South KP Peak • Highpoint: Greenlee County
• White Mountains

Date Climbed
1. January 14, 2000
2. February 28, 2004

Elevation
9,441 feet

Distance
0.4 mile round trip

Time
45 minutes

Gain
80 feet

Conditions
Cold but dry the first time,
very snowy the second time

Prominence
1,361 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


My truck and our cabin, all snowed up and stuff
 

Snowing!
 

Scott finds the cairn
 

Beth at the highpoint
 

Beth in her cross-country skis
 

Hannagan Meadow Lodge

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The County Highpoints of Arizona

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Greenlee County is a sliver of land in far-eastern Arizona along the New Mexico boundary. The county straddles the high country of the eastern White Mountains in the northern half, giving way to foothills and mid-sized peaks as one heads south. Farther south the hills gives way to high desert, with some farms and ranch properties built up along the Gila and San Francisco Rivers. Greenlee County is Arizona's second-smallest county in area and by far its smallest in population, with barely 10,000 people total. The main economy is copper mining, with the gigantic open-pit mine at Morenci one of the biggest in the world. The county seat of Clifton is a small service town a few miles down the highway from Morenci.

In summer, Greenlee County is a cool, pleasurable escape from the desert heat, and offers numerous hiking, camping and biking opportunities. The Greenlee County highpoint (which has no official name) is the easiest of the fifteen Arizona counties, as the whole journey from the road to highpoint and back takes about 30 minutes. While the highpoint alone is barely worth the effort, the real attraction is the whole region. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails, forest roads, camping options, virginal forests (some burned in 2011, unfortunately), horse routes and everything under the pleasant sun exists up here. In summer the Greenlee County highlands are very nice, and in winter, a snowy wonderland (as we would discover). As mentioned, the highpoint has no name. The name "South KP Peak" is my invention. Just north of the highpoint is another knoll at about 9,360 feet topped by "KP" benchmark. Plus, just south of the highpoint is the KP Cienega and camping area. I do not know what the KP stands for, though.

I have been here twice: first alone in 2000, and again with my wife in 2004:

First Visit, January 2000: Actually, my intention this weekend was to hike Chiricahua Peak in Cochise County to the south. I got a very early start from my home in Chandler, leaving before 4 a.m., and made the 240-mile drive to the Chiricahua Range, arriving about 8:30 a.m. The attempted hike to Chiricahua Peak was foiled almost immediately as there was still much deep unconsolidated snow on the range crest. After sidehilling a mile or so north from Rustler Park I finally saw the futility in this attempt and called it off, returning to my truck with a day now to kill. Since I was "close" to Greenlee County, I decided to make something of this trip and headed up toward the Greenlee County highpoint.

From Willcox I went north through Safford, then northeast through Clifton and Morenci, heading north on US-191, nicknamed the Coronado Trail. US-191 wiggles and snakes longitudinally along the spine of the high White Mountains in Eastern Arizona. Leaving Morenci, it gains steeply, and is not a road for the faint of heart. It's steep, narrow and often without guardrails. Fortunately traffic was light. I continued north on US-191 for what seemed forever, but was actually close to 70 miles of slow, twisty driving, before I arrived in the vicinity of the Greenlee County highpoint, an unnamed knoll topping out at 9,441 feet and conveniently close to the highway. I parked just north of milepost 227 and put on my snowshoes again, heading directly into the trees on an east bearing.

The hike starts into thick forest. Shortly, the trees give way to a clearing. I crossed an old fence and went up this clearing, which had some snow on it but not much. Finally, the highpoint was found in a small glade of trees, a cairn marking the top. The weather was cool but not cold, and the ground was covered in small patches of snow. I didn't stay long. It was about 2 p.m. and I had a lot of driving to do to get back home, and I was already up to over 400 miles for the day.

I exited the area by staying northbound on US-191 through Hannagan Meadow then descending into the town of Alpine, and from there to Springerville. Then it was just 260 miles to get home, taking the Show Low/Payson route. The highlight: a speeding ticket on US-60 between Springerville and Show Low when I came over the top of a hill kind of quick and there was a cop waiting for me, and I got a ticket. I arrived home well after dark, a 700-mile day of driving. All that for the one HP? I had not planned it that way, but things worked out well and I had fun, so I am not complaining. I did note that I'd like to come back here some day and spend some time in the region. Maybe with a woman, perhaps?

