Choose Your Own Adventure!
Gates Pass (GP) is one of the best places in the world from which to watch the sunset. At the western foot of the pass sits Golden Gate Mountain (GG). You may have seen this distinctive mountain shooting up from the desert floor in an old western as it lies just east of Old Tucson Studios. Legend has it that GG was so named because early prospectors believed that GP and GG were the gateway to the gold in them there hills of the Tucson Mountains. Should you dare to squeeze in a scramble up GG, I hope you find some gold. If not, though, you'll still have a fantastic time.
The ascent up and descent down GG are of the "choose your own adventure" variety. While there is a trail near the base of GG-GG Loop Trail--there is no trail to the top of the mountain. I'll share with you the route I used. At 2,976 ft in elevation, the parking lot puts you at the north base of the mountain. You can look up and see lots of washes running down the north face. I chose to ascend with a wash to the far right, as viewed from the parking lot, as my guide to the top. I wanted to hit the northern edge of the ridge and then cruise along the top for a descent somewhere near the southern edge, but still on the north face (the ridge runs NW/SE). The quickest route toward said wash began with skirting the handrails at the south end of the parking lot to step into a drainage and then to step back up into the thicket. Within about 400 ft, I intersected with the GG Loop Tr. without having to waste time accessing it the long way "round via D. Yetman Tr. (not really that long, but still inefficient for my purposes). About 400 ft later, I exited stage left from the GG Loop Tr. to head up a wash filled with large boulders, some Chollas, and lots of Palo Verdes and Jojobas. About 800 ft later, I exited the wash to the left and scrambled up some high ground with the former wash to my right and another wash to my left. Around .6 miles, I really started using my hands more as I made the final push to the northern tip of the ridge. After bloodying up a finger, I put my gloves on. Around 4,000 ft in elevation, I hit a fairly dense patch of Jumping Chollas and a minefield of dropped Cholla stems. With limited routes at this point, it was tricky not to get tagged--so tricky that two mines detonated on my shoe and one clamped onto my calf. Hey, better than a rattler striking and nothing that a fork, along with a cathartic shout, couldn't remove. Soon I was standing atop the NW edge, what I called Peak 1. Elevation was 4,033 ft, and total mileage thus far was .66 mi. Thus, I enjoyed a little over 1k ft of elevation gain in just over 1/2 a mile. Not too shabby!
Alas, there were still a few more feet to be gained by heading SE along the ridge. I headed up some rocky terrain, then through some grass, and then over some rocks again for a total of about 1/10th mi until I reached Peak 2, coming in at 4,209 ft. It was very windy at this point, so I removed my hat lest it blow away. From here, I had to cross a bridge of rocks on a very narrow strip of the ridge for about a hundred yards or so which headed straight into an insurmountable rockface at the base of Peak 3. I was presented with a choice of going around to the left or right. I went left and found some decent footholds and gripping points for scrambling. After I was done with this little bit of scrambling, I came upon a cairn and a few steps later the top of Peak 3-4,270 ft. Curiously, I "found" the initials "PM" constructed of pebbles near this spot. Perhaps an ancient ancestor? I moved along to Peak 4, which came in at 4,266 ft, and I walked across another bridge to Peak 5. There were some Chollas, but it wasn't too bad. Here I found a register and the elevation was coming in at 4,294 ft. At a moderate pace with stops for photos, catching a breath, removing Cholla stems, etc., it took about 1 hr 45 min to get to this point, which was .94 mi total into this little hussy. I checked out the views: even though the wind had stirred up a lot of, inter alia, dust, and visibility wasn't the greatest, it was still pretty awesome... views similar to nearby Cat Mountain (you can read that description if you like). At this point, the Thanksgiving leftovers I had eaten for breakfast were but a fleeting memory for my insatiable stomach and without having packed a morsel of food, I was delighted to discover a Clif Bar and an Odwalla Bar in the register jar--still sealed and ready to be consumed. As I munched on these victuals, I read the register to discover that the bars had been placed there in April of 2008, perhaps explaining their dryness and somewhat off taste. Note, the Clif bar held up better than the Odwalla bar, but then again, how much worse can a glorified cow chip get? Additionally, the Good Samaritans also wrote in the register that they had decided against leaving a burrito in the jar. Yeah, that wouldn't have held up as well. Anyway, it was awfully nice that prior hikers had left something for me to eat, and I will pay a cow chip forward on a future hike. As I rummaged through the jar, I found another Clif bar, which I left to bake some more in the sun, and an American flag.
Moving on, I followed some kind of use trail toward Peak 6 where at 1.07 miles, I found a stone wall that someone had put together. A few hundred feet from that, I found a table and chairs constructed of stone placements right at the base of Peak 6. I didn't ascend Peak 6 and instead turned back to a wash that ran up between Peak 5 and 6. I think a lot of people come up this way because for a short time there was a use trail of sorts and things were a little more trampled here. Also, it seems to be the most direct route to the cookie jar... I mean register. There was a lot of loose rock after the short "trail" ended. Be careful. I scrambled down the wash for a few hundred ft, which narrowed, and a few hundred ft further down, I had to exit a steep section of the wash to the right, then crossed back over to the left side. I soon encountered a daunting Cholla patch so I continued to veer left away from the wash and toward the parking lot. At 1.63 miles, I came upon another wash headed toward D. Yetman Tr. that was filled with Palo Verdes and Jojobas. I hiked just to the right of this wash and hit the GG Loop Tr. a few hundred feet later. I few yards north on that, I hopped off into the thicket toward D. Yetman Tr. and at 1.77 mi I was on that wide, luxurious trail gliding toward the parking lot. At 2.01 miles total, I was back in the lot staring up at GG to look at where I had been.
For such a short hike, I actually ended up spending about 3.5 hrs total. I recommend a trip up and down GG to anyone who enjoys a good scramble and doesn't mind getting bushwhacked a bit. If you do go up, please exercise caution because it is pretty steep and rugged, and there are quite a few loose rocks--even big ones that you wouldn't think would move under your feet. Take your time, choose your steps wisely, and have fun!
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.