South Mountain (Pinal), Arizona, February 2019

On Saturday, February 16, Eric Kassan, Stacey Samuels, Adam Humphreys, and I hiked up South Mountain of Pinal County west of Sells, Arizona. South Mountain has about 4160 feet of elevation and 2020 feet of topographic prominence, making it the 70th most prominent peak in Arizona. This was my second visit to South Mountain.

South Mountain from Arizona Highway 86 northeast of Sells
South Mountain from Arizona Highway 86 northeast of Sells

We met on Arizona Highway 86 and I led our drive in on primitive roads through a lush and green desert. On the way I spooked four jackrabbits at different points. I had last visited South Mountain in November 2017 and had driving notes from that drive. But I was surprised how a recently graded road then had become eroded in only two years.

The east face of South Mountain from near the trailhead
The east face of South Mountain from near the trailhead. The trail leads up from left to right between the cliffs in the center of this view.

We arrived near the trailhead below the cliffy east face of South Mountain. The road continued a short distance further but became rockier and steeper so we parked where it was convenient.

Poppies, cholla, and saguaro near our parking spot
Poppies, cholla, and saguaro near our parking spot

Patches of Mexican Poppies carpeted the desert slopes in the sunshine. The desert seemed cheerful with color and sunshine.

The trail passes through the rocky band to an upper saddle just out of view above
The trail passes through the rocky band to an upper saddle just out of view above

An unmaintained trail leads from there to a high saddle on the mountain, weaving through some rocky bands below cliffs. I don’t know the history of this trail, but a lot of work went into constructing it. The trail makes the hike much easier than a climb of South Mountain would otherwise be.

Organ Pipe, Saguaro, and Cholla cacti in the sheltered environment of the rock band beside the trail
Organ Pipe, Saguaro, and Cholla cacti in the sheltered environment of the rock band beside the trail

We passed the usual cacti on the hike but also encountered some Organ Pipe Cactus beside a rock band, apparently sheltered from the weather. It was a treat to see them again.

The open slope leading to the summit from the upper saddle
The open slope leading to the summit from the upper saddle
Poppies, agave, cholla, ocotillo, saguaro, hedgehog, and more
Poppies, agave, cholla, ocotillo, saguaro, hedgehog, and more
Mexican Gold Poppies (subspecies of California Poppies)
Mexican Gold Poppies (subspecies of California Poppies)

We reached the upper saddle where we left the trail and hiked up across open country to the summit. This section seemed to be a cactus garden with many different species of thorny plants. Higher we climbed over patches of color.

Southwest towards the Mesquite Mountains on the left and the distant Ajo Range
Southwest towards the Mesquite Mountains on the left and the distant Ajo Range

We signed into the summit registry, then walked about 100 yards south to find the South Mountain Benchmark. The Benchmark had better views of the mountains to the west, south, and east. To the southwest I viewed the Mesquite Mountains where I hope to join others to climb their highpoint, Mesquite Benchmark, next month. These mountains are remote and I will be glad to have friends and a second vehicle with me.

Northeast across the upper saddle towards the Comobabi Mountains
Northeast across the upper saddle towards the Comobabi Mountains

We returned to the summit and descended to the upper saddle. After a short search we found the trail and followed it back to our cars.

North across the desert floor from high on the trail
North across the desert floor from high on the trail. Ben Nevis Mountain is on the left.

I enjoyed the views as we descended. Clouds cast shadows across the green desert below and I recognized many peaks rising nearby and afar. The weather was pleasant and I was glad to be able to share the mountain with Eric, Stacey, and Adam on their first visit.

We drove out to the highway and found a place for the night, planning another hike for Sunday.

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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