Second Visit, February 2004: Beth and I planned well in advance for this trip, intending to make a weekend out of it by staying at the Hannagan Meadow Lodge. A few weeks earlier we had taken cross-country ski lessons in Flagstaff, and we hoped to cross-country-ski some trails near the Lodge, as well as go visit the county highpoint. However, on the Friday we left Chandler, a storm had moved in and we had rain and spotty snow for much of the 260-mile drive to Hannagan Meadow. We hit rain in Payson, then heavy snow as we crested the Mogollon Rim. The snow gave away to rain again as we got to Show Low, then, nothing as we passed through Springerville. But as we headed south along US-180/191 to Alpine, the snow started to come down again.

We arrived in Alpine about 7:30 p.m. and the junction where US-191 splits from US-180 and heads south and up into the mountains. The highway had a few inches of powdery snow on it but someone had been by in their vehicle within the last half-hour, judging by the fresh tracks. So I put my truck into 4-wheel drive and started up the highway. Hannagan Meadow was 22 miles away and about a thousand feet higher. While I had good traction at first, visibility was poor and I was worried about the road being impassable later on.

It took an hour to drive the 22 miles, but fortunately, traction was mostly good (one or two very slight yaws), and there were no drifts or other big obstacles. Once we got moving it was actually very peaceful and beautiful. Beth was wonderfully patient with me ... and my biggest motivator. I probably would have wimped out in Alpine and stayed at a cheapy hotel otherwise. It was 8:30 when we rolled and skidded our way into the parking lot at Hannagan Meadow. The people had our key waiting for us and told us where our cabin was. We got in, started a fire, and relaxed. I was so mentally fatigued after the drive that I was unconscious by 9 p.m. For a desert boy, this was my first really intense "snow" drive ever.

The next morning we awoke to find a whole bunch of new snow everywhere. We walked to the lodge and had breakfast, where we were told that 8 inches had fallen during the night. However, the day started mostly sunny, with fast-moving clouds and a consistent brisk wind. After eating, we walked to the general store and rented two sets of cross-country skis and two sets of snow-shoes, all for the whopping total of about $30. We decided to go visit the highpoint first, then come back down for some skiing. I was very pleasantly surprised that sometime during the night the road had been plowed, even though the sign said it probably wouldn't get any attention until Monday.

For the highpoint, we slowly drove 4 miles to where I parked four years earlier. I parked at a wide spot in the road, and we got our snowshoes on, then started bashing through the trees. The sun gave way to clouds and snow started to fall. Shortly we got past the trees and out into the open. The fence was still there but only its tops stuck out of the snow. The snowshoes were very useful and in about 20 minutes we arrived at the top. The summit cairn poked slightly above the snow. We snapped some photos, all the while trying to keep the cold white stuff at bay. It was all very serene and beautiful. We didn't stay long, and were out back to the truck, a total round trip of about 45 minutes.

Back at the truck I was very surprised to see a small passenger vehicle roll up. The guy stopped and we talked. He'd driven the 70 miles from Clifton and said "it was real nasty". I was surprised that he got as far as he did without skidding somewhere. He seemed generally clueless. We hoped the best for him. Beth and I then drove back to the Lodge and relaxed. Later in the day we went for a short but strenuous cross-country ski journey as the snow fell. Otherwise we holed up in the cabin and watched the snow fall. When that got tiring we resorted to hearty games of Boggle.

The drive out on Sunday went well. The snow never stopped falling. The lodge lady figured at least a foot of new snow. Some other lady had attempted to drive her passenger vehicle down and got stuck and had to be towed out. As a result the tow truck driver provided us with some well-packed ruts to follow out, but the first 10 miles was real soft, deep snow, so we took it very slowly. But we finally made it, and zipped back home, spending some time in Show Low for a nice lunch.


This is by no nmeans our only two visits to this part of the state. We come here about once every couple years and explore the myriad of other attractions out this way. As for the highpoint, we just haven't worked up the energy to visit it a third time, although we've camped within a mile of it on a couple occasions. In 2011, the highpoint area was ravaged by the Wallow Fire, the biggest (or second biggest?) in state history. What used to be a mixed forest is now a scape of dead trees, although when we drove by in 2013, the undergrowth was coming back strong.

(c) 2000, 2006, 2012 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.