The climb up the south side of Mica Mountain was one of the more difficult parts of the trail that I remember from last year. In fact, it was one of the primary reasons I was toying with the idea of just picking up where I left off in 2015. It’s long, steep, brutally strenuous, and I simply wasn’t looking forward to it.
The day started off a bit chilly in the pretty desert canyon where the La Selvilla Campground is tucked away. Add to that some wet socks that didn’t quite dry out from the previous night and you’ve got my recipe for getting a slow start. Through all the unique and peculiar bird calls in every direction, I eventually found my way to getting a few things ready. Fortunately, I had procrastinated long enough for the sun to come out before I left. With everything packed up, I put my socks in the sun so they at least wouldn’t be too cold anymore.
I set off down the trail which winded through the remarkable desert canyon and out to the south end of the Rincon Valley. The weather was very pleasant all morning, allowing me to better enjoy a vast and wide view of Tucson in the distance. I also took this opportunity to call up Saguaro National Park and hopefully secure a permit for the Grass Shack Campground. Otherwise it would be a very short day.
I got the last spot available and headed down the long and winding trail through the beautiful desert habitat of the Rincon Valley. It had gotten warm but not hot, so the walking was very nice and complemented the multiple friendly mountain bikers I encountered really well. The valley itself is quite long though, so as enjoyable as it was, I was relieved when I finally came upon Rincon Creek. The creek is very close to the end of the passage, leading into the Saguaro National Park passage.
I stopped at Rincon Creek where it had warmed up a bit and used the opportunity to get plenty of hydration before beginning the climb up. While there, a mountain biker named Bill stopped and chatted with me and was eager to give lots of advice about the upcoming miles, to which I graciously listened.
Now in Saguaro National Park, the trail leads in anticipation toward the base of the mountains just a short distance away after having been looming on the horizon for so many days. I quickly entered a forest of mighty saguaro cactus, accented with palo verde trees, prickly pear cactus, ocotillo, and all the other famous Sonoran vegetation. Wildflowers decorated the base of the ancient giants, and though appearing to be nearing the end of their season, were still on spectacular display all over the landscape.
After some climbing and gawking, it was time for lunch. With the afternoon heat coming in, I would have preferred a shady spot, but those are hard to come by in the desert. A little creativity will yield something good enough though. I found a giant saguaro next to one side of the trail with a small rocky outcropping on the other side. The imposing stature of the saguaro provided just enough shade for me to enjoy. By the time I had finished my quick lunch, the sun had moved to the other side of the top stalk and was threatening to do away with my shade, so I gathered my things together and pressed on.
Up and up the trail went, sometimes challengingly steep, other times, not quite so steep. Along the way though the wind began to pick up with an encouraging ferocity that cooled me off with each blast. I could hear it whistling through the countless thorns on the saguaros for several seconds before the gust slammed into me.
With the straining climb came higher and higher views of the Rincon Valley. Soon Mount Wrightson, crown of the now distant Santa Rita Mountains, began poking above the closer hills through a thick veil of afternoon haze.
I was eventually in a familiar sight: high desert grasslands. Though unlike the previous grasslands, these had the towering green saguaros rising out of them. I had previously thought that saguaros could only survive at, or below 3,000 feet or so above sea level. Here though, many were pushing 4,000 or even 5,000 feet. Every time I had assumed that they were now all below me, I would reach another stronghold of the resilient vegetative beasts thriving high up on the mountainside. I suppose in a protected microcosm of a healthy ecosystem, their survival is a bit easier. And being on a large south facing slope certainly helps too.
At long last I reached the end of the Quilter Trail and connected with the Manning Camp Trail. The trail smoothed out, but then began climbing again. This pattern repeated multiple times, reaching a calm mesquite forest, where the trail began to cool down. This was partly thanks to a lower sun, and also a noticeably higher elevation.
And water! A small creek finally crossed the trail where I was able to rehydrate before one last strenuous push to Grass Shack.
The trail continued its relentless climb until finally leveling out before trending downward to the campground. I reached it with plenty of light left in the day, and met a couple of other people sharing the site. They were two volunteers for the park doing some maintenance to the site. Thank you!
I got dinner, patched what should be the last hole in my sleeping pad, and was glad to have relived that climb.