Monday, April 6, 2015

Pusch It!

Saturday, April 4, 2015
Hiking to Pusch Peak

If you have ever been to Tucson or a surrounding area, you've probably seen the Catalina Mountains before. They're North of Tucson, stretch across a good portion of land, and have many peaks and canyons. We've hiked up several of these peaks, like Cathedral, Kimble, and Window, and we have hiked through a few of the canyons, like Pima and Sabino. We've driven up to Mt. Lemmon, the highest peak, a handful of times. But there was one very prominent peak that we had never hiked to: Pusch. The shortest one.

Poor Pusch. We were knocking it before we tried it. From everything we had heard, this hike wasn't even on an official trail, and it just runs straight up the mountain rather than being considerate enough to bring you there gradually. Given, this makes it less than 5 miles, but those miles are killer. It seemed silly to put that much effort in for a peak that only wishes it was as cool as the others. However, due to relentless peer pressure and a series of letterboxes, we finally gave in and decided to go for it.

I have to admit, letterboxing just hasn't been quite as appealing to me these days. It seems as though all the boxes being planted around us are drive-bys and require no effort or adventure. I'd much rather go on even a short hike to a box than go find ones that are sitting around in a park or behind a building. Originally, letterboxing was the only way to get me to go hiking, but now the tables have turned and the only way I'll letterbox is if it's on a hike!

However, the series that we found on the trails today was excellent, and they really were the highlight of this trail! (No offense Pusch.)

Another highlight of this hike to mention before I get to the not-so-fun parts: Spring has sprung, and the desert is blooming all around. There's no way anyone can deny that the desert is colorful and gorgeous this time of year. I especially love these flowers that grow off of cacti. How can a dry and hot desert plant produce such beauty?!

And here we come to the fun part. We were hiking on the Linda Vista loop trail, and at about the halfway point, we came to the "Trail" that leads up to Pusch. I use the word trail very lightly, almost sarcastically. This isn't a trail. If there's a sign that says this isn't a trail, don't do it. Definitely don't expect it to be a pleasant, leisurely stroll. Brace yourself for steep, questionable, and potentially dangerous situations.

They say you never know what you've got until it's gone - and that saying rings true for switchbacks. We complain about how steep or annoying switchbacks are while hiking up, but when we come to a trail that literally goes straight up a mountain, we find ourselves longing to take a more gradual way up, even if it means adding a mile or two to the hike. Pusch mercilessly takes you up a steep, rocky trail. Sometimes it's like gravel, and the rocks slide underneath your feet, other times it's a slick rock trail, and for a few glorious steps we would get a break from the steepness and rockiness and enjoy a brief period of dirt trail.

Sometimes, the hardest part isn't making it up these steep sections - the hardest part is knowing that you have to come back down through the slick parts. There was one part where we had to rock climb up a 10 foot drop. We took many breaks on the way up, usually using "the view" as an excuse to stop and look.

It wasn't all bad though - we were hiking with friends Mitch and Julianna, and together we all commiserated and persevered through the painful trail. Mitch had done this trail several times already, which helped out a lot as he was able to know where the trail was leading when it was difficult to follow. I was especially glad to have Julianna there too, because even as cool as these guys are, it's way more fun to hike with another girl! :) And I guess I should mention that I am always so appreciative of Curtis on hikes. He's so supportive and considerate, he helps me up or down when I need it, and I always feel safe with him. Because of these wonderful people, the hike was still enjoyable, and we had great conversations the whole morning!

Signs of man here - see the small remains of a dam in the distance?

Here's a look at the trail. Maybe it's not easy to tell, but it is going straight up. Yay.

Facing Northwest, with the Tortilitas in the background

The very last part of the trail to the peak was so easy, it was ridiculous. We turned off the "trail" that went on to Bighorn Mountain, and took the spur trail to Pusch Peak. We took off our backpacks and took in the view. 

Facing Northeast, at the North side of the Catalina mountains.

