DEC
13-22
2015

Category: Arizona
Trip Report #: 209
Partner (climbing): Julie Brugger
Partner (birding): Leona Mukai
Rock Type: Granite
Summit Elev: 6,545 ft (Sheepshead); 6,260 ft (Cochise Dome)
WinteBreak 
in Tucson
Climbing in Cochise Stronghold and Birding in the Tucson Area

Climb 1: THE SHEEPSHEAD The Peacemaker (5.10-, 6p) 
Climb 2: COCHISE DOME What's My Line? (5.6, 3p) 
Birding Adventure 1: Sweetwater Wetlands & Coachline Gravel Pit
Birding Adventure 2: Florida Canyon & Madera Canyon
Climbing & Birding, two of my favorite ways to spend my time.
INTRO

When my friend Julie invited me to Tucson for a week during my Winter Break, I jumped at the opportunity to climb in a new area, and also get a little taste of spring weather as a change of pace from climbing plastic inside a gym. Our main climbing destination would be Cochise Stronghold, a spectacular landscape of rugged canyons and towering granite domes about an hour and a half from Tucson. The Stronghold is known for the committing and heady nature of the climbing. The rock lends itself more towards slabs and face holds and has few cracks, so most of the climbing is protected by bolts. 

I stayed with Julie for a little over a week. Due to El Nino, the weather was a bit cooler/wetter than usual, but we still had a number of climbable days. We climbed two multipitch routes:The Peacemaker (5.10-, 6p) in the West Stronghold and What's My Line? (5.6, 3p) in the East Stronghold. I also got the chance to crag at Mt. Lemmon and Zappa Dome. Since I am primarily a crack-loving trad climber, I struggled with jumping right into lead mode on the bolted Cochise face climbs. In retrospect, it would have been best to do the trip in reverse, and start off (rather than finish) the trip with a day of leading a bunch of single-pitch sport routes at Zappa Dome, since this would have set us up better to swing leads on the multipitch climbs and we probably would have climbed more objectives.

But the positive result of a less rigorous climbing agenda was that it freed up some days to go birding. Southeast Arizona is a birding hotspot, and I had brought my 400mm birding lens on the trip, just in case. I was joined Julie's friend Leona on two separate birding adventures: the first to Sweetwater Wetlands & Coachline Gravel Pit in northwest Tucson and the second to Florida Canyon & Madera Canyon. It is always fun to see birds I don't normally see in the Pacific Northwest. This trip revitalized my interest in bird photography and continuing to add to my life list of birds.

This page contains photos from my climbing and birding adventures during my week in Tucson. Thanks Julie for introducing me to the Stronghold and letting me crash on your couch. Thanks Leona for the delightful birding adventures.

DAY-BY-DAY
(click links to see photos from the day)

  • DEC 13 - Fly from Seattle to Tucson. (No photos)
  • DEC 14 - Rain. Huh. Guess I brought the rain with me from WA. I explored the nearby University of Arizona campus. I took a photo of a Gila Woodpecker.
  • DEC 15 - Pitch 1 of The Peacemaker on The Sheepshead, West Stronghold. Julie and I bailed due to ice and meltwater on the route from the previous day's storm. We drove back to Tucson and climbed for a bit at the local climbing gym.
  • DEC 16 - Cragging at Sun Spot Crag at Mt. Lemmon with Eric Rhicard. (Julie had work-related meetings, and we ran into her friend Eric at the climbing gym the previous evening, and before I knew it I was climbing at Mt. Lemmon with the Mt. Lemmon guidebook author himself!)
  • DEC 17 - Climb The Peacemaker on The Sheepshead, West Stronghold (5.10-, 6 pitches) with Julie. Warm and dry this time!
  • DEC 18 - Birding at Sweetwater Wetlands & Coachline Gravel Pit in northwest Tucson with Leona Mukai. Always fun to see species I don't get to see in the Pacific NW.
  • DEC 19 - Climb What's My Line? on Cochise Dome, East Stronghold (5.6 A0 R, 3 pitches) with Julie. This is one of the most unique routes I've climbed.
  • DEC 20 - Cragging in the sun at Zappa Dome in the East Stronghold with Julie.  
  • DEC 21 - Birding at Florida Canyon & Madera Canyon (about 40 miles south of Tucson) with Leona. A few more new species for my North American bird sighting list!
  • DEC 22 - Fly back to Seattle. It was raining when I landed. No surprise.


