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Mount Ajo PeakSouthwest, AZ
Southwest, AZ
Hiking avatar Feb 20 2016
Hiking11.33 Miles 4,616 AEG
Hiking11.33 Miles   7 Hrs   56 Mns   2.09 mph
4,616 ft AEG   2 Hrs   30 Mns Break
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Having bagged around 90 peaks since moving to AZ a few years ago, it’s not very often that a new hike or peak moves into my #1 spot. Yesterday, the trek to Mount Ajo did just that [in the category of Best Overall Summit Hike in AZ]. If I had to rank this hike in terms of the: views, fun-factor, and variety, the numbers would be: 10, 10, & 8.

From start to finish, there are exceptional views in every direction. The immediate surroundings are filled with smaller peaks, canyons, and other rocks formations; and in the distance are peaks and mountains in every direction. The landscape is also fairly colorful [for Arizona], which adds to the beauty. As is usually the case, the summit views were my favorite. They would rank #2 on my list for Best Overall Summit Views, [in AZ], second to only Munds Mountain in Sedona.

While it’s not every weekend or even every month that I’m treated to killer views like those encountered en route to Mount Ajo, my preference for bushwhacking / off-trail has set the bar pretty high when it comes to variety and the ‘fun factor’. For those that know me, the fact that I did not go off-trail [but am still raving about this hike] speaks volumes. For those that don’t, let’s just say that of my past 20 day hikes, Mt. Ajo and just two others [Pusch Peak & Apache Peak in the Whetstones] were the only ones where I actually stuck to the trail / cairned route from start to finish… enough said!

For Mt. Ajo, I opted for the Bull Pasture Trail on the ascent. A series of switchbacks quickly take you up several hundred feet, and the views just keep getting better. Before long, boulders and rock formations that were part of the backdrop at the beginning are now right next to you. About 1/3 of the way to the summit, the official trail ends and the unofficial cairned route begins; things get more rugged and fun. After a few short, steep switchbacks with some lose footing, the route takes you right by something amazing rock formations, including a miniature window/arch. At this point, the awesomeness factor jumps to a whole new level.

Next, the route evens out but continues to climb very gradually toward a ridgeline. As the primary unofficial route nears the ridgeline, I hopped on a fainter route leading to the top of the ridgeline. Once on top, the views to the East, [which are completely blocked up to this point], completely open up… total awesomeness! The route on the ridgeline merges with the main unofficial route very shortly. Toward the end of the ridgeline, the route heads toward a false summit and then wraps around it, counterclockwise, as it gradually continues to ascend. Before long, the solar panels on Mt. Ajo come into view and the destination becomes very clear. When Ajo first comes into view, it appears as though you’re going to lose some hard-earned elevation gain, but the rest of the way proves to be a nice rolling ridge ride, ending with a short but fun boulder hop to the top.

On the summit, the fun and beautiful views don’t stop in the area of the highpoint where all the solar panels are. In fact, continuing for another 1/3 to 1/2 mile Northward proved to be the best part of the summit experience. There is a large rock that looks like a spaceship [ photo ] and is covered in lime green lichen, [which makes for a great resting spot for those like me who don’t mind a little direct sun]. On the other side of this rock, I found two intact longhorn skulls, which made for some really fun photos. After the skulls, there is a helicopter landing area, and around this point a beautiful canyon below and to the East comes into view. Continuing just a little further to the North, [to the area with the small solar panel], the views open up even more. There is another beautiful canyon to the Northwest, [which looks like it would make for an amazing boulder hop], and the more gradual slopes of the Northeastern end, [with dirt roads not too far off], had me thinking of the bushwhack and car-drop potential. There was also a “Data Logging Rain Gauge” at this end of the summit. Never having seen one, the device was a lot simpler than I had envisioned. And, just lying on the rocks at this edge of the summit, was a small ‘US Boundary NPS’ sign.

For the return trip, I tool the Estes Canyon trail. Not having to do a complete out-and-back was an added bonus; and, [with somewhat tired legs by this point], I really liked how this trail wasted no time in taking you to the canyon floor and getting the descent over with. The excellence footing, different views, and lush vegetation, [including giant cactus trees and species of plants I hadn’t seen anywhere else on the trail that day], made for a perfect finish.

Topping off the awesome adventure, was having great company. I did this hike with some friends and others in the Tucson-based Sierra Adventure Meet-up Group. Everyone was very pleasant and there was no B.S. kind of drama, [at least none I was aware of], that often occurs with large groups. Another nice thing was that Mitch, [our group leader], really takes the time to enjoy the summit and the journey to/from it… and he’s not one to ‘force’ everyone to go at the same pace. Naturally being faster most, [but being the type that could spend all day on a beautiful summit], I really had the best of both worlds: being first to make summit, among the last four to leave it, and a quality three hours in between to enjoy it and get to know some of the others.
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