Picacho Peak was a difficult trail to climb, much harder than I expected. Jeff and I started out worried that we had not brought enough water, as the recommendation was three to four liters per person. We did not have that much, but we were also not hiking in the hot summer months. In fact, one of the reasons we were hiking in the Arizona desert was because it was late October, when the weather is starting to cool off.
Picacho Peak is located between Casa Grande and Tucson in Pinal County, not far from where my parents live. We we were visiting them in Arizona for a few days. I have gone to feed the ostriches at the Cogburn Ostrich Ranch across from Picacho Peak many times, and hiked some of the nature trails at the base of the peak. But I have never tried to climb it.
Even though it is next to interstate highway 10, Picacho Peak has a beautiful Sonoran desert setting. We were hiking along the Sunset Trail, as it was supposed to be the more moderate trail up to the summit. It passed through lots of saguaro cacti and desert gullies on its way up.
Though it appears to be the remnant of a volcanic rock, Picacho Peak s now believed to be a tilted and eroded piece of rock overlaid by a lava flow. The place name is redundant, “picacho” means “big peak” in Spanish.
iA small flat space on top of the peak can be reached via two trail heads. The summit is 3,374 feet (1,028 meters) high. This does not sound like a difficult climb, but portions of the trails are precarious, and hikers are aided by cables and catwalks, making the routes some of the few Via ferrata trails in the United States. A Via Ferrata route is a trail that would normally require rock climbing equipment and training, but has been set up with cables anchored into rocks (and sometimes toe holds carved into the rock) so that less experienced climbers can go up it. There are a lot of Via Ferrata trails in the Alps, but not so many in the USA. The only other one that I have been on is the trail up the back of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
I had not realized before we started up that it was a Via Ferrata trail at the summit. Both trails up to the summit, the Hunter trail and the Sunset trail, join into one steep ascent. We made it about three quarters of the way up, and then I realized that my legs and arms would be too tired if I climbed all the way to the top and back down. So we made it almost all the way to the top of Picacho Peak.
It was still a strenuous, five and a half mile hike up and down, and we did end up drinking all of the water that we were carrying. still, it was a great hike, with lots of beautiful desert vistas, and I am glad that we hiked almost to the top of Picacho Peak!