Sunday, March 10, 2013

Saddle Mountain - Arizona

Saddle Mountain Hike
Tonopah, Arizona
Mileage - 6.75
Time - 4:00
AEG - 2,844ft

For the past couple months, Saddle Mountain has been on "reserve" as we push to check off a number of low desert peaks from the top 100 prominence list during the winter.  It's proximity to Phoenix, easy access to the interstate, and relatively short mileage should make this one a slam we thought.  Matt and I finalized our plans on Friday night around 10:00pm and less than 12 hours later we were lacing up our shoes ready to discover the challenges that lied ahead.  The route description we had available to us was spotty.  An established trailhead does not exist, and from the Eastern approach, a trail didn't exist either.  Steep, rocky terrain is always difficult to navigate, especially going uphill.  Matt's GPS also gave us an inaccurate waypoint so we had to do a little backtracking.  Once again, a wrong turn led us to another exciting discovery; bighorn sheep. This time much closer, and much larger.  Two full grown males with a huge set of horns a mere 30 yards away!  Somehow we managed not to startle them and were able to snap a few photos. 

Once we determined the correct route up the SE facing drainage, a few rock cairns were present along with a couple water bottles indicating we were on the right path.  We reached a junction where a trail was present leading up the mountain in one direction and down the North side in the other direction.  Our first thought was, "why the h*ll didn't we go up this way?"  Oh right, there's no information available for this nice, easy to follow trail.  Anyways, we pressed onward towards the top following the knife-edge route to the true peak.  If you're not fond of heights, stay clear of the 800-1,000 foot drop to the South (pictured left).

I couldn't help but notice all the evidence of big game in the area.  There was scat everywhere and even a few areas where animals have bedded down away from the elements.  All the sudden something caught my eye, six juvenile bighorns standing less than 15 yards away!  This group also appeared to be unafraid and allowed another prime photo opportunity (pictured below) before they ran down the mountain.         

I'm not quite sure why this range receives a surprisingly small amount of visitation from hikers. Based on the few entries in the summit register it looks like only a handful of groups in the springs and even less in the autumn months actually reach the peak.  Matt and I both agreed this area is worthy of becoming a wilderness area. The healthy, abundant plant life and big game population is more than enough reason to protect this desert habitat.  This mountain truly is a hidden gem in plain sight. 


Click on the picture to get a closer look.

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