|Rockhouse Peak and Topout Peak, AZ|
|Rockhouse Peak and Topout Peak, AZ|| |
Rockhouse Peak and Topout Peak, AZ
|Hiking||17.26 Miles|| 11 Hrs 48 Mns ||1.54 mph|
|4,381 ft AEG|| 35 Mns Break|
||no linked trail guides|
|Day 3 (Galiuro Trip)
Thanks to more confusing trail conditions, what I intended as primarily a trail hike with a short bushwhack segment to Rockhouse Peak & Topout Peak turned into another nightmare of an adventure that was a little too epic for comfort. Once again, things started off well: I began down FR 253B toward the Deer Creek Cabin site. The jeep road was totally doable in my Forester but there is a gate at the start of the road, and it’s been padlocked shut, adding about an extra mile each way.
Next I took the Tortilla Trail to the crossing of Oak Creek where I briefly overlapped with part of my return track from the previous day. After crossing Oak Creek, I wanted to experience some different scenery rather than repeat the exact segment of trail that I returned on the previous day, so I made a very nice line-of-sight / straight shot type of bushwhack up the ridge to the SW of Mud Spring, then across a drainage, and then up another minor ridge to a saddle area where I reconnected with the Tortilla Trail further down. I then followed the trail [or attempted to] and was mostly successful aside from a few confusing sections with switchbacks where I ended up bushwhacking ‘straight up’ or ‘straight down’. The trail led to the area of the Topout Divide, and from there it was just under 2/3rds of a mile of off-trail to reach the summit of Rockhouse Peak. However, as I approached Rockhouse from the NW, I didn’t see any simple-looking routes up as I had the previous day when I approached from the E/SE. With icy steep slopes topped off with very vertical crag to the North, contouring clockwise was not an option. The next best approach was to begin contouring counterclockwise and hope for another way up without having to contour nearly all the way around to reach the gulley on the E/NE side that I’d spotted the previous day.
Initially my options were not looking good. There were two places that would’ve been upper Class 4 climbs, and I really didn’t want to do that while alone, [but ironically the second of those places was where I ended up descending from]. To make matters worse, I had already ascended up one ‘level’ of crag; so in the event I needed to reach the gulley I’d spotted the previous day, I’d first have to backtrack to get down from the first ‘level’ of crag and then begin the contouring process all over again. Luckily, I finally spotted an easy Class 4 climb, [and after two additional easy Class 4 climbs], I was on the ‘roof’ of Rockhouse. From there, it was literally a hop, skip, and easy jump to the high point crag. The views from Rockhouse were out of this world awesome and very similar to the sensational summit views from Swede Peak in the Chiricahuas. In terms of my favorite summit views in AZ, I now have a ‘Fab Five’; [ordered in date of most recent ascent:
1. Rockhouse Peak
2. Swede Peak
3. Mount Ajo
4. Munds Mountain
5. Signal Peak (KOFAs)
Rockhouse has a summit register near the highpoint area, which is nestled in a crevice between two boulders. The oldest sign-in that I could make out was from 1992, and, [unless I missed someone that signed out of order], I was the first to sign since a SAHC group did the peak in April of 2011.
For my descent from the ‘roof’ of the Rockhouse to the lower crag level, I ended up negotiating a rather tricky Class 4 climb that may have even bordered on Class 5. It was a vertical drop with some exposure and almost no holds; and, [not being much taller than 5’], would require me to perform and stick a ‘jump’ landing on a rather narrow ledge below. While it was very unlikely that a missed landing would’ve resulted in death, tons of bruises were almost guaranteed, and possibly broken bones. In order to make the maneuver [and not be left at the bottom unable to reach my belongings], I tossed my pack and trekking poles to the ledge below. Go figure, as I prepared to negotiate the tricky climb down, I started getting buzzed by a bee. It didn’t seem happy [but didn’t seem overly pissed either]. As tricky as the climb looked, I mentally prepared myself for getting stung and then ignored the bee as I focused all of my attention on the climb down. My pack had landed in the exact spot where I’d planned to plant my feet, but it ended up making the job so worlds easier: my feet connected with the pack as I lowered myself down, which I then ‘bounced off’ of and onto the rock ledge, making it extremely easy at that point to ‘stick the landing’. To top it all off, the bee actually lost interest in me.
