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Esperero Trail to Cardiac Gap

Cardiac Gap has rightfully earned its name.  This is a fun hike, but it is not suitable for beginners.  It is definitely more of an intermediate-to-intermediate-plus hike.  The trail goes in and out of canyons and there is plenty of elevation gain near the end.  Tough hike.

Distance: 7 miles RT (approx)
Elevation: 1,500 feet (approx)
Hiking Time: 4 hours (+/- 1 hour)

Sierra Club Trail Description (http://arizona.sierra...)
This segment of the Esperero Trail starts out among the saguaros on the desert floor, but ends up in an juniper/oak forest in a canyon bottom about 2,000 feet higher.

From the Sabino Canyon visitor's center head up the road about half a mile, passing an island in the center of the road and the Cactus Picnic Area. About 50 to 100 yards past the turn off for the Cactus Picnic Area are small signs on the left and right for the Esperero Trail. Take the Esperero Trail to the left. If you get to the top of the first rise in the road then you have missed the Esperero Trail.

The trail first heads out flat across the desert, passing a number of side trails which take off to the left to the picnic area. In this very first section always bear right if there is a choice about which way to go. After a few minutes the trail climbs up to the top of a little ridge, and then runs north along the top of the ridge for a few hundred yards before dropping back down to the desert floor on the far side of the ridge.

About 20 minutes from when you started, and a short distance after coming down off the ridge, you will come to the signed trail junction with the Rattlesnake Trail. Take the Esperero Trail to the left, or north.

A short while after the signed trail junction the trail forks at an unsigned junction. The correct way to go is to the right. There is usually a string of rocks set across the incorrect path to the left.

After the unsigned junction the trail climbs up to a ridge, goes across the top of the ridge for a few minutes, drops down into a small canyon (Bird Canyon), crosses the canyon, and then starts climbing out of the other side of the small canyon. As you climb out of this small canyon you will see a road and some houses off to your left.

Shortly after climbing up out of Bird Canyon, the trail crosses the nose of the ridge, and turns right to head up the medium sized canyon just north of Bird Canyon. The trail makes its way to the bottom of the canyon without losing elevation by contouring upcanyon until the canyon bottom rises to the level of the trail. Then the trail goes up the canyon along its bottom for about 25 minutes, going back and forth across the dry streambed a number of times. At the upper end of the canyon is a number of switchbacks that climb up a steep slope that ends at a ridgetop. This last section of switchbacks is what Betty Leavengood calls "Cardiac Gap," though it is not nearly as fearsome as the name suggests.

After you climb Cardiac Gap you are looking a long way down into a large and deep bowl, which is Esperero Canyon. The grassy area around the upper edge of this bowl is called Geronimo Meadows, and it is a beautiful grassland area with ocotillos, shindaggers, and scattered oak trees.

Recommended Gear

  • 3+ liters of water
  • sun protection
  • snack

Please be on time as we will leave promptly at 7 AM.


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  • Mesia

    Great hike!

    May 5, 2013

  • Paul Y.

    Thanks Don B :)

    May 5, 2013

  • Paul Y.

    Was pretty warm on the desert floor but once we got deeper into Esperero Canyon we got some shade on the trail. Up at Cardiac Gap the temperature was cool with a nice breeze.

    May 5, 2013

  • Jo S.

    Great day, great weather, great people. Couldn't have been better!

    May 5, 2013

  • Isabell H.

    Just toooo hot, sorry

    May 5, 2013

  • Michelle B.

    Moving is taking longer than I thought, see you all next time.

    May 4, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Will go as far as I can based on outside temperature. thanks Donna :)

    May 3, 2013

  • Don B

    Unlike many other hikes that I lead, I won't be hanging back with slower hikers. It is expected that everyone will be capable of doing this hike at a reasonable pace. If you can hike Blackett's within 1.5 hours, you should be good. If you do fall far behind, the trail is well marked and fairly easy to follow. And please remember to bring lots of water and sun protection. It will be hot.

    1 · May 3, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Just did this hike to bridal veil last weekend! It was very hot, so bring lots of water. I will be doing the 10k at star pass that morning, tho.

    May 1, 2013

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