Growler Peak, Arizona, December 2020

On Tuesday, December 22, I joined Matthias Stender on a climb of Growler Peak, within the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Growler Peak has 1541 feet of topographic prominence and 12.1 miles of isolation. It lies west of the city of Ajo near the northern end of the Growler Mountains and overlooks the Growler Valley and the Granite Mountains to the west.

Growler Peak from near our parking spot along Charlie Bell Road
Growler Peak from near our parking spot along Charlie Bell Road

Matthias and I met in the town of Ajo and convoyed west on the Charlie Bell Road into the Cabeza Prieta NWR. We stopped short of Charlie Bell Pass where the road became rockier, narrower, and would be slower driving. This was close enough to Growler Peak for us to hike the rest of the way.

We traversed to the right and up behind the tower high on the southeast ridge
We traversed to the right and up behind the tower high on the southeast ridge
We traversed slopes below cliffs until we found a steep but short climb to the ridge above us
We traversed slopes below cliffs until we found a steep but short climb to the ridge above us

We left our cars and hiked northwest towards Growler Peak. As we approached the peak we decided to take the southeast ridge up towards the summit. Climbing the ridge we traversed below cliffs on our left. I was eager to gain the ridge above us. A short steep wall of rock plates provided us a fun scramble route to the top of the ridge.

The upper southeast ridge above the tower and cliffs
The upper southeast ridge above the tower and cliffs
The Growler Peak summit, overlooking the Growler Valley to the left
The Growler Peak summit, overlooking the Growler Valley to the left

Once on the top of the southeast ridge we followed the rocky ridge up open slopes to the summit. The cactus plants were easy to bypass.

The Ajo Mountains rise on the horizon to the southeast from Growler Peak
The Ajo Mountains rise on the horizon to the southeast from Growler Peak
The view south along the spine of the Growler Mountains from Growler Peak. Gro Benchmark, the highpoint of the range, lies just left of center.
The view south along the spine of the Growler Mountains from Growler Peak. Gro Benchmark, the highpoint of the range, lies just left of center.

The morning had started cloudy, but gradually the sky cleared and provided nice views. I especially enjoyed the views south along the spine of the Growler Mountains and to the west across the Growler Valley towards mountain ranges in the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range.

East from Growler Peak, with Childs Mountain on the left, the Little Ajo Mountains on the right, and the city of Ajo beyond
East from Growler Peak, with Childs Mountain on the left, the Little Ajo Mountains on the right, and the city of Ajo beyond

As we relaxed on the summit Matthias shared the story described in “The Devils Highway” (by Luis Alberto Urrea) of immigrants crossing from Mexico who had gotten lost in the Growler Valley. They repeatedly tried to find access east through the Growler Mountains to reach Ajo. Eventually they wandered to west. Most of the party died. I have since read this book and I recommend it.

West across the Growler Valley towards the Granite and Mohawk Mountains
West across the Growler Valley towards the Granite and Mohawk Mountains

Matthias also shared the story of an experienced peakbagger who had tried to hike from Charlie Bell Pass across the Growler Desert to Granite Benchmark, the highpoint of the Granite Mountains, and back. Inexplicably, this peakbagger had tried this in August and died in the attempt. It is remarkable that Matthias and Michael Vincent in January 2021 did climb Granite Benchmark this way, a 31 mile day trip. I could not have done this.

Matthias follows me down a narrow and exposed ridge high on the east ridge
Matthias follows me down a narrow and exposed ridge high on the east ridge
We were stopped at the prow below, then descended to the lower left to get around it
We were stopped at the prow below, then descended to the lower left to get around it

We started our descent and chose to descend the east ridge rather than the southeast ridge we had climbed. This route seemed more direct and open but it did lead us to descend across an exposed, narrow ridge. Lower we were stopped by a difficult step that we backtracked a bit to descend around.

Looking up the east ridge with the prow above
Looking up the east ridge with the prow above
Desert Varnish (Patina)
Desert Varnish (Patina)

The east ridge led us back to the desert floor and we walked back to our cars across open country. The desert varnish coating the desert floor seemed particularly intense.

Matthias below the east ridge where we started our hike back across the desert to our cars
Matthias below the east ridge where we started our hike back across the desert to our cars

This was my first climb with Matthias since last February when I had joined him and three others in the Vekol Mountains. It was fun to share another peak with him. I hope to share more peaks with him in the years ahead.

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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