A Night on Mt. Lemmon; or, Is Davis Spring Trail Just a Myth?

Pictograph Camp blog

The worst thing about hiking in the desert is that water weighs 8.3 pounds per gallon.

You would think that a pack for a nice short overnight trip should be light; 20 pounds, maybe more if you bring a lot of creature comforts.  Well add in enough water for for a man and his dog, and I somehow managed just under 60 pounds.  Shoot, our packs didn’t weigh much more than that for a week in Montana and that was in the winter with climbing gear and snowshoes!  With just under four gallons, my water alone weighed 30 pounds.  Add in too much food, a book, a stove with fuel, and a couple of other things I didn’t really need, and next thing you know I had a 60 pound pack.  I really need to work on that!

Where's that trail?

Where's that trail?

The Trail: I left Tucson for Mt. Lemmon Saturday morning.  I wanted to hike Molino Canyon up to Guthrie Mountain, but that route is very exposed and the temperatures were forecasted at 109F, so I decided to head further up Mt. Lemmon.  My plan was to take Butterfly Trail to Davis Spring Trail and loop back the second day on Knagge for a total of 13 or so miles.  I’ve already written about Butterfly Trail so I won’t repeat myself.  However, I should remind you that some sections of this trail are very steep and pretty tough with a heavy pack.  I made it to the Butterfly-Davis intersection in a leisurely two hours (3.2 miles) [N32 35.8 W110 42.9].  My plan was to hike another 3.3 miles to Araster Spring.  Unfortunately, the Davis Spring Trail was impossible to follow after the first 1/4 mile.  This section of the trail is obviously not well travelled or maintained.  In the end, I just took a compass bearing and headed off cross country.  Now I love bush whacking, but this is not for the faint of heart or easily disoriented.  The woods and underbrush are very dense on the back side of Mt Lemmon and I ended up cutting across several drainages.  Up and down we went.  Saja looked at me more than once, as if to say, “Are you out of your mind?”  It took me an hour to cover the next mile.  We found ourselves on a wooded ridgeline about 500′ above Pictograph Springs.  The valley looked beautiful with lush trees along the stream bed, but I knew I’d never reach Knagge trail at this rate and if I went down I’d just be adding 500′ back up onto the next day’s hike.  We had plenty of water so I set up camp where we were [N32 26.0 W110 42.2].  The trip back was just the reverse route (with a lot more uphill).

Nope.  No trail here either!

Nope. No trail here either!

Scenic Highlights:

Fern Fields – I love ferns and there are acres of dense fern thickets along Butterfly trail.

Novio Springs – This is a wonderful place to relax and kick off the shoes.  There is an old aircraft wreck in the area if you want to explore.

Davis Trail – Although the trail doesn’t seem to exist, there are some wonderful glens of cool, soft grass and complete solitude.

Davis Spring Valley – The watershed was very inviting from above and I would have loved to explore it.

Gear Thoughts:

– I don’t think I’ll take the stove on one night summer trips.  It’s an awful lot of weight for hot food when you are already too hot.

– Trekking poles are essential for off-trail travel.  I just bought a pair of Leki poles and I’m so glad I brought them.  I’ll do an article on trekking poles later.

– Candle lanterns are great!  My lantern is probably 30 years old and is one bit of weight I rarely regret.  One candle lasts for eight or more hours and fills the campsite with a nice warm glow.  Perfect for when a campfire is forbidden or just too much trouble.  I suppose the new LED lanterns are brighter, but it just isn’t the same.

– I need a new backpack.  I used one of my old military packs (I think it’s a London Bridge tactical pack).  It was designed for abuse like being thrown out of airplanes, so while it is damn near indestructible it is also very heavy.

OK, now what are we supposed to do?

OK, now what are we supposed to do?

Random Musings:

– Long pants are essential if you end up off the trail (like I tend to do).

– Arizona has a lot of bugs.

– Deer snorts and bear snorts sound a lot alike.  I wonder what that was?

– Everyone should know how to use a map and compass.

– Don’t pack your book under your water.  Condensation is just as bad as a leak.

– Waterproof matches are great, but if the striker doesn’t work then they are just little sticks with heads.

– Saja likes Logan Bread.

© 2009, The Desert Dog Journal. All rights reserved.

Filed Under: ArizonaDogs on the TrailMount LemmonSoutheastTrail ReportsTucson Trails

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About the Author: Tucson, AZ Realtor & Investor. My true passions however are hiking and whisky (although generally not at the same time). If you have a question about any of these just drop me a line!

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  1. Eric says:

    Desert Dog,

    Yesterday, Nov. 7, I journeyed to Davis Spring Trail. I found it and was able to follow for about a mile. It was very difficult to follow and dogs really helped. By the way, what possessed you to hike in the middle of July?

    • Desert Dog says:

      Hey, Eric,
      I just like to hike. Summer or winter doesn’t really matter. After some of the stuff I did in the military I just don’t think about it. Most of the time I worry more about the dog.

      Did you hike from Butterfly Trail or from the trail head on the east side of the mountains? From Butterfly I was able to follow it into the woods & along a ridgeline for a while, but lost it after about half a mile or so. Sounds like you did better than me.

      I spend a lot of time outside so I’ve learned what I can do and not do with the temps. With the altitude and all of the trees, it was only about 90F when I did this hike. Temperature really wasn’t much of a factor. That’s the beauty of Mt Lemmon in the Summer!

  2. Kat says:

    So true about the pants, Matthew! Even with jeans you pick up thorns and burrs bushwhacking in the Catalinas. Bushwhacking last February, we started up Molino Canyon, wrapped around Guthrie Mountain, and headed back along the AZ Trail. It was seven hours of rushing water, gorgeous scenery, tricky footing, and not a trace of other park visitors. When I showered that night, I found that my legs were as torn up as if I had been in shorts. Was finding new needles and thorns for the next few days. Definitely wear long pants!

    Love your blog! Give Saja a hug from me?

    • Desert Dog says:

      Your Molino trek sounds great. I plan to do that when it cools down a bit but will probably spend the night at Guthrie. Haven’t been up there yet to see what the fire has done.
      This winter was great for water! Reddington Pass had flowing water into April. Saja misses the water. Now she just rolls in the mud!
      Hope to see you on the trails!

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