Armer Mountain • Sierra Ancha
• Gila County


Armer Mountain viewed from the south along the Young Highway (AZ-288)
 

Closer view. The summit ridge is visible in the back
 

Sign at Sawmill Flats campground
 

One of many areas down low with deadfall
 

Looking down from the top of the ascent canyon
 

Now looking back at the saddle above the ascent canyon, with all the chest-high madrone blocking our way
 

A view up at the summit ridge. I am not sure why there is an opening up there
 

Stick Scott and Real Scott at the top
 

View off the west rim, overlooking Roosevelt Lake and the Four Peaks
 

Montage of the roads. They ranged from okay to crappy, way rocky and overgrown

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Date: April 19, 2015 • Elevation: 7,310 feet • Prominence: 1,350 feet • Distance: 6 miles • Time: 4 hours • Gain: 1,500 feet • Conditions: Sunny and pleasant • Teammates: Matthias Stender

Armer Mountain is the second-highest peak of the Sierra Ancha, north of Globe and east of Lake Roosevelt. The peak lies immediately west of the range highpoint, Aztec Peak, and is easily accessed by following the Young Highway (State Route AZ-288) about 30 miles north of Globe to the Sawmill Flats Campground. From there, an old logging track leads into the canyons below the ridge and to the top. However, this track is extremely overgrown and not as much of a benefit as such a track would usually be.

The mountain gets its name from the Armer family, who homesteaded in the area in the late 1800s. Their original stead is now underneath the waters of Lake Roosevelt, which, ironically, was first built using timber from Armer Mountain over one hundred years ago. Armer Mountain was also the site of a tragic airplane crash in late December of 1951. The plane was carrying a number of West Point Cadets from the West Coast back to New York after their Winter break. The pilot was off course in bad weather. It slammed into the west-facing cliffs, killing everyone instantly, about 25 people in all.

These days, Armer Mountain stands high above Lake Roosevelt, easily identified by its cliffs and the fact it is higher than almost all the peaks in that direction. People come here to camp and to hunt, but actual visitors to the summit are relatively rare. I was interested in it for its prominence figure and its status as second-highest peak in the range. Mattias Stender joined me. I met him at his home in the early morning, and he drove us through Superior and Globe, up the Young Highway, to the trailhead. We arrived a little after 8 a.m. in sunny weather. We got situated and started the actual hike about 8:30 a.m.

The hike starts from an old road emanating from the north side of the Sawmill Flats Campground. A sign at the entrance to the campground (see photo, left sidebar) mentions that this area was used for logging back in 1903-05. It's reasonable to assume the road was put in for this reason. The road may have lingered on for years afterwards, after the logging was completed. The topographic maps show the road high on the ridge and near the summit, but the adjoining map to the east does not mark this road at all. It's as if the road just exists solely atop the ridge.

The only meaningful information I could find beforehand was a trip report from 2007 from the HAZ (Hiking Arizona) website. It offered some background to the area and about the road itself. Our presumed route would be to follow this road. Otherwise, we would simply bushwhack straight upslope. The report mentions the road being erased for about a half-mile segment as it works up a canyon.

The forest around the campground featured a lot of ponderosa, but thinned from a recent burn, some trees still standing and clearly alive, and others burned, their tops having fallen. We followed the road north, staying on it as the road bent west and paralleling a drainage. We encountered deadfall almost immediately. At first, it was small trees, but soon, bigger trunks lay across the trail, some on top of others. We were able to follow the road for about three-quarters of a mile, maneuvering up, around or sometimes under the big logs. My gymnastics class from 1975, where I balanced on a beam (sort of) before being tossed from the class altogether, came in handy here. We would carefully walk along the logs, one to the next, before hopping off back to the ground before coming to the next log pile.

