Butte Peak • Highpoint: City of Scottsdale
• Maricopa County


Mattias and Scott getting ready
 

Gate
 

Butte Peak's summit is visible above the rockier Gold Hill Peak
 

High on the ridge, summit up ahead
 

Getting closer
 

The sky was cloudy but we had sun in the east, giving this striking contrast
 

Northeast view of Humboldt Mountain
 

Me at the top
 

Looking west at Bronco Butte. In back, from left to right, is Elephant Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, New River Mesa, Skull Mesa (to the right of Bronco) and way in back, the New River Mountains
 

Southwest view, Continental Mountain. In back is Black Mountain and the Union Hills
 

North view. Skull Mesa and Quien Sabe Peak
 

The summit
 

Walking out
 

Montage. UL: McDowell Mountains, UR: Sun's rays, LL: Road view, LR: Apache Peak
 

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Date: January 11, 2015 • Elevation: 4,890 feet • Prominence: 1,170 feet • Distance: 6 miles • Time: 4 hours • Gain: 1,200 feet • Conditions: Mild, with clouds and occasional sun • Teammates: Scott Peavy & Matthias Stender

Butte Peak is located in far-north Scottsdale, where the city abuts the Tonto National Forest boundary. The peak lies within the city limits of Scottsdale and is the highest point of the city. In the bigger scheme of things, it is a mid-sized mountain, bigger than the foothills surrounding it to the south, but lower than the bigger peaks and mesas to the north. It does have 1,170 feet of prominence, but it blends in with the surrounding mountains and probably wouldn't register on most people's radar if it weren't for careful map-reading and a neurotic devotion to prominence and civil highpoints (me). Since I live in Scottsdale, I felt obliged to climb it. My partners would be Scott Peavy and Mattias Stender.

I studied the topographical maps and the satellite images to get a sense of what we were in for. It didn't look too bad. There's an old mine road (called Old Mine Road, officially) that comes in from the southeast and ends near the Gold Hill mine. The summit is above and set back from the mine. The presumed plan was to walk this road to somewhere near the mine, then bust up-slope and approach the summit from the south and east. From where we assumed we would park, it looked about two to three miles each way, about 1,200 feet of gain.

The previous Thursday, Beth and I had explored the Bloody Basin area in the Verde River canyons, and upon exiting into Cave Creek/North Scottsdale, I exited the main road and drove in on Old Mine Road into the Tonto Hills subdivision, to get a sense of where I might park and what kind of vibe I might expect. In particular, were the houses so close together that parking might be an issue? Would the locals call the cops? Well, it seemed the other way. The homes are spread out, and we got the feeling that parking in a discreet spot probably wouldn't draw the ire of the locals.

I met Mattias and Scott near my home and we drove in Mattias' vehicle, covering about 15 miles north along Pima Road to Cave Creek Road, then north some more to Old Mine Road. We drove in about a mile, then eased down and up through an arroyo. Mattias was able to drive in another quarter-mile or so along the rougher road to a pull-out, where we parked, elevation about 3,700 feet. The day was sunny with cloud bands, cool but mild. We got our stuff together and started walking about 8:35 a.m. We met a man walking down, with three big dogs on leashes. It was all he could do to hold them back, since they wanted to come check us out and sniff us.

Within 15 minutes, we had gained about 300 feet to where the road splits (and "ends" according to the topographical map). A right leads to an old mine claim, and a left leads to the Gold Hill Mine. However, the road is gated here. The property on the other side belongs to the Desert Mountain development, builders of million-dollar homes in these here parts. There was a sign about not trespassing, but there was also a path beside the gate with fresh boot and dog-paw prints. We weren't expecting this sign or gate, so we decided to go in anyway.

The segment past the gate gained uphill at a slight grade, leading to a pass at a saddle separating Butte Peak to the northwest, and Apache Peak to the southeast. This segment was short, about a half-mile. At this pass, we crossed a cattle grate and noted a new trail-map placque, which indicated new trails, some that got very close to the top. This was unexpected, and a very welcome surprise. At the cattle grate, we turned right, and within 50 feet, the new trail split, going hard-right uphill. We followed this fantastic trail upward, and in time, it emerged onto the crest and toward the summit. A small spur juts off the trail and leads to the very top. We were standing on the summit after just 1 hour, 15 minutes of hiking! The new trail likely saved us a full hour of cross-country travel.

A bank of clouds was moving in from the west, but we had good sun low in the east. The day was cool and still, and since we were on top so quickly, we stayed on the summit longer than normal, nearly 45 minutes. We waited for the sun to re-emerge from behind the clouds so that we could get better lighting for photographs. We had great views of the surrounding mountains, canyons, valleys and deserts. There was a log book at the top, placed there in late 2013. There were just a few signatures for 2014, and most of those were toward the end of the year. We noted that a handful of people had been to the top yesterday, and the day before, and so on. Apparently, people are just learning of this trail system.

We started hiking down, and soon met a woman hiking toward us. We asked her about the trail and she said it was brand new, less than six months old. She lives in the Tonto Hills development and came up the exact same way we had come up. She said she hikes here often. We asked about that alleged "private property" segment past the first gate and she shrugged. I am not surprised that there would be a small corps of hikers from that area. After our chat, we continued downward, back to Mattias' vehicle in a little over an hour, highlighted by a guy target shooting in a canyon below us. The shots were loud. We figured it was a shotgun.

Our round trip hike took us just under three hours, 30 minutes, when our long summit stop is included. The trails were beautiful, with smooth treads, about four feet wide and never pitched too severely. We were surprised to have encountered them, and it certainly made our hike go faster, and less brushier.

Naturally, I wondered about all this, so when I got home, I followed up on the internet and learned it's all part of the Desert Mountain developments. Most trails are new, dating from about 2013. However, I learned they are private, insofar that to get to the official trailhead (at the end of Chiricahua Pass Road), one needs to pass a guard gate at the entrance of this development. Residents of this massive development can hike the trails, as can their guests. The rest of us, apparently not so. I asked about day-use fees, but they do not offer that option. There's no practical way they can keep people out from the Tonto Hills side, nor from some connector trails north from the Tonto National Forest side.

Of course, we had no idea there were restrictions at all before setting out this morning. We had no clue there were trails up there to begin with. We were conscientious hikers. I know that these trails are a perk for the residents of that subdivision, but my hope is that they could open it for everyone, even if there is a fee, perhaps a few days a year. There are some nice paths back there.

The technical stuff: Butte Peak's elevation is 4,890 feet, while Quien Sabe Peak, about four miles north, is listed at 4,884 feet, possibly higher (see my trip report for my explanation). The two peaks are separated by a saddle that is about 980 feet lower. Thus, whichever is highest gets the higher of the prominence figure, at 1,170 feet, while the other peak would get the 980 feet of prominence. The maps would indicate that Butte Peak is higher, but it is so close that it could go either way.

(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.