Last weekend, Craig and I summited a mountain. It might not have been Everest (or involved any type of climbing), but this was our second attempt, and we were (are) super fucking proud to have made it to the top. Wasson Peak is the highest point in the Tucson Mountains at 4,687ft. From the Kings Canyon Trailhead, you will have an elevation gain of about 2,000ft.
Directions: From Tucson, head west on Speedway until you hit Kinney Rd. Then, turn right on Kinney. After you pass the Sonora Desert Museum on the left, you will see a parking area on your right. Park there for the Kings Canyon Trailhead.
Time: Round-trip it took us 4 hours, but more experienced hikers can, of course, do it quicker. If you are a beginner and are just hiking to the saddle (not the peak), plan for 2 hours round trip.
Remember: Always take plenty of water and sunscreen. This is the desert. I also recommend wearing layers. We started with jackets on at 9am, then shed our jackets for t-shirts as the sun was beating down on us, but as we climbed higher and it got cooler, we opted for jackets yet again.
The last time that we hiked this trail, we only made it to the saddle where Kings Canyon Trail meets up with the Sweetwater trail. To start with, we weren’t very experienced hikers at that point. But worse, Craig was still recovering from a nasty infection from food poisoning, and while we had thought he was okay to hike, we quickly realized that he was not! After finally making it back down, we stayed far away from this hike for a couple of years.
Since we are planning a big trip (and a pretty intense hike) into Havasupai in June, we decided we needed to challenge ourselves and hike to the top of Wasson Peak. And hike to the top we did!
The trail is well maintained and easy to follow. There are just a couple of places where you need to pay attention when the trail splits off from the wash (aka dry riverbed), but most of these junctures are accompanied by signs. The first part of the trail is pretty rocky until it spits you out into the sandy wash. From here, you will choose to either hike up the left side of the canyon or the right side. The faster but steeper hike is to your left. The easier but more meandering side is to the right. Of course, we went right. And if you don’t like the stair-stepper, I suggest you do the same.
As with most of the trails in Tucson, there are many inter-connecting routes to the top of Wasson Peak. We ran into a few people who took the Hugh Norris Trail, and some others who hiked the Sweetwater Trail. We took the Kings Canyon trail both times and haven’t attempted the others, so I can’t speak for those. All in all, while the hike to the top was difficult and required us to stop for a few breaks along the way, it wasn’t overly strenuous.
If you are a beginner, the saddle is a perfectly acceptable turn around point. You could also proceed down the other side of the canyon or down the Sweetwater trail. If you are planning to hike to the summit, take a few breaths at the saddle, and then the real ascent begins. We hiked from the saddle to the summit in about an hour, but we were also the slowest hikers on the trail!
As you hike up from the saddle, the trail is much steeper as it switches back and forth up the side of the mountain. I have a pretty healthy fear of heights, and struggled more with vertigo then with the physical aspect of the climb. Keep your eyes on the trail was my motto. In all reality, though, the trail is several feet wide the entire way up, and the drop-off is not that severe. So don’t be scared off if you, too, have a fear of heights. You can do this trail.
As we hiked the switchbacks, we frequently looked up to see the summit getting closer and closer. It urged us on. We were so close! But as we got higher and higher, the mountain revealed to us that the peak is not where we thought (and hoped) it was. As we looked up to what we thought was the peak, we could see a trail and specks of people heading East along the ridgeline to a higher peak. We quietly hoped that we didn’t really have to go that far. Then, around the corner, 3 seniors (mid-60’s?) were hiking down the trail towards us. As they got closer, Craig realized that one of them was a co-worker of his. We struck up conversation and made introductions. And with trepidation (I had to know!), I asked them which peak was THE peak. And of course, you know which one they pointed to. Seeing our disappointment and exhaustion, they encouraged us on by saying that we had already hiked the hard part – once you get to the ridgeline, it’s an easy cut across to the summit. Luckily, they were right! We pressed onwards, and at the ridgeline, we were so in awe and filled with excitement, it was a quick hike to the peak.
We enjoyed the view from the top and a snack of trail mix and fruit. The solitude added to our enjoyment as we were the only ones at the summit for a good 15 minutes before we were joined by 3 travelers from the Czech Republic (we know this only because they signed in on the register). I wonder how they decided to come to Tucson?
This hike was a beautiful accomplishment for us. What’s your goal hike?