The road is barely discernable, only evident from the consistent width of the clearings that contain it. What wasn't a log pile was deep grass and rubbly rock. Finally, the road entered into the drainage and yes, simply disappears. Fortunately, the drainage bottom wasn't too cluttered with trees and brush, and we were able to work our way upwards at a consistent grade. After only 0.3 mile, we came to a split in the canyon. We went right, and continued up the canyon. At times, we would come upon a 40-foot segment of cleared, unnaturally flat ground, suggesting the old road. Most of the time, we simply picked our way through the rocks, brush and trees. The hillsides were covered in low, woody madrone, and the bees were everywhere here. We were cognizant of them, aware that we could scare up a hive.

Finally, the route up the canyon ended at a saddle, now on the main ridge. The last couple-hundred feet went well and was even a little fun, with one section featuring open "shelf" rock, almost like a long series of steps. At the top of the ridge, about 1.5 miles in and 800 feet higher, we sought out the road once again. Previous hikers had built a couple cairns in spots, but the slopes here were completely covered over in waist-high madrone/manzanita. We were able to detect the presence of the road in a few spots, but the path of least resistance (and least scratches) was to angle more upward, and crest the ridge above us. The road (according to the map) would double back on the other side of this ridge, and hopefully, we would meet it again, assuming it not to be as hidden by brush as what we just encountered. Fortunately, the road here was much more obvious. The madrone lessened, and we had hints of actual trees again. We walked the road, but it was still slow going. Trees and brush grew in the road, and we were forced to go up or down the slopes to bypass the worst of the brush.

We were able to stay (mostly) on the road as it continued north, in and out with the contours of the ridge. It steepens toward the end, then comes into a broad saddle directly south of the summit ridge, which was covered over in ponderosa. We were able to follow the faint path upwards and arrived onto one 7,280-foot contour that marks the summit of Armer Mountain. There are about five of these contours, the largest shown as containing an elevation of 7,310 feet about 1/8-mile to the northwest. We angled left, found traces of this road again, then walked up an easy slope to the 7,310-foot area, finding a small rock pile at the summit, or as best as someone guessed a long time ago. We had been hiking for just over two hours, gaining about 1,500 feet.

We rested here awhile, walking another hundred feet west to the rim of the summit, where we had excellent views of Lake Roosevelt and Four Peaks, plus the other big peaks in the Mazatzal Mountains, and of Pinal Peak to the south. The day was very nice, but up this high, even a soft breeze was slightly chilly. We signed into the register. No one had signed in since August of 2014, and we suspect they were hunters, mainly because (a) they mentioned killing deer, and (b) left the register bottle just laying on the ground. The other names were the usual suspects: Packard, Scouras, Nicholls, a few I didn't recognize, and even the Roaches, Gerry and Jennifer. Why they'd be slumming out here on brushy "1K" peaks left us puzzled!

We hiked out the same way we came up, the egress taking us just under two hours. Our total time was a shade over four hours, and we were back to Mattias' vehicle at 12:30 p.m. The downhill hike went well, brush and rocks and logs and bees nonwithstanding. From here, we simply returned to Phoenix.

In the grand pantheon of mountains in Arizona, Armer Mountain probably won't rank "up there" for views or access or spiritual beauty. I am happy we were successful, and I never, ever regret climbing any peak. Sometimes I visit one that didn't seem that interesting from afar and discover it to be a really remarkable experience. Sometimes, they just aren't that memorable. This is one of them. It's a brushy peak scarred from recent burns, so it's not terribly pretty, and although views from up high are nice, it's probably not worth the hassle. This is a peak for checking off a list, but not much more.

My thanks to Mattias for driving and for being as patient as could be with the terrain, logs, bees and so on. Oh, did I mention the thornbrush? I forgot my gloves too. I received a number of linear scratches on my hands and forearms during the day.


The Armer Mountain Plane Crash

Here are some links that detail the crash that occurred December 30, 1951:

GenDisasters.com

Prescott newspaper account

George Ahlgren, Olympian

(c) 2015 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.