Thankfully I had two backup plans just in case. And as is becoming the norm for us, just in case
came to pass and we ended up on plan #3. I'm not going to detail here how we ended up on our second plan, that will come on the 4x4 drive triplog.
With other priorities I really didn't think we'd get this far east along the Florence-Kelvin Highway today so it was really an afterthought to scan HAZ for any GPS tracks in this area. And even then I almost didn't bother to download the Grayback Peak GPS track Eric had posted for the week before. Well, we ended up this far east so we figured if we didn't take it on we'd get no hike in at all today.
As we neared Grayback on the 'road' Eric's southern approach did not look too appealing to us so we continued a bit farther along the wash toward the northwest until we saw a series of ridges on a pretty straight path toward the summit. Almost directly east of Grayback is where we started and the going was not bad, just a few ups and downs to provide for a real aerobic workout without the benefit of a warm-up.
As the last ridge butted up against the monstrous boulders near the top the terrain changed considerably with not only most of the ground very loose and unstable, but even some of the large boulders would break of in large chunks with little effort. In a bid to have some level of comfort, we hugged the sheer walls on one side and pushed through brush on the other. Most of the brush was jojoba so at least we weren't getting ripped up, just scratched thoroughly.
The closer we got to the summit the harder (and scarier) it was to climb, almost to the point of dropping back down below the boulders to seek out another path. But I was afraid if we went back down a little, we'd keep going down and bail on this peak for today. So it was a matter of grabbing a small bush here or testing a rock for grip there and just taking it one-step-at-a-time. At one point Tracey & I both were ready to call it quits but with a quick look at the GPS for altitude I figured we were within 20' of the top, and with one last rush of now-or-never 15' later I'm over the top! I yelled down to Tracey that the summit was mere feet away she made one last push and was up as well. Whew!
The summit was reasonably long and flat so we wandered around, taking in the awesome views of the landmarks that we'd been becoming very familiar with north of the Gila River. A number of photos, a panorama video and signing of the summit log later and we were ready to head back down. Tracey had surreptitiously been looking for another route the whole time on the summit and eventually told me in no uncertain terms she was NOT going back down the way we climbed up. I could tell there was no room for negotiation so I pulled out the GPS, we took a look at Eric's route and decided that even though it would be taking us farther south, it was worth a try. It was one of those funny things... although it looked much worse than our route from the wash below, from this point of view it looked much better and our confidence level was much higher.
We took the same side-trip Eric did onto the smooth granite area then continued on down, gradually working off Eric's track in a westerly direction toward where we were parked. By diverting from his track as early as we did we came across a number of tall cairns. Off and on it seemed there may have been some semblance of a trail between cairns, they were more likely game trails. Also along the way we came upon a single 5-point antler that appeared to have been bleached from a long time in the sun and was starting to crack apart. So by now we were more into exploring mode than finding the shortest route back. We encountered a massive cow-pie as well as numerous areas of large cat scat so it seemed providential that I had found a pretty good quality lock-back knife sticking out of the ground in one of the more treacherous areas of our climb. In the end we took a pretty roundabout route which added more climbing along the way but it was worth the extra time and distance.
Tracey and I are in full agreement with Eric... the views in every direction are awesome!
Full 360-degree panorama video from Grayback Peak summit is here:
View full 360-degree panorama video here: http://changephoenix.com/jpserver/web/public/file.php?id=35