Backpacking The Italian Springs Trail To Manning Camp   9 comments

None of my outdoor experiences — hiking, river canoeing/rafting, and camping– involved backpacking. So, when one of my hiking buddies, Tom Markey, asked if I would be interested in backpacking from Redington Pass to Manning Camp via the Italian Springs Trail, I jumped at the possibility. I learned later that this is a hike Tom had talked about for ten years — guess we finally found someone willing to take it on with him — another crazy guy!

Although the road through Redington Pass is a very passable gravel road, Markey was hoping that our mutual friend, Tom’s truck, would be able to take us down a deeply rutted cattle road in his truck, shortening the fifteen-mile hike to Manning Camp by three miles. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the truck was not high enough to chance the old cattle road. So, strapping on our thirty-pound backpacks, we set off with Tom in the lead. 

Since I was nursing an often injured left angle, I was more than willing for Tom to set the pace. Having hiked with Tom many times, it was not unusual for me to drop off the pace because of stopping to take photos. However, it was generally easy for me to catch up — not this time. As we hiked on, I realized that Tom was trying to make up for the time we lost, having to hike the additional three miles.

Not far into the hike, Tom’s pace was slowed by this guy in the middle of the trail — causing a trail detour. This was the first of two snakes we spotted on the trail.

The trail led through several rolling ridges. Here you can see Mica Mountain in the distance (higher point to the left).

After about an hour, we reached the point where the cattle road would have taken us. As the sign indicates, the Italian Springs trail is part of the Arizona Trail.

After hiking several rolling ridges, we finally reached a point where the elevation allowed us a beautiful view back toward the Catalina Mountains. In the distance to the left is Tucson. Although a wilderness area, we are not far from the metropolitan Tucson area. You can get an idea of where we started by looking right down to the base of the Catalina Mountains..

As the trail got steeper, it led us into more trees among large boulders. At least the increased elevation was providing cooler temperatures. However, the climb was beginning to take its toll — rest stops were becoming more necessary in the 5% humidity.

Now late in the afternoon and with each slow, calculated step, it was becoming clear that we would not have enough time to complete the fifteen-mile hike to Manning Camp before dark — even on this “supermoon” night.

“What does the trail look like ahead,” Tom would ask. My standard response was, “It keeps going up!” We began to feel pain from muscles we thought we had lost years ago. Our priority had now become finding a flat area to camp, leaving us four miles short of the goal of reaching Manning Camp. By not reaching Manning camp, where water was available, it would be essential for us to conserve our water for the return hike tomorrow.

Finally, we reached an area at the base of Mica Mountain, which provided an open flat space where we could spend the evening. It also offered a great view of the sunset and, later in the evening, the rise of the “supermoon.”

Tired and with the sun setting, we decided to pass on preparing a warm meal and begin preparing the campsite. This would also help us conserve water, which was needed to reduce the occasional muscle cramps we had started to experience.

As Tom worked on the campsite, I captured a few sunset photos before assisting him. Cooler temperatures came with the setting sun, but the afternoon winds were to stay with us all night. The following images in this posting would have been of the supermoon rising in the east, but I was too tired to crawl out of the warm sleeping bag into the windy, cold mountain air. 

Morning brought a beautiful sunrise over the Rincon Mountains — this image looks down toward Redington Pass and the Catalinas. Anticipating hot temperatures in the past by mid-morning, we were eager to pack up the campsite and start down the trail.

Occasionally, we would turn to look back at Mica Mountain — “I can’t believe we did it!”

. . . and again.

With Mica Mountain framed in the background, Pat Markey took this photo of Tom and myself.

Finally, back at the trailhead, Pat was already there waiting — to our delight! She also had some much-needed water for us. We had been nursing what little water we had over the last several miles of our eleven-mile return from Mica Mountain. In our minds, the Italian Springs Trail lived up to its reputation of being the most challenging trail in the Tucson area. Completing the two-day backpacking hike was plenty of reward for two early seventy-year-old adventurers. However, there were moments when we were convinced that we were crazy to have taken on such a hike this time of year. 

Would we do it again? No! One time is plenty!

Was it worth it? Absolutely!

— kenne

(Click here to see a slideshow on Flickr.) 

View Video Clips From The Hike

(Taken with my Lumix camera — video & audio not as good as with my Canon VIKIA HF10 — at least I didn’t have to censor Tom.)

9 responses to “Backpacking The Italian Springs Trail To Manning Camp

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  1. How awesome! Love your images…sounds like a real milestone of a trip for both of you. Congratulations!


  2. Tom and I were together for over 33 hours under challenging circumstances in the wilderness, never seeing another human being, yet we were never alone. As we watched over one another, we were watched over by the mountain gods — nature’s “super moon” lighting up Mica Mountain, as we shared the land of the ancients.

    Thanks Nancy for your comment.


  3. There’s nothing like that first drink of water when you haven’t had enough, is there? Beautiful photos, and a great tale.


  4. hey, you camped illegally ya know….


  5. Reblogged this on Becoming is Superior to Being and commented:

    Yesterday was my good friend Tom’s 80th birthday. The celebration will have to come later because of the pandemic.
    In June, after completing this hike in April, Tom was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live. Today, eight years later and a lot of chemotherapy, Tom remains in remission. — kenne


  6. Awesome birthday tribute for your “warrior” buddy, Tom.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The picture of the snake is not a rattlesnake. You should get a snake book.


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