Cat Mountain • Tucson Mountains
• Pima County

All photos are by Scott Peavy. A complete set of photos are found here.


Cat Mountain from the west
 

Golden Gate Mountain framed between nearer peaks, as seen from the trail on Cat Mountain
 

Looking up at our route. The vegetated ramp is barely visible in the sun way up on the left
 

A slightly closer view
 

The ridge immediately above that crux part. We didn't go up this ridge, we came in from the left
 

Now above the steep stuff, the ridge is open, rocky and full of cholla
 

Almost to the top
 

The top and its fake rock housing a repeater station
 

Montage of summit shots
 

Golden Gate Mountain, Brens Peak, Bushmaster Peak, and Wasson Peak farther back
 

On the descent, walking out ahead
 

Another descent shot
 

Me edging down that crux part
 

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Date: January 11, 2014 • Elevation: 3,852 feet • Prominence: 1,062 feet • Distance: 4.2 miles • Time: 3 hours • Gain: 1,200 feet • Conditions: Clear, cool but warming up • Teammates: Scott Peavy

Cat Mountain is a familiar mountain landmark southwest of Tucson, located northeast of the junction of Kinney Road and the Ajo Highway. The peak is part of the Tucson Mountains. It has a beautiful, sharp profile, but viewed from Ajo Highway, it appears as one big mass of cliffs. However, some scramble routes go to the top from the northeast sides, at worst requiring a little exposure, but nothing worse than very easy class 3.

Scott Peavy and I were in Tucson hiking a couple of the major prominent summits in the Tucson Mountains, having just completed Golden Gate Mountain about five miles to the north. We drove from there to the trailhead for Cat Mountain, located off of Sarasota Road in a trailer home-retirement village. We parked in a clearing near a gate, on what the map calls Starr Pass Road. It was about 11 a.m. when we rolled in. We were still dressed and packed from our hike earlier, so it did not take long to prepare. We started walking a little after 11. We were at about 2,650 feet elevation.

The initial hike is about 0.3 mile east along the Starr Pass road alignment, then left to a fence and opening, "officially" putting us onto the Tucson Mountains Regional Park lands. We then walked north along the narrower track for another 0.3 mile. This track looked like it was a very old road, but these days it's strictly for hikers and bicyclists. This north-bound segment brought us to a saddle at elevation 2,790 feet, immediately west of Cat Mountain and east of its neighbor, Little Cat Mountain (Kitten Mountain?).

We had in hand a trip report in which the person had barged up Cat Mountain via the northwest-trending ridge directly from the pass. It looked really rough. We walked just a little farther and saw a well-defined trail angling up the slopes toward Cat Mountain. Some bicyclists had convened up at the saddle, so we talked with them, and they hinted the trail goes to the top. In any case, we decided to follow the trail to see where it took us.

The trail meanders up the initial slope, then starts to traverse east, aiming for a saddle at 2,950 feet, near a small hill shown with a tiny 3,040-foot contour. We arrived here soon enough, and the bicyclists had gone ahead, and we watched them to get an idea where the trail led to. Looking ahead, we saw another small hill, marked with a spot elevation of 3,059 on the topographical map. The trail kept below that hilltop, but the slopes to the ridge from that part of the trail looked very friendly.

We walked the trail to where it started to bend left near that 3,059-foot hill, and from there, walked directly up an easy, open slope to gain a small saddle, elevation 3,050 feet. We looked up and spied our route. We had no information on this particular route, but it seemed so “obvious” that others surely have come this way. We hoped we wouldn't get cliffed out.

Looking up, one sees big rock outcrops immediately above this saddle, and to the left, a big, messy slope of rock and brush. Higher up, it's nothing but big cliffs, but we could see a vegetated ramp way up there that went left through the cliffs. That looked very promising, so we started to trudge up the slope.

The going was easy and minorly sloppy. We found a cairn here and there, which gave us a little hope we were doing something right. Fairly quickly, we had climbed about 300 vertical feet and were starting to get ourselves among the bigger rock outcrops below the cliffs. We had overshot the ramp, mainly because we didn't see it, but from slightly higher up, it was plainly clear, so we downclimbed to it, then angled left (as viewed from below), as was our plan.

Here, we found an obvious path, and followed it as it gained to some rocks, and the only crux move of the hike. This section would rate a low class 3 at best, but it is exposed. It's a small series of rock ledges with huge foot and handholds, running no more than 10 vertical feet. We scampered up this little adrenaline-inducing section, and momentarily were above the rocks and cliffs, now on the top-most ridge of Cat Mountain!

We were still about 200 vertical feet below the summit, but the ridge was wide and very safe. We walked up sloping rocks and sections with soil and brush. There were a couple spots where the ridge narrowed, but never severely. We were at the summit about 12:40 p.m., a 90-minute climb. The top is a bare rock, with a Pima County Sheriff's repeater box placed atop it, inside a fake fiberglass "rock", which is painted white and contrasts heavily with the gray rock.

The views were magnificent, as good as those from Golden Gate about three hours earlier. The day was dry and blue, and the winds were calm. The day had warmed into the 70s. In other words: stunning, awesome conditions. We stayed up here for about 30 minutes, then started the climb down.

Going down was easy, but we had to pay attention at a couple spots along this upper ridge to stay on route, plus where the ridge ends and that crux move is encountered again. I went first and slowly worked down it, then back onto the slopes. Scott was right behind me, and we both moved down the slopes carefully. We took a break when we came back to the trail, then walked it out to his car.

Our round trip hike took us about 3 hours, covering about 3 miles round trip, and 1,150 feet of gain. We were pleased to get this one done, especially since we were going by our noses for the last half of the climb. This route worked well, far better than I was expecting.

Back at Scott's truck, we changed and got rolling, stopping for sandwiches before driving toward Phoenix. We were back in town before sunset, and both hikes had gone very well, much faster than I was expecting. Thanks again to Scott for driving and skills up on the mountains!

(c) 2014, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.