Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Battleship Mountain, 2,797', Superstition Wilderness

Essence: Battleship Mountain is a polychromatic volcanic peak located in the northwest quadrant of the Superstition Wilderness on the La Barge-Boulder canyon divide. This hike and climb is on the short list of my desert mountain favorites. It has everything required for a truly memorable climb: a long approach on trail, nuanced and critical navigation off-trail, challenging and sustained scrambling, a constricted ridge with serious exposure, and unfathomable beauty with every step. I have used abundant photographs to illustrate the route but please, do your own research before tackling this strenuous trek up a complicated mountain. I hope the photos will bring pleasure to the majority of readers who may never climb Battleship. The Superstition Wilderness within the Tonto National Forest was designated in 1939 and expanded to 160,200 acres in 1984.
Travel: From the intersection of Lost Dutchman Boulevard and Apache Trail (AZ 88) drive north along the western front of the Superstition Mountains. Pass the Lost Dutchman State Park turnoff at 2.8 miles. A brown sign for First Water Trailhead precedes a right turn at 3.2 miles onto First Water Road, FSR 78. Reasonable clearance is needed on the lumpy dirt road. There are several wash crossings; do not attempt when flowing. Park at 5.8 miles. The large lot fills on weekends. Vault toilets, no water, no fees.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 12.8 miles; 2,200 feet
Total Time: 8:30 to 10:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation challenging; Class 4; considerable exposure; carry more water than you think you will need (5 liters recommended); hike in late fall, winter, and early spring to avoid scorching temperatures and rattlesnakes.
Map: Goldfield, AZ 7.5' USGS Quad
Date Hiked: March 28, 2023
Reference: A friend gave us a track but we had device failure. We navigated the old fashioned way using a topo map and a few scribbled notes from Czaplick's SummitPost entry. (Backup plan!) Please consult this succinct and descriptive trip report before initiating your climb. Our modifications are noted in the text below. 
Quote: It always seems impossible until it’s done. Nelson Mandela
There's a certain disorderly pandemonium about Battleship that is at once appealing and imposing. Welded tuff eroded and weathered into rapturous forms. Can a mere mortal scale the bulwark? Bravery, scrambling prowess, and route finding skills are prerequisites.

Route: From the First Water Trailhead hike roughly northeast on the Second Water Trail to its end at the junction with the Boulder Canyon Trail. Hike southeast upstream for one mile. Ascend a social trail to contact the southeast ridge of Battleship. Stay on or near the ridgeline for the one-mile climb to the highpoint. Note: due to an inaccuracy in the Goldfield quad, the GPX track is skewed; it should be right on the ridgecrest. The Goldfield map has 20-foot contour intervals.
The Dutchman's and Second Water trails both leave from the First Water Trailhead, elevation 2,280 feet, and bear southeast. This approach to Battleship stays on the Second Water Trail for 3.7 miles. I assume that if you are climbing this peak you are well acquainted with the trail system in the Superstitions so I won't belabor the description. Initial steps on boot-worn ash-flow tuff lead immediately into the Superstition Wilderness. In morning light the topography is kaleidoscopic in color, the rockscape is chaotic, and Sonoran plants are premier.

At 0.3 mile, the Dutchman's Trail branches right. Stay straight on the Second Water Trail. Hop across First Water Creek at 0.4 mile. It is a principle carrier of waters flowing north to Canyon Lake from the highest peaks. The path skirts Point 2,364' on the south. It was a wet winter and the landscape was as green as it is capable of getting. Flowers were bountiful and peaking. The brilliant yellow hillside was aglow with Mexican gold poppy, brittlebush, and yellow pearls we later learned were an invasive camomile. Along the way we stopped to admire lupine, blue-eyed phacelia, wild hyacinth, blue fiestaflower, Palmer's bluestar, evening primrose, desert marigold, California suncup, deervetch, fiddleneck windflower, rosy gilia, owl's clover, redmaids, blackfoot daisy, rockmustard, and desert chicory. 
(Thomas Holt Ward, photo)

The path climbs softly and at the top of a rise turns southeast to track above another fork of First Water. The complexity of the terrain from this overlook is mind-bending. Incised canyons appear almost illogical in formation. The trail descends to cross the tributary at 1.1 miles and then turns north following the streamway, squeezed between two small ridges. In the narrow corridor, the trail barges uphill on a linear tuff sidewalk with distinctive stone steps and cribbing risers. On this day we saw only three people, two of them were on horseback and they turned back at the base of the rough little climb in order to be "kind to our old horses." Emerge in Garden Valley at 1.7 miles. It's a freakishly flat anomaly with a string of nubbins on the west. (THW, photo)

Stay straight on the Second Water Trail as the Black Mesa Trail bears southeast and a few paces later, the Hackberry Spring Trail branches northwest. On the north, mature saguaros have managed to dig their roots into a basalt rock pile.

