Sycamore Canyon / Rose Peak

Sycamore Canyon essentially has no trail access so it requires back country travel that is difficult in spots.  I had been curious about this canyon for a while because in satellite images it appeared to have dense stands of forests that included Arizona Cypress.  So I spent some time on Google Earth figuring out possible routes and gave it a try.  Unlike some of the other canyons that feed into Bear and Sabino Creek, large parts of Sycamore Canyon survived the Aspen Fire mostly unscathed.

Dec 3, 2010
My first attempt was a brute force entry into the canyon by heading downstream from the Rose Canyon Lake.  This route is fairly brushy and debris filled but not terribly difficult.  I eventually ran into some drop-offs that I didn't want to rely getting back up alone, and it seemed like my travel may have been further impeded if I had continued.  So I exited the canyon by heading straight up the canyon wall to Rose Peak in order to get some perspective for the my next attempt. 

Looking down the creek at cliffs that rise above the junction between the left and right forks.  At the junction I noticed a marker nailed into a tree that seemed to be indicating that people coming down the left fork should head up the right, not sure what need there would be for this marker.  Douglas-fir and Arizona Pine can be seen in this photo.  Other bigger trees along the creek that I noticed were Southwestern White Pine and Arizona Alder.

Looking back at the same creek junction with the slopes above burned clear of trees by the Aspen Fire.  This was on my way up the slopes to Rose Peak.  Mount Bigelow is in the background topped with radio towers as well as some of the remaining forest.  The highway also travels through the thin strip of the surviving forest, so most visitors flying by on the highway are unaware of the extent and severity of this burn.  The pools below were frozen over with a thick layer of ice.

Looking farther downstream into Sycamore Canyon from the top of Rose Peak.  I wouldn't recommend taking the route I did from the canyon bottom to the top because it's steep, loose, and brushy.  The ravine in shadow at bottom is what I refer to as the "second ravine" on the following hike report.

Pan looking out over Sycamore Canyon from southwest to northwest from Rose Peak.  The next couple photos are taken from the outcrop on the left.  Thimble Peak and Tucson are on the left with Window Peak and Cathedral Peak rising above as part of Pusch Ridge.  The summit of Mount Lemmon is barely visible just right of center and Mount Bigelow forms the skyline on the crest of the Catalina Mountains at right.

This is the view from the prominent outcrop in the above photo.  My next hike's route drops from this viewpoint down to the white bench of rock on the lower left.  From the bench the route traverses to the right and then drops to the saddle between two ravines which is in the far bottom right. The first ravine drops along the base of the rocky pinnacles just right of lower center, while the second ravine is out of view to the right.

A closer view of the lower middle portion of Sycamore Canyon.  Almost all of the bigger trees along the creek and on the slopes are Arizona Cypress, with many reduced to gray skeletons by the fire.  The white bench noted in the photos above is in the lower right.

Pan from the outcrop looking from southeast to southwest.  Windy Point along the highway is on the left across Willow Canyon which pours over Seven Cataracts into Bear Canyon near center.  Sycamore Canyon also drains into Bear Canyon which continues flowing between Gibbon Mountain and Thimble Peak right of center.  Sabino Creek is to the right of Thimble Peak.  The rock bench near bottom is different and lower than the one previously mentioned along the route.  Almost all of the slopes in this view were reduced to a barren moonscape by the Aspen Fire, except parts of the canyon bottoms.  There has been a surprising amount of new and regenerative growth since then.  This dense brushy regrowth may make the off-trail routes in this area increasingly difficult as it replaces the existing more open forest types.

Tarantula that I spotted on the way back.

Looking back at Rose Peak on the far right from Windy Point Vista.

Dec 28, 2010
This was my second attempt to get into the Arizona Cypress forest in Sycamore Canyon using what I learned from the first trip.  The route to the canyon bottom is very brushy and could be tricky to navigate for the inexperienced, so it probably isn't worth it unless you really want to see a good stand of Cypress in a pristine wilderness setting.  However, the off-trail path from Rose Canyon Lake to Rose Peak is pretty simple and quick and has good views as shown in the previous hike report.

View from the top of the first ravine which drops south into Sycamore Canyon.  Above this area the burn is fairly continuous but it becomes much more patchy from here into the canyon, with dead but still standing snags adjacent to healthy surviving trees.  This is a rather mixed conifer forest of Arizona Pine, Douglas-fir, Arizona Cypress, Pinyon Pine, Alligator Juniper, and a few Southwestern White Pine.

A small but dense grove of tall spindly cypress that is at the junction of the ravine and Sycamore Canyon.  The large trunk in the first photo is the tall tree at right in the second photo which I measured to be around 90' tall.  The shiny leafed tree in the center of the first photo is a Dunn Oak (Palmer Oak) which I haven't seen too often, especially in this sort of tree form.

Some of the pools in the canyon bottom and the narrow canyon walls.  The left cypress in the last photo has the distinct red peeling bark that is present in some Arizona Cypress while the tree to its right didn't have much at all.

Two of the biggest trees I noticed were sitting right in the middle of the creek and had large portions of the upstream bark worn completely away by floods.  The trunk circumferences were smaller than the biggest recorded Arizona Cypress, but they were tall, the front one was at least 90' and the back one was around 110' by my measurements.

Looking back downstream as I neared the second ravine that would provide my exit back out of the canyon.

The second ravine is just upstream of this rock ledge where the sunlit trees are.  At this point the Arizona Cypress start disappearing and are replaced by pine.  The second ravine was less rocky and steep than the first and would probably also be easier to travel down as well.  The deer definitely seemed to use the second ravine as their path of choice given the well beaten game trails.

This is the GPS track file as shown in Google Earth below, sycamorecnyn.gpx.  The first ravine that I dropped down is the right branch while the second ravine that I came back up is the left branch.  It's easiest to hike the small amount of elevation gain up towards Rose Peak before contouring around the side, rather than contouring earlier along the lower slopes.