On Thursday, March 9, I met Dave Kohnke at Bates Well Ranch off of the Bates Well Road in Organ Pipe National Monument. I had spent the previous night camped nearby but Dave has started his day by driving some three hours from Tucson. Our goal this day was to climb Kino Peak, the highpoint of the Bates Mountains.
Winter of last year I viewed Kino Peak from the north along the Bates Well Road and admired its steep and prominent appearance. Kino Peak has 1537 feet of topographic prominence, making it the 143rd most prominent peak in Arizona. More significantly, it has a reputation of difficult route finding to gain the summit above impressive cliffs. Fortunately, we had found good route information online, including descriptions and photos. This gave us some confidence that we should be able to summit the peak.
We left Bates Well Ranch and started our climb hiking through sometimes thick brush across a few washes. Soon we found more open country and a closed road that made travel towards Kino Peak much easier and efficient.
The road descended into a wash and I decided to avoid possible brush by hiking above the wash over open country. As we approached the peak we passed through fields of poppies and lupine, well watered by recent desert rains. After crossing several minor washes we returned to the road in the main wash and decided it was better to stay on the road on the return.
We followed the road, then a trail, into a valley towards a saddle, passing beneath rock walls. Once at the saddle we left the trail and began our climb towards a ridge high above us. The route description helped us choose our route upwards. Higher, our route passed to the right of a tower.
We found a climbers’ trail above the tower with occasional cairns to help where the trail disappeared in rock steps. We gained the Northeast Ridge and worked towards the steep face of Kino Peak.
After more research, it appears some climbers avoid climbing all the way to the top of the Northeast Ridge. Instead they traverse below the ridge line above cliffs to avoid the extra elevation gain. Should I return I may explore that alternative.
The Northeast Ridge ended abruptly facing the high vertical rock face of Kino Peak. The ridge dropped nearly vertically beneath us to a saddle below the face. We understood ledges would lead across the face once we reached the face, but we could not see them, and needed to descend to the saddle first. It was getting late and we had much yet to climb. I cached a water bottle and my hiking poles to pick up on the descent.
With some doubts we tentatively descended steep but firm rock into a steep and loose gully to try to find a way around a buttress. Eventually we worked around the buttress and climbed firm rock to gain the saddle. We crossed the saddle and climbed up to near the base of the wall.
From there we followed short rock steps and ledges leading up to the right across the face. The ledges were wide enough that we could climb with confidence. Eventually we found and climbed a wide gully to reach the top of the wall. I had been focused on the route finding and climbing and had not paused for a photo in over an hour. Now, for the first time since the steep and loose gully, I thought we might summit, after all.
We followed a rocky ridge towards the summit, at first out of view. Once we crested the ridge we could see the summit knob ahead along the ridge.
We reached the knob, climbed a short step, and gratefully rested beside the benchmark and summit registry. I took photos, ate lunch, texted Linda since we had coverage there, and we signed in to the summit registry. I recognized many entries by friends and acquaintances entered over the past several years.
In spite of the great views we could not linger long. I enjoyed the summit but the climb was only half finished. It was a long way back to the cars and we might be hiking out in the dark. My tired legs were complaining.
We followed our ascent route down as best we could. Dave took an alternative route to avoid the steep loose gully but I had to climb the gully to ensure retrieving my cached gear. We soon rejoined and descended together down to the valley below.
The hike back to our cars went well and our conversations helped the time pass. We arrived about half an hour after sunset, not needing our headlamps. Dave and I congratulated each other and parted ways in the growing darkness until our next shared climb. It had been a strenuous and successful climb of a notable desert peak with a pleasant, confident, and patient companion.