|Rock Benchmark & Bunyan Peak, AZ|
|Rock Benchmark & Bunyan Peak, AZ|| |
Rock Benchmark & Bunyan Peak, AZ
|Hiking||16.20 Miles|| 8 Hrs 27 Mns ||1.96 mph|
|2,958 ft AEG|| 12 Mns Break|
|Day 1 (Gila Bend / Painted Rock Adventure)
The Weather Gods got word I had another rare string of days off from work, and I was not about to let them crash my plans. After plugging in nearly all areas within a 2 hour drive of Elgin, [only to find that most were supposed to get hammered for 2-3 days with rain and/or T-storms, with Saturday being a given], I decided to leave the nest and head for an area where the forecast was much more favorable: the Gila Bend & Painted Rock Mountains. All I can say is, WOW! These mountains may be tiny compared to my stomping ground in South Central / South Eastern AZ, but they too have some amazingly beautiful scenery, awesomely rugged terrain, and a fascinating history; and they provided exactly what I was looking for: some epic hiking adventures and memories that will last a lifetime.
I kicked the trip off with the Rock BM followed by Bunyan Peak, launching from about 2.5 miles down the Eastern branch of Poco Dinero Rd. The road has some deep ruts that will put ground clearance to the test for any HCV, [jeeps/trucks no prob… cars/low clearance vehicles forget it!]; yet with extra caution, my Forester prevailed. I even made it all the way to my planned starting point, [about 1 mile further down than anticipated], which was an unnamed wash to the West of “Principal Point” 1-45.
Almost immediately, I picked up a very well-beaten route that was headed in the same direction I planned to go, and it made for a fast start. The first leg of the journey [to the Rock BM] was extremely simple and involved: heading up the small, Western ridge leading toward Principal Point 1-45; then continuing up a very gradual slope for about 3.5 miles; next making a short descent to cross a larger wash; and finally, a very fun ascent of nearly 1.5 miles to the Rock BM via its NW ridge. The scenery was absolutely exceptional, and after starting up the steep [but super easy] ascent toward the Rock BM, the views really start to open up and it’s quite spectacular.
Ironically, the one misstep I took that almost led to a fall during my entire 4-day adventure occurred while crossing through the bottom part of a drainage, [just before beginning my ascent to the Rock BM], over some of the best footing I encountered the entire time. I usually have an excellent eye for which boulders/rocks are reliable and which aren’t, and I decided to take a rare chance by setting foot on a small one that looked questionable, figuring I’d shift my weight mid-air if it gave. The boulder gave, and, [still a bit sleepy], I was unable to adjust like I normally can in mid-air and took a hard hit to my right hand, breaking what would have been a nasty fall. Ironically, [later that day as well as over the next several], I would encounter some of the biggest challenges I’ve ever had to overcome, and prevail unscathed.
At any rate, although on the steep side, the ascent to the Rock BM was wicked easy and super fun, with footing consisting primarily of large, excellent gripping volcanic boulders that were well ‘rooted’ in the side of the mountain. It was a rare but pleasant type of off-trail ascent where my speed was limited by the burn in my legs/lungs vs. the terrain. I’ve read HAZ Descriptions / Triplogs [Woolsey Peak, Margies Peak, etc.] mentioning some very dense areas of teddy bear cholla patches in this neck of the woods, but I was over 4 miles in to my adventure and had yet to see it… until I encountered one section along the ridge that really flattened out and all I can say it WOW… teddy bear cholla fields, no pumpkin! Luckily on this adventure it was a VERY short stretch, but after my adventures on Day 3 & 4, I think I’ve traversed through more teddy bear cholla fields in that 4-day trip than I have in the 4+ years I’ve lived in AZ! One of the ‘cholla balls’ got stuck in my calf area and it was actually pretty amusing how I continued for a minute or so not realizing it, [thinking the cactus spines that got stuck in my 5-10’s after stepping over and grazing a downed Saguaro had then ended up in my leg].
The views from the Rock BM were spectacular and would easily rank among my top 10 if not top 5 best summit views in AZ if the views in all directions were just as awesome as those to the North / NE, [which reminded me of the amazing views from atop Signal Peak in the KOFAs]. I found two survey markers on top, but no summit register, [which tends to be hit or miss for “just” a benchmark summit].
Next up was Bunyan Peak. I checked my route and got a surge of adrenaline when I saw that my exit ridge was not the pleasant / doable looking one to the SW but the very daunting looking one [cliffy w/ steep slopes], to the East. However, in examining the terrain more closely, this definitely seemed like a situation of a very intimidating-looking ridgeline that proves to be easy. I made it a little over 1/10th of a mile down, and, [although there were a few borderline Class 3 climbs], the going was good and the bouldering was easy enough that I was having fun [instead of feeling like ‘WTF did I get myself into]…’ although that all changed pretty quickly when I started to get buzzed by bee. Had I continued down the ridgeline, I still had about 1/3 of a mile of very cliffy terrain to negotiate. Naturally, I picked up the pace and continued downward; but after a few more steps I heard lots of buzzing… it didn’t sound like a full out swarm, but it didn’t sound good either. I immediately realized that my two safest options where to haul ass back up the mountain toward the Rock BM or to make an ‘emergency exit’ downward off the ridge. It was very cliffy on both sides but had good breaking points. I retraced my steps a little ways up the ridge to where I had a full line of sight of my exit and then headed downward. Luckily the bee I encountered had stopped buzzing & following me within seconds after I’d started to head back up the ridge, but I wasn’t about to hang around and take any chances. There were a few climbs that were solid Class 3 [and definitely challenged me a bit given the speed at which I negotiated them], but given how frightful the terrain looked, my emergency exit panned out surprisingly well.
