This past weekend, August 12th and 13th, was the Perseid meteor shower and, despite the full moon, should have been a spectacular show. I say “should have been” because I never got to see it. I spent the weekend camping with a group on top of Mount Graham in the Pinalino Mountain Range south of Safford, Arizona. The Pinalinos are part of Coronado National Forest and home to the Mt Graham Observatory. Our camp was situated at about 9400 ft and the plan was to hike to the top of Webb Peak where an old, out of commission Forest Service Fire Lookout stands at over 10,000 ft. Webb Peak is normally an ideal vantage point for viewing the night sky.
This weekend’s trip happened to fall right in the middle of a nasty little summer storm that had us ducking from the rain and lighting every evening. We were lucky enough, however, to have a clear, beautiful day Saturday for some Peak Bagging. I had bought a couple of USGS topo maps and highlighted all the peaks near our campground for possible exploration. So, with one brave volunteer, we set out Saturday to stand at the top of as many peaks as we could get to in one day.
At the far west end of the gravel road that traverses the mountain top is the trailhead for Clark’s Peak, our first peak of the day. We easily found the trailhead, which was clearly marked, and started out. The trail itself was fairly overgrown and we picked our way though thorny undergrowth and fallen trees throughout most of the trail. There are spectacular views from many parts of the trail. The trail itself connects to another trail that can take you another 6 miles or so out to West Peak (which we opted not to do). We quickly realized that there was no actual trail to the top of Clark’s Peak, the Clark Peak trail skirts around the peak itself. So we picked a spot to cut off trail and carefully route our way to the top. The top is fairly overgrown and consists of a large rock pile with trees and bushes growing thick all around. We did stand atop the boulders and proclaim our victory….one down!
Only about a half-mile from the trail to Clark’s Peak is Rigg’s Lake. Above Riggs Lake sits Merrill Peak. Again, there was a trail to the east of Merrill Peak that skirts the actual peak but there was no designated trail to the top. We chose to approach the peak from the west side where we could park at the camp ground at Rigg’s Lake and cut the shortest route to the top. After a heart-pumping encounter with a nest of yellow jackets, we reached the rocky outlook at the top of Merrill Peak. There is the foundation of what was probably a sign at one point, but the sign itself is long gone. The views from this peak are wide open to the south of the range and are very impressive. We spent quite some time here enjoying the view and watching the lizards scurry across the exposed rocks.
Grand View Peak
Grand View Peak sits at about 10,200 ft. Although the peak itself is off-limits, an old 4WD trail exists below the peak and offers the same amazing view. We found the old 4WD trail and parked next to some campers who had clearly been living out of their old camper for quite some time. They confirmed that the road twisted around to the north side of the ridge and offered some impressive views. So we set off, on a fairly easy trail, until we found the view we were looking for. The peak is aptly named, the view from this side of the mountain was truly impressive.
The meteor shower may have been a bust, but the next morning we still hiked the short trail to the top of Webb Peak. There is an old Forest Service Cabin in disrepair and the tall watch tower which is gated off and covered with graffiti from past visitors. Though wooded with stands of aspen and pine, there are still some really nice views from Webb Peak (10,029 ft). Otherwise, it’s an uneventful location, or maybe I was just sore about missing out on the meteor shower. There are actually two trails that will take you to Webb Peak, the longer one is a branch off of the Ash Creek Trail, a very popular waterfall trail from the Columbine Campground. The trail we took was not on the USGS maps but was clearly marked near the entrance to the campground and is a more direct approach.
I didn’t get to visit as many peaks as I would have liked while we were there. I guess that just gives me all the more reason to plan another trip into this beautiful park!
A side note about Mt. Graham:
The area around Emerald Peak summit is federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. Entry to the site is limited to those who have been issued a permit by the Forest Service and agreed not to disturb the Red Squirrel or its habitat. No entry is allowed within the 1750 acre refugium for the Mt. Graham red squirrel without authorization from the Safford District Ranger at any time of the year. These closures were required by the Arizona-Idaho Conservation Act and US Fish & Wildlife Service Biological Opinion for Protection of the Mt. Graham Red Squirrel. The refugium starts at 9800 feet in elevation and continues to the summit of Mt. Graham at 10,720 feet.
According to officials, the only two peaks above 10,000 ft that are open to visitation by the public without a permit are Heliograph Peak and Webb Peak both at 10,007 ft.