Saturday, September 7, 2013

Mount Graham - Arizona

It would be tough to top last years Labor Day trip to New Mexico where we successfully summited Wheeler Peak and Mount Taylor, so Matt and I kept it somewhat local and headed South.  Mount Graham would be our first destination. Even though the summit was supposedly off-limits, I had to make the four hour drive to find out for myself.  Why the effort?  It's Arizona's most prominent peak, that's why.

Justin joined us for the long drive through the San Carlos Indian Reservation in route to Safford, AZ and further up the mountain to find information about hiking and to locate a campsite.  After talking with a couple volunteers at the visitor's center and seeing a sign firmly stating that trespassers on the Red Squirrel Refuge could face a 5,000 dollar fine and prison time, we decided against hiking to the summit.  As you might imagine, this was a huge disappointment!  I stood a mere 3 miles from the number one peak on the Arizona prominence list, yet we couldn't hike it.  So instead, the three of us threw on our packs and began climbing up Webb Peak from the visitor's center.  This would make for a nice 4-mile loop that would top out above 10,000ft and offer a pretty nice view of Mount Graham and the Galiuro and Rincon mountains to the West.  While the views are nice, the forest might be the most impressive.  A walk through this area would make you believe you were in the Northwest.  Aspens, pines, fir trees and ferns blanket the top of the Pinaleno mountains making it a truly unique and diverse sky island.

Holiday traffic on the mountain quickly filled up the established campgrounds leaving us in search of our own site.  Luckily we found a nice, quiet area to set up camp.  The day was far from over, so we found another peak to hike; Heliograph Peak.  Walking up a forest service road was not quite as visually stunning as Webb, the second half of this 4.75-mile loop on the Arcadia trail would offer a little more to look at.  The mileage for both Webb and Heliograph pale in comparison to most of our outings, that doesn't mean it didn't require some effort getting up hill.  Both routes start right around 9,000ft and top out over 10,000.  Breathing was definitely labored!  Overall, this was a nice weekend outing to a new area of the state we've been wanting to visit for a very long time.  The mountain is pristine, campgrounds are nice, and the weather was perfect for a late summer get-a-way.  Now that I am familiar with the area, it's time to figure out a way to the top!

Matt stopped to take in the view on the Ash Creek Trail

Mount Graham - 10,720ft


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