Telegraph Ridge • Gila Mountains
• Yuma County


View of the towers, the ridge, and the road that goes to the top
 

View of the road as I near the top. I am looking down the road here
 

The first towers atop a 1,600-foot ridgebump
 

Here, I try to get as many wires in the shot as I can, recognizing their intrinsic beauty
 

The farthest towers. The one second from left is the farthest one
 

This is the farthest tower
 

This is the biggest one, atop a 1,716-foot ridge bump
 

Looking down at the towers, into the morning sun. The bigger peaks of the Gila Mountains rise to the south
 

The road. The photo cannot convey just how steep this road actually is

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Date: November 25, 2016 • Elevation: 1,720+ feet • Prominence: n.a. • Distance: 5 miles • Time: 3 hours • Gain: 1,200 feet • Conditions: Clear and cold with steady breezes

The Gila Mountains extend on both sides of Interstate-8 east of Yuma. The highest peaks, such as Sheep Mountain, are south of Interstate-8, the pass itself where the interstate crosses the range called Telegraph Pass. The northern half of the range gets as high as 1,760 feet.

About a half-dozen tower structures lie atop the highest ridges of this north half of the range. Not surprisingly, the ridge is called Telegraph Ridge. Surprisingly, there is an insanely steep road that snakes up the slopes to access these towers. This road is a popular hiker’s route when the weather is cool. Having passed through Yuma many times, this road is visible from the highway and I could see lots of people on it. I wanted to explore it myself some day.

For the Thanksgiving weekend, Beth and I reserved a hotel room in Yuma. I wanted to hike this trail and one other nearby peak, plus take Beth to the Yuma Territorial Prison and possibly other attractions depending on how she felt. We left home on Thursday afternoon, about the time everyone else would be sitting down for their Thanksgiving meal. As a result, we had very little traffic on the highways into Yuma.

I wanted to hike Telegraph Ridge first, and, if possible, tag its highest point. The road and the structures end at 1,720 feet about a quarter-mile southeast of the highpoint, an unnamed bump at 1,760 feet. Most sources never mention this highest point. I wondered if anyone ever actually goes there. I had some theories:

The towers all lie between 1,600 and 1,720 feet and are “good enough” for the vast majority of hikers who want a workout and good views but don’t necessarily care about actual highest points. The highest point is not that obvious, even when standing amid the towers, even less reason to go find it. One would only be aware of it carefully reading the topographic map, which is difficult to read because of its millions of contours.

I concluded that people probably go to the very top but just a small minority. My hope was that there would be some beaten path from the last of the towers to the top. But I also knew that the Gila Mountains are notoriously rocky, and that cliffs and ridge-line gendarmes may block any traverses. So I knew it was a gamble. I was also travelling light, so anything beyond scrambling was not an option for me.

I was up at dawn, and drove the highway east to Foothills exit, then north briefly to the frontage road, which I followed about three miles to a barrier. A few cars were already parked. There’s a large lot north of the frontage plus another lot about a quarter-mile northeast at the base of Cross Peak. I parked near the barrier, about the 10th car here. I got packed and was walking at 7 a.m. on the nose.

I followed the road east. It gains up one small ridge, then down… then up and down some more. Eventually it drops into a small basin where the main access road goes left and up the mountain. I should have followed the better hiker’s path which aims more directly from the access road and avoids the ups and downs I followed. I then went north and walked to the gate spanning the access road, which is about 750 feet elevation. Here, the road is “paved” in concrete.

This road is a good example of man’s ability to stuff in a road into hillsides that have no business hosting a road of any sort. From the gate to the first of the towers is about a mile with about 800 feet of gain. This comes out to an average 15% gradient, which is manageable for most strong vehicles. But sections of the road are far steeper, easily a gradient of 35% and possibly above 40% for shorter segments.

The road itself is just a car-width wide, ten feet at most. There is absolutely no shoulder whatsoever, no room for error. The slopes drop steeply to the road from above, then just as steep below the road. For hiking, it wasn’t bad. I got into a rhythm by making small steps and generally walking on the balls of my feet. In this manner, I was able to get up the whole thing without stopping.

I have to admit I felt a little more skittish than I usually would on a steep trail. My concern was that if I slipped or tumbled, there’s be no way to arrest my fall. If the road was dirt, the dirt itself would eventually slow me. But on concrete, I’d just tumble, assuming I didn’t go off the side first.

I was at the first of the towers fairly quickly, no one else up here at the moment. The day was sunny but chilly with a steady breeze. I followed the road past all the towers until I was at the last of the structures. Here, I was at 1,720 feet elevation. I could see the 1,760-foot bump not too far off. I rested at this last structure, then went to inspect a way past it.

Quickly, I discovered that it was not going to be an easy scramble or off-trail trek to the top. There’s a rock fin about 7 feet high immediately behind this last structure. The slopes on both sides drop very steeply. Getting up this rock fin looked easy, but what lay beyond it, I had no idea.

I studied the rocks and slopes and determined that it would take me much longer than planned to get past all these barriers, assuming I wasn’t completely stopped by a small cliff. I didn’t have all morning and figured I better play it safe. Thus, I stopped here and went no farther.

I still wanted some “summits” to claim, so on the walk back, I walked up any bumps I could, the bumps usually having no more than 20 or 30 feet of prominence. By now, more people had come up, almost all stopping at the first of the towers. I rested again, said hi to a few people then had to wait out three girls taking selfies in the road lest I “photobomb” them in the background.

The hike down was quite interesting. Here, I was actually concerned about a theoretical tumble. I walked slowly and carefully and had no trouble, and quickly, was back below the gate on more level terrain. I followed the hiker’s path back to the Cross Peak area. I walked up the loose trail toward Cross Peak but decided this didn’t interest me, so I walked back to my vehicle, the time a little before 10 a.m.

While I did not get to tag the 1,760-foot highpoint, I didn’t feel bad. I enjoyed the hike itself, the views and the whole area. I never feel remorse for turning back on a hike or climb when I know I would get in over my head otherwise. By the time I was back to my car, there were about 50 vehicles parked every-which-where. This is definitely a Yuma hiker’s favorite.

(c) 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.