabino Canyon and drive my Jeep up to Prison Camp and leave it at the trailhead. He would then ride his mountain bike down, enjoying the Prison Camp to Molino Basin portion of the AZ Trail and the road down. I've realized, endurance runners and downhill mountain bikers should partner up more often. Endurance runners want to go up the mountains and have cars waiting for them, and downhill mountain bikers want to start at the top and head down.

At 10:30 AM I started my run at the bottom of the road in Sabino Canyon. It was a good thing Zac was dropping me off because the parking lot was packed with snowbirds and holiday visitors. And since it was past 9 AM, the evil trams were running.

(Click photos to enlarge).

I've been running Sabino Canyon on a weekly basis, but this time I had my camera with me. Thimble Peak is a common sight in the canyon, but would be an important landmark for my crazy run in the mountains today.

The warm December temperatures have led to lower elevation snowmelt and lots of water flowing in Sabino Creek. The last bridge was overflowing with water, and kids were squealing and people were trying to avoid getting their shoes wet. I ran right through the middle of the water. I figured my trail shoes were going to be in and out of water throughout the day anyways. Besides, a good trail run always involves the 5 elements: earth, air, fire, water, and blood.

I reached the last hill on the paved road of the canyon and was caught by the evil trams.

This was truly unfortunate timing. By the time I reached the turnaround of the paved road, two tramloads of people had been let out. There were people everywhere, including on the switchbacks leading up to the Sabino Canyon and Phoneline trails. I had to do a lot of hiking to pass all of the tourists that would stop in the middle of the trail without warning.

Road, switchbacks, and Phoneline Trail.

Finally I reached the trail intersection. Today's destination, the East Fork Trail (#24A), which is also part of the Arizona Trail.

This is the climb up the Sabino Canyon trail. I took this picture knowing The Dark Warrior would appreciate it. That would be the trail skirting along the cliff.

Looking back at Sabino Canyon and the paved road I had climbed earlier.

A view of "what's around the corner." Sabino Creek in the middle of the picture, and the trail would wander through the hills.

Running the trail, with Sabino Canyon down below.

Had to get a shot with the saguaro in the background.

My final parting view of Sabino Canyon before disappearing into the hills.

At this point, the trail is descending down to the creek below. Sometimes this isn't a good sign, because that means climbing back UP from the creek.

I reached the intersection of the East Fork and West Fork trails, which are designated as part of the AZ Trail. I had never done this section of trail before, and because it's within the wilderness boundary, I can only trail run it (no mountain bikes in wilderness). I would continue on and take the East Fork.

Box Camp Trail is a future training trail run goal of mine. This will have to happen much later in the year after a lot more training. This trail comes out on Catalina Highway by Spencer Peak, around milepost 22ish.

Starting the climb on the AZT out of the creek bed.

Palisades Trail is another future training run option, with this trail ending at the Palisades visitor center.

More climbing on long, winding switchbacks on the East Fork Trail.

At the top of the switchbacks, the trail became a bit of a catwalk on the side of the cliff.

Still running, with the Palisades Trail on the hillside in the background.

I had just run around the rocky crag in the shadows, which became a landmark later on.

This was the intersection with the Bear Canyon Trail. This can be taken back to Sabino Canyon to make one large loop. At this point the trail changed names to the Sycamore Reservoir Trail.

I had run part of the Sycamore Reservoir Trail before, and at this point the memories were getting jumbled and I got my trail saddles confused. Turns out the saddles look very familiar, except there's an additional 2 miles to go! I hit a few unmarked trail splinters, so had to rely on trail sense to figure out which way to go. When in doubt, I followed horse tracks. Prison Camp has a huge horse trailer parking section, so that's the only direction they could have come to get on the trail. Since my Jeep was at Prison Camp, I followed the horse tracks.

This would be the widest creek crossing that I'd have to make all day. I wandered downstream until I found a shallower section.

Crazy fungus. I swear I didn't sample these on the trail!

This was the Sycamore Creek area of the trail. The brush was too overgrown and dead to make it to the reservoir itself, so instead I stayed on the trail.

Ugh! 2 additional miles! These were by far the hardest miles because of the amount of climbing, and it was at the end of my long route.

As I climbed out of Sycamore Creek, I caught this view of Thimble Peak. I was now viewing it from the other side from where I started that morning.

As a reference point, this is the Thimble Peak vista point on Catalina Highway.

I climbed, and climbed, and climbed some more. The climbing up to the next saddle was relentless. In the shade, old snow and ice was still present but starting to melt.

Finally I reached the top of the saddle and the AZT marker!

This was the view from the AZT marker of the area I had traveled. The rocky crag that I had gone around is the shady spot in the middle in the distance. I had gone around that and through the hills to the left.

And looking over the other side of the saddle, this was the distance I had left to go. The trail continues down through the valley and in between the grassy hill and rocky mountain.

I crossed the creek about 20 times on my way to the parking area. I emerged at the trailhead, happy to find my Jeep left by Zac waiting for me. One last check of the hydration pack, and I had about 2 sips of water left. 3 hours 43 minutes moving time (4.5 hrs total elapsed time), 11.8 miles, and 6000 feet of climbing.

My GPS track overlayed on the topo map via TopoFusion. Green is flatter compared to red as far as climbing goes. The climb at the end (in red) was so much that it made the Sabino Canyon road (in green) appear flat!