Travel: West of I-10, Speedway Boulevard becomes Gates Pass Road at the intersection with Camino de Oeste. Take Gates Pass Road for another 2.4 miles and, just before the pass, turn right into the Scenic View. Park in the upper lot. There is a stone bathroom built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and informational placards but no water. No fees. Dogs are not permitted on trails.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 4.3 miles; 1,850 feet of climbing
Total Time: 3:30 to 5:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation somewhat challenging; minimal exposure; carry all the water you will need and hike on a cool day.
Map: Trails Illustrated, Saguaro National Park, No. 237
Date Hiked: April 11, 2019
History: The Bushmasters were members of the 158th Infantry Regiment, foot soldiers of the Arizona National Guard. The first volunteer infantry in Arizona was organized in 1865 during the Apache Wars. They served abroad in World War I, World War II, and Afghanistan. General Douglas MacArthur said of the Bushmasters, "No greater combat team has ever deployed for battle."
As viewed from the west end of Gates Pass Road, Tower Peak, Point 4,063', and Bushmaster Peak share a common rugged volcanic ridge.
Route: From Scenic View parking hike north-northwest up the south ridge of Point 4,063'. Flank the prominence on the west and climb the south ridge of Tower Peak. Upon completing the spur climb Point 4,063'. Descend on its east ridge and then flank Bushmaster's west ridge on the north and climb up a weakness to the summit ridge. Walk east over Bushmaster to a prominent knob. Drop down a northeast slope and then a southeast draw to the bajada. Walk southwest to close the loop.
Looking at the south wall of Bushmaster from Scenic View, the highest point on the ridge is at the center. The topographical map locates the peak on the east knob. I can't speak to the discrepancy but this hike takes in the entire ridge. Visitors stand within the Bushmaster memorial site.
The commemorative plaque was dedicated in 1989 to all who served as Bushmasters. The mountain is depicted and a snake is curled around a sword. Bushmasters are venomous pit vipers found in Central and South America. The name refers to one of the Three Fates in Greek mythology who determined the length of the thread of life.
(Thomas Holt Ward, photo)
South Ridge of Point 4,063'
There is little information posted for climbing the three peaks so we figured it out as we hiked. First, we wanted to ascend the south ridge of Point 4,063' if possible. That proved both elegant and beautiful. From the parking lot, elevation 3,150 feet, walk up a road cleaved from bedrock to the tiny cabin built by the CCC. The Corps employed 240 men between 1933 and 1941 to construct the improvements in Tucson Mountain Park. Stone structures were intended to blend into the natural landscape. This building has a fireplace, stone table and benches, and log roof. Sadly, it is sullied by graffiti.
Not surprisingly, a social trail heads north on the ridge, at times tracking along the east side. When it braids just stick to the thread closest to the ridgeline.
This segment is an engaging stroll through ash-fall tuff and breccia. The geology of the Tucson Mountains is a jumbled mass of volcanics. Limestone, granite, rhyolite, and schist are also present. The pattern is so confusing and incongruous the formal geologic name for the region is Tucson Mountain Chaos. Examples of all these formations may be seen throughout the hike. (THW photo)
At 0.8 mile, the south wall of Point 4,063' presents something of an obstacle. Stay on the clear and cairned trail as it veers west to flank the peak.
In another tenth of a mile stand on a platform that juts westward. When options diminish I always pause and consider, if I was a trail where would I go? Here, I'd make use of the ramp pictured above my partner's orange cap. To get over there the trail has to contour on a steep slope. The path is thin, the surface loose, and some hikers will feel a mild sense of exposure until they get on the ramp.
Top out in a relaxed and broad space. We stopped here and considered which peak to climb. We'd assumed we would hit up Point 4,063' first but we were already a tad north of it so Tower Peak went to the top of the list. Segue to the south ridge of Tower, still on a wildcat trail.
Tower Peak, UN 4,170'
Make your way to the shared saddle between Tower and Point 4,063' at 3,910 feet. The trail ends here and it is climber's choice up to the summit block. No matter how you work it, getting to Tower is messy. We stayed as close as we could to the ridge on our ascent. This approach had some good scrambling but was infested with punishing thorny plants: catclaw, hackberry, white-thorn acacia, and teddybear and buckhorn cholla. Therefore, I recommended our return route. Track under the slab, image-right, and then power up the scrabbly steep slope. It is not pleasant but it works.
There is one and only one weakness in the cliffrock. A large cairn directs but the way is obvious. I am pretty sure this is the only non-technical route up the mountain.
