Arizona Prominences December 2010 Trip Report
© December 2010 Adam Helman
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I am running out of low elevation desert peaks with at least 2,000 feet of prominence (henceforth, "P2K") appropriate for the colder months within one day's drive of my San Diego home. Hence I intentionally plan an itinerary with certain mountains left-out so there's something left for another season.

Four mountains result, all being in southwest Arizona (all values are in feet) -

Cimarron Peak is an "error-range" P2K, and is included because some day I might want to complete the entire Arizona P2K list - and the only kosher means of accomplishing that is to include all peaks that could possibly be P2K.

John Klein of Tucson will meet me for the first two peaks, and the journey is timed so that these efforts fall on a weekend when he is available.

Trip Details

Friday, December 3 - 400 mile drive

I begin much earlier than needed to hedge against unforeseen events. The permit for being on the Barry Goldwater Range has not arrived by mail. So I personally secure one while passing through Yuma at the Marine Corps Air Station.

While along Route 86 and just one-half mile from my turnoff there's a huge traffic jam in the "middle of nowhere". It's a bad accident, and I wait in this long line some 20 minutes before proceeding on the dirt roads which will get me to the desired camping spot and "trailhead" for tomorrow morning.

[The desired dirt road meets the highway 8.4 miles from the junction of Routes 86 and 15 near Quijotoa.]

After one mile in four-wheel-drive I meet a Border Patrol vehicle heading "out". They tell me of illegal drug-runners that have assaulted people as far north as Interstate-8. I express willingness to take my chances. They also mention permission to be on Indian land, and I reply that, of course I have it (not!).

Driving the unsigned sandy tracks can be most confusing, with undocumented paths designed to avoid washouts and deep ruts in several places. At every junction I stop and record coordinates with my GPS unit, even annotating my printed maps with instructions for how to proceed on the egress (e.g. "bear R at 009").

It is all-too-easy getting lost here. See the Addendum for directions.

At one point I mistakenly continue past a key junction and enter a delapidated ranch. I pass a dead, completely dessicated dead cow that, somehow, has retained its hide. There's a herd of live cattle but I cannot find any people.

I return to a broad, open area free of cacti and brush, park, and walk north with the hope of locating the desired track. Finding it I return, and drive back about 100 yards to its junction with the track I've been following. 1.8 miles later I park at a bend in the road where Doug Kasian had once started his climb of South Mountain. The elevation is 2,120 feet.

Remarkably my cell phone has a full signal - and I immediately call John Klein to alert him that he will have to use GPS and maps extensively to meet me the next morning. I recommend that he leave Tucson so as to hit the dirt roads 30 minutes before sunrise; and that I'll leave my phone "on" if he requires instructions such as just recorded in my notes.

For supper I have hummus many ways, including a can of tuna fish for protein. There's a whole grapefruit appetizer and a bunch of chocolate candy for dessert later.

After dark I search for Uranus with binoculars since it's only about 2 1/2° from bright and entirely obvious Jupiter. Unfortunately there's a bit too much high clouds tonight.

I then reluctantly use my headlamp to read a mountain gear shopping catalog while in my sleeping bag. Now I've told any illegal from Mexico my exact location.

Saturday, December 4 - South Mountain

John calls me while I am half-naked changing into my hiking clothes. He's at pavement ready to drive-in at 6:33 a.m. - about 7 minutes before the half-hour-before-sunrise recommendation. That's pretty good having started from Tucson at 4:30. As I prepare food for the hike I hear his vehicle in the distance. Then he calls, being temporarily unable to find the way and saying that he might as well just walk from THERE. However I encourage John to find the correct route, and, with a bit of surprise, he arrives far sooner than I had estimated.


As John gets ready I have some Corn Flakes with milk. We leave at 7:45 a.m., heading cross-country in high spirits, generally west-southwest, towards the trailhead coordinates provided by Doug K. and as keyed-into John's GPS unit. Upon arriving there we find no trail; and the word "sandbagged" is heard more than once as we search fruitlessly for a path.

Without a path to make navigation a far less thorny proposition (literally!), the only obvious route is heading due west to a 3,330 foot saddle up a moderately steep gulley. This 700 foot gain includes a thankless scree slog for maybe one-third of the route; and we take a nice break at the saddle supposing that the remaining effort will prove more enjoyable. I eat a pear.

We now head due south, steeply at-times, and top-out at a 3,870 foot hill only to find a mandatory 150 foot descent staring at us. It's certainly disappointing to realize that an extra 300 vertical feet is suddenly added.

After crossing the low saddle we resume uphill progress through heavy brush, steeply, to about the 4,000 foot contour. Now the terrain opens considerably and with a rather mild slope. We continue southeast to subpeak 4118T before heading some 600 feet southwest to the summit with register and cairn. It's 10:26 a.m.

