It’s not what you might think
Several 6,000’+ peaks dominate the horizon when viewing the Mustang Mountains from the West. Contrary to what you may think if viewing this range for the first time, the North-most peak – which also happens to have such a distinctive dome-shape with large rock slabs and vertical cliff walls that it looks like it was transplanted to Arizona from Yosemite] – is actually not North West Dome. That peak would be Mount Bruce, [better known locally as “The Biscuit”], which sits at 6,087’; while the peak named “North West Dome”, [sitting at 6,162’], is the next most prominent one heading to the Southeast. North West Dome has some large rock slabs and cliffy sections as well, but unlike Mount Bruce, [which would be a suicidal free-climb in most directions], North West Dome is quite approachable from most angles.
Hike (Approach): The route described here is just one of many possibilities for reaching the summit of North West Dome and returning. With a peak as fun-looking and approachable as this one, I executed the route in true-loop fashion in order to provide the most variety in terms of scenery.
The following access point worked extremely well: there is an unnamed dirt road that begins off of Upper Elgin Road, and it runs NE, toward the Mustang Mountains. This road is located 2.19 miles down Upper Elgin Road if approaching from the center of Elgin, and 2.47 miles down Upper Elgin Road, if having come from Route 82. Almost immediately after turning onto this dirt road, you’ll need to get out and open a gate. The gate was not locked, it was very easy to open/close, and there was no sign indicating that motor vehicle traffic was prohibited. Almost immediately after going through the gate, there will be another unnamed, main-looking dirt road on your left; you’ll want to turn left onto this road. After about 1 mile on this road, you’ll come to a second gate. Just in front of this gate is a large area where the grass has been flattened down, and it makes for an excellent parking spot. You’ll want to park here; continuing through the gate will take you away from the peak. NOTE: The road to the parking area is in excellent condition and easily drivable in any high clearance vehicle. Low clearance vehicles will need to drive with extra caution due to some ruts that may pose challenges; however, all rutted areas of the road that I can recall were very easy to straddle. Park where you feel comfortable. For those who choose to park at the start of the dirt road, it adds just under 2 miles RT of beautiful dirt road hiking.
For those who park by the second gate, [described above], take note of the following: do NOT go through the gate / do NOT continue on the dirt road that you drove in on, or you will be headed in the wrong direction. At the gate, if you look due East [to your right], the will be another dirt road which is more overgrown, but still very noticeable. This is the dirt road you want to take. After about half a mile, there will be another gate, facing East. Go though this gate [or slip under the barbed wire fence if that’s easier], and continue heading East. Initially there are some routes, but gradual these will fade out.
Angling your track slightly North of East will allow you to pick up one of the mountain’s prominent East/NE ridges. At this point, simply head up. This ascent is extremely pleasant in many regards: gradual grade, excellent gripping footing, very modest margin for error between the brush/thorny vegetation, and excellent ground visibility. To top it all off, there are several animal routes / game trails, and the exceptionally beautiful scenery just keeps getting better as you get higher. You’ll have some very awesome views of Mount Bruce [aka “The Biscuit”] that I described in the opening paragraph.
As you near the top, you’ll notice a section with large boulders that looks a bit cliffy. If you download and follow my GPS route, you should have no trouble getting through this section. As intimidating as it may look to some from a distance, nothing comes close to a Class 3 climb if following my route; just some basic bouldering/scrambling. However, for those wanting to avoid this section, it appears as though it can easily be avoided by contouring either left or right before continuing upward.
If you didn’t pay attention to the topography of the peak from the parking area, you’ll be in for a little false summit surprise after cresting the boulder crags. The good news is the short and gradual remaining way to the peak from this point is literally a hop, skip, and a jump. The summit views are absolutely awesome on this one! In your more immediate surroundings, you’re treated to the likes of the rather unique-shaped Biscuit to the NW and Mustang Peak and the Mustang Mountains Highpoint to the SE; and dominating the backdrop are the Whetstones to the NE, the Huachucas to the SE, and the Santa Ritas to the West.
In the area of the highpoint, I found a small boulder pile and what appeared to be a very old register consisting of a large supplement bottle inside of which was a small, cylinder-shaped container, [similar in appearance to those that house electrolyte tabs]. Inside the cylinder container appeared to be an old summit log, but it would have been nearly impossible to retrieve it without breaking off the very old paper inside, so I did not even attempt to do so. I donated a pen, along with a small, note-card sized paper that was blank one side. At the top of this, I wrote the peak’s name. It could definitely use a new register though!
Hike (Return): Before getting into the details of the return trip, definitely head the warning: if you found the trip to the peak at all difficult or challenging, then I do not recommend returning in the way I’m about to describe. Instead, do an out-and-back type of route. If you’re accustomed to off-trail peak bagging, then the descent should not be overly difficult, but you’ll definitely need to step up your game a few notches if you plan to stay on two feet! Like with the ascent, the ground visibility is very good, and any boulders you encounter that are solidly rooted in the ground should still offer impeccable grip. The three biggest challenges include the combination of: a much steeper grade in many places, small loose rocks that will send you flying if you’re not careful, and, [to top it all off], less margin for error around the thorny vegetation, [which isn’t exactly terribly; the worst offenders being ocotillo and prickly pear in ‘strategic spots’ on the loose/steep sections, and some shin dagger fields the moment the steep grade finally lets up].
From the highpoint, you’ll initially head off the peak’s East ridgeline. The topography contours made this appear like a stroll through the park; but for those who like some bouldering/rock scrambling, the good news is, there will definitely be a bit of that for the first 0.10 – 0.15 miles or so as you descend. Once things finally do flatten out, [right around the 5920 to 5880 contour lines on FS Topo], you’ll begin a steep contour as you continue to head downward to the SW. There are some cliffy sections in this area, but they are easy to circumvent. The general strategy is to simply head downward [Southward], angling Eastward and Westward as needed to get around the sections with cliff / poorer terrain. There is a little nub located almost at the bottom of SE ridgeline [lat: 31.698237619371714, lon: -110.4868047283112], and just to the NW of this nub is a small saddle area. Both are very useful landmarks to help guide your track as you descend.
Once you reach the nub, simply head SE [or South] for about 0.15 miles, at which point you will encounter a very well beaten foot-trail that is not shown on FS Topo [but quite clear on satellite imagery]. Follow this trail for about 0.40 miles, at which point you will come out on an excellent dirt road. From this point, you’ll have a little over 1.75 miles of excellent dirt road hiking back to your vehicle. The dirt road will split several times, [described in more detail below], but the important thing to remember is: always keep right when it splits. The splits/segments are as follows:
First split: about 0.05 miles after reaching the dirt road. Keep right [Northward], heading in the direction of a large tank, [which you will soon pass by on your right].
Second split: about 0.80 miles from the previous split. You will go through a gate, after which there will be one road continuing straight and another immediately to your right that goes though another opening between barbed wire fences. Go through the gate, then immediately turn right to go through this opening, [which was not gated when I was there]; almost immediately after that, the road will then curve to the left before continuing straight ahead [Eastward].
Third split: about 0.20 miles from the previous split. You will pass a large water tank on your left that literally looks like an above-ground swimming pool, about 0.10 miles before reaching the third split, at which point you will go right.
Fourth/Final split: about 0.60 miles from the previous split. After turning right at this split, you’ll have about 0.15 miles to go before reaching your vehicle [and will likely be able to see your vehicle at this point].
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.