Coyote Peak • Range Highpoint: Coyote Mountains
• Coyote Mountains Wilderness
• Central Pima County

Date Climbed
February 11, 2012

Elevation
6,529 feet

Distance
9.8 miles

Time
8.75 hours

Gain
4,475 feet

Conditions
Sunny and breezy

Prominence
2,329 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


Early morning, with the moon still high
 

The moon setting over the range crest
 

The steep slope up from the range crest
 

Scott K. and Ben up ahead
 

Some great views and narrow trail sections!
 

Starting up the gully portion
 

Approaching the highest saddle at 6190 feet and the rock outcrop at 6420 feet up ahead
 

The summit as seen from the 6420-foot rocks
 

Proof I was here, not out drinking somewhere
 

Looking back at most of the route we had hiked up
 

Grand Babo off in the distance
 

Scott K. and Ben on the descent
 

Ben starts down the gully portion
 

Approaching the ridge where we start down to the cars. The Sierritas and Santa Ritas off in the distance

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The Coyote Mountains are a small but very prominent and rocky range located about 30 miles east of Tucson and immediately east of Kitt Peak. The best spot for viewing the Coyote Mountains would be directly north along state route AZ-86, where the spectacular rocky cliffs and uplifted strata that form the range is most obvious. The rock is mainly granite and quartz with spotty forests of pinon and pine higher up. Lower down, the range is covered in grasses, cactus (mainly prickly pear and barrel, but no cholla), lechuguilla, agave and sawgrass. There are big tracts of saguaro, some standing 40-50 feet tall, and in secluded spots, a few good-sized oaks. The range is enclosed within a wilderness. The Tohono O'odham Nation borders it to the north and west, while private lands border it to the south and east. Apparently very few people visit the Coyote Mountains.

Coyote Mountain looks very imposing from below, with its aggressive rocky ridgeline and outcrops. However, there is a rough trail all the way to its summit. The trail allows for a reasonable way to get to the top, but due to lack of use and upkeep, it is very difficult to follow for the last third. Much of it is overgrown and hard to make out in places. Sections are cairned, but even so, some sections are very vague and hard to follow. It is interesting to consider the amount of work put in to construct this trail. The switchbacks are shored up with reinforcing walls of stone, and some parts cut right into steep cliffs and below huge rock walls. At one time, it was probably a beautiful trail to hike. The workmanship is superb.

We wondered about the origins of the trail, assuming it to be an old miner's trail; after all, who else would knock in a trail of such length? The reality is more interesting: it was put in by ranch hands who worked on a ranch that used to include the Coyote Mountains back about 50 years ago. The ranch was owned by Randolph "Pat" Jenks, who had the trail put in for the benefit of his wife, so that she could ride her horse into the range and to the summit. Mr. Jenks was a long-time rancher and Arizona resident who also put in many trails in Mount Lemmon, along with many other achievements. I want to thank John Klein for making me aware of this man and background. Mr. Jenks died last year (2011) at age 98; his obituary is available at legacy.com

This would be my second attempt at climbing the mountain. In 2008, with John Hamann, we got a late start and ran into off-trail brush and rock up high. Hurting for time and sensing the rock was becoming too much a deterrent, I called it a day at the last significant saddle and waited for John to tag the top. We had no previous beta on this peak other than "there is a trail", which we were able to follow for the first two-thirds, but then, we lost it and had no real idea what to do, so we barreled up the slopes and got ourselves into some horrendous brush and boulders. I was a little disappointed to have to turn around, and it was only later that I learned about the true path of the trail. While not exactly eager to have to return, I wanted to give the peak at least one more good attempt, now wiser about the route. For this attempt, the team was me, Scott Peavy, Scott Kelley, and Scott K's pal, Ben.

I met Scott Peavy in Gilbert at 4:00 and we drove through Tucson and on to Three Points (Robles Junction), meeting up with Scott K. and Ben at about 6:15. From here we drove west and left the highway onto Hayhook Ranch Road, following this hard-pack south, west, south and west through bleak scrub country to locate ourselves at spot elevation 2999 as shown on the topographical map, at the northeast corner of the wilderness boundary. The area itself is home to a few low-end ranch properties. We followed signs to "Cow Town/Keeylocko" but also followed the road grid, aiming to get onto the road at the right latitude as the destination point. If this sounds a little confusing, it is, and this was one reason John and I got a late start in 2008: we spent over an hour futzing with the roads until we found the trailhead point. The current Google Maps still show "Coleman Road", which appears to no longer connect with the highway.

We were able to get to the trailhead with no problem, arriving about 7:15. We were ready to go in moments and started the hike just before 7:30 a.m. The day was clear and still, the state experiencing a February heat wave, with highs in the deserts pushing 80 recently. For now, we had cool, mild temperatures. The mostly-full moon was just setting below the ridgeline of the Coyote Mountains as we started the hike.

The hike breaks into natural segments. For the initial mile and a half, we followed an old road/two-track through the desert flats, crossing over an earthen dam and then angling up as this road sidehilled across the lower flanks of the range. It curls around and drops about 40 feet to another earthen dam, then ends, not too far beyond this second dam. This part was very easy, gaining us about 600 feet. The second segment is the trail, which proceeds up the slopes and various rocky knobs another 1,050 vertical feet to the main range crest at elevation 4,650 feet. This segment of trail is very well constructed and easy to follow. The highlights here are the magnificent saguaro, some of the beefiest and healthiest anywhere in the state. We took a break at the range crest, sitting beside a small rock outcrop just south of a fence-line. To here had taken a little over two hours.

