Arizona Fall 2008 Trip Report

Dates: October 29 to November 2, 2008


Desirous of bagging some peaks and yet having already done nearly all the southern California P2000+ summits, I set sights on Arizona for a string of ascents that would offset the gasoline expense.

I select summits on the Arizona Fifty Finest prominence list; and then add Camelback Mountain within greater Phoenix, having seen it from my jetliner on numerous occasions.

Scott Surgent joins me for Newman Peak, located just east of Interstate-10 about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. Apart from that effort I travel alone.

Wednesday, October 29 - drive and Mount Ord

An early start allows me to summit Mount Ord this very afternoon. Starting my drive in darkness, I leave San Diego at 5:30 a.m. PDT; arriving at the Mount Ord approach road around 1:30 p.m. MST.

Starting at Route 87, I drive 6.0 miles until this locked gate some 3 or 400 feet below the summit; and walk from there along the perfectly good dirt road.

After 5-10 minutes a fork is encountered with the left branch going uphill and the right branch remaining level. A new sign points to the right branch claiming that both the electronic antenna farm and observation tower are 0.5 mile along that road.

What a crock! I take the left branch and reach the summit 10 minutes later - the right branch being unseen. I suspect that the Forest Service does not want hikers at the summit area, and has intentionally placed the sign to mislead. This is confirmed by warnings at the summit that one is under surveillance and that it is illegal to climb the summit observation tower. The latter is gated anyway roughly ten feet above ground level.

I drive 15 miles farther north on Route 87 and then 5.0 miles west on dirt for the trailhead to Mazatzal Peak.

Thursday, October 30 - Mazatzal Peak

This is a long dayhike. I arise at 5:24 a.m., again in darkness, and hike at 6:20 when it is light enough to see without headlamp. Progress is rapid until I opt for bushwhacking to the main, northwest ridge from a point before the obvious 6,000 foot saddle along the main trail and at the ridge's base.

That bushwhack is steep and full of dry, thorny plants that are a nightmare to walk through. I top-out along the ridge at about 6,950 feet after an hour of thankless elevation gain. The going is now considerably easier to the summit - and I vow to go clear down the ridge rather than return via my makeshift ascent path.

I return to the vehicle at 3:37 p.m. - a 9 hour 17 minute hike with about 4,000 feet of total gain and countless miles horizontal.

The next venue is in greater Phoenix at lower elevation. Heat is definitely an issue, and so I just drive 3.6 miles back towards Route 87 and car-camp there with a good cell phone signal for my "base camp manager". Here, with the black night sky and hooting coyotes, the night will be far more enjoyable than under the bright lights of a Wal-Mart parking lot.

Friday, October 31 - Camelback Mountain and Newman Peak folly

I drive at 6 a.m. before first light, and arrive at the base of Camelback around 7:30 amidst a horde of local hikers. Even though it is a weekday I almost cannot find parking.

Some parts of me are sore from Mazatzal, and so I start slowly enough, carrying a daypack and wearing leather boots - unlike the vast majority of other hikers. People pass by me, and I take it in-stride realizing that this effort is both short and not a "significant" peak.

After five minutes I feel completely fine and proceed at what for me is a normal pace. There is a section with handrails, and I intentionally avoid using them. Shortly thereafter I pass the numerous people who had gone beyond me lower down; and, after 40 minutes elapsed time I summit 1,300 feet above the parking lot.

I am pleased that despite having every disadvantage thrown at me I am able to climb faster than anybody else there - except, of course, the trailrunners who are intentionally trying to rush. The disadvantages include having hiked all-day; being twice the age of most; and carrying a normal complement of gear instead of just a pint-size water bottle in one hand.

Summit views are nice, especially of downtown Phoenix, and there's a modest wind. After a mini-challah (Jewish egg bread) with peanut butter and strawberry jam I descend under increasing heat as the clouds are no longer shading the sun.

I have plenty of time. My mission is to enjoy a pint of ice cream, and I choose the Private Selection brand "Extreme Moose Tracks" flavor with peanut butter fudge cups and chocolate in a chocolate base, while in the cab, parked at the supermarket lot. The carton has "Denali" hanging from the moose's antlers, and is selected from among dozens of possible flavors because I was accepted onto a guided 2009 Denali expedition just the previous week.

I head south, having learned that Exit 208 on Interstate-10 has some of the lowest gasoline prices in the state. Both the Flying J truck stop and the Pilot are selling at $2.379 / gallon - a darned sight cheaper than the $4.30 I was paying in San Diego just a few months earlier. I fill the tank completely.

Scott Surgent arrives around 4:30 p.m. - late but still with enough time for getting to a trailhead for Newman Peak. That never happened - we are stymied by both a trip report that does not coincide with "ground truth" and by a locked gate that prevents us from approaching the peak closely enough for the next day.

