Succumb to temptation, ranch guests
The White Stallion Ranch abuts the Tucson Mountain section of Saguaro National Park to the north. From the ranch, the sharp ridgeline of Safford and Panther Peaks looms enticingly but forebodingly to the south. After staying at the ranch a couple of times, I wanted to climb it. There is a trail up from Panther wash in the park, but I thought a more direct route from the north might be pretty doable. And I guess I'm not alone in being tempted to this ascent, so I post this for other guests who want to do this climb.
Note: The ranch is private property, so you can only really start from there if you're staying there. And don't forget to pay your park day use fees, though there is no convenient place on this walk to do it...
From the ranch itself the initial bit of the hike is getting to the base of the ridge. The easiest way is to head out on the dirt road that tends pretty straight south-southeast to the homes of the owners of the ranch (just follow the powerlines). Just past the last house, the road degenerates into a horse track, and soon reaches a T-intersection with a horse trail. This is where the bush-bashing begins. Looking straight up at the ridge, there is a clear gully leading down from Safford peak almost directly south of where you are now. At the right of this gully towards the top there is a break in the line of cliffs that tends upwards toward Panther Peak. The walk follows this line of cliffs, so the aim now is to ascend the gully, climb up the break in the cliffs, and having made the top of the line of cliffs, ascend the much gentler shelf to the minor summit on the ridge to the east of Panther Peak.
Break out southwards into the desert, and head through fairly open scrubland. In a couple of minutes you'll reach the National Park boundary fence. The existence of a horse trail just inside it suggests that there is a gap, but there is no real need to find it; simply walk along the fence until you come to a wash, where the fence typically is a meter or so above the ground, and duck under it. Then head south to ascend the obvious gully. Try and stay out of the washes and the vegetation is sparser. The going gets a bit steeper and rockier underfoot, and one quickly outstrips in height the minor ridgeline that runs north-south along the ranch's eastern side. (The views out north are and remain extensive, but the expansion of Tucson has made what you can see a little less than perfectly attractive.) As the ground rises, it is easy to see two or three steep gullies cut by washes into the cliff line; pick any of these to climb up. They will need hands to scramble up, but in no sense is there any danger or need of a rope.
At the top, the ground levels off and the ground above the cliffs slopes smoothly up along the base of the rocky outcrops of Safford (Sombrero) Peak. Follow this sloping land southwest to an obvious saddle at the top of the ridge. No need for special care, just pick a way not right on the edge of the cliff, nor right at the base of the rocks. From the saddle the views into the national park and Tucson Mountain Park are very nice. You can ascend the minor peak immediately to the west of this saddle for a nice view of Panther Peak, but (like Panther Peak itself) this drops off sharply to the west, and while there is a climbable gully off the northwest side, it poses more of a challenge. I suggest therefore that you backtrack to the saddle, and dip off the ridgeline to the north. Follow the base of the minor peak westwards; the ground right at the base of its northern/western cliffs is flat and easy going. As you come around the cliff you'll see the sharp ridgeline tending down to a saddle between the minor peak and Panther Peak; follow it and you'll be at the saddle in a couple of minutes. The ground is pretty loose through this last section. From the saddle you can easily see the gully in the west side of the minor peak, and you'll agree that while climbable, the northern contouring around is a smarter thing to do.
From the saddle, things are easy. This is where the trail from Panther Wash comes up, and there is an easy to follow footpad all the way to the . Compared to the bush-bashing you've been doing so far, you'll speed up this footpad really fast, and be at the top in a few minutes. There are now 360 degree views, of the ranch, national park ? and the open cut mine to the west. Leave a note in the visitors book/jar, and head back the way you came.
The reverse of this route involves nothing too tricky, as long as you don't drop off the slope down from the first saddle too early and find yourself above a cliff. If you take a look around where you came up the gully through the line of cliffs and fix it in your mind, you'll be able to identify the gully you climbed up easily. You can see the last house on the ranch clearly as you descend, so just head for it and you'll come out to the fence and the T-intersection with the horse trail pretty much exactly where you left it. Then road bash back to the ranch, and into the hot tub!
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