Rice Peak North Slope • Highpoint: Pinal County
• Catalina Mountains, Oracle Ridge

Date Climbed
1. December 5, 1999
2. March 8, 2003

7,280 feet

9 miles round trip

5 hours

2,900 feet

Cool, dry and brisk on my first
visit, pleasant with much
snow on our second visit

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version

The peak from the lower trail

The peak behind Beth

Beth's highpoint shot from the rock pile

Her boyfriend

A view from the Mt. Lemmon Ski Area

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The County Highpoints of Arizona

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The highpoint of Pinal County is along the north slope of Rice Peak, itself just a bump on the Oracle Ridge, a major ridge emanating off of the Catalina Mountains inside Pima County. The Pima-Pinal County line runs across the north slope of Rice Peak, and a nearby mound of rocks also reaches the same elevation. The highpoint is easily reached via a hike from the Catalina Highway and the Arizona Trail, or from the north via Peppersauce Canyon, mainly following jeep roads and some trail. Only the last little bit of hiking is amid the brushy slopes. Despite the "lameness" of this highpoint, it's a nice hike and an enjoyable outing.

First Attempt, July 1997: I decided to try this from the south, coming off the Catalina Highway. I got an early start from home and got to the Arizona Trailhead off of Oracle Control Road, near the Fire Station up on the Catalina Highway. The sign said Rice Peak was 6 miles away. I started hiking.

The trail drops about a thousand feet to Dan Saddle, and I did well, following the trail past Dan Saddle and on beyond a nearby hill. But the day was warm and I had severely underestimated my water needs. I rounded a bend, saw Rice Peak still about two miles distant, and had just a half-liter of water. I knew I'd never have enough to do the round trip, so I bailed, and started the slog out. Back at Dan Saddle I had drank what I had left. I still had a fairly strenuous uphill hike back to my car. Obviously, I made it, but I was about as dehydrated and desperately thirsty as I have ever been. The day was quite warm: 90s even at this elevation. It was very unpleasant.

I had water in my car, but it was hot after sitting in the car all those hours. Nevertheless, I gulped some down, then drove into Summerhaven and drank my head off at a small cafe. It took me a couple hours to rehydrate and feel better. I learned a pretty good lesson there. I salvaged the rest of the day with a casual hike up Mount Lemmon.

First successful visit, December 1999: Ken A. and I teamed up to visit this highpoint, both of us having failed on our first (separate) attempts in the past. Mine, you can read about above. Ken had also tried to find it sometime in the past and did not feel too comfortable about his attempt back then, so we both had reasons for wanting a second attempt for the highpoint. This time Ken drove, and we followed a route through Florence into Oracle. A marathon was being run, and lots of runners were on the highway (AZ-77) from Oracle Junction to Oracle. Ken did a good job of not hitting a single person.

We parked in Peppersauce Canyon south of Oracle (the town), and followed a series of jeep roads up and up and up until we came to the Arizona Trail, then more road, eventually getting near Rice Peak. I had a little excitement along the way, catching a glimpse of a large cat stealthing its way across the road ahead of me. It's the only time I've ever seen a big cat in the wilds of Arizona.

Finally, Ken and I arrived to the top of Rice Peak, where some guys in their Jeeps had driven up. We chatted with them, then started down the north slope for the Pinal County highpoint. We split up at one point, me to check out one area, Ken another. Not sure where Ken went but he was gone for about 15 minutes. Finally, he returned. We resumed our search, generally staying (as best as possible) on the north slope of the peak, and in the process, crossing the county line at some point. We spent quite some time here, so the statistical likelihood of success was very good, in my mind.

We then walked out to the rock outcrop that also has a similar elevation, and tagged its highpoints, and in doing so, could make a confident claim to Pinal County's highpoint. Then we started the long walk out, re-ascending Rice Peak and then following the roads and trails back to Peppersauce Canyon, arriving just as darkness settled in. The drive back to Phoenix was mostly boring with moments of terror thrown in, like when Ken skidded to a stop on AZ-79, then reversed while still in the highway, so he could check out the Tom Mix roadside memorial. We almost became part of this memorial, had there been someone tailing us.

Ken was able to get me home in one piece. It was our third hike "date" and we were both successful in our own quests to complete the Arizona County highpoints. I was completely frazzled afterwards. You'd think I'd learn my lesson by now, but my quest for the highpoints list outweighed my primitive sense of self-preservation, and I agreed to join Ken again a couple weeks later as we hiked Signal Peak in Yuma County.

A little over three years later, my girlfriend Beth and I returned, so she could add it to her list, and I could actually enjoy the experience.

Second visit, March 2003 (with Beth): We left our home in Chandler and arrived in Oracle around 10:30 a.m., taking a break for goodies, before continuing on to Peppersauce Canyon. We would follow the same route as Ken and I did in 1999.

This time, I would take more notes and detail the series of roads we would follow in case I wanted to, say, write a book on the county highpoints. We had a good hike and the scenery was very lovely (especially wherever Beth stood). The main difference on this hike was the abundance of snow. By the time we arrived onto Rice Peak's top, the snow was about a foot deep here, and up to three or four feet on its north-facing slopes.

So we descended and tried to seek out the highpoint. I used my GPS to gauge elevation and compare across to the rock knobs and felt we did a very good job, given the uncertainty. The hike was very enjoyable and we took our sweet time ... almost too much time, as we realized it was about 3 p.m. and we needed to get moving to beat the dark. Actually, it wasn't as dire as it sounds. We actually descended from the highpoints directly to the road, and were back to my truck as it was getting pleasantly dusky. I just didn't want to be driving these roads in the dark.

The drive home was boring, with moments of terro ... no, wait, sorry. That was with Ken. The drive home was nice, with Beth, and we tried to find somewhere to eat in Florence and Coolidge, but they have nothing much, so we ate when we got all the way back to Chandler.

Update, Oct 2003: Much of the northern slopes of the Catalina Mountains, which includes Rice Peak, were wracked by the enormous "Aspen Fire" over the summer of 2003. The fire assuredly burnt much of the area, making for a possibly very different landscape than as we found it in March.

(c) 2006, 2011 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.