We sign-in, and I note Andy Martin's entry in particular since he completed the Arizona P2K list here. I remain here while John continues 400 feet southwest to the benchmark which is hand-leveled to be lower.

John feels my sandwich looks more like a casserole - and he's basically correct: there was too much tuna / undiluted cream of mushroom soup filling for the French bread so I just floated the bread atop the mixture and called it good - with hot dog relish and a bit too much habanero chili powder for extra flavor. An apple extinguishes the unintended "fire" in my mouth.

After taking-in the views we leave a few minutes before 11 a.m. and return via our ascent route. When we are near the 3,330 foot saddle a Border Patrol helicopter hovers over our vehicles two air miles away. It drops-down really low, and probably to read our license plates so as to perform background checks. There's absolutely nothing we can do.

The descent consumes considerably less time than the ascent because we are not wasting it looking for a nonexistent trail - about 2 hours 15 minutes including two "official" breaks and several minor stops for taking pictures.


I look inside the camper shell and find several items displaced from their normal location. Then I look inside carefully and find that the red duffel has been opened - and where my valuables were hiding. I suspect the worst as I unlock the rear window (which is undamaged) and examine what's been taken.

All water, most of the food, and all my valuables are stolen - including $90 cash, drivers license, house keys, and credit cards hiding in a bag in a bag in the red duffel.

No camping or climbing gear is taken even though they are collectively far more valuable than what WAS stolen.

John and I cannot decide whether illegal aliens or locals are responsible. "He" or "they" did NOT damage the vehicle - having entered by busting the anti-insect wire mesh lining the camper shell's side window and then grabbing anything within arm's reach. I claim that a skinny kid did not crawl through the window and actually get inside the camper because any item not within about two or three feet of the window was unmoved. The likely explanation is that only a (grownup's) arm entered.

The front cab is intact and no gasoline was siphoned.

I had left 2 gallons of water in jugs atop the truck's hood as per assorted recommendations. Evidently, that was deemed inadequate by the perpetrator(s).

I immediately call the credit card company and cancel the Mastercard account. However I admit it's unlikely that an illegal alien would have been able to reach civilization in a few hours to actually make use of it.

John kindly loans me $100 cash so I can drive home, the 3/4 tank of gasoline being inadequate to that end.

Don't know why somebody needs a 40 ounce jar of peanut butter and multiple cans of tuna fish so desperately they'd steal for it... However the deed is done. Most sadly, I lose a pair of good binoculars.

As I start undoing the absolute mess in my camper we hear an approaching vehicle. I stop and immediately drive-off with John right behind me. Within a tenth-mile I see in my rear-view mirror a man on ATV following us. He then darts-off into the brush, leaving us to continue unabated.

His presence lends great weight to the local thief hypothesis. The ATV also explains how he was able to carry-off 5 1/2 gallons of water and several pounds in food. I claim that he had returned to break into John's vehicle.

I am pleased to have saved coordinates for several key junctions, and especially those not shown on the topographic chart. Still, we are briefly lost for a few minutes in the Vainom Kug village, which seems abandoned, before finding our way back to the highway.

John and I separate here with the possibility of meeting again in February for a bunch of different peaks on the Barry Goldwater Range.

I decide to go home without climbing any more since without any cash an assortment of evil scenarios can arise should I continue. First, any automobile problem will be disastrous since I have no way to pay for a tow service - let alone actual repairs. Second, I would have to get both more food and gallons of water. And third, I'll be returning to bag these peaks at some point anyway, be it next February or some other winter season.

Drive Home

It's about 2:40 p.m. and there's 395 miles to home. I gain an hour when returning to the Pacific Time Zone, and estimate a 9 p.m. arrival. I stop four times for snacks and what passes for supper - plus gasoline. In truth, it's caffeine which gets me home.

A neighbor's SUV is occupying my reserved space, having told her that I'd be away through Tuesday. I find her behavior a bit annoying since she never asked permission. Fortunately a neighbor reparks his car on the street and I use that space, sleeping in the camper since I lack house keys.


I've always taken my valuables on peak climbs when parked at any trailhead that has a "reasonable chance" of being visited by another person. This includes the "true" trailheads for popular hikes and also any location within some reasonable distance of a paved road.

In contrast, our car-camp in the Sonoran desert is merely one kink in a sandy track requiring four wheel drive some 8 miles from the nearest highway; and nearly an equal distance from an abandoned Indian community. In other words, "VERY" remote (for the lower 48 states, anyway).

Do not confuse "remote" by New England standards with where I park for the night and thus mistakenly conclude that I was near some manmade threat to my possession's integrity. There is absolutely no comparison. No people. No lights. No sound except the wind. No indication of Homo Sapiens apart from the nightglow of distant cities on the horizon.

The sense of isolation is very apparent - of being "cut-off" from other people.
I actually enjoy it.