  • PHOTOS


    DEC 14
    Rain. Huh. Guess I brought the rain with me from WA. I explored the nearby University of Arizona campus. I had brought my telephoto birding lens, so I took a photo of a Gila Woodpecker outside Julie's home.
    Photos Photo descriptions
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    1. Gila Woodpecker. As prolific in Tucson as chickadees or robins in the Pacific Northwest.



    DEC 15
    Pitch 1 of The Peacemaker on The Sheepshead, West Stronghold. Julie and I bailed due to ice and meltwater on the route from the previous day's storm. We drove back to Tucson and climbed for a bit at the local climbing gym. We returned two days later to climb The Peacemaker under much warmer and dryer conditions.
    Photos Photo descriptions
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    1. Approaching the West Stronghold. Notice the snow on the road!
    2. Julie on the 1 hour hike to The Sheepshead in the distance.
    3. Julie just past the first bolt on Pitch 1. There was still some ice on the features.
    4. Ice-coated rock just to the right of the belay at the top of Pitch 1. Not knowing the conditions above, we decided to bail and come back a couple of days later to climb the route.
    5. We were surprised to meet two other climbers from Tucson (named Eric and Pacifica) at the base of the route. We all toproped Pitch 1 off Julie's lead. While Eric and Pacifica decided to explore the area a bit, Julie and I drove back to Tucson and climbed a little while at the local climbing gym Rocks & Ropes.
    6. The view southwest from the Stronghold. Mexico is in the distance to the south.



    DEC 16
    Cragging at Sun Spot Crag at Mt. Lemmon with Eric Rhicard. (Julie had work-related meetings, and we ran into her friend Eric at the climbing gym the previous evening, and before I knew it I was climbing at Mt. Lemmon with the Mt. Lemmon guidebook author himself!) This south-facing crag is one of the warmest crags at Mt. Lemmon—T-shirts in December! Eric and I climbed most of the 5.9-5.11 routes at the crag:
     1. Sunny Side Up (5.10, sport, Eric led, I TR'ed)
     2. Hard Boiled (5.9, TR'ed off Sunny Side Up anchors)
    3. Solar E Clips (5.11, sport, Eric led, I TR'ed)
    4. English Breakfast Crack (5.9-/10, I led the 5.9- trad fingercrack to the first set of chains, Eric led the short 5.10 sport continuation which I TR'ed)
    5. Crack of Dawn (5.10, trad, Eric led, I cleaned)
     6. Hash Browns (5.10+, sport, Eric led, I TR'ed)
    Photos Photo descriptions
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    1. Approaching Sun Spot Crag. 
    2. Eric leading Solar E Clips (5.11 sport). This was one of my favorite routes of the day.
    3. Steph leading the fingercrack of English Breakfast Crack (5.9- trad). This is one of the rare "crack climbs" at Mt. Lemmon.
    4. Looking up Crack of Dawn (5.10 trad). It's more of a face climb with the crack for protection.


    DEC 17
    Climb The Peacemaker on The Sheepshead, West Stronghold (5.10-, 6 pitches) with Julie. Much warmer and dryer than it was two days previous! This route features good rock and sustained face climbing all the way to the top of The Sheepshead, the main formation of the West Stronghold. By Cochise standards, the route is pretty tightly bolted, although we did appreciate our small supplementary rack of cams. Since I am more comfortable on cracks and had never climbed at Cochise Stronghold before, I found the climbing on this route to be mentally challenging and unfamiliar, so I was happy to let Julie lead it all (thanks Julie, you are amazing!). I really enjoyed the opportunity to climb at a new area, and the sweeping views and warm Arizona sun made it all the better. 
    Route Overlay
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    1. The gate at the trailhead. It takes a little less than 1 hour to get to the base of the route.
    2. Cow in the pasture on the approach.
    3. Julie leading Pitch 1. It's mostly slab climbing on this pitch.
    4. Looking up Pitch 2.
    5. Looking up Pitch 3.
    6. Taken near the end of Pitch 3.
    7. Julie leading off the roof move at the start of Pitch 4. The rest of Pitch 4 is pretty slabby.
    8. Julie leading off Pitch 5.
    9. Julie at the warm and comfy belay ledge at the top of Pitch 5.
    10. Stretching my toes at the warm and 
    comfy belay ledge at the top of Pitch 5. 
    11. Julie leading off Pitch 6. 
    12. Looking up the second half of Pitch 6. Some parties break Pitch 6 into two pitches.
    13. On top of The Sheepshead! Mexico in the distance to the south.
    14. Julie on top of The Sheepshead.
    15. Beginning the descent, which involves scrambling down the N side towards the saddle to the W of The Sheepshead, and then hiking down the gully back to the base of the route.
    16. There was some snow and ice on the descent route on the north side, but we were able to navigate through it.
    17. Some chilly cacti on the descent.
    18. Hiking out in the late afternoon sun (which sets just after 5pm in mid-December).
    19. Late afternoon sun on The Sheepshead.
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    Late afternoon sun on The Sheepshead.
    21. The reddish last rays of the day on The Sheepshead.
    22. We stopped at Mi Casa in Benson on the way home.


