Bassett Peak • Range Highpoint: Galiuro Mountains
• Southwestern Graham County


Bassett Peak
 

Colorful maple leafs
 

Beth ambles up the trail
 

hole in the rock!
 

Getting closer, late in the day
 

The summit cairn
 

Me, after coming down
 

Beth enjoys the sun

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Date: February 11, 2006 • Elevation: 7,663 feet • Prominence: 3,123 feet • Distance: 11 miles • Time: 8 hours • Gain: 2,700 feet • Conditions: Warm and clear • Teammates: Beth Cousland

Bassett Peak is the highest peak in the Galiuro Mountains of southeastern Arizona. The Galiuros are situated between the Rincon and Pinaleno Mountains in Graham County, set back from the main highways so that, ironically, it's rather easy to miss the range while driving through. Only one forest road gets close to Bassett Peak, reached after 30 miles of driving from either Safford or Willcox. Although a fine trail runs the crest of the range, relatively few people come this far to explore the Galiuros.

Beth and I planned a weekend around a hike to Bassett Peak, staying at the oddball "Essence of Tranquility" hot springs south of Safford. We've stayed here before, usually camping in one of the open areas. They also offer small casitas and faux-teepees to rent, all shoe-horned onto a property about 120 feet square. It's not five star, but it is a fun place to stay. Given it was cold this time of year, we splurged and rented one of the teepees. We left our home Friday afternoon and arrived onto the grounds at 8 p.m. After a meal and a dip in the tubs, we slept reasonably well within the teepee, although it was drafty.

We awoke Saturday (the 11th) and enjoyed a cold, brisk morning at the hot springs by dipping into the pools until the sun rose higher. We left the grounds at 9:30 a.m. and started the drive to the trailhead. We followed US-191 south about 10 miles to highway AZ-266, then west along AZ-266 for 20 miles through the southern extension of the Pinaleno Mountains before beginning a long gradual descent into a broad desert valley toward the community of Bonita, which is just a few scattered homes and a lone school, plus a burned-out general store. We continued west on High Creek Road, losing the pavement near the school. High Creek Road is a good graded dirt road, and we followed it west, then south (where it gets renamed Sunset Loop Road) for about 16 more miles to a T-junction nearby some ranch buildings and Coronado National Forest Road 660.

Now on FR-660, we went west, and quickly, the conditions got rough, but nothing my truck couldn't handle as long as I kept it slow. For the remaining two miles to the trailhead parking area, the road braided in and out of Ash Creek. We had to cross one gate early on, and we parked at a small turnaround, large enough for about four vehicles. My altimeter had our elevation as 4,960 feet. The drive had gone slower than we thought, and including the time getting ourselves prepared, we didn't get started on our hike until 11:30 a.m. I packed in a flashlight, which turned out to be a very wise decision as you shall see later on in this narrative.

From our truck, we hiked along the road as it passed through the creek, then up onto dirt again before coming to a gate, about 300 feet from where we started. At the gate, a trail sign mentioned Ash Creek Spring as 2.8 miles ahead, and Bassett Peak Trail #277 4 miles farther. About three-quarters of a mile into the hike and 200 vertical feet of gain, we came upon the small water tank noted on the topographical map. We took a break here so I could calibrate my altimeter better. Surprisingly, two friendly dogs came running up to us from below, soon followed by their masters, two women who live in the ranch complex on Sunset Loop Road. They said hike up here a lot, and they gave us good information of what to expect ahead. They were only going in for a short walk on this day. They continued on, and a few minutes later, we did too.

About another three-fourths of a mile later, we came to another set of water tanks, both full and fed by the Ash Creek Spring, which was still higher up in the canyon. There are stands of maple trees in this canyon, and today they were very colorful, featuring bright red leaves, and some more orange, pink and peach. It was a lovely hint of Fall, given it was the dead of Winter. Finally at Ash Creek Spring, the two dogs came running down toward us again, and shortly by the two women, who were now hiking back out. At Ash Creek Spring, the trail makes a sharp right at a concrete tub. To this point we'd covered 2.8 miles and gained a thousand feet of elevation. We took a snack break and assessed our time and situation. It was nearing 2 p.m. and we had concerns about being out after dark, but the weather was holding up and we both felt energized to keep going.

