After a quick morning in Sacaton, I decided to head for Mt. Lemmon. I've driven the back road off Lemmon to Oracle once before, but it was years ago, and I've never hiked on this side of the Catalinas. I know very little about the area.
With the goal of reaching the Pinal County Highpoint and the nearby Rice Peak, I did some quick HAZ research and saw some big climbs from the Peppersauce area. I also saw that there's actually a road all the way to Rice Peak that is open to all vehicles according to the FS MVUM. I had read online that the road can get a little bit rough near the top but my day had taken longer than planned and a 10+ mile hike was not in the cards with the amount of daylight remaining. So I decided to cut some of the mileage by driving the road.
Holy crap what an unexpected adventure! If you're into jeep roads, this one is a beaut! There is minimal rock crawling or climbing shelves or obstacles, but overall the road is ridiculously steep with some tippy exposure, and covered what is best described as scree. Loose rock that provided little firm traction and left my truck unable to ascend in 4-low without engaging the locker
I went down one hill so steep that I became concerned I wouldn't be able to get back up. There was a switchback so tight I had to perform a 7-point turn 100 yards ahead of it and approach it in reverse, only to continue uphill going forward.
Hiking, schmiking! This was a great drive!
I finally reached the ridgeline (FR 4483) and the AZT. I drove up the ridge a bit before reaching a spot that I decided not to proceed beyond. It could have been done, but I would have preferred a spotter and another support vehicle. At this point, I was close enough to the peak it didn't justify anything riskier than I had already done.
With just under a mile to Rice, I started hoofing it up the road at about 4:30. Wow is this a steep section of road/trail! Finally above the switchbacks, the grade moderated before the final push to the summit of Rice, which is also very steep.
I found the benchmark, and then checked my GPS to make my way toward the county high point on the north slope. I followed an obvious use path to the northeast for a short distance before it disappeared and then had to cut back toward the ridge that would obviously be the highest point that crosses the county line. Checking the GPS frequently, I got close to where I thought it should be. Sure enough, about 30 feet to the north, I spotted a large pile of rocks with a bright red can housing a register sitting nicely on top!
I looked at the register, and saw only one HAZ name in it... from 2005. A comment from one of the signers said "If only Rice Peak was in Pinal County! The efforts we go to reach COHPs is amazing!"
I was happy to find the cairn, signed the register, and then contemplated the route back to the road. I opted to head downhill rather than backtracking to Rice, and had managed about 20 feet before I decided to zip on my pant legs due to the obvious mess I was about to endure. Not more than 20 feet after moving again, I stumbled upon an old road cut that descended steeply down the ridge. I followed this down a while before realizing this old road was not going to get me back to my truck. At the correct contour, I turned west and traversed over to the main Ridge and my waiting truck. I was happy to have my pant legs on as pushing through the thick brush was difficult and very stabby. I don't recommend this to anybody.
Back at the truck, I skipped the summit beer with apprehension for the descent ahead of me. After studying topo maps carefully, I decided to choose a different route down (I'd almost always rather choose the known
over the unknown
, but the route I had taken up was one I didn't wish to return on). The ridgeline route on FS4483 was a better choice. By no means easy, pleasant, or other rosy adjective -- just a better
choice than the road I had taken up the mountain (FS 4475).
A quick stop at Peppersauce Campground (nice place!) and I was on my way back to Oracle. Stopped at the Tom Mix Memorial, and still don't know who the guy was or why he has a memorial in the middle of absolutely nowhere!
All in all, a pretty good day!