big payoff views await
This is a hike I first did circa 2008. At that time, I chose this starting location and direction of travel so I could get through the unknown navigational challenges early. One could park and start at the BLM trailhead for the summit trail. If I were starting at the trailhead, I would choose between two options: 1) Head east, crossing the north base of the mountain, turning south and up to Sunset Pass. 2) Hike the summit trail first and do this loop in reverse. Benefit of #1, get the navigational challenges out of the way early and the last 5 miles could be cruised in auto pilot on easy to follow trail. Benefit of #2, the ability to get water out of the Guzzler below Sunset Pass.
Start walking southeast on 9331 and pass the wilderness boundary gate. A little further you will pass, on your right, a “Guzzler” used to collect and store rain water for wildlife to drink. The goal is to gain Sunset Pass at 33.8279 -113.3130. The route we took wasn’t terrible. From the guzzler we were able to follow game trails that got us close to the pass with little resistance. Without an established trail or closed road to follow, I consider every step south of the wilderness boundary as cross-country hiking. Follow our route or blaze your own, get into pass.
Up till now, the view has been limited to the Harcuvar mountains and McMullan Valley to the northwest and major ridges of Harquahala peak to the west and east. The view that opens up to the south and east from Sunset Pass is the big payoff on this loop. Perfectly lined up, between the ridges of Sunset’s south drainage are the profiles of desert peaks; Big Horn, Saddle Mountain and Woolsey Peak. Centennial Wash drains the McMullan Valley as well as land further east. Take a side trip on your computer and trace the path of this drainage and the above-mentioned desert peaks will take on new significance.
It took us approximately two, hours to travel 3.47 miles with 1,558 feet of gain from truck to Sunset Pass. For the summit push we covered 2.84 miles and 1,798 feet of elevation gain in 2.5 hours. For me, this section is the crux of the route. The gain climbing into Sunset Pass, at times choked with vegetation and a couple serious drainage crossings was linear and moderate. The ridge line, from pass to summit, although void of drainage crossings, is steep, rocky and in places choked with vegetation. Progress is sometimes blocked by large boulders and/or small rock outcroppings. The route to the summit is straight forward, when possible stay on the apex of the ridge. When obstacles are encountered, find a way around them and continue up, riding this line until deposited on the summit. Soon the summit structures will come into view, the grade eases and the use of an abandoned dirt road becomes an option.
We spent time on the summit, eating lunch, admiring the views and taking a trip back in time. From the picnic bench (just a few feet south and below the wind sock) drop down a few feet, to a path and head west. Walk about 0.1 mile on this path (dirt road) and look for a trail taking off on your left (south). At the time of this writing a metal gate/fence marks this spot, as does a cairn (33.8125 -113.3481). Follow this trail as it drops down the SW side of the mountain and into a saddle at (33.8109 -113.3532). The trail turns in a NW direction and enters a drainage that the trail follows to the BLM trailhead. Stay on the trail, which is easy to do, and keep an eye open for indications others were here, many years before you. Eventually the single-track turns into old road and not much further, the end of the path is marked by the BLM trailhead.
The trailhead is not far off and can be used in case of an emergency, maybe someone is there to provide water, food, use of a phone or a ride out. There is also a pit toilet here and the open, flat parking area could provide a nice resting spot before closing this loop, at your awaiting vehicle and post adventure refreshments. We had no need for any of the above-mentioned possibilities other than completion and refreshments. We left the abandoned dirt road at 33.8376 -113.3791 and began our cross-country trek to the awaiting truck. We made the choice to climb over the tip of the ridge, the trail has been following since dropping to this drainage. On another day, I will walk around the end of the NW running ridge, turn east and head home. We chose the “shorter” distance and after the steep, short climb and descent, on the other side, I regretted it. Either way, around or over the ridge, get a bearing on your vehicle, look up on the north / south running ridge in front of you, pick a landmark and walk towards it. This short section is as desert travel should be, flat, void of vegetation and very few wash crossings.
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.