Sunday, December 22, 2013

Woolsey Peak

Woolsey Peak Hike/Climb
Woolsey Peak Wilderness
Gila Bend Mountains
Gila Bend, Arizona
Mileage - 6.3
Time - 4:02
AEG - 2,207ft

An extinct volcano topping out at 3,171 feet, Woolsey Peak rises abruptly from the desert floor in the Gila Bend Mountains, approximately 30 air miles from the Phoenix area.  The volcanic activity is evident from the shape of the mountain and polished black rock undergoing eons of weathering.  From a distance, Woolsey appears to blend in amongst the surrounding landscape until you draw near the base and see why it has a clean 2,000 feet of prominence.  At number 63 on the Arizona prominent peak list, Woolsey is a notable climb for anyone looking for a little off-trail adventure. 

The trend continued as I found myself faced with another trail-less mountain to climb, beginning this one with a basic topographic map and my own intuition leading the way.  It was quite difficult finding anyone to break away from the holiday chaos/commitments to get out for a hike.  Luckily my good friend Wally was available on Saturday with his 4WD Jeep to venture across BLM lands into the Woolsey Peak Wilderness.  We started our trek by hiking across the barren desert floor and up a drainage towards the Northern slope.  I read a few trip reports describing the steep scree fields and loose boulders going up the hillside and they were in no way exaggerated.  The final mile up the mountain gained roughly 1,500 feet and took us close to an hour.  As tough as it sounds, the hike was really quite fun.  If last weekend's trip to Black Mountain was a zero, I would give this one a seven or eight out of ten.

Woolsey Peak - 3,171ft


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Black Mountain - Oak Wells

Black Mountain Hike
Pinal County, Arizona
Mileage 5.43
Time - 3:38
AEG - 2,100ft

Last weekend I took the "back roads" to Tucson from Chandler for the marathon.  I did this for two reasons: It was faster, and I wanted to get a closer look at Black Mountain (and the roads accessing the area).  The only reason this one is on the radar is because of the prominence list.  Otherwise, I may have never hiked it.

Searching online for information about this hike yielded no results.  The only information I found came from a vague recreation map and topo maps from  From my understanding, no trails or routes to the peak exist.  We made our own.  The mileage doesn't seem like much, nor does the elevation gain.  The greatest obstacle was vegetation.  Getting to the summit became an off-trail nightmare filled with small forests of jagged catclaw, Spanish dagger, cholla and sharp grasses.  When the steep hillsides became less choked out, the more exposed areas were covered in a mine field of prickly and loose rock.  Two hours later we reached the peak.  If the winds weren't wipping at 40 mph, we may have taken some time to check out the 360 degree view, which may arguably be the best in Southern Arizona.  We didn't seem to care.  Instead, I took shelter and picked cactus needles out of my hands, shins and feet.  A couple minutes later Matt and I examined the mountainside to the East in search of the easiest path for our return. 

When we finally escaped the brush and found the car I asked Matt, "On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate this hike?"  His response was "Is one the lowest, or can I give it a zero?"  We both laughed pretty hard at that!  When I said I may have never hiked Black Mountain other than being the 85th most prominent peak in Arizona, it was now for completely different reasons. 

Black Mountain Summit - 5,580ft

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tucson Half Marathon

Holualoa Tucson Marathon & Half
Oro Valley, Arizona
Mileage - 13.1
Time - 1:13:45
AEG - 100ft
Pace - 5:36/mile
Place - 2nd Overall

I couldn't have asked for a better race to close out 2013, the Tucson half marathon was hands down the most exciting event all year!  A tight race start to finish with a dramatic ending left me feeling on top of my game after coming back from behind to capture that second place spot!

Lets go back to the beginning.  Both races (marathon and half) are point to point requiring bus shuttle to the start, which meant waking up very early.  3:50am to be exact.  The forecast would definitely work in our favor once the race was underway, until that time an overcast sky with temps just above freezing and occasional flurries made things a bit uncomfortable in the morning hours.  My pre-race routine went well (2-mile warm up, water, gel, bathroom) and just before 7:00am I lined up amongst a solid field of runners.

Time to put my strategy into play; run the first mile conservative around a 5:45 pace. Check.  Tuck in behind a pack to block the 10-15mph winds. Check.  Next I would coast downhill at 5:30 pace until the hills showed up between miles 7 and 10.  Everything went according to plan.  The one thing I didn't count on was how long the six of us would stay together.  Driving the course on Saturday gave me an advantage knowing when the hills and turns arrived.  I continued to make moves to separate myself from the pack, still I could not shake anyone.  The miles ticked off way faster than I would have expected in a race this long, and suddenly myself and two other guys were neck and neck with only one mile to go.  Again, I couldn't create space.  Then, with less than a quarter mile, they pulled away from me.  I wasn't done.  My legs felt good enough to sprint and a final surge put me back in front coming into the finish gates.  What a rush!

A big thanks to race director Pam Reed for putting on another great race in Tucson. 

Awesome course view of the Catalina front range North of Tucson

Here area my race splits, the slower miles reflect hills.

1 -  5:42
2 -  5:35
3 -  5:32
4 -  5:31
5 -  5:28
6 -  5:29
7 -  5:43
8 -  5:35
9 -  5:36
10 -5:50
11 -5:45
12 -5:39
13 -5:34
13 -4:49

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Castle Dome Peak

Castle Dome Peak Hike
KOFA Wildlife Refuge
Yuma, Arizona
Mileage - 6.25
Time - 3:30
AEG - 2,206ft

Castle Dome Peak is a giant formation resting on top of the Castle Dome mountains in the KOFA Wildlife Refuge in Southwestern Arizona.  Rugged, remote and without question a seasonal hike (due to extreme heat), this part of the state sees little visitation outside of the winter months.  Matt and I had a change in plans this holiday weekend and Castle Dome was our second option in an attempt to summit a couple more prominent desert peaks.

The hike itself was really quite fun. Perhaps we were just relieved to finally be out of the car or it could have been the interesting scenery, or maybe it was that last hand over hand scramble to the top. I think it was simply being out in the mountains exploring a new area.  The first 1.5 miles flew by as we walked through a wash to find the first turn which would lead us up a scree field just below the 600-foot massive.  The next 1-mile section was the toughest part of the hike, both up and down (above right).  A steep grade and loose rock made us work hard and elevate my heart rate in a short amount of time. The final climb was great!  It offered a little bit of adventure without a great deal of exposure or technical sections.  Before we knew it, the summit was ours and we could check the 61st most prominent peak off the list.


Castle Dome Peak  summit (3,788ft) facing West toward California

Castle Dome Mining Museum with the peak dead center