The Santa Catalina mountains offer some of the best climbing in Arizona. Rising from the raging heat of the desert floor, the cooler upper heights offer refreshing relief and some great climbing.
Mount Lemmon is the highest of the Catalina Summits at 9,157 ft (2,791m). It is not only known for the strenuous hike from bottom to top – 7,000 vertical feet, but also for the wide variety of trad and sport climbing it offers. There are as many as 1,500 routes on the Mountain, which includes 500 sport routes, making it one of the most popular climbing areas in the State.
Almost all of Mount Lemmon’s climbs are on south facing crags, offering the best winter, spring and fall climbing weather so not only is it one of the most popular climbing areas in the State of Arizona, but it is one of the best climbing areas in the country! There is an equal amount of diverse rock climbing of all ranges, from classic multi-pitch traditional routes to bolted sport climbs of all ranges and at elevations from between 2,000 to 9,000 ft.
You’re spoilt for choice and location here at Mount Lemmon and I am going to give you a very brief overview of the wide selection awaiting you. Windy Point, for example, has more than 500 routes on a half mile road around the Windy Point area with degrees of difficulty from from 5.2 to 5.14. There are some great names as always for the routes. How about tackling Cliptomania at 5.12a, or True Grit – a 5.9 35ft face. Or there’s the 5.11 Hippos are Pottamus Too, or the 5.10a Batteries Not Included. You could try the .10c Green Card or the .9 Screwed The Pooch. I could go on for ever, but you do wonder sometimes what these guys were smoking when the names were thought of! They’re great!!
Windy Point West has two good routes on the east face of Hunchback Pinnacle, several routes along the east and south face of Overlooked Pinnacle most of which are gear or mixed climbs. There are two good sport climbs here too. In the same area there is an obscure little wall called Beaver Jr. which has some interesting climbs on the south face. But there’s also its big brother, Beaver Wall which has numerous small hold climbs.
Goosehead is a nice little cliff just off the side of the road with routes 5.9, 5.10, 5.11a, 5.12a, 5.13a, and 5.14a and names such as The Golden Egg, Scrambled Egg and Death Warmed Over!
Munchkinland is Tucson’s equivalent to an outdoor climbing gym – 48 routes from 5.4 to 5.12a and is becoming one of the most popular areas on Mount Lemmon. There are plenty of routes here in the 5.5 – 5.11 range. It’s a great place for summer climbing.
As the main trail starts dropping down to the Wall of Marching Munchkins,cut left (west) across the slab on top of the crag, and follow the cairns to the wall and you come to the Wall of Waltzing Witches. There are 10 good climbs here on a cliff which has a maximum height of 50 ft. There is also the Wall of Dancing Dwarves!
The 3 cliffs of Midmountain Crags – Sky Valley, Ridgeline and TheBoneyard – have picturesque climbing from popular moderate climbing on Ridgeline to more difficult stuff up to 5.12.
New routes are constantly being opened. The Steep is a newly developed cliff at the top of the mountain with some fairly steep climbs – unusual for Mt. Lemmon. It is an excellent place for summer climbing with routes from 5.10 to 5.12.
Then there’s the Lefthand Wall, the Righthand Wall and Pinhead Wall. Each of them has a bit of something for everyone, while the little cliff of Jailhouse Rock is an excellent place for some relatively easy climbing with some lovely water-worn holds which are easy on the hands!
Middle Earth is great for long routes in the 5.10 – .11 range, and for steeper routes in the 5.12 range. Spring and Fall are best, but it is also a good summer area in the mornings as it stays in the shade until around 2 p.m. You will need plenty of draws and a 55 m rope.
I could go on for ever…. with 1,500 routes you need a guidebook! It’s an investment worth making.
And there’s bouldering…
It’s a wonderful area.
Mountain Project warn you of the dangers in the area. “Be aware of the many objective dangers that inhabit these mountains… loose rock, old hardware, extreme heat and cold, bark scorpions, gila monsters, lightning, multiple species of rattlesnakes and, perhaps most importantly, flash floods. Stay out of arroyos and major drainages, particularly during the monsoon season of July-August! Flash floods can present a lethal danger, even when skies are clear in your immediate locale.” They forgot to mention mountain lions. There are quite a few in this area and you do need to keep your eyes peeled. If you see one don’t run away but make yourself look as large as possible, flap your arms, throw things – scare it away!
Photo courtesy of kevindooley with thanks.