Butterfly Trail, Mt Lemmon, AZ

Now that I'm back on track, ready to start my big hike in less than two (TWO?!?!) weeks I needed a good hike on my day off. Mt Wrightson seemed the obvious choice and I haven't tackled it since it kicked my butt a few months ago but I didn't want to travel too far from Tucson, plus the monsoons have been rolling in and I didn't want to get caught in a storm at 9,000 feet. (Although now that I think about it, that's a very real scenario of what I might have to deal with that in the Sierras.)

I wanted to hit Humphreys in Flagstaff before my big hike but they were still battling the Museum Fire a couple weeks ago so that was a no go. I figured I'd do another loop through the Wilderness of Rocks, my go to this summer, when a coworker suggested hiking Butterfly Trail. I haven't hiked Butterfly Trail since my first summer in Tucson, two years ago. I looked it up on AllTrails and was excited to realize that it was the good, long hike I was looking for. 10 miles out and back with almost 4,000 feet of elevation gain. Heck yes!

We got an early start and were on the trail by 7:15am. Immediately the trail drops down, down, down. Through pine trees and ferns. We soon realized that this was going to be an interesting hike seeing how overgrown the trail was. We weren't only battling over grown ferns and prickly plants, the fresh spider webs crossing the trail were also making the hike interesting! I spent the first couple miles with my trekking poles held out in front of my face to get the silky strings. Sorry, spiders for ruining your artwork.

The original plan was to hike to Novio Falls, look for the airplane crash debris and then we were going to part ways, me to finish the out and back trail, and my coworker to head back to the trailhead. He was going to find a good car camping spot to enjoy his day off on the mountain. We were both feeling good after we found the crash debris so we decided to keep hiking together.

After Novio Falls the trail begins to climb up, up, up. The elevation gain on AllTrails looked intense. I couldn't remember much about the trail since it had been so long since I hiked it. The trail kept climbing and so did I. Normally by now I would be stopping and trying to catch my breath but I felt so strong! I had a good groove and it felt great to feel strong after my week of doubting myself. I can do this!

Even though it was cooler up the mountain it was the most humid weather I've hiked in here in Arizona. The air felt heavy and I was sweating more than usual. The 25 pound pack I was carrying also might have had something to do with it. 

We kept hiking and hiking, rounding the side of the ridge when we finally saw the radio towers on top of Mt Bigelow. We're almost there! Not quite. The trail wraps around the side of a ridge and then climbs up some switchbacks until you finally reach the trail junction. Then there's another quick climb to get to the top of the control road at the top of Mt Bigelow. While going up the switchbacks we decided we did not want to go back down Butterfly trail and deal with the overgrown trail going the other way. 

Instead, we walked the control road down to an unofficial mountain biking/hiking trail I know of and followed that back to the Sunset Trailhead, right across Catalina Highway from the Butterfly Trailhead where our cars were parked. The unofficial trail was nice and shaded, a welcomed break from the sun. Although by this point the clouds had started to roll in and thunder was booming overhead warning us that we need to get back to the car!

We met a nice man doing some unofficial trail work on the mountain bike trail, fixing some turns and trying to redirect traffic to help restore vegetation. Since this isn't an official trail, it isn't marked on any map and there is no official organization that maintains it, even though it's been here for almost 20 years. With no official trail crews to help, trails can deteriorate fast and trails used by mountain bikes can get torn up very quickly. I was so thankful for this man volunteering his time to help make this area beautiful for others. It was a good reminder that I need to look into another volunteer trail work day. 

Thankfully the rains held off until we made it back to our cars. My AllTrails app said we hiked 9.5 miles gaining 2,500 ft in elevation so it wasn't the big hike I wanted but I still felt great! It was a huge relief to feel this good after doubting myself last week. I don't have another big hike planned before I leave so it was good to end my training on a high note.

The next time I put on my hiking boots it will be at the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead in California!

Butterfly Trail

Date hiked: August 5, 2019

Total miles: 9.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,500 feet

Total time: 6 hours 15 minutes

Land Acknowledgement: Ancestral lands of the Tohono O'odham

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