Ascent of Mount Ajo on 2017-07-22

Climber: Gustav Sexauer

Others in Party:Katrina
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, July 22, 2017
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Ajo
    Elevation:4808 ft / 1465 m

Ascent Trip Report

Thanks to my phone alarm not going off (a recurring problem), we woke up an hour late in Margie's Cove Campground in Sonoran Desert National Monument. This put us at the TH in Organ Pipe National Monument at 8:01am. The gravel, then paved, then gravel one lane road from the visitor's center is fantastic. It was in the low 80Fs when we began hiking. Once on the other side of the wash, we signed in at the register. It had been a week since the last entry, and it looked like the family of 3 had only been to the Bull Pasture and did the loop. We went up the steep way to the Bull Pasture, marveling at the leave sprouting ocotillo that were a vibrant green color that is usually only seen in plastic. There were also plenty of organ pipe cacti, which was appropriate. In just over an hour we arrived at the Bull Pasture. This is technically the end of the trail as far as the park shows on its maps, but the trail actually just continues on towards the summit. It took us just over an hour to get this far, but we couldn't sign the register because it was laying broken by the post with no paper. The trail then follows a side slope to the right/south and attempts to not lose too much elevation while passing through a dry creek bed and avoiding a small cliff band on the other side. Then the trail follows the base of the north face of a ridge that juts off the main range to the west. The trail was at times tricky to figure out, but after a quick look around we usually found the next cairn leading us on. I had my big new pack on and there were times that I ducked under ocotillo, but my pack got caught in it. There were many different kinds of cactus along the trail from barrels to cholla, but I did a fine job avoiding them. Katrina had shorts on and got scraped up a bit, but nothing serious. We saw three deer that were scampering away from us in the pasture and we even came across a tiny trickle of a creek with several pools of water. The trail then led in to the only way we could see a trail would make it up between the rocky cliffs. The west face of Ajo which is the most direct route to the summit sports a wide 500ft cliff. Our trail got pretty steep here with numerous switchbacks. It was getting hotter out and we were thankful for the breeze that we could stand in on the small saddles along the climb. Katrina was breathing pretty hard and I was worried about her. Once on top of this section we saw that the trail was going to traverse the slope below the ridge and between cliff bands. This looked relatively easy, and we felt empowered by getting over the crux steep section, however we had maybe two miles to go to the top. We tried to move quickly but had to stop to eat as the hike was taking much longer than I had thought and planned for. We soon got on the actual ridgeline and then swung outside of the monument on the east side a couple times to avoid false summits. There was a slight oscillating breeze which helped us not overheat. There was a witness post considerably far from the top that surprised me, shown as MP 10 on the topo. The route after the final saddle on the ridge was a bit hard to figure out, but after finding it and a steep hike through a crack in the conglomerate for the final ten vert, we were surprised to be at the top! The top has a solar panel on one of the four or more bumps of the summit rock. I investigated, but we determined the closest one to the trail, aka the farthest west bump and the one with the benchmark, wins out by a foot over the one by the solar panel. There was a large metal register box and I signed us in on a scrap of paper that was used by one other person. They had come up mid May. Were we the first this month? or even since May? I refilled my Camelpack on the top. I'd drank about 2L of water on the way up in 4 hours. Katrina had around the same. We were worried about the way back because we only had 7.5L to start with and we knew it would be hotter on the way down and we wouldn't pick up any time with Katrina slipping around on the steep section. There was ironically a hole in the rock at the top that had some green slime covered water in it. Maybe 5L worth if you were dying. On the way down I found two prickly pear fruits and cut them up to eat. I got plenty of the hair sized spines in my fingers, but the fruit was worth it. It was sweet with a strong flavor and great aftertaste; way better than anything "prickly pear flavored" that I had had before. We also came across a cactus nest that a bird had flown out of where we found four little eggs hiding in the shade. I gave Katrina plenty of room on the steep switchbacks, but we both slipped a few times. Lower down we were getting pretty hot, but a large group of clouds had come in and made about 3/4 of the descent shaded from direct sun. Lots of lizards continued to run out of our way. On our way back up to the Bull Pasture sign we somehow lost the trail. It cost us a couple minutes, but we probably didn't add much distance as we came onto the ridge just 50ft north of the sign. We ate an apple here for extra liquid, but we were both thirsty and were conserving our water. Katrina missed a switchback on the next ridge down and had to find her own way down a bit, then I passed her and led the rest of the way. I considered taking Estes Canyon trail back, but the steep way wasn't really all that steep and at half a mile shorter we couldn't argue. It was an uneventful descent on the good trail, but I did drain my Camelpack with ten minutes to go. The wash was really hot when we signed out of the register and slogged back up the hill to the car. The thermometer read 108F at the TH. I figured I had 0.3L left of water, and Katrina figured she had maybe less. To our surprise we measured the bottles and her Camelpack and we found we had 1.3L left thanks to a water bottle I thought was empty and Katrina having much more than she thought. That isn't a lot of water, but we could have and should have drank more of it during the hike. We cruised back to the visitor's center to fill up and begin re-hydrating. Strangely, we had to pass two cars on the gravel road even though we hadn't seen a sign of anyone else all day.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3103 ft / 945 m
    Extra Gain:340 ft / 103 m
    Round-Trip Distance:8.1 mi / 13 km
    Trailhead:2385 ft / 726 m
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Weather:Hot, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 9 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 50 Minutes

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