The soft dirt treadway rocks up as the 480-foot drop through the Second Water drainage begins. Catch the first look at aptly named Battleship at 2.9 miles. The long narrow ridge even has a prow at the north end. Geronimo Head is directly east and Malapais Mountain is southeast. The Superstition Mountains were constructed by volcanic activity 25 million years ago. The ship is composed of welded tuff formation brushed with brilliant lime, orange, and even a little ocean-blue lichen. (THW, photo)

The Second Water gorge is filled with tumbled, midnight black spheres. The Second Water Trail ends at the junction with the Boulder Canyon Trail, elevation 1,930 feet. The summit of Battleship towers directly above.
This route follows the Boulder Canyon Trail for the next 1.2 miles bearing southeast. Progress slowed as we boulder hopped over the rushing stream multiple times. A skyline arch upcanyon-right is visible for a few moments.
We were watching, of course, for any sign of a social trail heading up to the southeast ridge of Battleship. We paused at a massive cairn. Could this be it? There was no sign of use and the terrain was formidable so we kept going. At 4.9 miles, 2,030 feet, we found the use trail following an intuitively reasonable route up the stony slope, shown. It was a better path than we expected to find. Cairns guide, lines of rocks close off loose ends, the ascent is graduated.

We arrived on the southeast ridge at 5.1 miles, 2,340 feet. To give you an idea of timing, hiking at a moderate pace, it took us 2:45 to arrive at this point. It took 1:30 to span the one mile to the summit; the way is intricate, obstacles constant. It took 15 minutes less on the return. Allowing for top time, flower photos, and reconnoitering, our hike took a total of 8:45. I carried two bottles of frozen Gatorade and three liters of water. I stashed a liter at this junction to lighten my pack and picked it up on our return, a good strategy. I have heard stories of people running out of water on the summit. Plan to be out all day.

This is what the ridge looks like at the launch point, a jumble of bubbling boulders in shades of deep rust. We were delighted to find a social trail on the east side of the ridgecrest, an incalculable assist.
In a tenth of a mile, we reached the base of the first tuff wall. Work around the obstacle on the west, hugging the cliff. The trail makes every effort to stay as close to the ridgeline as conceivable. Our two mistaken adventures were not climbing when we should have, and dropping too low.

A ten-foot spherical boulder is the clue that you are at the first Class 4 pitch. The boulder is distinctive, the only one like it. Consulting my SummitPost notes, we were looking for a live paloverde just beyond the boulder. It is now dead and may not be there when you hike. 
We overshot the pitch and mistakenly worked a loose end on a ridiculously exposed ledge for about 50 feet until we cliffed out and carefully backtracked.
It was the highest degree of exposure of the day and we were off-route. Don't do this! (THW, photo)

Looking at the image below, the edge of the sphere is on the right and the Class 4 pitch is to its left. At skyline you will see a large cairn at the top of the approximately 30-foot wall. The most sketchy climbing is the first 12 feet or so to a shelf. This move is described as Class 3 elsewhere but it has all the hallmarks of Class 4. On our downclimb we used an alternate line about 20 feet north with a helpful crack. Check it out. (THW, photo)
The wall is nearly vertical with slim depressions for holds. We learned to look for whitish wear patterns on the tuff surface left by climbers before us. The rock is sticky, an essential feature. I climbed this wall because it was my partner's birthday and I refused to retreat. Plus, I first laid eyes on Battleship in 2001 and was determined to climb it one day. Twenty-two years had elapsed--this was my moment. From the shelf, scrambling is Class 3 for the remainder of the pitch.  

Look down on the pitch and sphere. (THW, photo)

In La Barge Canyon to the east a stone pool is encased in a postpile amphitheater. Massive Malapais Mountain claims dominion.

Enjoy a momentary reprieve on the 50-foot-wide ridgetop trail.

Owl's clover and wild hyacinth delight in the foreground, Black Mesa is neon green, and Superstition Mountain holds up the sky.
Reverie ends abruptly. The ridge drops into a notch between us and the object of our desire. It isn't at all obvious how we're going to even get onto the colossal block standing before us. (THW, photo)
Move off the ridge, dropping into a crack on the west side. A narrow ledge with a decent platform leads into the gap.