    DEC 18
    Birding at Sweetwater Wetlands & Coachline Gravel Pit in northwest Tucson with Leona Mukai (Julie's friend). We saw 40+ species within a few hours. Here is Leona's bird list for Sweetwater Wetlands: 1 American Wigeon, 5 Mallard, 2 Cinnamon Teal, 10 Northern Shoveler, 2 Ring-necked Duck, 1 Bufflehead, 5 Ruddy Duck, 5 Pied-billed Grebe, 1 Great Egret, 2 Snowy Egret, 2 Green Heron, 1 Black-crowned Night-Heron, 1 Cooper's Hawk, 1 Virginia Rail, 1 Sora, 1 Common Gallinule, 15 American Coot, 1 Killdeer, 1 Mourning Dove, 1 Hummingbird sp., 1 Belted Kingfisher, 2 Gila Woodpecker, 1 Ladder-backed Woodpecker, 1 Black Phoebe, 1 Say's Phoebe, 1 Vermillion Flycatcher, 1 Ash-throated Flycatcher, 5 Verdin, 1 Marsh Wren, 2 Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1 Curve-billed Thrasher, 3 Orange-crowned Warbler, 3 Yellow-rumped Warbler, 5 White-crowned Sparrow, 1 Song Sparrow, 3 Abert's Towhee, 3 Red-winged Blackbird, 3 Yellow-headed Blackbird, 2 Great-tailed Grackle, 5 House Finch, 2 Lesser Goldfinch. At Coachline Gravel Pit we saw a Rock Wren, some Western Sandpipers, several House Finch, and a couple more Vermillion Flycatchers. Many of these birds I don't get to see in the Pacific Northwest, so it was a real treat. I also saw my first Bobcat.
    Click here to go to my bird photography main page.
    Photos Photo descriptions
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    1. Vermillion Flycatcher.
    2. Abert's Towhee.
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    Abert's Towhee.
    4. Orange-crowned Warbler.
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    Orange-crowned Warbler.
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    Orange-crowned Warbler.
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    Orange-crowned Warbler.
    8. Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
    9. Verdin.
    10. Rock Wren.
    11. American Coot.
    12. American Coot.
    13. Pied-billed Grebe.
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    Pied-billed Grebe.
    15. Ring-necked Duck.
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    Ring-necked Duck.
    17. Green Heron.
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    Green Heron.
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    Green Heron.
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    Green Heron.
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    Green Heron.
    22. Green Heron.
    22. Bobcat.
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    Bobcat.


    DEC 19
    Climb What's My Line? on Cochise Dome, East Stronghold (5.6 A0 R, 3 pitches) with Julie. This appropriately-named route weaves its way through the huge sea of chickenheads that pepper the south face of Cochise Dome. While the climbing itself is easy, the combination of exposure, runout, involved approach, pendulum to access the sea of chickenheads, and the serpentine nature of the route line make What's My Line? a great adventure. This is one of the most unique routes I've climbed. Highly recommended.
    Route Overlay
    Photos Photo descriptions
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    1. There was some snow and ice on the approach. El Nino in Arizona I guess.
    2. We spotted some sizable paw prints on the trail. Cougar perhaps?
    3. Cochise Dome is on the right.
    4. To get to the start of the route, you scramble (3rd-4th) up a V-slot gully system between the main dome and a giant fin. You access the V-slot from the far left (west) side of the dome. I thought it was a very cool approach. The photo shows the (optional) tunnel-through is at the entrance to the V-slot.
    5. A large chockstone in the V-slot.
    6. Julie stemming in the V-slot.
    7. Julie entering the final narrow slot before the base of the route.
    8. Julie exiting the V-slot and arriving at the base of the route.
    9. Looking back down the V-slot gully from the base of the route.
    10. A view across at End Pinnacle. There is a party on Endgame.
    11. I noticed that this boulder looks a lot like a cartoon face.
    12. The first pitch starts with a lower and a pendulum to get to the chickenheads on the face.
    13. I don't like pendulums, especially when following, so I clipped into the rope about 50 feet from the end and lowered myself off the bolt at the start of the route. From aid climbing I am used to a double-strand technique (good for when you want to stay attached to the very end of the rope), but I could have used a single-strand lower here. 
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    Looking up Pitch 1 after the lower/pendulum.
    15. Climbing the second half of Pitch 1.
    16-18. Pitch 2 climbs through a sea of chickenheads. The only protection is slinging chickenheads—there are no bolts. I had hoped to lead this pitch, but even though the climbing itself was easy at 5.6, the runnout and chickenhead protection made me uncomfortable. Julie, however, romped right up it.

