Buckskin Benchmark, Buckskin Mountains, Arizona, April 2020

About two weeks ago, Saturday April 4, I left Tucson for a few days to visit three Arizona prominence peaks. Two of the peaks had been on my “Wish List” for a few years and I hoped to finally visit their summits. My first goal was to climb Buckskin Benchmark, the highpoint of the Buckskin Mountains just south of Arizona’s Alamo Lake State Park.

Buckskin Benchmark and the Buckskin Mountains in early morning light from my campsite
Buckskin Benchmark and the Buckskin Mountains in early morning light from my campsite

Buckskin Benchmark is the 86th most prominent peak in Arizona with 1887 feet of topographic prominence and 3927 feet of elevation. Three friends of mine, Matthias Stender, Michael Berry, and Scott Peavy climbed it on December 17,2017. With their trip report and given my pace I expected a long day, but not any route difficulties.

Saturday I scouted the driving route to another interesting peak, Big Horn Peak, then continued to the Alamo Lake State Park to see how busy it was during the Coronavirus epidemic. It was very busy, with all campgrounds full and the road between it and Wenden busy. At least I did not feel out of place enjoying the countryside when so many others were “sheltering in place”.

The desert floor was mostly open but I crossed a few washes lined with palo verde and ocotillo
The desert floor was mostly open but I crossed a few washes lined with palo verde and ocotillo
I found a few patches of Purple Owl's-Clover (Castilleja exserta) on the desert floor
I found a few patches of Purple Owl’s-Clover (Castilleja exserta) on the desert floor

I left the park and found a nice campsite shielded from the highway not far from a watering hole. This also served as my “trailhead” for the next day. From here I had a direct view of the Buckskin Mountains while I prepared and ate dinner. I stayed up late enjoying the dark night sky.

Approaching the SE Canyon I pass through a patch of Teddy-bear Cholla
Approaching the SE Canyon I pass through a patch of Teddy-bear Cholla
I traverse the south slopes on good footing into the SE Canyon
I traverse the south slopes on good footing into the SE Canyon

Sunday morning I began hiking towards Buckskin Benchmark across the gentle and mostly open desert floor. I aimed for a canyon that provided convenient access to the SE Ridge of the mountain. Since I was hiking by myself, with only my own schedule to meet, I enjoyed stopping several times for photographs whenever the views suggested it.

The view from low on the SE Ridge
The view from low on the SE Ridge
Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris) low on the SE Ridge
Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris) low on the SE Ridge

I traversed up the south slopes of the canyon on good footing and ascended to the SE Ridge. The ridge also had good footing and I followed its crest towards the summit.

Midway on the Southeast Ridge I see scrambling opportunities ahead
Midway on the Southeast Ridge I see scrambling opportunities ahead

Midway up the ridge I climbed directly over short rock steps rather than traverse around them. This is the only scrambling I found on the ridge. I enjoyed climbing the firm rock along the ridge top, avoiding some unnecessary elevation loss and gain.

Looking up the upper Southeast Ridge
Looking up the upper Southeast Ridge
Engelmann's Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii) on the upper SE Ridge
Engelmann’s Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii) on the upper SE Ridge
The south cliffs of Buckskin Benchmark from the Top of the SE Ridge
The south cliffs of Buckskin Benchmark from the Top of the SE Ridge

Reaching the top of the ridge I viewed the summit cliffs above me. I decided to follow Scott’s route by climbing up on looser slopes and around the cliffs to the right.

The last few feet to the summit of Buckskin Benchmark
The last few feet to the summit of Buckskin Benchmark
The summit of Buckskin Benchmark
The summit of Buckskin Benchmark

Once I rounded the cliffs I traversed directly to the summit, disturbing two javelinas above me on the summit ridge. They trotted along the ridge over the summit and out of sight. I was sorry to disturb them from their shady spot amongst the rocks.

Alamo Lake to the north from the Buckskin Benchmark summit
Alamo Lake to the north from the Buckskin Benchmark summit
Southwest across the Buckskin Mountains from the Buckskin Benchmark summit
Southwest across the Buckskin Mountains from the Buckskin Benchmark summit

The weather was pleasant and I enjoyed the views from the summit. I recognized several peaks to the south and east and tried to identify those to the west and north, destinations for another winter season. I found the benchmark and the summit registry and recognized several names recorded there.

The Harcuvar Mountains and the SE Canyon from the Buckskin Benchmark summit
The Harcuvar Mountains and the SE Canyon from the Buckskin Benchmark summit

After a relaxing lunch enjoying the summit views I descended the same route, pausing several times for photos. I returned mid afternoon to my Jeep and after a rest drove on to my campsite for the next day.

Paul McClellan

About Paul McClellan

I had the good fortune to have spent most of my life in the Pacific Northwest, where I discovered the joys and addiction of hiking and climbing in the Cascade Mountains and other mountain ranges in the Western United States.
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