Arizona January 2009 Trip Report

Dates: January 17 to 21, 2009


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 five summits on the Arizona 2,000+ foot prominence list; their identities chosen as to minimize the total driving.

Weaver Peak access was granted to Scott Casterlin for the 18th, a Sunday - so pegging the trip dates. For that effort I join several people, including Jack Bennett who is the only person to have completed the thirteen peak Canada provincial highpoint list.

After Weaver Peak, Rick Hartman of Prescott joined me for the remaining three climbs.

Saturday, January 17 - drive and Cunningham Mountain

An early start allows me to summit Cunningham this very afternoon. Starting my drive at dawn, I leave San Diego at 6:30 a.m. PST; arriving at the Cunningham Mountain approach road around 12:30 p.m. MST. some five hours later.

This peak was recommended by Scott Surgent as one that is quick enough to do on the same day as driving from San Diego. He was correct.

This is a road walk - nothing more. Seizing the opportunity to assess my fitness level, I decided to "max out" my rate of vertical elevation gain. Thus after 20 minutes I climb 950 feet (290 meters) for an ascent rate of 2,850 feet/hour. Somewhat out of breath, I take a 3 minute break and then complete the effort while promising to take it a bit easier to enjoy the hike. Thereby I reach the summit 42 minutes elapsed from the car for the 1,750 feet of elevation gain (2,500 feet/hour).

Descent requires all of 38 minutes. Your times will likely be longer.

These GPS-derived WGS84 coordinates are instructive.

Description Coordinates Elevation (feet) Topo chart (waypoint at cursor)
turnoff at Route 95 (33.54604 °N, 114.21717 °W) 1145 click here
turn left (south) (33.57250 °N, 114.33277 °W) 1488 click here
park (33.57033 °N, 114.33279 °W) 1564 click here
summit (33.56988 °N, 114.34958 °W) 3303 click here

I drive through Quartzsite, noting it is a community devoted exclusively, at least in winter, to the recreational vehicle. Indeed, the winter population must be severalfold greater than the permanent one.

Eventually I camp at the dead end of Pete's Road, two miles south along Eagle Eye Road from the center of Aguila along Route 60.

Sunday, January 18 - Weaver Peak and Barbecue

Scott Casterlin is late meeting me in Congress. I am upset because of the pains I took to be there on time, having arisen in darkness to finish the drive from Aguila.

As seven peakbaggers we caravan in three vehicles to a starting point, having already met the rancher/landowner at his home. In Scott's vehicle we also have Scott Surgent and John Hamann. Rick Hartman drives with Jack Bennett; and John Klein drives alone.

The climb begins with a trail and then "degenerates" into a bushwhack. Navigating to the obvious rock outcrop, we find ourselves needlessly climbing over it only to spy the true summit a few hundred yards off and higher still.

At the summit congratulations go all-around - as does some homemade chocolate fudge from my niece Rebecca who gave it to me as a Hanukkah gift.

The descent is more direct, avoiding the false summit with its precarious bouldering. The round-trip consumes some five hours.

Scott Casterlin's vehicle is high-centered on a rock, and it takes perhaps 20 minutes to free it using a combination of car jack and neary flat rocks. What a mess.

Back in Congress I enjoy some ice cream, and a soda pop, and we (Rick Hartman, Jack Bennett and myself) wait for Jack's wife to arrive so as to caravan to a camping spot near Smith Peak - the next day's venue.

This evening Rick provides the chicken for a outdoors barbecue - plus baked potatoes and a round of appetizers with blue corn tortilla chips, salsa, and guacamole. I provide sparkling apple cider and a bottle of pink Australian wine.

The chicken breast has a nice char on the exterior, while leaving the inside tender and juicy. After enjoying one I have another - yet save half of it for a summit sandwich the next day.

The conversation is lively; and enough light is given by Rick's floodlight to ward-off the evening darkness.

After the Bennetts depart Rick and I maintain the dialogue for nearly two hours. Finally it is time to sleep about 9 p.m.

Monday, January 19 - Smith Peak

We arise before sunrise and enjoy boiling hot coffee prepared by Rick on his camping stove. He eats breakfast - and yet I am not hungry after last night's barbecue. However some chocolate fudge goes great with my coffee.

The driving approach directions from Scott Surgent are flawed in that it specifies "5 miles" north from Aguila prior to heading left (west). In truth there is no junction at five miles. Instead, at the Maricopa County line, 4.0 miles from Highway 60, turn left (west) and drive northwest at the obvious junction 3.0 (or 3.1) miles later. Scott, upon learning of this mishap, gladly corrected his instructions.

After driving northwest 2.4 miles you find a BLM kiosk. Take the left fork there, and drive northwest to a destroyed structure just north of a hill. At the structure, take the less obvious road west rather than the main track northwest. Enter a series of washes as you curve southwest, west, and finally north to park about one-half mile east of the (visibly obvious) dirt track leading upslope to the main ridge.

Now on-foot, we hike cross-country to that track, having started at roughly 2,700 feet from our pair of vehicles. Eventually we intersect the track, and, at about 3,200 feet it begins to climb in earnest for the main ridge - topping out at some 4,370 feet.

Rick is intent on improving his fitness level - and joining me for these hikes is an excellent means to that end. The road's steepness is his benefit.

The ridge road is in better condition than the steep, uphill track taken to meet it. After rounding a 4,900 foot hill on its northern side there is a (150 foot?) drop prior to the final ascent of 5,200 foot Smith Peak.

Rick is most happy to be here - after all, there are spent gun cartridges to gather as well as assorted junk that he carries off the mountain for assorted reasons. Seriously, it is a bluebird day. Our isolation is simply splendid as we peer in all directions at both broad, low valleys and distant peaks.