    19. Pitch 3 makes a traverse back left under a bulge/roof. There is a single bolt for protection about halfway through the traverse. A few small- to medium-sized cams also fit in some pockets along the way.
    20. The view of the Rockfellow Group (End Pinnacle at the near end) from the top of Cochise Dome.
    21. Climbers at the top of End Pinnacle after climbing Endgame.
    22. Julie setting up the first rappel from the top of Cochise Dome. (The descent involves two single rope raps down the east side.)
    23. Looking down the first rappel.
    24. Hiking back along the base of Cochise Pinnacle to our packs at the far left end. There are some gigantic boulders in the forest.
    25. Julie relaxing in her truck after the climb, making some hot tea. We camped out in Julie's truck for the night, since we had plans to climb in the Stronghold the next day.


    DEC 20
    Cragging in the sun at Zappa Dome in the East Stronghold with Julie. As a crack-seeking trad climber, I had been struggling with leading the steep bolted face climbing so characteristic of the Stronghold, Julie encouraged me into leading all of the 5.7-5.9 routes at the crag (there are about 6-7 such routes). In retrospect, we really should have done this day of lead cragging at the onset of the trip, to better set us up to swing leads on the bigger multipitch objectives and stick to a more rigorous climbing schedule.
    Photos Photo descriptions
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    1. Zappa Dome has at least a dozen single-pitch routes ranging from 5.7-5.11. Best of all (for winter climbing at least), they are in the sun.
    2. Julie at the belay below.
    3. Julie shoeing up for a climb, with the Cochise rock in the background.


    DEC 21
    Birding in Florida Canyon & Madera Canyon (about 40 miles south of Tucson) with Leona Mukai. We saw nearly 40 species over the course of the day. Here is Leona's bird list for the day (both canyons combined): 1 Accipiter sp., 5 Acorn Woodpecker, 1 American Kestrel, 2 Black-capped Gnatcatcher, 1 Black-chinned Sparrow, 2 Black-throated Sparrow, 1 Bridled Titmouse, 1 Brown Creeper, 10 Bushtit, 1 Cactus Wren, 2 Canyon Wren, 1 Chipping Sparrow, 1 Common Raven, 5 Dark-eyed Junco, 1 Empidonax sp., 2 Hepatic Tanager, 1 Hermit Thrush, 1 House Wren, 1 Hutton's Vireo, 1 Ladder-backed Woodpecker, 10 Lesser Goldfinch, 10 Meadowlark sp., 15 Mexican Jay, 3 Montezuma Quail, 3 Mourning Dove, 1 Northern Flicker, 1 Northern Mockingbird, 1 Painted Redstart, 1 Phainopepla, 5 Red-tailed Hawk, 7 Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1 Rufous-crowned Sparrow, 2 Say's Phoebe, 1 Spotted Towhee, 2 Verdin, 1 White-breasted Nuthatch, 5 White-crowned Sparrow, 15 Wild Turkey , and 1 Yellow-rumped Warbler. A few more new species to add to my life bird sighting list!
    Click here to go to my bird photography main page.
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    1. Phainopepla
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    Phainopepla
    3. Northern Mockingbird
    4. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
    5. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (not the best photo but rare to see the crown showing)
    6. White-breasted Nuthatch
    7. White-breasted Nuthatch
    8. Lesser Goldfinch
    9. Rufous-crowned Sparrow
    10. House Wren
    11. Canyon Wren
    12. Hutton's Vireo
    13. Cooper's or Sharp-shinned Hawk
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    Black-throated Sparrow
    15. Black-throated Sparrow
    16. Mexican Jay
    17. Hepatic Tanager (male)
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    Hepatic Tanager (female)
    19. Bridled Titmouse
    20. Acorn Woodpecker
    21. Squirrel
    22. Say's Phoebe
    23. Black-capped Gnatcatcher (in the winter plumage is it very hard to distinguish between Black-capped and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, but the call and the more graduated tail feathers suggested a Black-capped)
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    Black-capped Gnatcatcher 
    25. Black-capped Gnatcatcher