Cross the first rather narrow span of ridge. (THW, photo)
At the wall, move west and locate a two-tiered crack. 

Below, I'm scaling the rock above the crack. (THW, photo)

Here, I'm looking down on my partner descending into the same crack on our return.

This image looks back on the ridge thus far. I've included it simply because the landscape is so glorious. All the stone beings appear to pinwheel off from Weavers Needle. (THW, photo)

There is a short respite approaching a series of horizontal gashes, what SummitPost calls the fins. Use acquired intuition and common sense to forge a path through ridgetop boulders and bulges.
Look back on the gashes.
For a time it's a mix of straightforward walking and scrambling. 
When the summit came back into view, I found it sobering. The highpoint is the middle knob of the three. Cut down through a crack on the west side and return to the ridge.

Arrive on the narrowest span of ridge, about three feet wide. 
With the landscape streaming by in my peripheral vision (so disorienting), I sat down and scooted across the razorback. The rock is sticky. Great Fun! I was able to take it standing up on our way back. 

Looking back on the fin, there is no workaround. (THW, photo)
Cross a gap and follow the trail to the left. A crack with dark, almost black rock will be on your right. If you got past the first Class 4 pitch and you are still on the climb, this is your crux. The roughly 15-foot, nearly vertical wall is Class 4. Holds aren't plentiful or generous but they are there where you need them. I had to take my pack off in both directions. Carry line with you as we did.

If you are present in springtime, perhaps this globemallow will give you a break from the hardness of rock and soften your experience. Whew. (THW, photo)

The route circles around the west side and finishes on the north.
Drop about 50 feet off to the west (again) and into a defile. Footing is loose on ball bearings but it's not too exposed.

SummitPost claims there is a Class 3 scramble to the summit from here but we didn't readily see it. For our part, we botched the route around to the north side of the mountain. From the defile, we made a big mistake and did a lateral which got us spinning on loose material, seriously exposed and doing our best not to slide all the way into Boulder Canyon. After a few minutes of terror we rejoined the trail on the north side of the summit block. So...looking at the image below, the objective is to climb up to the broad ledge, center-left.

Get up there by climbing this Class 3 crack.
 Now, simply follow the trail and cairns around to the north side while gradually ascending. 
The finish is totally mellow. The path wanders over to the La Barge Canyon side and corkscrews to the top.
Stand on the surprisingly roomy summit of Battleship Mountain at 6.4 miles. Bubbles of tuff make good sitting rocks. We found no peak register or even a summit cairn. It was perfectly still as we took in the view of the western Superstition Wilderness from the crest with a rise of 507 feet. The image below was snapped from the subsidiary peak looking north to the true summit, Canyon Lake, and afar to Four Peaks. The lower deck to the north is a broad flat of stone. 
(THW, photo) 

It is a short scamper south to the sub peak. (THW, photo)
From there, look down on the climber's southeast ridge (well done!), Bluff Spring Mountain east of Weavers Needle, and the Point 2,803' dragonback. It goes without saying, return as you came. (THW, photo)

On our way back, in Boulder Canyon we a caught a slight movement in the grass and stopped just in time before stepping on a Western diamondback rattlesnake. It reared up into a defensive posture and gave us the stare down as we cut a wide berth. There have been reports of trip-aborting rattlers holding firm in climbing crevices on the ridge to Battleship. We also saw cougar tracks imprinted in mud in two locations. (THW, photo)

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Point 4,262' from Catalina State Park, Pusch Ridge Wilderness

