Gila Peak, Arizona, November 2021

On Friday morning, November 12, I met Matthias and Scott in Fort Thomas, west of Safford, Arizona on US Highway 70. Our goal that day was to climb Gila Peak, a prominent peak in the Gila Mountains of Graham County.

An afternoon view of Gila Peak as we descend off the upper northwest ridge.
An afternoon view of Gila Peak as we descend off the upper northwest ridge.

We had many miles to drive in on dirt, dusty, and eventually rocky roads. Scott left his Subaru in Fort Thomas and rode with Matthias in his 4Runner. I drove my Jeep with new tires and suspension.

Our drive in started on paved road but the road soon became dirt and was there signed “closed” but not barricaded. Soon thereafter we discovered the bridge across the Gila River was signed “closed”. But it also was not barricaded, the concrete seemed sturdy enough, and recent tire tracks suggested the bridge would hold as we drove across. It did.

After about 1.5 hours of driving on mostly good road but with the last 1.7 miles requiring high clearance and 4WD we arrived at our starting point for our climb.

The view up the northwest ridge from a cliff top. Gila Peak rises beyond.
The view up the northwest ridge from a cliff top. Gila Peak rises beyond.
Matthias descends on rock as we work our way directly up the northwest ridge.
Matthias descends on rock as we work our way directly up the northwest ridge.

We descended to a dry creek bed, then began ascending the northwest ridge of Gila Peak. Some rock cliffs rose on the ridgeline but we decided that they were directly climbable and they proved so, though they did slow our progress a bit.

Once on the upper NW Ridge we push through the brush and traverse below the cliffs to gain the saddle on the left.
Once on the upper NW Ridge we push through the brush and traverse below the cliffs to gain the saddle on the left.

Gaining the upper ridge we got our first good view of Gila Peak’s summit cliffs. We moved through sometimes thick brush well watered from the summer’s monsoon, traversed below the summit cliffs to the left to gain a saddle, then climbed around to the northeast side of the peak.

At the saddle we cross a fence and work further east and south to find easier passage to the summit.
At the saddle we cross a fence and work further east and south to find easier passage to the summit.
Scott and Matthias on the Gila Peak summit
Scott and Matthias on the Gila Peak summit

Matthias took a direct line up from there while Scott and I tried to work around further south hoping for easier passage. Eventually Scott and I arrived at the summit to find Matthias had arrived ahead of us.

The view to the northwest from the Gila Peak summit. Our cars lie below the cliffy butte beyond the canyon in the center.
The view to the northwest from the Gila Peak summit. Our cars lie below the cliffy butte beyond the canyon in the center.
Bryce Mountain, the highpoint of the Gila Mountains, rises far to the southeast.
Bryce Mountain, the highpoint of the Gila Mountains, rises far to the southeast.

We enjoyed the summit views and identified many peaks we had visited over the past several years. The afternoon sunlight sometimes reflected off our distant cars. We added our names to the summit registry. Eventually it was time to descend.

Late afternoon shadows fill the valley as we descend towards the creek bed.
Late afternoon shadows fill the valley as we descend towards the creek bed.

Our descent went efficiently and we decided to bypass the rock cliffs on the ridgeline. We reached the dry creek bed as late afternoon shadows grew in the canyons and the cliffs took on a golden light. After one more short climb we returned to our cars and soon began the long drive out to Fort Thomas.

It was dark when we returned to Fort Thomas. Scott retrieved his car, then we stopped at a convenience store for supplies and drove on to Klondyke Road. Matthias led our caravan in on Klondyke Road in the dark until he found a nice spot for us to pull off and camp for the night. We enjoyed dinner under the clear night sky. We hoped to climb Stanley Butte the next day.

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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