Recently I had a great four weeks in the USA where the vast majority of my time was spent around Tucson in Southern Arizona. I took my usual systematic approach to trying to see as much of the bouldering as possible, ticking the best problems along the way, and I feel I did pretty well during my short time. It was a blast and the bouldering actually blew away my expectations and I'll venture to say this corner of Arizona should be a winter destination. Seriously, there is so much good bouldering already established (and other climbing for that matter) and the locals have only scratched the surface. There is tons of development to do and not just in the remote areas as several of the best problems I did were FAs in well established areas with easy access. The climate, quality/quantity of climbing, and the convenience of having family in the area will likely make Tucson my new winter spot. Good times.
Until I get around to going through all my photos/videos from the trip here are a few things to consider if you decide to take a bouldering trip to Tucson.
- Mt Lemmon and the Catalina Hwy. Mt Lemmon technically refers to the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains just north of Tucson but is it used more broadly by climbers to reference the area that holds the majority of the bouldering (and rope climbing). The Catalina Hwy is what makes much of the climbing in this area possible as it winds up the mountain, gaining several thousand feet in the process and providing access to the bouldering on "Lemmon". Looking down on Tucson from Wilderness of Rocks up towards the top of Mt Lemmon
- Lots of bouldering but widely dispersed. While the total amount of bouldering around Tucson is impressive, most of the individual areas are quite small and cater more to the cherry-picking hard-man than the high volume moderate climber. The exception to this rule is Wilderness of Rocks which is an expansive area where you could post up for days. Unfortunately W.o.R requires an hour plus approach and is mostly underdeveloped.
- Adjustable Climate. Tucson is an ideal winter spot as you can expect to climb in a t-shirt in the dead of winter. You also can "pick your conditions" to a degree as the climbing high up in the Catalinas is considerably cooler if things get too warm at the lower areas. We were pretty lucky as the higher stuff (like Wilderness of Rocks) was climbable most days but in some years snow levels might limit climbing to the lower elevations.Only a 30ish minute drive separated our snowman and sandcastle
- Variety of climbing. The bouldering around Tucson is actually quite varied as you can pull on steep pocketed volcanic, thrash your tips on granite, or slap some water-polished gneiss. The rock on Mt Lemmon alone varies between areas so don't get discouraged if you visit one place and decide it's not for you. In general I'd say Wilderness of Rocks offers some of the best stone if you don't count the water-polished stuff in the narrow canyons. And of course there is heaps of rope climbing which is meant to be pretty good (if you're into that kind of thing).
- Potential. Those that know me are aware that I like having the option to find new stuff and areas with potential have massive appeal to me. The developed climbing around Tucson will keep most people entertained for a fair amount of time but the surface has only been scratched, especially if you are willing to hike. Hopefully the locals are getting after it as I'm excite to see what they have found for my return next winter.
- Old Pueblo Bouldering. I almost forgot to mention a great resource for Tucson bouldering. Old Pueblo Boulder (www.oldpueblobouldering.com) is a database for the bouldering around Tucson and while it is far from complete it still provides loads of good information with the map feature and photos of boulders being particularly useful. The site has over 1600 boulder problems thus far and while there are some glaring omissions (like the Dog Park and Gnarnia) it is quite an undertaking and I found the site very helpful and would like to extend a big THANK YOU to those that created Old Pueblo.
This shot only shows a few of the boulders to be found at Cochise Stronghold, a little over 1 hour from Tucson.