Essence: Point 4,262' is an unranked prominence southwest of Buster Mountain on the divide between Alamo and Dead Horse canyons. With a rise of 242 feet, the little mountain is actually quite impressive with a banded Catalina Gneiss summit block. Tucked in beneath the great monoliths of Pusch Ridge, the vista is even more unfathomable and mystical than the perspective from Buster. The climb is gradual on maintained and social trails for most of the distance. Visit a stunning grotto absolutely filled with monkeyflowers. Desert mountaineers can opt to approach on the northwest ridge. On the return, explore the Dead Horse Canyon cascades flowing over granite sheets. Photographers are advised to be on the summit in the afternoon for best lighting. This highly pleasurable, repeat hike to "Buster's Buddy" is a homecoming for fans of Pusch Ridge. The hike begins in Catalina State Park and transitions into the Pusch Ridge Wilderness managed by the Coronado National Forest.
Travel: The park is located at 11570 North Oracle Road, Arizona State Route 77, in the city of Oro Valley north of Tucson. From the entrance station drive 0.5 mile and turn left into a paved lot. This is beyond the turnoff for the campground and just past the picnic area. Vault toilets and water are available another mile out the park road at the main trailhead parking.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 7.9 miles; 1,750 feet
Total Time: 4:00 to 6:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation moderate; Class 2 with no exposure; carry more water than you think you will need; hike in winter months to avoid scorching temperatures and rattlesnakes.
Map: Oro Valley, AZ 7.5' USGS Quad
Date Hiked: December 23, 2022
Catalina State Park: Visit the website for information on fees, hours and campground.
Pusch Ridge Wilderness Bighorn Sheep Closure: It is prohibited to travel more than 400 feet off designated Forest Service trails from January 1 through April 30, bighorn sheep lambing season. Point 4,262' is off-limits during that period. Dogs are allowed in the park on leash but not in the wilderness.
Quote: A walk in nature walks the soul back home. Mary Davis

Point 4,262' might be overlooked entirely were it not for its striking all-stone summit. Stand on the crest and marvel at the diverse granite features towering overhead on the Pusch Ridge wall. (Thomas Holt Ward, photo)

Route: Cross the park road and hike south crossing braids of Sutherland Wash. Turn southeast into Alamo Canyon. Branch onto another park trail and switchback to the rim of Dead Horse Canyon. At 1.8 miles, segue onto a wildcat trail continuing southeast to the "Monkeyflower Grotto." Ascend off-trail northeast to Saddle 4,020'. Climb the southeast ridge of Point 4,262'. The blue-line route on the northwest ridge is shorter but more demanding.

Point 4,262' is visible to the southeast from the parking lot. Cross the road and step onto a pounded trail, elevation 2,700 feet. 

The footpath cuts across the Sutherland Wash flood plain. Within the first quarter mile it crosses multiple channels which may or may not be flowing. Enter the mouth of Alamo Canyon and cross the stone-filled creek bed at 0.6 mile. Trails spinoff; stay near the streamway. The 2020 Bighorn fire burned sporadically sparing the magnificent saguaros in the Alamo corridor. Hallmark of Catalina State Park, here they are thriving on steep rubbly slopes. The Alamo's power to cut through the alluvial fan is impressive.

Reach the confluence with Dead Horse Canyon just shy of one mile. Dead Horse is not named on the Oro Valley topo but it is noted on Forest Service and Trails Illustrated maps. This route travels up the Dead Horse Canyon corridor for the next 2.3 miles. Just past the confluence there is a crucial junction. The trail up Alamo Canyon bends slightly to the left. Leave it, making a hard right by stepping over a row of stones, shown. Immediately cross the Dead Horse wash. 

The route is on a maintained park trail for the next 0.8 mile. It makes tight switchbacks up a slope and levels off upon gaining the canyon rim. Instantly, views are insane. Below, low-lying Buster Mountain is foreground-left and Point 4,262' is to its right. As for the monsters in the background, if you need help with orientation, Table Mountain is image-right. (THW, photo)

The treadway points south tracking a few steps away from the canyon's rim. Below, saguaros living on the rim look positively radiant in evening light.

At 1.8 miles, the trail branches. The park trail goes off to the southwest. Avoid this branch. Keep going for a few more paces and the trail splits again at a large cairn. Go left/east onto the wildcat path, shown.

In a tenth of a mile the slim thread bends back south. Those climbing the northwest ridge (the blue-line route on the map above) should begin looking for a reasonable launch point. My partner climbed the northwest ridge with a friend so I'll have him describe their route. This option should be reserved for hikers with ample off-trail experience. It is both steep and brushy. 
Leave the trail at about 3,140 feet. Cross the wash and aim for the middle of the ridge. Take advantage of scattered slabs for pleasant ascending. (THW, photo)

The pitch steepens before a flatter section at 3,860 feet. Keep climbing until it becomes uncomfortably steep. Our plan was to scale the cliff but there wasn't a Class 3 scramble. Advanced rock climbers might have more success. Get as close to the obstacle as you can, ideally right up against the wall. The image below shows where we initiated the work-around to the right/south. (THW, photo)

This image was shot from the trail. It looks up at the bypass beneath the banded escarpment armoring the summit. It is brushy against the cliff and the hillside is steep. Stay within arm's length of the wall. The terrain improved as we started up the draw and made for the southeast ridge arriving not far from the summit. (THW, photo)
Continuing on the black-line route up Dead Horse Canyon, the imposing granite faces and sheer walls of Pusch Ridge draw ever closer. Having climbed many of the monoliths over the years, they are old friends and here we were, right at their feet.