Like I said before, Pusch is the Westernmost peak in this mountain range, and stands thousands of feet below other peaks in the Catalinas. The trail gained 2000 miles over less than 2 miles, leaving us at a measly 5,361 feet above sea level. Still, the view from the top was unique and impressive, and gave a great look at Tucson, North of Tucson, and all the other peaks in the rest of the Catalina Mountain range.

Facing West, toward Tucson Mountain Park

Facing South, to the Santa Rita Mountains and Tucson

Zoomed in on our city :)
East, toward the rest of the Catalina Mountains

We stayed up at the peak for nearly an hour - long enough to forget about the difficult downhill hike we still had to do! The sky had a good cloud cover, which not only made it cooler, but also made the views even prettier. We ate and took lots of pictures and enjoyed not hiking. :)

Julianna and I! :)

Our happy hiking group!

Some cool living things we saw at the top were the swallows. They were soaring all over, and made a fun "zoom!" noise when they flew right past us. We also saw a couple hummingbirds that came quite close to us.

The scary living things we saw was a swarm of bees! We were sitting there eating dehydrated fruits when suddenly, we heard this loud buzzzzing noise! "Get down!" said Mitch, and we all ducked close to the ground, hiding the fruit. It was scary, but also cool, as we were able to see the swarm moving from one place to another. They passed by and we relaxed. We survived...little did we know, this was only round one. Us 1, bees 0.

We started to head back when it was close to 1. Just as we expected, going down was just as difficult as coming up. We took each step cautiously as to not slide down the rocks. I used Curtis many times to step down from tall drop offs. 

We were nearing the end of the "not a trail" section when we heard it again - more bees! It all happened too quickly - one stung Curtis before we could even react. They were swarming around him, and he took off running to get away while the rest of us dropped to the ground again. Then Mitch suddenly said in a panicked voice, "Oh crap, these are killer bees! We need to run!" Julianna and I both did as he said, now terrified. Killer bees? KILLER? That's just a word, right? They don't actually KILL you, right?? These are the thoughts that flashed through my mind as we ran down the steep incline. Just seconds ago, each step was careful and deliberate, now we were running as fast as we could down the slick rock without even a second thought. We kept going till we reached Curtis, and no more buzzing could be heard.

Mitch then explained what happened: These weren't your ordinary bees, they were Africanized Bees (misnomered Killer Bees). These bees are a hybrid of the Western honeybees, first introduced to Brazil in the 1950's to increase honey production, but they escaped captivity in 1957 and have since moved all over, from South America, to Central, and finally North America in 1985. They're currently mostly found in the Southern states of the US. 

What makes these more dangerous than your typical bee is that they are much more aggressive and protective of their hive. They have assigned "Sentry bees" that swarm around the hive to protect it, and if anyone comes near, they attack. They start by "head-butting" anyone who comes too close, then follow that up by stinging. Once one has stung, the others will sense that and all swarm to sting that same area. There have been many recorded deaths even in the US. Mitchell knew all of this, and he said when we were lying on the ground waiting for them to pass, he saw them start head butting Julianna and I, and knew right then that we had to get out of there.

God was certainly watching out for us on this hike - it was a miracle that we only got away with one sting, and thank God that Curtis didn't have any sort of allergic reaction! He hadn't ever been stung before, so we had no idea how he would react to it. According to Mitch, he's never seen anyone have as little of a reaction than Curtis did. Mitch had a first aid kit and was able to remove the stinger, and we were able to continue on. Praise God!

Well, running away from the bees made that last part of the "not a trail" section go by quickly, and before we knew it, we were back on the Linda Vista trail. We found the last letterboxes in the series before calling it a day and making it back to our Jeeps. Oh, but we did happen to hear the buzzzzzing one more time, and saw another swarm. We escaped that one without too much of a scare - Us 2, bees 1.

Because of the bees on this hike, we warn anyone in AZ who might want to do this hike to wait until later in the fall. It's only going to get worse over the summer, and it isn't safe at all with their hive being somewhere along the trail! We emailed forest services to let them know of the potential danger. Just hiking the Linda Vista loop trail should be fine though. 

Also, I don't understand why anyone would want to hike on the "not a trail" to Pusch anyway, so just go hike any other trail in the Tucson area. Really. ;)

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