There are 28 million square feet in a square mile. Hence it's effectively impossible for somebody to stumble on my location by mere random chance. To even think that I'd be randomly encountered by another person is logically absurd. Hence I do not take my valuables along on the climb.

[This also goes a long way to explaining why bin-Laden has not (yet) been captured. There are a **BILLION** square feet in the valley where I camp ... and that's a lot of places to LOOK for me.]

THEREFORE for somebody to have found the vehicle they must have been keyed-into its location by the Border Patrol helicopter that hovered overhead ... OR the thief might have seen me drive-in from the highway, the previous afternoon, and then actively searched all the next morning to locate my vehicle.

Only a local would do THAT...and this hypothesis is lent credence by seeing the man on an ATV.

The following comments by Scott Surgent remain relevant to those who would travel to the border zone in southwest Arizona.

" There are parts of Arizona I just do not feel comfortable exploring and especially leaving my vehicle, the Tohono O'odham Nation being one of them. It's essentially unpatrolled and the locals aren't terribly friendly to outsiders (e.g. other Arizonans). With the emphasis of patrolling the border near Yuma and Nogales, a lot of the Mexican crosser traffic has shifted into the TON and along the Cabeza Prieta, especially where Mexican Rte-2 aligns with the border for about 80 miles. This is a shame. The TON is a very beautiful part of the state.

Proximity to the border is not necessarily a gauge of what may happen to you or your vehicle. You were probably still 20-30 miles north of the border. Anecdotally, I have parked in areas much closer to the border (in some cases, within 1 or 2 airmiles) and felt no real danger, and nothing happened (e.g. Montezuma Pass (Huachucas), Atascosa Peak, Imperial COHP).

The Goldwater Range in Yuma County is a little more patrolled. In March, Chris G and I were there to try Mohawk Peak. We were about 10 miles south of Interstate-8 and maybe 25 miles north of the border. We parked in an area not obviously visible from any main roads and had no problem. However, a peak like Sierra Pinta, which is much closer to the border and also requires one to park way out in the open instead of driving a road into the shelter of a canyon, means your vehicle is prone for some sort of abuse.

In my few drives in the TON we have seen Mexican nationals just walking along the roads (Their style of dress and what they carry obviously sets them apart from the TON locals). They did not seem concerned about being caught. Where was the BP, my wife and I wondered? The TON is so big and criss-crossed in so many roads, it would be impossible to effectively patrol it. Then you have the TON police force (BIA), which is scant at best, and severely underfunded.

My suspicion is that it was some locals who broke into your vehicle. Why they just didn't trash your vehicle... who knows. Maybe not worth the trouble? There seemed to be some concern on their part not to strand you. I too find this odd. Maybe there's an honor code they follow. "

The truck odometer indicates 806.0 Adam Truck Miles (ATM) for this journey. One ATM is about one-hundredth more than a standard, statute mile.

Addendum - Approach Road Instructions and Coordinates

All coordinates use the WGS84 datum.

From this junction along Route 86 at (32.05617° N, 112.03029° W) drive 1.3 miles roughly west on Road 26 to this junction at (32.04991° N, 112.05211° W).

Bear slight left (southwest) and drive 0.6 mile to this junction at (32.04360° N, 112.06086° W).

Continue 0.2 additional mile to this junction at (32.04203° N, 112.06181° W).

It is 0.8 mile from this last junction to point 007 at (32.03475° N, 112.07275° W), having passed through both point 005 at (32.03895° N, 112.06558° W) and point 006 at (32.03540° N, 112.06765° W).

From point 007 it is 1.3 miles to Kaihon Kug at (32.01773° N, 112.07986° W). During this section the following undocumented road forks exist -

  • Point 008 at (32.02905° N, 112.07754° W). Bear left here on the drive-out.

  • Point 009 at (32.02571° N, 112.07829° W).

  • Point 010 at (32.02146° N, 112.07922° W). Bear right here on the drive-out.

  • Point 011 at (32.01895° N, 112.07963° W). Bear right here on the drive-out.

    At Kaihon Kug take the track leading southwest, bound for junction 016 at (32.01317° N, 112.08889° W). Here, turn slightly right onto the obvious track and head northwest. This junction is located about 100 yards east (before) reaching a broad, open area with a ranch to its south. If you reach the ranch turn back to junction 016 and then drive northwest.

    From junction 016 it 1.8 miles to the trailhead. After 0.2 mile you reach a fork at (32.01530° N, 112.09284° W) while entering a (hopefully dry) streambed. Remember to bear left here on the return drive because staying straight (and remaining in the streambed) seems undriveable.

    0.4 mile from junction 016 is an unmarked junction at (32.01607° N, 112.09565° W) shown on Google Earth images. Take the right fork here and continue the final 1.4 miles to the cited bend in the road at (32.02073° N, 112.11740° W). Park and camp.