After Ash Creek Spring, the trail starts a series of long switchbacks up a subsidiary ridge north of Bassett Peak, near Peak 6,996. Quickly we ascended out of the thick trees and were now amid shorter, sparser growth, a few pines and juniper, plenty of madrone and manzanita, and a number of agave-like succulents. The going here was good, although in a few spots the trail was gravelly and slippery. We gained elevation quickly, eventually turning west toward Peak 6,996. Views east over the desert, foothills and the Pinaleno Mountains were outstanding, as was the impressive conical summit of Bassett Peak, directly above us. We took another break at a flat section on the subridge east of Peak 6996, marked by a fire ring. Beth's knees were giving her trouble so we took the time to tape them us and relax. Shortly, we hiked the remaining segment to put us onto the range crest immediately south of Peak 6996 and north of Bassett Peak.

It was 3 p.m., and conditions were gorgeous. After some discussion, Beth opted to stop here and rest, to give her knees time to recuperate for the hike down. We had packed in some blankets and reading material for this contingency, so we found a flat section of ground ringed by rocky outcrops, and set her up. The weather was actually quite warm, into the 60s, and a breeze that was gentle at its strongest. I ditched my pack and took just the barest essentials for the remaining hike to the summit, gave my wife about a dozen hugs and kisses, and bid me goodbye for about 90 minutes. A sign at this point had the peak as 1.4 miles away, while my map told me it was about 700 feet higher. Off I went.

I moved quickly, following the trail due south along the ridge, passing about three or four interesting rocky formations along the ridge. The trail dropped about 80 feet or so. After about a half-mile I was at the base of the final push to the top. From below, the top looks intimidatingly steep and cliffy, but the trailbuilders still managed to etch in a route on Bassett Peak's north and west-facing slopes. In many parts, it was no more than a foot wide, crossing long sections of scree. Tree and shrub cover was still moderate, and I moved as fast as I could, trying to return to Beth within my promised 90 minutes. Soon, the trail topped out on a small saddle high up at 7,550 feet, immediately west of the summit. A small cairn here suggested a possible route to the top.

Trusting the cairn, I entered into the brushy slopes for the final 110 vertical feet to the summit. At first I was able to follow a mostly open path but quickly I found myself surrounded by dense thickets of madrone, sawgrass and fir. Sacrificing style for economy, I barged through the brush and surmounted the summit at 4 p.m. A small cairn was built upon the summit blocks. I signed in and rested briefly. The views were outstanding, and absolutely worth the effort. But given it was already 4 p.m. and my wife was waiting for me, I started down quickly and jog-walked back to her location, arriving at 4:40, 10 minutes longer than I had predicted. She had laid out her clothes to dry and was enjoying the sun, sights and solitude. But she, too, was aware of the time, so we packed upand started down without time to waste.

Normally we wouldn't have been out on the trails this late in the day. But in our favor was a number of things: first, we had beautiful, stable and warm weather, and no threat of storms at all. Second, we knew that the sun would set about 6:30 p.m., and that the moon was nearing its full stage. We had a flashlight and were even a little eager to hike in the moonlight. Third, the route was fool-proof. Once back down into Ash Creek Canyon, we’d be on the old Jeep road. From Peak 6996 down to the Ash Creek Spring took us about an hour, and we still had good visibility. Daylight waned ever so steadily for the next hour or so until finally giving out completely. When darkness fell, we were still about a mile and a half from the truck, using the water tanks to gauge our progress. The bright moon was occasionally obscured by the lower ridges, but it was bright enough to allow us to see our way very well.

I had the flashlight out and we used it to keep an eye out for the rocks in the trail. Then we heard some some rustling and a large shape appeared ahead of us. A bear? No, a stupid cow. We had seen a small herd on the way up, and here they were. We clapped our hands, made noise, and told them to stand aside, and they obliged by crashing off into the brush. Except for one, who would run away from us by scooting farther down the road. He (she? It?) proved to be a bother, as we had to clap and shout to get the damn animal to finally enter into the woods. The cows were not a problem after our short encounter with them. Finally we came upon the gate. The walk to the truck went fast, and I kept clicking the buttons on my key fob until I was in range to unlock my truck’s doors and momentarily flash its lights. A neat effect in the dark.

The drive back to Safford took awhile, almost two hours. We had an amusing encounter at the Golden Corral in town: we showed up with about 20 minutes before they closed. They were already mopping up and were not too thrilled to see us straggle in. We were the only ones there. So we ate and ignored them, and they continued to clean around us, hint hint hint. So literally with one minute before they closed, a school bus rolls up and out comes a whole bunch of high-school kids. By the looks of it, they’d come back from an athletics meet somewhere. So now, the Golden Corral people were stuck for at least another hour. They weren't cheery, we could tell. Late that night, tummies full, bodies sore, we drove back to the hot springs and allowed ourselves a very late-night dip into the pools. The hot water soothed our soreness and aches and pains beyond description. We slept well that night, and drove on home the next day.

(c) 2006 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.