Mount Wrightson is one of several major sky islands in Arizona. A forested landscape towering over the desert. The summit sits at 9,453ft and has 4,578ft of prominence. Excitedly arriving at the trailhead I assessed weather conditions. Dark clouds swirled violently, obscuring the summit and neighboring Mount Ian. I considered for a moment how much snow could have fallen overnight. Should I have packed my snowshoes?
A few miles into the hike I reached Josephine saddle, the first natural break point. Continuous roaring wind began to burn my exposed face. I zipped up my jacket and checked out the boy scout memorial signs. The higher winds here reduced previous hiker’s footprints considerably. I followed the faint set of tracks continuing up the mountain. Shortly after, I stopped to photograph a beautifully backlit tree. Typical for cold weather at altitude, my camera focus locked. Forcing me to manual focus each image, further slowing my ascent. Just below the marked spring, all traces of humans disappeared into white. While fresh snow grew deeper, the difficulty of hiking increased. I paced myself, conserving energy for above Baldy saddle.
Resting below the final switchback to Baldy saddle. I froze listening to the winds above. Howling gusts swept across the plateau, stirring powder up in every direction. I huddled down, stuffing my camera into my jacket. Taking advantage of the momentary break, I fished my water hose from my jacket for a sip. My bladder hose freezes quite quickly in these conditions. When the wind subsided I emerged from the ice encompassed trees to crested the saddle. Spectacular views opened up of Wrightson and the mountain ranges to the South and East. The landscape was blanketed from the previous night's snowfall. It was difficult to locate the summit trail at first. Stepping through consistent calf high snow I made my way up the slope. Searching for the trail lines weaving between the trees.
Once on the main trail’s switchbacks I forged on relentlessly. While hiking the North slope, the further I pushed the deeper the snow I encountered. I safely traversed the steepest sections by kick stepping multiple times, for every step, for over an hour. In the tightest switchbacks, I pushed through thigh high snow. I felt safe and comfortable overall, although my ice axe would have made it a quick jaunt. The snow in this section was fantastically deep for how tame the summer trail it rests upon is cut.
Post interesting North face climb begins gradual switchbacks to the summit. Frozen trees began to fade away, leaving only ice covered brush and rock. I let out a victorious cry upon summiting. Four gruelling hours snow hiking 4,000 vertical feet had paid off. I captured the sky island view with a 360 video. The snowcapped Santa Rita range exceeded all of my expectations for desert beauty. I basked in the view for quite some time before heading down the slope.
The many kick steps I spent so much time and energy on during the ascent thankfully paid off while descending. Without my ice ax for support. I simply, yet carefully stepped where I had previously. At times it was difficult to tell where I had been at all. In the short time on the summit, ferocious winds filled my tracks with powder. Once past the steepest sections I enjoyed high step jogging down the mountain. Fluffy powder cushioning my weight while my crampons provide just enough stable grip.
The downhill was pure bliss. On easier trail below Baldy saddle I sped up considerably. The sensation of extra energy as more oxygen enters the bloodstream is amazing. I love the highs of mountaineering. Nothing makes me feel more alive than the physical and mental stimulation of climbing at altitude. As with most of my more difficult climbs, I left the mountain a happier person. Feeling more content with life, I stepped off the slushy trail to the comforts of my car. Just another human, finding my meaning to life in the mountains.
Trail report of 2-2-16 climb.