The image below shows the northwest ridge and the Dead Horse Canyon wash. At 2.5 miles, 3,400 feet, the trail comes very close to the upper end of the cascade series. This is where the cascade option initiates on the return. The path is braided and confusing in here. Heading up-canyon, the trail stays right/southwest of the drainage. (THW, photo) 
The trail moves away from the stream and climbs a grassy hillside. Go with it, following cairns in the grass. 

After returning to creek level, at 3.0 miles a side canyon joins up-canyon right. In 2022, the trail was washed out in there. If you lose it as we did, look for it on top of a horizontal boulder slab, image-center. Now we were right under Table Tooth (left of Table Mountain). From this perspective it looks like a substantial flat-faced monolith. Unless you'd been up there you wouldn't know it is actually a fin five feet wide! This whole experience was beyond thrilling, downright intoxicating. It felt I was about to smack my forehead against the wall.
At 3.2 miles, 3,760 feet, you have a choice. You can continue another 0.1 mile to the Monkeyflower Grotto or go directly to Saddle 4,020'. For the shortcut, simply cross the creek and ascend the swale off-trail, our return route.
The informally named Monkeyflower Grotto is stuffed with an exorbitant number of floral cascades draped over rocks. Multiple rivulets keep them thriving. The wildcat trail ends here leading me to wonder whether the person trimming the trail loves this grotto as we do. (THW, photo)
Climb the flower wall moving up and out of the canyon to the north. 

Ascend a grassy slope on a natural ramp. The saddle comes into view to guide you.
Gain the saddle at 3.5 miles, 4,020 feet. Rising from the depths of Alamo Canyon, Buster Mountain is a heaving dome of granite. (THW, photo)

Standing on the Alamo-Dead Horse divide, I was enveloped in a phantasmagorical, dream-like landscape. (THW, photo)

The final approach is gradual. Climb to the false summit through organic boulders. The crest now in sight, it is heart-wrenchingly beautiful. (THW, photo)
Arrive on the broad summit at 3.9 miles. The north face crashes to the desert floor opening a wide-swing view of the Tucson Mountains, the Tortolitas, and way beyond. (THW, photo)
The reason we came and will keep on coming is the savagely ragged lineup to the southeast. The visual drama is an order of magnitude higher than even Buster's offering. We stood breathless and deeply embraced by beings made of Wilderness Suite granite, each with a different form and character. Below, right to left, are Table Mountain, Table Tooth, and Peak 5,985' (one of the Wolves Teeth). Dead Horse Canyon incises the alluvium.
There is a lot to parse in this image. The Molar (image-right) is east of the Wolves Teeth. Three domes favored by climbers are image-left. Point 6,079', Wilderness Dome, is the tallest in back; Leviathan is on the left out front; and Solitude is on the right. Consult Mountain Project for climbing routes at the domes. Mount Kimball, 7,258', is the treed summit behind the crags.
This image honors the lone saguaro, scorched but alive after the Bighorn Fire swept through the range burning 120,000 acres. (THW, photo)
We gave some thought to descending on the northwest ridge, shown. However, we would have contacted Dead Horse Canyon below the cascades we wanted to explore. So we descended on the southeast ridge and took the shortcut back to the trail.
Dead Horse Canyon Cascades 
We left the trail at 3,400 feet and walked down the principle waterway for half a mile. This highlight added 0.1 mile overall. The creek bed steps down in a series of low-angled granite slabs, one after another. (THW, photo)
The bedrock is water-scoured clean accentuating brilliant, swirling quartz veins. (THW, photo)

Glide down sheets of stone. We've explored many canyons in the Santa Catalina Mountains and this short stretch is one of the finest. (THW, photo)
Water spills over a wall. We were fortunate to be there when water was flowing and talkative. (THW, photo)
We left the canyon at an easy bailout at 3,160 feet. We stepped up a brown wall with resurrection moss and located the trail close by. 

Clouds lifted and luminous peaks shimmered in evening light. (THW, photo)
Catalina State Park is renowned for wildflowers. This desert anemone hosts a visitor. (THW, photo)

Point 4,262' is a humble mountain that practically disappears in front of its dramatic backdrop. Now that you know what you're looking for, you can see it from the park's entrance station.