After contouring around the section of ridge where I encountered the bees, I made my way over to a saddle area, which is situated at about the 1400’ contour line between the Rock BM and Bunyan Peak. This is such a beautiful area! To the West is the craggy ridge leading up to the Rock BM and to the East is another craggy ridge, which wraps around to the SE and then heads up to Bunyan Peak. Northward, there is a large drainage surrounded by beautiful ‘walls’ and small peaks consisting of various colored rock; and Southward is a low area with many ridges/sub-drainages feeding into it, with the main drainage heading SW. With many various colors of rock along with cliff and boulder crags of many different shapes and sizes, this area wi truly spectacular…
…but looking up toward Bunyan Peak, I knew I had my work cut out for me. Not wanting to cliff out [and then be stuck descending a very steep slope with extremely loose footing], I opted for a more conservative ascent path, [along a line I had spotted from atop the Rock BM and had a clear line-of-sight the whole way up to the final short ridge]. Unlike bouldering where I’ve been gifted with above natural ability, my ability [or lack thereof] to negotiate loose footing is definitely below average; thus, the combination of a very steep grade, tons of loose footing, and lack of good ‘breaking’ rocks/boulders, made the ascent to Bunyan Peak a bit of a challenge for me, and there were many places where I defaulted to using ‘all fours’ to scramble upwards. A few areas were steep enough that I opted to utilize some boulders and negotiate Class 3 climbs in lieu of dealing with the loose footing. Eventually I prevailed, and the near vertical terrain suddenly turned in to almost horizontal ground as I ended up on top of what looked like a mini mesa. From there it, was a simple, 0.20 mile stroll through the final obstacle [landmines of teddy bear cholla] to reach Bunyan Peak.
The summit views were sensational and well worth the fight to get there. There is a register on Bunyan Peak and, like many remote registers in my neck of the woods, it does not get much action. It was placed on November 20th, 1998 by Gordon MacLeod & Barbara Lilley, and among the few others to sign include some of the big names in Arizona peak-bagging: Bob Packard (Flagstaff, AZ, 12/16/2003), Mark Nichols (Benson, AZ, 1/28/2006), and John Klein (Tucson, AZ, 1/30/15) who wrote also wrote, “In memory of my mom Katherine Klein”. John, I am so sorry about your mother!
Given how long it took to get from the Rock BM to Bunyan Peak, I kept my summit visit very brief. I also did not like the looks of my planned exit ridge, which was another very craggy ridge like one leading off the Rock BM. In addition to the bee I had encountered on that ridge, there were several other places where I got buzzed by a bee, [although in all other instances, the buzzing always ceased within just seconds after picking up my pace]. Nonetheless, I wanted the easiest descent possible. I didn’t like my options in terms of what I could see from the summit of Bunyan Peak, so I decided to hit up the nearby UN 2275. There was also some sort of structure near that summit, which I wanted to check out.
The structure, [which I thought was a large solar panel from a distance], turned out to be a massive, metallic cover nailed into the ground, which I’m guessing covers up a mine. There is also a small building of some sort a little ways below UN 2275, [located to the NE of the summit near the top of a drainage]; however, I opted not to investigate that… after reaching UN 2275, I scanned the terrain and my decent options looked even less appealing than those from Bunyan Peak. I also got buzzed yet again by bee. The descent was starting to turn into an ‘all hands on deck’ type of effort. I ended up opting for something that I try NOT to do very often, [and especially not in a situation like this]: a ‘blind’ descent [i.e. one where I do not have a clear ‘line-of-sight’ from my current location to the base of the mountain]. I headed down the drainage located to the West of the small building. The exposure factor looked quite low for the majority of what I could see of it; and aside from a few basic Class 3 climbs toward the top it would be boulder-hopping awesomeness for most of the way down, [although at this point, I was capitalizing on my strength of being able to HAUL ASS while bouldering if needed, (i.e. in the event of more bees) versus looking for more of a thrill].
I got some comfort in the fact that the topo contours for the drainage looked very favorable, but the topo had already proved to be rather unreliable in this area, so it was really going to be a matter of waiting and seeing if I’d make it down or be in for a big backtrack. I’d seen the bottom of the drainage earlier on from the saddle area off the Eastern ridge of the Rock BM and knew that the lower part would be okay, but I’d also seen some near vertical cliff walls on both sides a little further up… nonetheless, that ‘gut feeling’ told me I’d be good to go, so I took the big chance and luckily it panned out extremely well: there were some fun/easy Class 3 climbs toward the top and during a few other places but most of the way down was boulder-hopping awesomeness; the scenery was exceptional as well; and best of all: no cholla fields and NO bees! The cliff walls did get vertical toward the bottom but luckily the drainage never did.
After having descended from the drainage, the terrain was smooth sailing [for being off-trail], but I still had nearly 6.5 miles to cover to reach my vehicle and just over 2 hours before pitch darkness. I picked up the pace as I headed back the short ways up to the saddle area off the Eastern ridge of the Rock BM and then dropped down toward a drainage to the North that would eventually dump into an awesome, sandy wash that would take me most of the way back. For the final 1.5-2 miles, I reconnected with the extremely well beaten route that I had used on my approach. The route is so well defined that it makes for faster going than most trails, and I was thankful to have such a nice return with darkness fast approaching. I ended up reaching for my headlamp, but only for the last 1/3 of a mile. This adventure definitely took ‘epic’ to a whole new level.