Maricopa County High Point Trip Report

Date: April 21-22, 2001
By: Scott Surgent

The Maricopa County highpoint is Brown's Peak, which is one of the 4 principal peaks on Four Peaks Mountain. Just so you have an idea how fickle the weather can get in Arizona, we had a couple nice weeks of temps in the 80-90s in Phoenix, then an early Spring storm came in off the Pacific and socked Arizona on Saturday the 21st. We (MCSO-Mountain Rescue) had a call-out at 5 pm for two overdue hikers. As I drove up to the saddle, the consistent rain turned to snow at about 5500' and the final three miles was in accumulating snow and 4wd. Three of us suited up and began the trek in for the lost hikers at 9 pm with heavy snowfall and steady winds in the 20-40 mph range. Some deputies had gone in before us but were ill-suited and returned hastily (one had a twisted ankle, another hypothermia).

We headed in to Brown's Saddle, taking about 2.5 hours to make the mile and a half. At the saddle, we had the full force of the wind, sleet and blowing snow. The hikers were at Amethyst Mine, which is about a mile further on the west flanks of the peak. In good conditions, it is a sketchy trail. In these conditions, it was non-existent. We made attempt after attempt to find this trail, but were driven back by the incessant winds. Even in full battle dress, we were being reduced by the conditions. After a couple of attempts in which each one of us at one time or another took a spill in the snow, we aborted the search and waited until daylight when a helicopter could go up.

Fortunately, the hikers had found shelter in the mine's opening and were out of the full force of the wind and snow. They survived (I can not tell you how grateful I was to hear this the next morning). All of us were mildly hypothermic and one of our guys was hallucinating (he swore he passed a barn!).

For those of you that have hiked/climbed this peak, you probably recall the general lay of the land and its desert nature. All this a mere 40 miles from Phoenix! Never underestimate the weather. Also, never underestimate the ability of people to get themselves in trouble. These hikers were dressed for mild conditions, even though a storm was forecast for that day. They were very lucky indeed. My truck was one big mud-cake from the door-handles down. That road was brutal.