We drive to Picacho Peak State Park and are repulsed by the $20 charge per vehicle. We drive back to the general area of our approach to Newman and bushcamp at a large dirt area near a road junction. Interstate-10 and the railroad tracks are just 0.3 mile west. We have a nice conversation until about 9 p.m. and turn-in.

Saturday, November 1 - Keystone Peak and desert camping

The plan is to investigate another approach to Newman Peak and abort when I run out of time for doing Keystone Peak TODAY, leaving enough daylight for getting to the base of Table Top for the next day. The idea is to avoid wasting a day by locating a Newman approach route yet without enough time for hiking it OR Keystone Peak. In setting a time limit, 7:30 a.m., I avoid this scenario.

Scott and I halt at a deep road washout that neither of us is willing to drive. We return to the paved approach road (3.2 miles) and say our farewells. Scott continues to search for an approach, and is successful as learned in a text message he leaves me. We'll attempt Newman Peak this winter, possibly together, possibly separately, using this new route from the north side.

After a rushed drive and a trailhead bowl of Apple Jacks I commence the Keystone Peak hike at 8:58 a.m. The effort is simple as it is entirely on a dirt road.

I enjoy good summit views amidst an antenna farm - and especially like seeing Baboquivari from the east. It looks ever tougher from the northwest, the direction of approach for the route Edward Earl and I took to climb it a few years back. Kitt Peak is seen with the summit astronomical observatories, plus nearby Coyote Peak that I hear is one of the brushier Arizona prominences.

Soy chips with Italian Tallegio cheese is my summit snack. That's just wonderful, gooey cheese (like brie); and I vow to purchase it again soon enough.

The net elevation gain is 1,500 feet, the total gain perhaps 100 feet more. I take 3 hours 10 minutes for the round-trip, including a roughly 20 minute summit siesta.

I needed to drive by 2 p.m. for reaching camp before darkness - and it is only 12:30. The Verkol interchange (I-8 Exit 144) is located around 3:30 p.m.; and I then drive south, then east, to a remote campsite in the Sonora Desert National Monument. Some of this approach drive is sandy, and so four wheel drive is recommended. This 15.4 mile drive consumes just under one hour - perhaps 55 minutes.

I find a campsite and take it for the night - no charge. Two men occupy an adjacent site and are busy getting mildly inebriated with numerous cans of cheap beer. Nobody else. Eventually I begin a conversation, learning that they enjoy the pristine, Sonoran Desert scenery with the cacti and assorted wildlife.

I eat supper - again, a potpourri centering on this excellent loaf of artisanal olive and rosemary bread, assorted gourmet olives, kosher bologna, and Jarslberg cheese.

Later, and in the effort to make friends, I return to the two men with a pair of Texas ruby red grapefruit: I have too many of them at home. Later still, they invite me to enjoy a ribeye steak they've thrown on the coals, claiming that "you look like you need it". I'm not a "meat and potatoes" kind of guy. However, having not enjoyed a steak in over a year, I accepted their offer and dined with them well after dark - indeed, until bedtime at around 9 p.m. The bone was gnawed clean of any traces, pepper seasoning and A-1 steak sauce ensuring total enjoyment.

During our conversation the subject naturally turns to prominence. Soon obvious that I am knowledgeable in the topic, one man says, "Sounds like you could write a book.". To which I replied, "I have".

Sunday, November 2 - Table Top and home

A classic desert hike. The actual trailhead is 10 minutes hike along an abandoned track from the campground. Beyond that it is 3.5 miles more to the summit of a subpeak located 0.4 mile southwest of Table Top's true highest ground. Between about 3,500 feet until just before the trail's top end it is at-times annoyingly full of rocks and scree.

I start early, 6:20 a.m., to mitigate the heat. Fortunately some cloudcover and the mountain's shadow provides welcome relief for nearly the entire ascent. I reach the trail's end after 1 hour 32 minutes travel time; and then proceed to the true summit 14 minutes away. I return to the subpeak and enjoy my summit snack, having completed the bushwhacking portion of my efforts.

Descent is rapid, and is marred only by the day's mounting heat as I reach the desert floor. I return at 10:35 a.m., the two men having left.

After returning along the approach road, at noon I nap for nearly one-half hour prior to driving Interstate-8, west, to Gila Bend and a cold beverage. Later I stop in Yuma to fill the tank completely before re-entering California with its higher gasoline prices.

Last night Daylight Savings Time ended for California, and so I "gain" one hour today as I drive home, arriving with the very last drop of light in the western sky.

The journey logs 1,214.7 miles on my truck odometer. I am four P2000 peaks "richer", having climbed five mountains out of six that were planned. Here, Camelback Mountain has roughly 1,350 feet of prominence and so does not add to the P2000 count.