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Baboquivari Peak - sacred peak of the Tohono O'odham Nation

My first big adventure since moving to Arizona was climbing Baboquivari Peak near the Tohono O'odham reservation last year.

My friend and coworker Dave has climbed Baboquivari Peak hundreds of times. It's one of his favorite peaks and it's a bit of a tradition at work to go to the summit with Dave. One day in January of 2018 Dave was talking about wanting to go up again and immediately my friend Brianna and I spoke up and asked to tag along. At the time I had no clue what I had signed up for, I just knew it would be my first big, full adventure day, including hiking 3,000+ feet in elevation followed by a three pitch climb to the summit.

Baboquivari Peak is a distinct peak in the Sonoran Desert. You can clearly see it from the other peaks around Tucson and especially when driving down Catalina Highway while looking southwest of the city. Waw Kiwulik (in the native language) is sacred to the Tohono O'odham Nation. The peak is the home of their creator, I'itoi who is believed to reside in a cave at the base of the mountain. The peak used to be included in the nation's reservation however it is now administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

I believe in the importance and necessity of recognizing the native land we are living and recreating on. I encourage you to learn more about the first peoples of the Sonoran Desert, specifically the Tohono O'odham.

From the Tohono O'odham Nation's website:

"The Tohono O’odham Nation is a federally-recognized tribe that includes approximately 28,000 members occupying tribal lands in Southwestern Arizona. The Nation is the second largest reservations in Arizona in both population and geographical size, with a land base of 2.8 million acres and 4,460 square miles, approximately the size of the State of Connecticut. Its four non-contiguous segments total more than 2.8 million acres at an elevation of 2,674 feet."

I also believe it is important to give back when recreating on native land. Some organizations to consider donating to include Tohono O'odham Community Action and Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

The plan was to meet at Dave's house at 4:00am which meant I set my alarm for 3am. When setting my alarms I did not mess around! It took a good hour before we turned off the highway onto the dirt road that led to the trailhead.

The road conditions were pretty gnarly so we decided to park about a mile from the trailhead and ride mountain bikes the rest of the way. The last time I rode a bike was when I lived in Chicago. My poor road bike had been neglected as I'd been choosing to hike rather than bike on my days off. Another friend lent me her mountain bike so I could keep up with Dave and Brianna but that was not the case. Public Service Announcement: mountain biking is NOT like road biking. At 6:00am my leg muscles were so not ready for a little mile ride on a gnarly dirt road! Biking that mile, with a 30lb pack on my back, in the dark, with only a headlamp to light my way, was not a great first introduction to this long 12 hour day. I immediate felt like I'd bitten off more than I could chew. Though somehow I did make it to the trailhead and I wouldn't have to worry about getting on that bike for at least another 10 hours. 

After we locked up our bikes we headed up Thomas Canyon. Dave set up cairns the previous weekend to help make route finding easier. We still managed to get lost a time or two but overall we found our way up through thickets of catclaw, tall grasses, a few prickly pear cactus, and eventually made it to the saddle. We were already behind schedule, mostly due to my slower hiking pace. It had taken us four hours to get to the saddle when we were planning for three hours. I felt bad. We had a tight schedule otherwise we'd be hiking out in the dark which we wanted to avoid. I tried to stay positive but I was feeling like I was bringing down the group.

We took a quick break at the saddle and switched out our bigger packs for our smaller packs so we could continue the scramble and 5th class climb to the summit. To get to Pitch #1 we had to cautiously climb up a steep, rocky, talus slope. Honestly this was freaking me out more than the thought of the climbing pitches. I kept my footing and just focused on the next place I was going to put my feet. We made it to the notch and Dave took the lead, setting up the rope for me and Brianna to get up. We made it up easy, peasy. On to the next pitch!

Pitch #2 was more of a steep sloping ramp. Grade wise all the pitches are about 5.5 or 5.6 with plenty of hand and foot holds. Once again Dave set up the top rope and got up to the next spot. We hiked around the corner (in our climbing shoes) and made it to Pitch #3, the ladder pitch. This is the tallest of the three pitches at 70 feet. I'm happy to say that I climbed clean on every pitch! After we all safely made it up we switched back into our hiking boots and hiked up the last quarter mile to the summit. We made great time climbing up the pitches and made up for the longer hike. At almost 12:00 pm on the dot we made it to the summit!

I was in awe that I'd made it to the top. This was hard! But I still did it! We soaked up the summit, taking pictures of the views and of ourselves, and leaving our gifts for I'itoi. We wrote our names in the register, took in a few more minutes and then had to get back down so we had enough day light to hike out. It was hard leaving that summit, my first hard summit in Arizona! It was an incredible feeling.

We rapped each pitch quickly, scrambled back down to the saddle, and then began our hike out. My legs were shaking from exhaustion on the hike down. Once again I was having a hard time keeping up with the quick pace of Dave and Brianna. I was getting teary eyed in frustration with myself but I tried to be mindful to stay calm, enjoy this day, and be grateful for this beautiful adventure. We made it back through the brambles and catclaw and back to the trailhead.

I was spent. Whew, it was over (I thought)! Then I realized that I had to ride the bike for that last mile, on shaky, exhausted legs. My spirits sank. As we all set off together I quickly lagged behind, hardly able to keep the bike upright. I couldn't pedal the uphills so I had to walk my bike up the hill, then ride it down each hill, hoping I wouldn't lose control. I was too hesitant on the downward slopes and the bumps in the dirt road and that hesitation caused me to fall off my bike more than a handful of times.  I was so frustrated and tired and my sit bones were not happy with me and my heavy pack made everything harder. I eventually gave up riding the bike, fearing I would really hurt myself, and I started walking the bike back to the truck. This had been an amazing day and I couldn't even fully finish it without more tears and frustration. I tried to give myself some grace but I was physically exhausted. And once again I felt like I was letting my group down by being the weakest link. Dave and Brianna were great cheerleaders and encouraged me all along the way. I just couldn't get out of my head.

At 5:45pm, almost 12 hours later, we made it back to the truck and turned around to look at Baboquivari Peak. We were just up there! What an absolutely incredible day. This peak will always be special to me and I will always encourage the people who want to hike and climb it to also do their research about whose land we are recreating on.  

Baboquivari Peak via the Forbes Route

Date hiked: February 11, 2018

Total miles: 8.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,350 feet

Total time: 12 hours

Land Acknowledgement: Ancestral lands of the Tohono O'odham 

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