Crest the summit at 1.4 miles. As befits the name it is a small zenith, the collection of sitting stones surrounded by dramatic drops and standing rocks. The view north is marred by a luxury villa in a most unfortunate place on the boundary of Tucson Mountain Park. Trails End Estates penetrates to the base of the mountain on the east. But there is a good view of the Tucson Mountains, especially of Wasson Peak, the tallest of them all. The peak register was placed by the Southern Arizona Hiking Club in 2005. (THW, photo)
Curious about how we'd climb Bushmaster, we took a good look at it from here and decided to explore the unobstructed gully on the north side of the west ridge, shown, a superb choice as it turned out. Point 4,063', our next objective, is image-right.
Retrace your steps on the Tower spur and once in new territory climb the northwest ridge of Point 4,063'. It is an untroubled experience and you will see fragments of use trail. Skirt the summit block on the northeast.
Do a low Class 3 clean block scramble to the top at 1.9 miles. It is a playful little feature. This prominence is the easiest of the three and would be attainable by most hikers as an out-and-back. Look right down on Gates Pass.
This image was shot from the summit boulder looking back on the route choices to Tower Peak.
Bushmaster Peak, UN 4,110'
Point 4,063' is located at a split in the ridge. The route now pivots onto the spine running east. Stay on top of the ridgeline as it goes right over a knob. The ridge is thin in places but it doesn't feel exposed.
In early April, Schott's Yucca was in full blossom looking primitive as usual. (THW, photo)
Arrive at the saddle at 2.3 miles, elevation 3,810 feet. (Bushmaster just makes the 300 feet of lift necessary to be a ranked legal summit). At the base of the stone wall the approach is over. You have two choices for the climb. The more challenging route pitches up on the south side of the west ridge into the headwall chutes. We decided to stick with the plan we formulated on Tower and it turned out to be the definition of pleasant. From the saddle locate a use trail that gets you around to the north side of the west ridge. There may or may not be cairns--just use your best judgement and stick close to the base of the north-facing wall until you come to the all-important break in the cliffs.
In this image I am entering the break. (THW, photo)
Big rocks are well seated in the weakness and create natural stairsteps. It's steep but not too steep. This is one of the better gully climbs out there.
Break out of the gully at 4,020 feet. Bushmaster is dead ahead. There are two knolls on either side. We climbed the one on the west for a complete summit ridge experience. (THW, photo)
Walk east along the top of the escarpment, an exhilarating cruise. I've included this shot down one of the headwall chutes for those who want to pitch up the gnarly way.
There are plenty of good sitting rocks on the roomy rounded summit at 2.8 miles. The Bushmasters may take pride in this beautiful mountain overlooking their plaque at the Scenic View, Gates Pass Road, and Bren Benchmark and Golden Gate Mountain. (THW, photo)
Descent Route to Scenic View Parking
The traverse to the east end of the narrow summit ridge is sublime on big solid blocks. Mount the east knob. We wanted to downclimb the outcrop but we couldn't see the base of the climb and thought better of it.
That was a good decision. We got a much better look at the east end from below and it was out of our league.
From the east knob back up about 50 feet into a notch and then follow a cairned route leading onto the northeast slope. (THW, photo)
Pick your way down while aiming for an obvious saddle.
As slope descents go, this is a good one with natural big rock steps.
Reach the northeast saddle at 3,710 feet. There's only one way out from here and it is kind of a pain. Plow down the draw bearing southeast. It's loose and full of brush, time consuming and laborious.
We happened upon a dried up a little catchment dam at 3,200 feet and left the draw heading southwest losing elevation as we crossed the bajada. We were attracted to a stand-alone granite boulder and went over to check it out. Sure enough, there were six herky chain anchors on top. You can freestyle from here to the parking lot. We wanted to look at a CCC building so after crossing a dry wash we got on an abandoned road (right turn), intersected a trail, (left turn), went up and over a hill for fun, climbed a rock stack (even more fun), and there was the stone structure, an abandoned bathroom with a charming row of windows.
A couple of weeks before doing this circuit we hiked from Golden Gate Mountain to Cat Mountain. We were so taken by the Tucson Mountains that we kept coming back to explore everything that tempted us. We covered a fair amount of territory (with more peaks still on the wish list). Here's a look at Point 4,063' and Bushmaster from the north side of Bren Benchmark. (I managed to place the saguaro right in front of the highpoint!) We took one look at those peaks and just had to satisfy that longing right away. And so it goes...on and on.