This hike/scramble/fight climbs the north ridge of McCleary Peak. This is the ridge just to the west (right) of Florida Canyon. If there was a trail up it, it would be one of the best hikes around. But, back to reality: it is steep, rocky, endless, and has few redeeming qualities. You will be climbing up steep, loose terrain, and fighting your way through trees and thickets of bushes, and wondering why you decided to climb this ridge. To avoid all this, don’t climb it. Do something more fun.
But if you insist, here’s some information. The hike has several very steep sections. The ground is often covered with small scree-like rocks which can make progress difficult. The upper part of the ridge is covered with dense thickets of bushes that you have to fight through. Wear long sleeves and sunglasses (or some form of eye protection).
At times the folds of the terrain will temp you to contour to the right. Instead, stay on the crest of the ridge—this is always the better option, and has better views.
The climb up the ridge from the parking lot to the summit of McCleary Peak took me 5h 45m. I had intended to continue up the Crest Trail to the top of Mt Wrightson but the ridge took so much time and energy that I decided to skip Wrightson and just head back down Florida Canyon. The whole trip, car to car took me about 8h 30m.
Drive down I-19 and take Exit 63 for Continental Road in Green Valley. Turn left and drive East for about a mile, then turn right following the sign for Madera Canyon. In 7.3 miles, just after Mile Marker 7, where the paved road bears right, continue straight on Hwy 62, the big well-graded dirt road signed to Box Canyon. After 0.3 miles take the right hand fork for Hwy 62A signed for Florida Work Center. Follow this for about 3 miles to the parking area by the gate to the Research Station.
Follow the Florida Canyon trail up to the left of the Research Station. Just after you go through a big metal gate, leave the main trail and go into the riverbed for a short way then by some big boulders there’s an obvious trail heading out right.
Follow the trail as it skirts round the Research Station until it starts heading downhill, then instead, hike steeply up the grassy slope. Soon you’ll come to a barbed wire fence. There is one spot (to the left of where I reached the fence) where there are only two strands of wire instead of the usual four, and it was easy to step over. Continue up, heading in the general direction of the lovely orange rock finger, until you reach the crest of the ridge.
At this point turn left and head up the crest of the ridge. There are many different sections with very different characteristics. Up through trees, up through low bushes, horizontally across rocky terrain, up over rocks, up through dense, almost impenetrable bushes. I wondered if anyone had ever climbed this ridge before until I saw this cairn. I assume that whoever built it also continued up because going down felt like a horrible option.
The ridge really does seem endless, and just when you are hoping you are near to the top, you realize that there are still several more sections to cover.
Unfortunately the sections get harder towards the top. You are faced with dense thickets of bushes that you have to fight your way through. As I mentioned earlier, long pants, long sleeves, and eye protection are very useful. Wherever there are rocks or small cliffs it’s worth climbing these because then you can bypass the bushes.
Finally you reach the summit block which is protected with steep cliffs. Unless you are feeling very brave, it’s better to bypass these cliffs on the right then once round to the south side of the summit, make your way up to the ridge then follow the faint hiking trail back north to the summit.
Once done with the summit, follow the faint hiking trail south until it descends to much easier terrain. Follow the better trail as it switchbacks down until it reaches Armour Spring, where sometimes you can get water. Follow the Armour Spring trail eastwards for about 0.5 miles to Florida Saddle. From here, descend Florida Canyon back to your car.
Better still, don’t do the North Ridge of McCleary Peak at all. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.