Originally this post was going to be about hiking Mount Wrightson for the 4th time and comparing it to the first time I hiked it and how hard and impossible it felt then and how now I can do it no problem and although it's still a difficult hike I can easily hike it on a whim.
However, that was not my experience hiking it for the 4th time yesterday. It sucked. I was struggling for most of the hike, both uphill and downhill. I was frustrated. I wanted to quit and turn around before reaching Baldy Saddle. I wanted to call a SAR helicopter to come get me (I'm joking, mostly). It was not the hike I anticipated but as I've been learning, it's the hike that I needed.
Let me start from the beginning..
Yesterday was my friend Nick's birthday and to celebrate he wanted to hike Mount Wrightson, the tallest peak around Tucson at 9,456 feet. His girlfriend/my friend Julia and myself were joining him and at 9am we set off from the trailhead out of Madera Canyon. The entire trail is uphill with steep, rocky sections and lots of switchbacks. We were going up the Old Baldy trail which gains 4,000 feet in 5 miles. This trail is difficult however I've completed it several times so I figured it would be a challenge but definitely a doable one.
I felt good that morning and as we started to climb the first 2.5 miles up to Josephine Saddle I could feel my muscles waking up and I felt like this was going to be a good hike. I remember the first time I hiked Wrightson with my friend Kathy, those first few miles I was so slow, stopping a lot to catch my breath, trying to figure out what I had gotten myself into. There are some spots where I have distinct memories of feeling like I was never going to finish this hike, and I was only 2 miles in! There's a grouping of rocks where I specifically remember beating myself up that first time on trail, thinking that I was so weak and I couldn't do this, that I'd bitten off more than I could chew. Now hiking past those places I smile and think of how far I've come!
We made it to Josephine Saddle and took a quick break. While at the saddle we chatted with some other hikers who had hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. Nick hiked the entire trail in 2015 and it was fun to hear their stories. We finished our snacks and set off for the next, harder section of trail. I notoriously hit a mini wall after this Saddle, probably due to the snacking and the blood going to my stomach instead of to my muscles. Typically by the time I hit the switchbacks I'm in a good groove but yesterday I could not find that groove no matter how hard I tried. I hit a big wall. Nick and Julia had hiked up ahead of me and I was getting progressively slower and slower, falling further and further behind. Every switchback was hell and my legs felt like lead. And I could feel every single rock poking through the soles of my broken down boots.
I finally made it to Baldy Saddle and was spent. I did not want to hike the last mile to get to the summit. I had already decided that I was okay not making it to the top. I was going to let the mountain win this time. Julia was feeling the same way. But Nick, ever the optimist, insisted that, "it's less than a mile! We're almost there! It's my birthday!" I snarkily responded that, "um, no, it's 0.9 miles to the top, that's basically a mile. I don't think I can go any further. Plus we still have to go down!"
Eventually the Birthday Boy won and we trudged up that last 0.9 mile to get to the top. The only good part was the fact that there was still snow up there! We even had to put our spikes on to get over some stretches of snow and ice.
Finally, FINALLY, we made it to the summit. And my legs were dead. It hurt to squat on a rock to drink my summit beer and eat my PB&J. I finally had to just lay down and take a little snooze on the summit. We stayed for a good hour and a half and realizing that we were going to be late for Nick's birthday festivities that evening, we started our hike down. I knew the hike down was going to be just as hard, and now that we were really running behind schedule I felt the pressure to hike down fast.
(Baboquivari Peak peeking out there in the middle)
I'm not a fast hiker so this was another challenge. I didn't want to hold up the rest of the group but I also didn't want to hike too fast and potentially hurt myself, I've done that before. With my knees hurting from the constant pounding down the steep switchbacks and my ankles feeling swollen from twisting over the loose rocks, I knew I'd be hurting the next day. We met up again at Josephine Saddle and made our way back to the trailhead.
No matter how many times I hike the Old Baldy Trail, I swear the last two miles feel like the longest miles ever. Two miles should go by fairly quickly, especially hiking downhill but that trail goes on and on and on, with no good landmarks to let you know how much further you have to go. It's killer when you just want to be DONE.
There is one spot with a great view back up at the summit. I always like to pause there, look up at Mount Wrightson and marvel at the fact that I was just up there!
Although this hike sucked, I'm glad it sucked because I think I was getting a little too confident in my hiking abilities. I've been fairly lucky with my health and strength and I've been able to stay physically fit just by hiking. I don't actively go to the gym. I don't actively do any kind of strength training. But I need to start doing those things if I'm going to be strong enough to hike the John Muir Trail this summer. I won't always be able to just jump up and hike a mountain. I need to be more serious about my training and about building strength. I don't know if I would have come to this conclusion without this sucky hike, and for that I'm grateful for the pain and swollen knees I'm experiencing today.
Mount Wrightson via the Old Baldy Trail
Date hiked: March 31, 2019
Total miles: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,000 feet
Total time: 8 hours 45 minutes (1.5 hours at the summit)
Land Acknowledgement: Ancestral lands of the Tohono O'odham and Yaqui