Ascent of Baboquivari Peak on 2014-11-21

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Adam Walker -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Heather Anderson
Jill Webster
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Friday, November 21, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Baboquivari Peak
    Elevation:7734 ft / 2357 m

Ascent Trip Report

Thursday, November 20:

Adam and I had attempted Baboquivari the previous December, but terrible weather and route conditions (white-out, snow, rain, verglas-coated rocks) turned us back below the crux ladder pitch. We wanted to rectify this unsuccessful attempt, so after our successful Picacho del Diablo ascent, our team did the very long 600-mile drive from Rancho Meling, Baja all the way to Sells, AZ this day.

Babo still had some obstacles for us. It was near midnight local time when we got to the dark, sleepy town of Sells on the Tohono O’odham Reservation. Our plan was to camp at the trailhead for Baboquivari, just like Adam and I had done last year. I got a bit lost trying to follow IR Route 19 south through town and slowed down to look at the GPS when a reservation police car pulled alongside us. The woman cop was rightfully wondering what a car from Washington full of dirtbag climbers was doing on the rez at this hour.

We told her our plans but it turns out we needed a permit to camp on Indian land, and permits were only available at the park permit office, open 9-5. Last year we were not fully aware of this requirement. Since there were no motels on the reservation, and we were not allowed to be on tribal land without a permit, we were told we had to leave the reservation for the night. The policewoman escorted us back to AZ 86, were we regretfully headed west towards Tucson, away from our peak.

It was after midnight, we were bone-tired after many hours in the car, and had no choice but to keep going. We got to the reservation boundary and thought to look for a remote place to car-camp, but immediately we were in a high-density rural zone with ranches and houses, with no good options for that. The GPS showed no campgrounds or motels anywhere nearby, and their offices were likely closed at this hour anyway. We looked at our maps and phones and felt like we were out of options.

I then suddenly remembered from our trip last year that there was a huge casino resort on the outskirts of Tucson, not far away on Valencia Road, that would likely have rooms and would be open till very late. So we headed there and sure enough, 20 minutes later we were able to score a room at the Casino del Sol. Exhausted, we left most of our stuff in the car and just went into our big, luxurious room and crashed out quickly.

Friday, November 21:

Our experience on the Tohono O’odham Reservation last night had made us feel a bit sour on Baboquivari, but after waking up in our hotel room we could see the “Matterhorn of Arizona” on the skyline from our window, and we got newly inspired—but for sure we needed to get a permit, so an early start would not be possible. We decided to keep out hotel room for another night, since we’d likely be getting down from the peak late, and we were already in the closest lodging to the peak anyway.

I drove us back out to Sells, found the right way to IR 19 south, and in the hamlet of Topawa we found the Baboquivari Park Office, on the left, right where the dirt road to the peak began. I went inside and the helpful woman ranger easily issued me a permit. The permits are free, for both hiking and camping, and easy to get—either in person, or in advance via fax/phone if you are arriving outside of business hours. Here is a link to a PDF permit form with contact information. Future parties should always arrange get one to avoid issues like we had.

The drive to the trailhead is on a rough, washboarded road that most passenger cars can probably navigate—a few miles in we did take the “low clearance” cutoff to the right that promised an easier time. The campground at the end of the road was deserted, and we parked and got our stuff together, which took time since we had no opportunity to prep the night before.

We started hiking at 10:35 AM and the trail to the peak is quite pleasant and well-maintained for the four miles to the rocky upper part of the peak—nice switchbacks and only a couple minor obstacles like downed logs. The trail aims for the prominent diagonal ledge on the summit pyramid, where it peters out and becomes a brushy talus scramble for a short bit. Then the route goes up a series of smooth slabs—in the dry conditions we had, this Class 3 section was not much of an issue.

From the top of the slabs the brushy path leads around a corner to a bench, where the sheer walls of the final summit block rear up. We quickly identified the broken and useless pieces of iron ladder sticking out of the rock that marked our route, and it looked steep but not terrible. I had on pseudo-rock shoes, so I volunteered to take the rope, free-climb the pitch (which is quite unprotectable anyway), and drop the rope to belay others, if needed.

The hardest climbing is the first 20 feet or so, low 5th class with minimal holds on the bulging rock. But once you get to the first small grassy ledge, the remainder is mostly just exposed Class 4. I knew, though, that a belay would be a good idea for others, so on a convenient ledge I got out the rope, tied in, and dropped one end before continuing up. At the top of the pitch was a very nice tree, plus two new-looking bolts complete with rappel chains.

I tied in there, got in a belay stance, and belayed up the others, who followed by all tying in the same strand and simul-climbing, which saved lots of time and was quite safe given the terrain and their skill level. Once we were all up there, our route climbed a few Class 3 steps, went down a brushy corridor next to a cliff, and then climbed up a gully where the entrance, around a giant boulder, was an awkward and tricky class 4 move. Once up that, easier terrain corkscrewed around to the surprisingly gentle summit dome. It was 2:45 PM.

Sweet is success on a “vendetta peak”! We signed the register, admired the gifts left behind by vision questers and others at this sacred spot, and started eating when we started getting pelted by graupel snow. Uh-oh, this was not good after our experience last year. We quickly got packed up and left the summit area—the snow stopped quickly but there were some very ominous clouds headed our way.

We downclimbed the class 4 boulder without needing a rope, but we definitely felt like rappelling the main pitch was prudent, so I got out the rope and set up the rap (thanks, Adam, for reminding me to tie knots in the ends of the rope!). We all got down without incident and boogied down around the brushy corner to the slabs, still dry, but new drops were just starting to fall. At the base of the slabs, as we started down the standard hiking trail, the heavens opened—not fun, but good timing for us at least. For the next couple of hours we slogged downhill as rain, wind, thunder, and lightning raged around us. We got pretty well soaked but on a trail it was no big deal. For the last 45 minutes or so it stopped raining so we had some opportunity to dry off.

We were back at the trailhead at about 5:50 PM, just before dark, and in our wet and tired state we were happy that we had reserved our casino hotel room for another night—no worries about where to go. When we got to the hotel we carted all our gear up to the room and proceeded to totally stink it up by hanging our dirty wet hiking clothes on every available place. After showers and clean clothes, a filling meal at the casino’s buffet restaurant was the perfect way to end the day.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4174 ft / 1272 m
    Round-Trip Distance:9.8 mi / 15.8 km
    Route:West Route
    Trailhead:Gu Jui Chuchg Camp  3560 ft / 1085 m
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb
    Gear Used:
    Weather:Cool, Windy, Low Clouds
Flurries on summit, rain on descent
Ascent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 10 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 5 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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