Silver Peak • Chiricahua Mountains
• Cochise County


Rock formations at the start of the hike
 

The fingers
 

A flowering stalk
 

Close up of The Fingers
 

Round a bend, and there is Silver Peak up ahead!
 

The last few steps to the top
 

More steps
 

And here I am
 

A sweep shot of the Chiricahuas
 

A parting view from the road near Portal

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Date: October 6, 2007 • Elevation: 8,008 feet • Prominence: 2,008 feet • Distance: 9.2 miles • Time: 5 hours • Gain: 3,100 feet • Conditions: Marvelous

Silver Peak is located within the Chiricahua Mountains of southeast Arizona, northeast of the main bulk of the Chiricahua Range. With nearby Portal Peak, Silver Peak towers over a gorgeous canyon lined with odd rock formations. The canyon itself is called Cave Creek Canyon, and is sometimes called the "Yosemite of Arizona" for its abundance of rock walls and cliffs. Whereas the cliffs of Yosemite are usually granite, most of the rock and cliffs in Cave Creek Canyon are volcanic tuff. This region sees little visitation since it is so far from most populated areas and receives so little attention. That obviously worked to my advantage, just me and a few other random travelers.

I've had my eye on this peak for awhile, but its distance (nearly 300 miles via paved highway from Phoenix) is a bit far. Finally, I decided to go for it. The weather was getting nice, with dry autumn weather and clear days, low humidity, no chance of storms, and cool evenings. I got my stuff loaded into my truck after classes on Friday and headed out around 1:30 pm, mentally prepared for the long drive and the usual traffic between Phoenix and Tucson. It was breezy and dust was kicking up, in some places blowing across the highway and cutting the visibility down to nothing. Fortunately none of these dust patches were sustained, but I took it carefully.

In Tucson I had stop-and-go-and-stop-some-more traffic, then smooth sailing east through Benson to a gas and grocery run in Willcox. The sun was low by this time. The all-paved route required a drive into New Mexico, then down a state highway there to near the town of Rodeo, then back into Arizona. However, the map showed a road from San Simon leading south directly to Portal, potentially cutting off 30 miles of driving, so I took it.

The road turned to graded dirt, and I drove most of it in the dark. I arrived in Portal about 6 p.m. and on to the Idlewilde campground, getting an open spot near a giant boulder and across from a bubbling creek. I had a nice dinner, and relaxed in my truck's cab. My flashlight batteries pooped out, and the replacements were dead, too, so I robbed some from a small radio. Also, a skunk kept on sniffing around my truck, so I tried to avoid him and keep from getting "skunked". He finally scooted off, and I was asleep by 8 p.m.

Next morning, I awoke with the sun and spent time relaxing at camp, getting a good view of the campgrounds. The cliffs start literally feet behind the tent pad and picnic table. The road is just a few feet away, and on the other side, more cliffs. I exited the campground and saw a sign saying "trail" on the other side of the road. This seemed to agree with the map, but this proved to be a false lead. The trail was a nature path that paralleled the road and nothing more, so I walked back to my truck, and drove off looking for the proper trailhead.

I found the real trailhead in a pullout about a quarter-mile north of the campground, a small "Silver Peak" sign could be seen in the brush. The map is misleading since it groups the Portal Ranger Station, trailhead and Idlewilde campground all in one area. In reality they are spaced about a half-mile apart. I finally started in on the proper trail about 8:40 a.m. The weather was stupendous: cool with a soft and steady breeze. The sun was starting to breach the cliffs across the canyon, so it was warm in the sun and cool in the shade, and whenever I got a little hot, a breeze would come along and cool me off.

The first mile of the hike works up a moderate slope of open scrubland, a mix of desert and juniper/mountain oak woodland, with cactus here, a juniper there, and lots of knee-high grasses everywhere. The trail is solid and easy to follow. I met up with a couple hunters coming down and we had a chat. They were scoping for bear but had no luck. Otherwise it was just me. The trail comes to another barbed-wire fence after about 3/4 of a mile, then turns left and parallels the fence for awhile as it gains up a broad ridge toward the mountain itself. Ahead of me were amazing formations, including "The Fingers", a large prow of pillars set on a sloping hillside. Once the trail gains nearly to the base of the mountain, it turns right and contours upslope, generally to the right (and below) The Fingers.

I passed another fence line here, and a few yards afterwards I came to a metal signpost, but lacking the sign. Not paying a whole lot of attention, I went straight, and quickly the trail devolved into nothing. So I returned and saw the correct path snaking up to the left. Back on the correct path, I made good time as the trail worked its way up and around the north-facing slopes of the peak, soon coming to a bend where the true summit was visible for the first time.

