Bear Canyon - Hutch's Pool - Sabino Canyon Loop

February 1-3, 2013

I have long been curious about lies above Seven Falls on the Bear Canyon Trail, but the 13-mile Bear Canyon-Sabino Canyon loop seemed is a daunting day hike. Dennis had the bright idea to spread the hike over three days and add a night at Hutch's Pool, and we were delighted when fellow Tucson Backpackers Tom, Noreen and Paul decided to join us.

The week before the trip found Tucson deep in an extended cold snap, with heavy rains and nightime lows in the 20s. But it warmed up just in time, and we enjoyed three days of absolutely perfect weather.

The stream was running strong after last week's rain, and we rock-hopped across it several times on our way to Seven Falls. After a lunch break at the Falls, we began a steep climb that eventually hooks back directly above the Falls via an impressive series of switchbacks.

The trail wraps around an imposing promontory, then reverses course and works its way into a broad, high valley. The stream rose up to meet us, and we took a long, refreshing break at the last crossing about 5-1/2 miles from the Visitor Center.

We had planned to camp here, but did not see the nice beach above the crossing until we were high above the stream. A nearby knoll might have provided reasonable camping, but we decided to press on to "Thimble Meadow." With a very long climb and a good nine miles behind us, we found a couple of nice spots with a view of Bear Canyon all the way to the Tucson Mountains. Desert city lights — those sparkling flakes of gold on a black velvet canvas — were visible through the porthole in the Jack O'Lantern all night long.

Saturday we continued a gentle climb out of Bear Canyon and over the ridge to the junction with the Sycamore and East Fork Sabino Canyon Trails. From the junction, the trail descends into upper Sabino Canyon, where the East Fork is fed by smaller streams tumbling down from high in the Catalina Mountains. We heard the roar of countless waterfalls, and caught glimpes of pool after deep amber pool as we dropped down to the junction with the Sabino and West Fork Trails.

We reached Hutch's Pool in mid-afternoon, and were thrilled to find no other campers nearby. Dennis and I managed a quick dip as usual, and managed to stay awake until "Backpackers' Midnight" (about 9:00 pm) while the boys exchanged stories around the campfire of explosions and pyrotechnic experiments that they all somehow lived to talk about.

It was an easy four miles back to the tram Sunday morning under filtered sun. We discovered a series of metates right beside the trail and caught a few photos of three deer with tails as big and brushy as century plant blossoms.

How amazing that we could have such a fabulous winderness experience in our own backyard, less than 10 miles from a city of more than one million people!