My Little Matterhorn
Ahhh, Dos Cabezas. Anyone who has seen these two magnificent peaks from say Hwy 191 or I-10 knows that they are sort of the Matterhorn of Southern Arizona. No, not in the sense of technical difficulty or elevation, but in the sense of unique, eye-catching protrusion from the earth. They shoot up to 8354 ft as masses of solid rock to dominate the skyline of the Dos Cabezas range. And to trump the Matterhorn, there are two of them, right next to each other, and almost exactly the same height! The translation from Spanish is "Two Heads", and as we all know, two heads are better than one! Take that, Switzerland!
On 03 Jan 2008, my dad and I headed up the rugged, winding, Mascot Mine Road for about 5 miles to its driveable end which dropped us off at about 7218 ft in elevation and less than 1 mile southeast from the peaks. The south peak was just barely visible. We had the choice to head toward the peaks on a faint remnant of a snow dusted road that would take us to a heavily wooded area just below the southeast side of the peaks or to follow a fence on a ridgeline to our left, marked with a singular communication tower (Iron Tower Peak), to the south base of the south peak. We chose the snowy road.
In the snow we found several animal tracks including very large mountain lion tracks - about the size of my hand. Later in the day we saw some nervous looking deer. We followed the road about .6 miles to a spot just past the midpoint of the two peaks, although it was difficult to see much of the peaks at this point because our view was obstructed by a dense forest of Oaks and Walnut trees. It was time to leave the road to head up the steep, leaf-covered slope of the forest toward the shoot between the two peaks. We went just past the midpoint because this approach allowed us to trek diagonally back to the shoot at an easier grade than simply charging straight up the middle. It certainly helped because this area is steep and slippery. It was slow going, and it seemed like a lot more than the mere 1/10th of a mile that it was to the shoot! It is pretty obvious when you are at the shoot; it is a narrow slot between the two peaks with a tree in the middle of it, approximately 25 feet overhead. Nonetheless, just in case you are wondering, there is also a shovelhead at the base of it. Hey, I'm never one to shy away from an extra clue. From this shoot, others have climbed to the top of both of the peaks. I climbed up the first obstacle of the shoot, which was quite difficult, and was treated to wet rocks, ice, and snow. I started breaking up the ice and snow and chucking it down, but after discussing it with my dad, we decided this just wasn't going to be the day to attempt this route, and thus, I climbed back down.
Alas, there is another way to get to the top, at least to the top of the south peak. Remember the choice we had to take the ridgeline along the fence to the south peak? Well, that dumps you off at the easiest route up the south peak. At this point, rather than going back down to the road, then back to the truck, then back up the ridge, we scrambled down the entry of the shoot and down and around and then back up the east/southeast base of the south peak. This was only about 1/2 a mile, but there was a bit of huffing and puffing. Then we intersected with the end of the ridgeline trail and started heading up the fairly well used/marked route up the south peak. There was a little bushwhacking here and there, but overall, it was pretty clear, especially as we got higher. As things cleared out, what looked like a rock staircase appeared and just beyond it, a steep rockface with a crevice. The stairs were the way up. My dad decided to relax in this area, and I headed up to the top. This route to the top of the south peak is very exposed, and if you slip and fall, you will likely seriously injure yourself or be killed. I took my time. There were occasional cairns that helped. In a some cases, I had to double back a few feet to get back on the route. There were a few, small bushy areas, and one area where I had to climb under a suspended boulder, but overall, it was rock, air, and prayer. It took about 20 minutes from the staircase.
The top was drenched with sun and the views were fabulous. I could see innumerable mountain ranges for miles. Interestingly, the wind that had been howling at us all day didn't seem to exist up there. Maybe it bowed to my elation. I could have stayed for a long time, but if I did so, my wondering dad would have been calling a rescue chopper to land in the meadow on Iron Tower Peak (assuming the cell phone would work--don't know on that one), so I headed down. Going down required slow and deliberate steps and grips, and I found that even though I had just come up, I really had to think about the way down. "Did I take that crevice from the right or the left on the way up? I can't see the footholds I used on the way up that I now need on the way down." I made it down alright and we then took the ridgeline down along the fence. From time to time we had to cross under the fence. It was a relatively easy, approximately 1 mile hike back to the truck.
Conclusion: Having seen the shoot from the bottom and then having seen where one would go from there by peeking over the edge of the south peak, I would recommend that a first-timer who wants to summit one of the Cabezas try the route up the south peak from the ridgeline as the initial interaction. (Supposedly, the south peak is 3 feet higher than the north peak, fyi). After conquering that route, if still interested in the routes up the shoot, you could descend the south peak and then scramble down around the east face of the base of the south peak and head for the shoot. After the checking out the shoot/summiting the peaks (depending on your skill level), you could head down through the forest and come back on the road. You would be doing the reverse route of what my dad and I did. Note, the shoot route looked to me like it would require excellent climbing skills. Even the route I took up the south peak was daunting and won't be for everyone. Know your limits, take your time, and be careful! (Also, if you are hungry afterward, there is a superb little Mexican restaurant in Willcox called Salsa Fiesta at 1201 W. Rex Allen Dr., E of I-10, Exit 340; I don't think Switzerland has that, either).
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.