Guide books list more than 700 climbs in areas just outside Tucson, Arizona, making it an excellent spot to test your skills.
During the winter months, most climbers look forward to conquering glaciers or trekking up a 10,000 ft peak to snowboarding down the other side. But some climbers head west to Tucson, Arizona, when weather conditions are perfect and the climbing offers scenic views that can’t be found anywhere else.
One of the best spots that many locals venture to is Mt. Lemmon. The area is about a hour’s drive from Tucson and is covered in rock pillars and pinnacles that offer excellent places to test the skills of beginners to advanced climbers. The area is higher in elevation so temperatures are typically cooler than in downtown Tucson. Nevertheless, locals recommend to bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
From the center of Tucson, take Broadway Blvd. that runs through the center of town and head east. It hooks up with North Houghton Road that takes you north where you go northeast on Catalina Highway. Continue northeast and the road turns into East Mt. Lemmen Highway where you’ll come across Windy Point, where you’ll see lots of rock pillars that jut out from a lush forest. The area is about 6,6500 feet above sea level and as you reach the main parking area at Windy Point, you come to Hitchcock Pinnacle.
This 60 foot tower is narrow at the base and expands to a wider head shaped rock at the top. The route is rated at 5.8 and because it’s a popular climb in the area, the granite face is well worn but still fun to do and has plenty of good holds. Just a few minutes walk from Hitchcock Pinnacle is an area called the Practice Cliff. It’s one side of a rock peninsula that stretches outwards towards the desert. Here the routes are long, about 50-60 feet with some overhangs, roofs and dihedrals. The routes here range from 5.6 to 5.10 and there’s a solid top-rope anchors at the top of the cliff.
There’s lots of other climbing areas all along the Mt. Lemmon highway but the greatest concentration is at Windy Point. Consider Squeezing the Lemon, A Rock Climbers Guide to the Mt. Lemmon Highway, by Eric Richard Fazio as a good guide to the area. The locals also recommend to bring a headlamp in case you get caught after dark as the area gets very dark after sunset. There’s also cactus and sharp plants on the approach to some of these climbs. It’s best to wear proper approach shoes instead of sandals, and bring a jacket as the temperatures can drop towards the end of the day.
The climbs in the Mt. Lemmon area are located within the Santa Catalina mountains, which is in the Coronado National Forest. For more information on the area, visit http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado/