Cochise County High Point Trip Report

Chiricahua Peak (9,759 ft)

Date: February 20, 2000
Author: Scott Surgent

I had not planned to do this peak on this particular weekend, but Saturday afternoon (the 19th) I got that highpointer's itch to give it another try [see trip report from January 14th]. I got up early on Sunday, hit the road at 4:15 am, and was at the Chiricahuas by 8:00 am. This time I decided to hike up the Mormon Creek Trail from the west, access from Turkey Creek Road.

After gathering my gear and talking with a camper, I hit the trail. There are two trails that run parallel along the Mormon Creek drainage. I took the "lower" one, the one literally in the creek bed (the "upper" one's trailhead is about a half-mile west of the lower's trailhead, but there is no convenient parking for that trailhead). The trailhead's elevation is approximately 6,400 feet.

The trail begins at the end of the Sycamore campsites off a little spur from Turkey Creek Road. It's fairly flat for a few hundred yards, then swings left, at which a sign mentions the distance to the peak as 5 miles. From here it is a consistently moderate uphill grade along nice wide trail.

After about a mile, it comes to a spring, where remnants of an old pump (?) station remain. The trail resumes but is noticeably more primitive. It parallels the creek on the right as you face uphill (river left for you purists!). Parts are nice easy trail, parts have downed trees and branches obstructing the way, and all of it was covered under a heavy matte of pine needles and leaves, pine cones, and other detritus. It would appear this route sees little travel, relatively speaking. After another 3/4 mile or so, it crosses the creek bed, and parallels up the left side (river right) for another 1.5 miles. Quality of the trail ranges from good to tricky. The creek itself had running water down low, fed by springs.

At the top of the drainage, the trail begins a short but steep series of switchbacks. Parts of the trail were completely obscured, but periodic cairns pointed the route. After hiking the steep switchbacks, the trail converged with the upper trail, meeting at an elevation of 8,700 feet.

For the first time I had an actual view of the peaks above me, although Chiricahua's summit was still obscured by trees. However, I could readily see some of Chiricahua's northern satellites, such as Anita Peak. A large fire about 5 years ago had defoliated much of this part of the mountain and the burn scars were still readily evident.

From point 8,700, I proceeded southerly about a half mile to the Chiricahua Saddle, elevation 9,100 feet. From here I had a choice: loop south then east and approach the summit from the southeast, or loop north. I decided to follow the Crest Trail (signed) north about 3/4 mile to the saddle between Chiricahua and Anita Peaks, elevation 9,500 feet. A talus field (with no trees) allowed for excellent views down to the desert floor.

It was along this stretch I encountered the first of many downed trees. Crossing these obstacles was easy at first, but soon, especially on the final approach heading south of the saddle up to the peak, the quantity of deadfall was enormous. For the most part I tried to go underneath as often as I could, preferring not to touch or put any weight on these massive logs. There were also many standing dead trees, and they creaked in the slight breeze. I also saw what appeared to be very recent deadfall, judging by the disturbed ground and freshness of the wood. Soon, after getting past these woody obstacles, I arrived at the summit, exactly three hours after starting. The weather was breezy but very nice, with temps right around 50.

I stayed about 15 minutes at the top. A sign (mentioned in some guidebooks) that had stood at the summit is no longer there. The summit is marked by a benchmark in a boulder situated at the base of a large tree. The benchmark's elevation is listed as 9,795 feet, which is probably in error. There aren't any great views from the summit, unfortunately.

After the requisite snack and photos, I proceeded down, following the same route as I had come up. I met with a couple of hikers at point 8,700, the only people I saw the whole day on the route. They had come up the upper Mormon Creek trail and they mentioned there were good views along this route. The hike down was fairly quick, although the loose rocks here and there were more treacherous as I moved downhill. I arrived back to my truck at just before 2 pm. The weather was spectacular! Breezy and cool, but not cold.

I laid in the bed of my truck and took a catnap for about a half-hour before packing up, changing into some civvies and proceeding home.