Navajo County Highpoint Trip Report

Black Mesa (8,168 feet) - approach via the Yazzi Trail and eastern rim

Date: November 3, 2001
Author: Adam Helman

Arizona state completion

Bob Packard and myself decided upon attempting an alternative approach to the highpoint of Navajo County. Our experience was exciting, exhausting, and alltogether made me feel that I had earned the title of Arizona state completer.

My train arrived nearly an hour late into Flagstaff - 7 A.M. or so. Bob drove with me in his camper to the disorganized grid of unmarked roads that so often characterize Indian lands in the desert southwest. After a few wrong choices we eventually found the road leading to the start of the Yazzi trail at the base of Black Mesa.

Our plan was to hike up to the mesa rim on the trail (a 1,600 ft elevation gain), followed by a cross-country route of our choosing, trending north by northwest in general, along the east rim, until the highest point of the mesa was encountered. This route would necessarily involve negotiation of 3 uphill sections with 2 downhill sections in-between as described here. The TOTAL elevation gain ended up being 3,700 vertical feet with a NET gain of some 2,300 vertical feet.

Please refer to this map when following the route description.

The first uphill section occurs shortly after reaching the rim and entails a 400 foot gain. This is followed by a gradual 100 ft gain, trending north, to a point marked with 7,985 ft elevation. A slight dip (no more than 50 ft) is followed by more gradual gain to a highpoint (8,059 ft) with insufficient prominence to be considered a separate summit using a 300 foot rule.

From the 8,059 ft highpoint one continues north to encounter a 300 ft downhill section which must be negotiated prior to regaining the altitude on approach to a true summit with perhaps 400 feet of prominence (8,098 ft). Still trending north by northwest, drop down again some 400 feet (hence the indicated prominence) to yet another canyon whose northern slopes must be ascended to gain the true highpoint of Navajo County at 8,168 ft.

What awaited us on each uphill and downhill leg of this cross-country route was a series of rock bands, largely sandstone, that demanded technical rock climbing gear - none of which we had brought along with us.

A good deal of time was spent traversing along contour lines in the (nearly fruitless) pursuit of some break in the sandstone that would permit us safe passage. Despite our efforts to locate the sanest route we nonetheless were compelled to use Bob's rope as a hand line on perhaps three or four steep (at least 60 degree) sections of roughly ten to twenty feet each.

Had we ample time to conduct a thorough survey, it is likely that the rope would have been rendered superfluous - so giving the rim portion of our hike a class 3 rating. Bob and myself agree that there is no way that one could avoid class 3 portions in proceeding from where the Yazzi trail tops out on the rim, to the highpoint some 2 air miles to the north by northwest.

We began our climb at 10:45 AM and attained the Navajo County highpoint at 3:24 PM. Normally I should have been thrilled at having completed the state of Arizona. Unfortunately both of us realized that we would be climbing down in the dark - and this meant that only one-half of the battle had been won ... with the potentially most precarious portion of the climb awaiting us after sundown.

After a hastily eaten pumpernickel bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese I took an all-too-brief look north towards Monument Valley by walking one minute to the most northeasterly part of the mesa. Edward Earl feels that the very highest point may lie not at the cairn, but rather as a large rock about one hundred feet north. Thereby in walking towards the north rim I fortuitously (and unknowingly) covered all possibilities.

We made excellent time on the descent. Nonetheless we had reached only the top of the first (i.e. first on ascent) 400 ft uphill (now downhill) section by the time, some thirty minutes after sunset, that it became difficult to see our way.

I was aghast when, upon looking and feeling into my daypack, I learned that my headlamp was missing!

The headlamp was forgotten on my train seat the previous night - having used it to read magazines while others slept. Bob and I continued descending, still on very tricky terrain with sheer dropoffs and much boulders, using just the illumination from his penlight. We miraculously managed to make it down to the flat terrain which would take us in an easterly heading to the rim (it had been necessary to travel away from the rim, that is west, in order to avoid the worst of the sandstone cliff formations).

We located the terminus of the Yazzi trail by having marked it with a pair of glass jars that we had found on ascent several hours earlier. After a well-deserved break we resumed our trek, now along the Yazzi trail rather than cross-country, moving very slowly because our tiny light had to be shared between us.

In yet a second stroke of bad fortune, the penlight failed us about one-half hour along the trail, and, without any usable light, we found ourselves effectively stranded one-third way down the trail and over a thousand feet above the valley floor. The trail is very scanty and hard to find at some portions even by daylight - and so it was nearly impossible to stay on the trail without a source of illumination.

I resigned myself to a night on the mountain wearing my gloves and Bolivian ski hat to stay warm. Bob had no gloves or head protection. Nevertheless after much trial and error, he somehow managed to locate what appeared to be the trail that we had evidently lost. Without his considerable experience in routefinding it is certain that an uncomfortable, yet survivable night, would have been spent right there.

By now the nearly full moon was high enough above the eastern horizon that we could use its light to safely negotiate our would-be trail. Thereby after perhaps an hour we gleefully enountered Bob's camper glinting in the moonlight. We embraced each other and, finally, Bob offered congratulations for my Arizona state completion. Later we agreed that, given the need for descent by dark (let alone without artificial light!) it would have been premature to celebrate at the summit cairn.

For dinner Bob cooked us fetuccinni alfredo, Hebrew National hot dogs, and green beans. The green beans tasted good inside the pasta with extra chopped garlic - and pine nuts made the meal even tastier still.

We both slept very well that night.

Bob and myself would not recommend this route as a replacement for the "standard" route to the Navajo County highpoint as described in other trip reports: it is far more demanding. Nevertheless our route is certainly appropriate for somebody who wishes to add a little spice and challenge to his Black Mesa experience.

As a result of this trip I finally reached my year-long goal of a 400 statute mile home glob radius: the nearest unclimbed county is now Beaver County in Utah at 401 miles from my home in San Diego.