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Wild Horses Can't Keep Me Away
Bunyan Summit North Ridge Route
This adventure was born out of my recent desire to revisit hikes I first did long ago. My best guess was that I had stood on top of Bunyan peak circa 2000 or 2001. I faintly recalled bits and pieces of that day, and with those scant memories, I filled in some blanks but came up short. What year was it, and what do I know? More on that later. Years ago, on one of my trips into Woolsey Peak Wilderness, my eyes wandered about looking for my next adventure. Off to the SW, I saw a striking peak nestled amongst other comparable, in height, peaks, and ridges. A look at the map would reveal that the highest point, the handsome peak, was named Bunyan.
I did remember, I started from Woolsey Spring and a crux, near the summit. The memory was good because I know I walked from truck to summit and back and the route I chose went. Considering the north side of Bunyan is steep and splattered with cliff bands of questionable rock. To the summit, relatively unimpeded is a real prize.
Getting to Bunyan’s North Face from Woolsey Spring
Walk south through the gate with the windmill on your left. Cross the wash and climb up the steep bank. If you haven’t figured out which peak is Bunyan, you will soon have a good vantage point to do so. Once above the wash, you will be on top of the SW end of what appears to be a lava flow that has created a large mesa. The terrain between here and Bunyan’s north face is very forgiving. Any climbs you encounter are short, washes are shallow, and vegetation is scarce. Seeing I had been here before, I figured I would remember the approach used on my previous trip, and I didn’t do my map homework. Nothing, not even Bunyan, looked familiar, so we just walked SW toward our peak. Occasion checks of the GPS gave us a plan of attack for each section to come. We also were fortunate to stumble upon well-beaten game trails going our direction. We saw three of the trail construction and maintenance crew, wild horses.
You can follow our route or make your own. Our way worked, got us to the peak, and on our return, we deviated a bit from our SW bound course, and that worked too. Head for a prominent saddle at 33.1324 -112.9499. From here, you get a great view of Bunyan’s north side. Worth taking a break here and planning your north face route. From this vantage, the summit has three ridges. The ridge that forms the right skyline drops in a NW direction. The ridge dropping down from the middle of the summit is doing so in a north direction, “Summit North Ridge.” The most prominent ridge is running in a NE direction, “Summit Ridge.” The Summit Ridge drops in a linear flow to a saddle. Just right and above this saddle is a small rock step and the crux of this route. This saddle is at the zenith of a huge cleft that splits the mountain. On the east side of this cleft is the ridge that carried us to the summit ridge, “North Ridge.” Continue to follow the Summit Ridge SE from the saddle and notice the pyramid-shaped bump, a rounded bump, and a saddle at 33.1148 -112.9615. The route gains the Summit Ridge via this saddle.
From the saddle you are now in, drop into the wash that drains the valley before you. Using this drainage, head upstream towards Bunyan’s north face. Gain the North Ridge at or close to point 33.1197 -112.9614 and begin your summit push. With the naked eye, the North Ridge looks like it has no impediment to easy progress, not true. This ridge starts gentle, rocky, but progress comes with ease. That changes quickly as the grade steepens. As you ascend, the ridge, once broad, begins to narrow. When about ¾’s of this ridge is behind you, the slope eases, and the width narrows, giving you little choice as you are faced with a cliff band. Traversing right is not an option, left is the answer. Make your way left and up to the saddle in Summit Ridge (33.1148 -112.9615).
Staying on or near the crest of the ridge, head for the summit. Pass the pyramid-shaped peak on your right (north) side. Drop into the saddle and continue your ascent of the summit ridge. Soon you will be faced with the only challenge remaining, that blocks your path to the summit. A short cliff band of solid basalt dominates the summit ridge, and the only way around is to climb it. We pushed three dogs through this fourth-class section. It’s short and provides good foot and handhold. Crest the summit ridge and continue your march to a well-deserved summit.
Upon the summit, feed and water the dogs, feed myself, capture some images on my smartphone, take in the fantastic view, and go looking for answers. I’m in search of a summit register. Many of these desert peaks I have stood upon, over the years, have such a record provided by the Desert Peaks Chapter of the Sierra Club. I search under every rock, just about to give up, I find a (painted red) tin can. Inside is the register, brought here in 1998 by the Sierra Club, with the first summit entry. Second is Peter Conklin of Congress, AZ, Y2K. Third entry is 12/21/01, Otis and Jeff Jones. Fourth entry is a year later, Steve Campbell, Otis and Jeff Jones. Today is 12/16/2018, 17 years after Otis and I left our mark in the Bunyan summit register. Peter Conklin, we dubbed as “Seldom Seen” Peter Conklin.
I’ve viewed his name in many of the registers I have signed in the Sonoran Desert. Always one step ahead of me, I only know him by name. This was my lifestyle back then, my life, get up early on a Saturday morning and head out the door in the dark, drive to a remote location and go for a walk in the desert. Always a dog or two with me, Buddy, Casper, Kopol or Otis. Sometimes a human or two with me, Steve, Claude, Jim, or whoever was available that day. I repeated this process every weekend, and I must have loved it. I still love it, 17 or however many years later, with whoever will join me and always, Ozzie and Leo.
Today, we returned the way we came.
Check out the Official Route.
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