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Tom’s Thumb Loop
McDowell Sonoran Preserve
February 13, 2021
by Tom Simonick
Group. [photo by Li]
front:  Li, Vicki, Tom
back: Randall, Tish

After a beautiful sunrise which gave way to overcast, five of us met at the McDowell Preserve’s Gateway Trailhead to hike to Tom’s Thumb via Bell Pass.

It’s partly cloudy at sunrise. [photo by Vicki]

Due to concerns about Covid, we quickly left the busy trailhead and proceeded toward Bell Pass, which is below Thompson Peak.

The trail begins with a grate. [photo by Li]
We’re on an easy part of the trail. [photo by Li]
Randall and Tom take it in stride. [photo by Li]

The trail was not busy and after a nice warm up, we started the climb up to Bell Pass. It is a 1400 foot elevation gain and it wasn’t long until some layers of clothing came off. Along the way Vicki found our Valentine’s rock.

Special rock for Valentine’s Day. [photo by Vicki]
Looking back, we had a nice view of Scottsdale. [photo by Li]
There was an option on the trail; naturally we took the Steeper Way. [photo by Vicki]
Made it to Bell Pass. [photo by Li]
Look at those clouds and make it a short break. [photo by Vicki]

We only took a short break at the pass, because it was cold and windy, and some of the clouds looked threatening.

The temperature improved as we descended into the basin and the sun began to break through the overcast. Arriving at the junction with Windgate Pass Trail, we took a quick break and then headed east on the East End Trail. This is a pretty but rugged part of the McDowells, with lots of interesting boulders as you ascend the trail below East End Peak.

We’re on the East End Trail. [photo by Vicki]
Vicki celebrates. [photo by Randall]
Who is kissing whom? [photo by Li]

Two boulders in particular seem to be kissing humans, or lizards (?), but very appropriate for the day before Valentine’s Day.

The saddle where East End and Tom’s Thumb Trails meet was much busier than Gateway. There was a steady wind, so initially that decreased my concern about Covid.

We’re approaching a pinnacle. [photo by Li]

However, as we hiked towards Tom’s Thumb, and the number of hikers increased, I put my mask on. We got to Tom’s Thumb in time to watch rock climbers rapel down it.

How are you at rappeling? [photo by Vicki]
I prefer to just climb. [photo by Li]
Made it to Tom’s Thumb! [photo by Vicki]

After the obligatory picture at the base of the Thumb, we walked down to some boulders that formed a nice cave and windbreak so we could eat.

We left the Thumb and hiked up to The Lookout, a trail that a leads up to a point above Windgate Pass. As on other hikes, I noticed only a few other people took this trail. It is a mile roundtrip, but you do get a good view in all directions.

On top of the world! [photo by Li]
Li and Tom [photo by Vicki]
Vicki [photo by Randall]
Randall [photo by Li]

Rejoining the Tom’s Thumb Trail, we headed west towards Gateway. I was worried that the trail would be crowded; however, there were very few hikers as we descended 600 feet in a mile, into the canyons below the Thumb. We had over four miles of hiking ahead of us, but the trail is interesting. We saw many beautiful saguaros and cholla.

Li [photo by Tom]
Tom [photo by Li]
The perfect ending to a perfect day. [photo by Li]

The trail went up and down eventually meeting up with the Windgate Pass Trail. Continuing west, the number of hikers increased, but I think we were fortunate to have hiked so long in a popular location and having the trails mostly to ourselves.

We said our goodbyes at Gateway; the end of a good day of hiking.

Statistics: 14.5 miles in 7.5 hours, with an accumulated elevation gain of 3232 feet.
Co-led by Li Li.

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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated February 15, 2021