After our descent we return to pavement and top-off our tanks in Aguila. We caravan to Wenden and then drive north, following the accurate directions provided by Scott Surgent for the Harcuvar Peak approach.

We arrive with plenty of time before darkness - about 4:30 p.m. and some two miles south of Harcuvar Peak at some 2,360 feet. Despite our obvious remoteness my cell phone has a reasonably strong signal at camp. That written, I always turn-off the unit while actually climbing because it tends to destroy the ambience should it ring at some point.

Tuesday, January 20 - Harcuvar Peak

The first 45 minutes is just a road walk as we gain slight elevation on the approach to a canyon on the east side of Harcuvar Peak. There are several possible southeast ridge routes; and yet we decide to continue on the deteriorating path, now merely a trail, up-canyon. Eventually we must turn left and head steeply upslope amidst the brush and cacti.

We leave the canyon at about 3,300 feet, aiming for a lone saguaro about 200 vertical feet higher still. I lead, intentionally maintaining a pace that I know will tax Rick and yet within his ability: perfect physical training for my sake. We reach the cactus in short order and set our sights on a rocky bulge 2-300 feet beyond.

Sidehilling followed by some Class 3 scrambling has us on-top of the rock outcrop and on a ridge leading obviously to the summit area. Our route was steep enough, on the rocks, that we agree to descend another way.

My GPS unit indicates only 550 more vertical feet; and so we are gaining elevation "lickety-split" much to our pleasure. After making good that height we turn left (west) on the summit plateau and are soon standing at the cairned western summit. Ten minutes later and we are at the other possible highest point, complete with summit register. Another peak on another beautiful day!

Rick signs us both into the register and enjoys his overstuffed peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Today I have an apple with mango-infused Stilton cheese and a pita bread.

The descent is along the obvious, east ridge - and leads directly to the saddle at the top, northern end of the canyon we must return to. At the saddle we take a break before heading down-canyon, meeting our original departure point halfway down it. The remainder of our hike is uneventful; and we return to our vehicles 5 hours 5 minutes after starting.

We have some good refreshments in Wenden, including chilled Starbuck's coffee from Rick's ice chest and a Butterfinger ice cream bar. The drive to our next venue is over 100 miles as we travel on Route 60 southwest to Hope and then northwest on Route 72 to Parker and eventually Lake Havasu City.

Scott Surgent provides essential road directions for how to access Crossman Peak. The approach road, once outside the city proper, is a very popular venue for off-road enthusiasts - and for gun shooting. Rick relishes the chance to retrieve all manner of spent cartridges - and I am amazed at how he instantly identifies the ammunition type. Clearly guns and their modification are a big part of his hobby life.

After we park for the night there is supper. My backcountry stove fails to work - and, at the point of eating my macaroni and cheese raw, Rick comes to the rescue with his large campstove. With kosher salami inside, my pasta is enhanced further with some of Rick's salsa in a large, square tub.

We are entertained by a Volkswagen bug, highly modified for off-road travel, that breaks down on an uphill section. Unfortunately it is blocking our route of egress; and we take bets as to whether the automobile will still be there, mid-day, upon conclusion of our hike. Eventually the "bug" is towed out by the owner's brother with a winch system. Our "movie" for the night finished we head for bed.

Wednesday, January 21 - Crossman Peak and home

The morning coffee is weak - but only because I took my portion before the pot came to a full, rolling boil so I could actually drink it. Rick's coffee is surely stronger as we lazily sit and ponder one of a dozen political topics in light of yesterday's change of administration at the highest level in our nation. I write, of course, about the inauguration of President Obama.

We drive 2.8 miles and park where Scott Surgent recommends at an obvious gravel pullout. In-truth the road has been graded since Scott's report; and I recommend one drive about one-third mile more; parking at WGS84 (34.55203° N, 114.21083° W) with 3,122 feet elevation. This is just one-tenth mile shy of a locked gate. One cannot park higher than suggested here.

This time we reach the near-summit antenna farm in 1 hour 1 minute. The elevation gain 1,680 feet, we have climbed at 1,650 feet/hour - and I note to Rick that his fitness has improved. Plus, we are not stopping every few hundred feet for a brief, standing rest break as his breath is caught. What a difference a trio of day-climbs can make!

The summit itself is 400 feet higher, and we top-out around 9:30 in the morning a mere 75 minutes after starting.

Remarkably, I have summited earlier every day five days in a row. The first day was delayed by a drive from San Diego. The second day was delayed by meeting several others and a nasty bushwhack. The third day was delayed by not reaching our "trailhead" until well after sunrise - in turn because the Bennetts needed to drive home at night - and this would be most difficult had we driven clear to our walking point just to have our barbecue. Finally, the fourth day was a longer hike.

We spend nearly one hour atop, enjoying impressive views - especially westward with the Colorado River and Lake Havasu City nearly one vertical mile below.

We reluctantly head down to our waiting vehicles, the downhill effort made more pleasant by a growing layer of cloud which shades us. After returning to town Rick heads north on Route 95 while I head south.

My drive home, some 340 miles, is augmented by a major caffeination in Parker with plenty of iced coffee and a pumpkin spice doughnut. Later I am treated to a chance fly-by of the Blue Angels aerobatic demonstration team as I drive through Imperial County, California - their winter training ground. The four craft are in a diamond formation.

I "gain" one hour in returning to the Pacific Time Zone; and pull into home about 1 1/2 hours after sunset.

The journey logs 932.8 miles on my truck odometer. I am five P2000 peaks "richer"; and have, hopefully, earned a new friend in Rick Hartman.