On February 23 Linda dropped me off at the Bull Pasture Trail below Mount Ajo along the Ajo Mountain Drive in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I hiked and scrambled up Mount Ajo, the high point of the Ajo Mountains. This is a volcanic range with many cliffs and rock outcrops and the hiking high on the route reminded me of Misery Ridge at Smith Rock, Oregon. Mount Ajo is another Arizona peak with at least 2000 feet of prominence and I spotted several other such Arizona prominence peaks and Mexican peaks from the summit.
I followed the Bull Pasture Trail for the first 1.5 miles, then followed a well-worn climbers trail the rest of the way to the summit. The hiking elevations are only 2400 – 4800 feet and the sky was clear with lots of sunshine but it was a cooler day than recent ones and there was a breeze on the ridges which helped make the day quite pleasant for hiking.
The crux of the route is gaining the south ridge of Mount Ajo. From Bull Pasture the climbers trail traverses south to pass below a rock tower called “The Thumb”. From here it traverses north and east below cliffs to reach rounded rock towers called “The Cones” just being sunlit in the center of the above photo. In this photo the climbing route traverses below the Cones from right to left then ascends a steep and loose trail behind them from the left to reach the ledge above and to the right of the Cones, then traverses across the ledge from right to left as it climbs towards the south ridge line.
In the photo above we are looking up at the ledge above the Cones. The Cones are just visible on the right margin of the photo. The route crosses some slabs as it traverses north (left) across the ledge but the exposure is minimal and the footing was very good.
In the photo above we are looking across the ledge leading towards the false summit “Point 4620”. The climbers trail reaches the ridge just to the right of Point 4620 and traverses below it to the right (east). Eventually the route climbs up through an steep but firm chute between cliffs to regain the ridge behind it.
As I approached the summit of Mount Ajo I noticed a helicopter flying about above the summit. It eventually left and subsequently I spotted a person working near the radio facility building on the summit ridge who had likely been delivered by the helicopter. He soon disappeared into the building. In the above photo the radio facility building is partially visible on the ridge in the center and the summit is on the left side of the ridge where a smaller antenna is mounted.
I enjoyed scanning the surrounding peaks from the summit. To the south I looked across the south ridge and into Mexico and several ranges in the distance that were unknown to me. The Cones are out of view from the summit beyond the ridge that descends from left to right near the center of the above photo.
The northern Ajo Mountains were impressive – steep and complex. The copper mining tailings near Ajo, Arizona, were visible beyond the northern Ajo Mountains. Far in the distance to the north I saw what I thought to be Woolsey Peak, a prominence peak I plan to visit next winter. To the east I saw several peaks I have previously visited including Gu Achi Peak, Kitt Peak, and Coyote Mountain, and others I also plan to visit next winter including South Mountain, Baboquivari Peak, and the Silver Bell Mountains. To the west I photographed several peaks for reference to use with mapping software so as to later identify for future explorations.
I enjoyed the summit views, but needed to return to the trailhead. The descent along the south ridge went smoothly. I paused to look down on the steep and loose section of trail descending just to the left of the Cones as I approached the ledge above them.
I had found adequate footing earlier as I climbed up this section of trail but on the descent it was harder to identify the subtle surface undulations and at one point my right boot slipped. I fell on and slid across my left ankle. I was able to stand up and put weight on my left foot and thankfully thought my ankle was only sprained. I very carefully completed the steep and loose descent past the Cones, then slowly continued my descent on the climbers trail favoring my sore ankle and vowing to be more alert and careful in the future.
I was glad to return to the Bull Pasture Trail where the footing improved and the stress on my ankle diminished. As I descended the trail the mid afternoon light brought out much more detail and color in the western face of Mount Ajo than what I had seen in the morning light. In the above photo the summit of Mount Ajo is on the left and Point 4620 is on the right.
Linda was waiting for me at the trailhead when I arrived much later than I had expected. We returned to the Twin Peaks Campground for our last evening in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I enjoyed a warm shower and iced my ankle while watching the sunset cast purple light onto the Ajo Mountains to our west.