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Keystone Peak
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mini location map2016-06-26
91 by photographer avatarAZHiker456
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Keystone PeakTucson, AZ
Tucson, AZ
Hiking avatar Jun 26 2016
Hiking9.46 Miles 2,132 AEG
Hiking9.46 Miles   5 Hrs   4 Mns   2.65 mph
2,132 ft AEG   1 Hour   30 Mns Break
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Discovering the Sierritas [after having lived in Tubac for just over three years now] was definitely bittersweet… go figure, [it’s not until I’m in the midst of moving out of Southern Arizona], that I discover this AWESOME little mountain range, which [for me] proved more beautiful and more enjoyable than the Santa Ritas. Throughout my hike, I kept thinking, ‘How could I not have explored this area sooner; have I been living under a cave!?!’ But with only 8 HAZ triplogs, apparently I’m not the only one who’s overlooked this awesome little range.

With the addition of Placer Peak on the way to Keystone, along with a slight detour down a different dirt road for added views on the way back, I did a decent job of breaking up the monotony of the out-and-back alternative along the main jeep road. However, given the AMAZING bushwhacking potential of these mountains, I couldn’t help but feel a little saddened and frustrated to not be able to freestyle to my potential… after a 2-week layup from hiking due to a viral infection that has affected my equilibrium, it quickly became clear that feeling 90-95% better while sitting down / doing light chores around the house did NOT translate to 90-95% better while hiking… and especially not while going off-trail.

Had I known just how bad things still were, I wouldn’t have even attempted to hike; but with excellent footing along the main jeep, I felt about 80% back to normal. The little bit of dizziness I still experienced did not make me feel like I was jeopardizing my safety in any way and was more of an inconvenience; [when I glanced up to try to enjoy the phenomenal views, everything was spinning, so I kept having to stop frequently and pause for a few seconds in order to take it all in]. However, the second I stepped off trail, I knew I still had a long way to go before getting back to normal. Even before attempting Placer Peak, I had taken a minor, off-trail detour to avoid some cows that were right along the jeep road. As I stepped off-trail, the footing, [which was by no means loose], moved slightly underneath my feet, and my whole world went spinning… ditto to when I attempted to alternate from using my peripheral vision to quickly turning my head to keep tabs on the footing while off-trail. Thus, while I felt 80% back to normal walking on an excellent jeep road, I felt 90% off my game while off-trail; and what should have been one of the easiest bushwhacks of my life up to Placer Peak proved to be one of the most difficult [and frightful]. There’s no doubt I would’ve taken some serious spills had I not taken my trekking poles.

I somehow managed to reach the summit in one piece. In looking back at my GPS ascent track to Placer – which was not even close to as direct as it could have been given the extremely favorable topography, excellent footing, lack of brush, and many, many routes to choose from – it took me 28 minutes to cover the .47 from where I left the trail/jeep road to the highpoint. With perhaps the most favorable bushwhacking conditions I’ve ever encountered in Southern Arizona, [particularly at this elevation], my pace would’ve easily been under 20 minutes/mile had I not been dealing with the equilibrium issue. The summit views were absolutely amazing… and bushwhacking off the other side of Placer and then up to Keystone as-the-crow-flies looked so incredibly inviting, [as did the many other ridgelines, drainages, and peaks that surrounded me]. Originally I resolved to head back after Placer and save Keystone for another day. Having attempted Placer with my equilibrium still so out of whack was perhaps one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done on a hike, and I was afraid I might not be able to resist the temptation of going off-trail if I continued on to Keystone. However, after almost taking a face-plant while bending over to search for a register, reality sunk in and quickly brought me out of denial.

I reconnected with the jeep road leading to Keystone by descending off Placer via its NW ridgeline. The descent off Placer was slightly shorter than my ascent, much more gradual, and I even connected with a minor jeep road that was not shown on CalTopo for most of the way back. After going another mile on the main jeep road toward Keystone, I really had to resist the urge to go barreling off trail… especially at the point where the jeep road passes directly in front of the Northern ridgeline of Keystone, just before contouring around for the final ascent.

With 360-degree views that included more distant ranges like the Rincons, Catalinas, and Santa Ritas – in combination with the immediate views of the surrounding peaks, ridgelines, and canyons of the Sierritas – the summit views of Keystone were just awesome. There are several radio towers on the summit to explore as well. If you make your way to the highpoint point by the chain ‘railing’ [ photo ] , the summit register is located under a small rock pile at the base of a brown post [ photo ] . There are many signings from the late 1980’s. Interestingly enough, compared to other registers that go back to the 1980’s, the condition of this one was by far the best I’ve ever seen, and the signings from the 1980’s are in as good if not better condition than most summit logs that are just 2-3 years old.

After spending some quality time on the summit, I headed back down the main dirt road. For a change of scenery, I turned left on another jeep road, located a little under a mile from the summit. It’s slightly longer than staying on the main jeep road, [and regains some elevation], but the payoff is definitely worth it. Since it rides a ridge [instead of contouring like the main road], the views are much nicer. That said, just after reaching the highpoint on this ridge, I did have a brief bee scare, which fortunately proved to be benign. I reached the highpoint and had just started to descend when I heard LOTS of buzzing. I froze and looked up to see a swarm of bees about 20-30 feet down the jeep road flying across. It wasn’t the type of swarm where the bees look like a single huge solid object; they were more spread out with a few centimeters between each bee. Nonetheless, it was a poo mess TON of bees! Horrified and fascinated at the same time, I stood there frozen in place for a few seconds just watching them. Then I came to my senses and bolted back up the jeep road the other way. However, a few seconds later when I glanced over my shoulder, the bees were gone and the buzzing had stopped. I continued on way, going right by the section of road that the swarm had flown across not more than a minute or two earlier.

After reconnecting with the main jeep road, it wasn’t long before I passed by the abandoned cabin / camp area, which was really neat. There were also several mines in that area, many of which were visible right from the main jeep road. I was tempted to investigate but figured I’d enjoy it more when my equilibrium is back to normal, [and when there’s not a violent storm about ready to unleash on the area]… monsoon season started a few days ago in Southern AZ, and shortly after my hike, there was some fancy lightening right overhead. Luckily, I got back just in time to enjoy the show from the seat of my car.
Arrastra Benchmark
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