Whitlock Peak, Arizona, March 2021

On Saturday, March 13, Matthias Stender, Scott Peavy, and I climbed Whitlock Peak northeast of the town of Bowie, Arizona. Whitlock Peak lies in the Northern Peloncillo Mountains, separate from the Whitlock Mountains to the west. It has 1691 feet of topographic prominence, making it the 107th most prominent peak in Arizona, and is remote from paved roads – I was glad to have company.

Looking east across the Whitlock Valley towards Whitlock Peak from Javelina Peak (2018-12-03)
Looking east across the Whitlock Valley towards Whitlock Peak from Javelina Peak (2018-12-03)

Matthias, Scott, and I met in Bowie and drove in 28 miles to our parking spot in Poppy Canyon. This was a long drive on gravel, dirt, and rocky roads. I had driving waypoints from the Southern Arizona Hiking Club and scouted the driving route two weeks earlier to be sure of the route and to verify it was still open to the public.

Orange Butte from the northwest on the drive in to Whitlock Peak
Orange Butte from the northwest on the drive in to Whitlock Peak
The Whitlock Mountains and Javelina Peak from the southeast on the drive in to Whitlock Peak
The Whitlock Mountains and Javelina Peak from the southeast on the drive in to Whitlock Peak
Poppy Canyon and Whitlock Peak from the south
Poppy Canyon and Whitlock Peak from the south

On the drive in we passed a few miles west of Orange Butte and considered how me might approach and climb it. I enjoyed the views of the Whitlock Mountains and Javelina Peak to the northwest, which I have climbed in years past. We gradually approached Whitlock Peak to the north.

This Delong Ranch home is assembled from shipping containers
This Delong Ranch home is assembled from shipping containers
Low in Poppy Canyon, Whitlock Peak is hidden around the curve to the left
Low in Poppy Canyon, Whitlock Peak is hidden around the curve to the left

We passed through the Delong Ranch and drove more directly into the broad Poppy Valley. Once we climbed into the canyon the road became rockier and high clearance became necessary. I heard a “bang” at one point as a rock hit the armored undercarriage of my Jeep.

Matthias and I park our cars amongst the prickly pear
Matthias and I park our cars amongst the prickly pear

We crossed a rocky wash, then encountered two steep climbs. Matthias and I were able to crest a ridge in our vehicles using 4WD but Scott had to stop short. It was time to park and start our hike.

Hiking up Poppy Canyon to the facing slopes leading to the summit ridge
Hiking up Poppy Canyon to the facing slopes leading to the summit ridge
The Whitlock Peak summit appears above from the steep south slope
The Whitlock Peak summit appears above from the steep south slope

Once we regrouped we continued on foot up the primitive ranch road towards Whitlock Peak. Eventually we left the road and directly climbed up the steepening south slope towards the summit ridge above. At times I was short of breath with an elevated pulse. Perhaps this was caused by the Covid-19 vaccine I had received two days earlier. Matthias and Scott held back for me as I slowly climbed up to the summit ridge.

The Whitlock Peak summit from the brushy, but easily passable, summit ridge
The Whitlock Peak summit from the brushy, but easily passable, summit ridge
The Whitlock Peak summit cairn lies ahead with the Dos Cabezas Mountains on the horizon
The Whitlock Peak summit cairn lies ahead with the Dos Cabezas Mountains on the horizon

The summit ridge was brushy but mostly open and easy to walk along to the summit. We relaxed on the summit, ate lunch, and enjoyed the views.

Matthias and Scott on the summit of Whitlock Peak
Matthias and Scott on the summit of Whitlock Peak
The Whitlock Mountains to the west from the Whitlock Peak summit; Mount Graham lies beyond
The Whitlock Mountains to the west from the Whitlock Peak summit; Mount Graham lies beyond

The summit had nice views down Poppy Canyon and of many mountains ranges around us. I think we were able to identify all the peaks we saw with the exception of some of the New Mexico peaks to the northeast.

Poppy Canyon and the distant Chiricahua Mountains to the south from the summit
Poppy Canyon and the distant Chiricahua Mountains to the south from the summit

After lunch we descended the same route down to Poppy Canyon and back to our cars. We drove out across the rangeland back to Bowie. It was later than we had expected so we gave no thought to exploring Orange Butte on our drive out.

From Bowie we drove east to San Simon and south into Wood Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains. Here we met Scott Casterlin at our planned primitive campsite before sunset. We enjoyed the evening together.

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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