The third segment continues westward along the trail as it climbs steeply up a slope to top out below a huge rock pinnacle, then it traverses a long rocky ridgeline, occasionally topping out on the ridgeline for views. The trail is usually pretty good but noticeably scanter than what we had come up from below. Mature scrub sometimes grows right in the trail. In spots it hugs some rocky walls very closely, where the oaks seem to live. The going is fairly easy, requiring just a little more attention than usual. Eventually, the trail gains nearly 1,000 vertical feet in about another mile-plus, skirting peak 5,796 to its south, then descending into a broad saddle below the main rocky summit massifs. At this point, the trail becomes very hard to follow, getting lost amid the catclaw and lechuguilla. This is where John and I got to in 2008 with no problem, and then got off route. This time, our team knew better what to do.


High saddle at 5670 feet. We went left. Summit is behind, in green, so close yet so far

Whereas John and I went directly up the slope, which seemed logical at the time, the "right" path is to actually drop south about 150 vertical feet off the saddle. Well, we didn't do that quite right, either. We followed the rock/slope margin and got minorly cliffed out before finding some cairns, which put us back on the "trail". In spots the trail is easy to spot and just as fast, it disappears again. The cairns were vital. The route here generally traverses southwest at about 5,600 feet and comes to a ridgepoint, where the trail, such as it is, drops about 60 feet into a basin below a prominent gully. The views here are incredible. The rocky ridges, pinnacles and spires are stunning, about as striking as those over in the Cochise Stronghold.

We proceeded to climb up this gully. Again, we looked for cairns and as we moved higher, we could make out the trail segments a little better. This section was steep but straightforward. Whenever in doubt we just went up and within moments found a cairn or something to put us back on route. The day was starting to get warm, too, but there were some good shade trees in the gully to cool things down. Toward the top, about 400 feet higher up, the trail levels off again, then angles left (west) and starts some more long switchbacks as it proceeds up yet another rocky hill, circling it to the north. The pinon and firs start to get thick here, but not too bad. We had to scoot underneath some branches and push others aside. Shortly we came onto another saddle, roughly 6,190 feet elevation. Looking up at yet more rocky slopes, we thought the true summit was right there.

Ben had gone ahead a bit, while us Scotts followed the track, cairn to cairn, but we got off-route here, partly by design. The cairns seems to be leading away, so we went up a slope then up some angled rocks. The rock-climb was about 50 vertical feet but angled enough so that it wasn't even Class 3. And in the process we came to the trail, which we followed around the rocks and up to a rock outcrop, where we saw the true summit, still a bit off to the west. Scott P.'s GPS had it about 1,500 feet away, and about 150 feet higher. While Scott K. and Ben took a breather on the rocks, I scooted down a narrow crevice about 30 feet and onto a cleared footpath, where Scott Peavy met me after he scaled down the rocks directly. Soon, the other two were right behind us, and we followed the cairns and trail bits to finally gain the real summit, arriving at 12:30 p.m.

The summit is rocky, of course, but open with stunning views in all directions. Two refrigerator-sized rocks seem to be nearly equal in height, but the western one is higher by about six inches. The other two Scotts took turns scampering up to the top while I was content to lean against it and give it a slap. We took a good break up here for lunch and views. Immediately west are the observatories atop Kitt Peak, while Baboquivari Peak rose to the south. The day was clear and bone-dry, so we could view ranges as far off as Ajo and even Cubabi in Mexico. East we could see the Sierritas, the Santa Ritas (Wrightson), the Rincons (Mica and Rincon) and big Mount Lemmon, plus all sorts of lower ranges such as the Tucson Mountains, the Roskruges, the Silver Bells, the Santa Rosas (Gu Achi) and innumerable other peaks and desert valleys. It was so clear we could discern distant Apache Peak and Glenn Peak, which are both easily 100 miles east of us. We spent about a half-hour up top, the rest well earned. The one-way distance was just under 5 miles but with a net gain of over 3,500 feet from the cars. However, including ups and downs, Scott Peavy's GPS track read 3,977 feet of gain for the ascent, and nearly 450 feet more gain on the descent, for a nearly 4,500-foot day.

The hike down went without mishap. We had some issues staying on trail at times and I whammed my head into a low-hanging tree limb at one point. When things started to open up again we followed the cairns downward, finding it easier to stay on the trail since we could see things a little easier from up high. We had great views the entire way down, and better lighting conditions for photographs. We kept a consistent pace and had arrived back to the last saddle where the trail improves a bit, taking a break here. We then continued down to the point where the trail leaves the range crest and starts its journey down to the desert flats below. I was bushed and took it slow, dealing with an upset stomach for the last mile or so (not uncommon for me). The outbound hike had taken about 3.5 hours, and we arrived back to the cars just before 5 p.m., an 8-hour, 50-minute day. After a celebratory beer, we said our goodbyes and got moving. We took the "scenic route" to Phoenix, via the Tohono O'odham nation through Sells, Quijotoa, and Indian Route 15 into Casa Grande. I was home by about 9:15 p.m.

Given I had failed my first attempt, I was very pleased to finally summit this big peak. It was a long, steep hike but straightforward, assuming we stayed on the trail. Without the trail to follow this would be a brutal bushwhack and a route-finding nightmare. It was a good team and everyone helped one another. My thanks to Ben and the Scotts.

Three shots from Scott Kelley's camera:


Me and Peavy

Resting on summit

Happy to be descending

(c) 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.