I took a break at the first of the many switchbacks ahead of me. Looking up, Silver Peak's summit is big and broad, with a little bare rock section poking up just above the trees, this being the highpoint. The map shows a spot elevation of 7,975 feet along the ridge, and an 8,008-foot marker at the highpoint. But for some reason, the 7,975-foot elevation is usually listed as the peak's elevation. Why they ignore the actual highpoint's elevation figure in unknown.

Now on the north-facing slopes and slightly higher in elevation, the flora changed quickly to more substantial pine stands, mountain oak, and sections of green grasses watered by springs. There was more shade as well, and the air was much cooler. The trail starts up a series of switchbacks, sometimes traversing, then starting up more switchbacks, all the while gaining lots of elevation quickly. A few sections of trail were eroded and other sections over-grown. Fresh bear scat was everywhere on the trail. I did my best to make noise, especially around blind bends. A few times, I heard noises above me, spooking me. I was convinced there were bears everywhere (and in reality, there probably were). But as I hiked, I saw no bears. In time, the trail had gained high on the north flanks of the peak, alternating back into scrubbier ground cover before entering into the forest again for the final push to the top.

The final 400 feet follows many switchbacks, but the forest was thick enough to block most views. In one instance the trail-side scrub had grown so thick that the trail itself was like a tunnel. However, as I inched closer to the top, patches of blue sky now appeared where there were once trees. This was the only hint I was close as I could not actually see the top until I was literally on the last turn. On the way up this last section I passed gigantic free-standing tuff pillars. I came upon the last bend and then was mildly surprised I was on top so soon.

The top is saddle-shaped, connecting the 8,008-foot summit to the 7,975-foot lower summit. A forest-service shed sits in the saddle, door open, its insides strewn about. I took a break here on the concrete stoop. I heard some noise above me—a bear? I went slowly, clapping, but then the noise was a human "ahem"—there was a guy on the summit, signing in the log book. I wasn't expecting to see anyone, especially since I never saw him ahead of me on the hike. But it did explain some of the noises I had heard coming up: it was him, also making noises to spook the bears, as he explained to me. He mentioned he heard me clap and holler lower down on the slopes, too.

The summit is on top of a pile of boulders, and until 1992 a lookout stood precariously on this perch, but it burned down in a fire and has not been rebuilt. To make the final few feet of ascent easier, concrete steps were built among the boulders. These lead to the top, which consists of a concrete footing for the tower, and a water cistern made of rock. When I showed up, the other guy was signing in and we had a chat. He climbs the peak every couple of years or so. He shot a photo of me, then got moving, while I stayed on top, having it to myself.

It had taken me just over 3 hours to make the summit from my truck, not including the time wasted on the nature trail. From the summit the views are tremendous: to the south and west is the continuous sweep of the Chiricahua Mountains. Portal Peak's challenging summit rose to the southeast, while looking directly down into the canyon I could see the rock cliffs. Looking east and north, I saw a number of ranges, some way off in the distance in New Mexico. To the northwest the unique double-summit of Dos Cabezas Peak stood high. I spent about 20 minutes up here. Soon, the cool breeze started to chill me, and I started my hike down.

Within minutes I came upon the other hiker, and we hiked together for a few minutes, but then I took off on my own again. The hike down went quickly. I only took one break, at roughly the half-way point down, and the trail's gradient was consistent enough so that I didn't have to watch every step so carefully, allowing me to jog-walk. In doing so, I was down in less than two hours, which for me is decent. I was back to my truck at 12:45 p.m., where I brought out the camp chair and rested, trying to pick out the hundreds of little burrs I picked up from the grasses and brush on the way down (I had to throw away my socks, though). After changing into dry clothes, I got moving.

Driving out I had a good chance to take a short tour of Cave Creek Canyon, which is especially impressive just outside the mouth of the canyon where you get a sweep of Silver Peak to the right, Portal Peak on the left, and the cliffy chasm in the center, with Sentinel Peak way off in the distance between the foreground peaks. I exited out the paved route east into New Mexico and the small town of Rodeo, then south on NM-80, which turns into AZ-80 a few miles down the road. I had never driven this highway before, and had an enjoyable hour as I drove south through the high-desert rangeland toward the border town of Douglas.

Of interest along the way is a large stone monument comemorating the Surrender of Geronimo in the late 1880s. The actual surrender site is a number of miles off the highway near the New Mexico state line. After a lunch of authentic Mexican food in Douglas, I drove north to scout Swisshelm Peak for a future hike, and spent the night camping at Cochise Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains. I had a signal and was able to pull in the D-Backs game against the Cubs, as they beat the Cubs to advance in the playoffs. However, I was so beat that I was asleep in my truck's bed by 7:45 p.m. I explored a little more the next morning before driving home.

(c) 2007, 2016 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.