Next up was Topout Peak, which was only about 0.75 miles NW of the Topout Divide but had some very craggy sections of ridge to negotiate. Luckily, with extremely well beaten routes that go up / through / around as needed to get past the crags, it was a fast and fun traverse to the summit of Topout Peak, which is not craggy [at least not from the way I approached from the SE]. And, thanks to a fire that had burned most of the brush, the ascent was extremely easy and uncomplicated. While the views from the summit of Topout were beautiful, I thought the views were better from many of the other prominent points along the ridge. There are two registers near the highpoint, and the older one goes back to at least 1986, [I didn’t attempt to unfold all of the loose sheets of paper because some of them were rather crumbly, so it’s possible there were even older sign-ins].
My descent from Topout’s NW ridge was easy and uncomplicated; and, just like the part of the ridgeline between Rockhouse Peak & Topout Peak, the part between Topout Peak & where I planned to pick up my return trail also had many craggy prominent points, [all of which had well-beaten routes going up / through / around as needed to get past them].
The nightmare began when I went to pick up my exit trail and could not find it. Based on the color-coding scheme I use to draw my routes, I knew that a good part of the trail existed and was well-defined. However, unable to locate the part of the trail that would lead me off the ridgeline, I tried proceeding in the general direction where the trail should have been. Before long, the terrain started to get vertical, and I decided that it would be better to aim my path in the direction I needed to go to get back to my vehicle. In doing this, it wouldn’t be long before I’d interest with the trail a little further down… IF one existed… and IF I could negotiate the very rugged off-trail terrain.
Although things continued to get vertical, bouldering is a strong point for me, and I was meeting the challenges with ease. However, shortly into my descent, I found myself ‘stranded’ in an area with vertical crag on both sides and huge drop offs below. Without ropes/gear, my best chance of continuing downward without some major backtracking was to negotiate a borderline Class 5 climb into a drainage. I thought my climb off Rockhouse was on the dicey side, but this one took things to a whole new level. However, since climbing/bouldering are real strengths of mine, [and a backtrack at this point would’ve left me hiking half the night away], I decided to attempt the climb. A fall probably wouldn’t have meant death, but it would NOT have been pretty [i.e. lots of broken bones]. There were not many holds, [and there was A LOT more exposure than my climb off Rockhouse]; however, the two holds that existed were spaced perfectly, and the grip was excellent, [though the exposure made it a total uneducated tarzan swinger… to the point where I even stopped the climb mid-way down in order to relax myself]. Luckily, when all was said and done, the maneuvers proved to be remarkably easy and I prevailed unscathed.
After several additional Class 3 & 4 climbs, [which seemed like a walk through the park by comparison], I suddenly intersected with the trail. Words cannot describe the flood of relief I felt at that moment! Aside from a handful of confusing spots, the trail was excellent and well-defined for most of the way back. It crossed several drainages / areas with waterfalls that were exceptionally beautiful, particularly around the area of the dam in Sycamore Creek… WOW!
Once the trail reached the saddle area where I had bushwhacked to in the beginning [just to the NW of UN 6436], animal routes take off here, there, and everywhere, making the route-finding rather confusing. I could have, [and should have], just retraced my approach tracks; but I was EXHAUSTED by this point and really wanted to return via the trail. I probably wasted a good mile or more trying to find the trail [or a cattle path] that would take me in the direction I needed to go to get back; and by the time I got back on track, I was fighting a futile battle with the setting sun. I reached for my headlamp just as I approached the final confusing part of the trail, which was just before the crossing of Oak Creek.
By the time I completed the crossing it was pitch dark, and I had about 2 miles to go before reaching my vehicle. I was ‘home-free’ at this point in terms of the ‘route-finding factor’, but, [as if the adventure wasn’t crazy enough!], I had a couple of scares on the way back. The first was a cattle encounter just before reaching the gate / barbed wire fence. Unlike most herds of cattle I encounter while hiking, the herds in this area do NOT seen shy, and I’m wondering if there was a bull in this herd. The couple of other occasions where I passed through this area in the daylight and encountered the cattle, there was one with horns that made funny noises at me and seemed to really be staring me down, as if it was preparing to charge. Needless to say, suddenly encountering this herd in pitch darkness was a bit freaky, but luckily there were no issues.
The second scare occurred shortly after crossing through the barbed wire fence on the other side of the cattle pasture. I inadvertently startled a herd of some kind of large animal near a drainage and could hear whatever it was start to run away from me… then stop… and then slowly start to come toward me. I proceeded slowly in the direction I needed to go, [which was luckily away from where the animals were]; but a few moments later heard more move toward me, [and come even closer this time]. While I’m sure some will disagree with how I handled the situation, I decided to fire a warning shot into a spot of sand/dirt on the side of the trail [opposite of where the animals were]. Immediately, the herd of whatever animal it was HAULED ASS away from me. Based on how close the sounds were as they started to take off, they were much closer to me than I anticipated, I’m REALLY glad I didn’t take any chances.