Jeffords Peak • Highpoint: Tortolita Mountains
• Pinal County

View of the Tortolita Mountains from where Edwin Road startes off of Highway AZ-79. The highpoint, Jeffords Peak, is the hill to the right, "marked" by the powerline pole

The highpoint hill, now much closer

Looking back at our ridge, Mike coming up quickly

The peak from below the last saddle

Picacho Peak from the summit

West view: Waterman Peak, then Silverbell, West Silverbell (in back) and Ragged Top

Northeast view of Black Mountain

Just glad to be here

Southwest view: Wasson and Safford Peaks in back and Baboquivari is barely visible way in back

Looking back down our descent ridge

A final view before we leave

Montage: sign at the start of Edwin Road, then one at the very end at the mine. The mine itself, and a shot of the whole range at dawn

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Prominence Peaks


Date: December 20, 2017 • Elevation: 4,696 feet • Prominence: 1,136 feet • Distance: 4.2 miles • Time: 3 hours • Gain: 1,096 feet • Conditions: Clear, with blue skies • Teammates: Paul McClellan, Michael Berry

The Tortolita Mountains are a sprawling range of hills about 30 miles north of Tucson, in Pinal County. The nearest towns are Oro Valley to the south, and Catalina to the east. The range itself is mostly on State Trust land, with access allowed with a permit.

The highest peak in the range is (unofficially) called Jeffords Peak, and is located in the north-central part of the range. Although it has over 1,100 feet of prominence, the summit does not stand out, as nearby peaks get to within 30 feet of Jeffords' elevation. When viewed from the east along highway AZ-77, a much bigger peak with north-facing cliffs seems to be highest. This one is called Tortollitas Benchmark (note the two l's). It's just a couple dozen feet shy of being the range highpoint.

Tom Jeffords was an important figure in Arizona's earliest years, just after it was created as a territory in 1863. He was best known for being a friend to the Chiricahua Apache Chief Cochise, and acting as a liaison between Cochise and the United States Army. He was one of few white men who could travel in the region and not be summarily killed. He also oversaw a mail line during this period.

Jeffords was able to convince Cochise to meet with the Army, which sometimes had positive results and other times disastrous results. He played a role in negotiating treaties that ended the Apache raids in 1872. However, in 1875, the Chiricahua Apache were moved to the San Carlos Nation near Globe, and Jeffords was relieved of his duties as an Indian agent. He moved to Tombstone and invested in mines and land. He died in 1914 on his property near the Owls Head Buttes, north of the Tortolita Mountains.

The peak's name is not official, as best as I can tell. However, it appears by this name on many sites, so by this metric, it's as good as being official. It's an appropriate name, better than a generic "range highpoint" name it usually has. As usual, I'll do my little part to make this name "officialer". The word "tortolita" evidently means "ground dove". I know this because I looked it up. Ground doves are common in the southern Arizona deserts.

Climbing this peak does not appear to be difficult, but getting close to it is the biggest challenge. From the east, Edwin Road leaves AZ-77 and rumbles about 6 miles to the heart of the range to a mine, which may still be functioning. Another road, Cochise Springs Road, juts off Edwin Road and curls north then west to the north slopes of the peak. However, both roads are notoriously bad, requiring 4-wheel drive. Otherwise, one could hike in from Edwin Road, which means about 5 miles each way along the road plus the off-trail parts to the summit. This could be an 14-mile day. I wasn't against the idea, but preferred not to do it this way if possible. My vehicle probably would not be up for these roads.

So anyway, I was looking at maps and emailing a few people for insights on these peaks (this one and some others near Tucson), getting ideas, and I contacted Paul McClellan and Michael Berry. Turns out, they were going to Jeffords Peak in a couple days, and I was invited if I wanted to join them. Wow, what a stroke of luck. Naturally, I agreed.

I was up early and drove through Apache Junction and Florence, arriving to Oracle Junction (where AZ-79 ends at AZ-77). I found Edwin Road easily, and parked, arriving at 7:40 a.m.. Paul was already there in his Jeep. I had not yet met Paul but had seen his name many times, so it was great to meet him for the first time. Michael showed up a few minutes later. It was my first time meeting him too. Both seemed like real cool fellows.

Mike and I drove our vehicles in about a hundred yards on Edwin Road, parking in a clearing, and stowing our stuff into Paul's Jeep. The word on Edwin Road is a sandy wash crossing comes up almost immediately and would stop most vehicles. Paul's Jeep was beefy enough to manage this obstacle and others sure to follow.

Paul drove us all the way to where Edwin Road ends, at a gate near the mine. The gate makes it clear the public ain't welcome. We drove back a brief ways to a clearing north of a cattle grate. Paul covered these five miles in about 15 minutes. The road wasn't as bad as I had read, but it may have been graded recently. It's not a rocky road and most of it is hardpack, but it is consistently rutted the whole drive in. Some ruts were very deep. Paul's Jeep was more than sufficient to get us this far.

We started hiking about 8:30, in cool and dry conditions. We were east of a hill that itself is east of the mine buildings. The map shows a track goes northwest behind this hill, aiming generally for Indian Town Wash. We walked the road, then dropped into the wash itself, which was wide and sandy. When we encountered our first brushy obstacle, we ascended to the north and started walking up ridges, curling around to the north slopes where we could see the peak, not too far away. The brush was somewhat heavy here, but not too bad.

We busted straight up a slope, then angled toward a saddle, now on a southeast-trending ridge that emanates directly off the peak, which we could see the whole way. One on this ridge, the brush lessened to just low grasses and occasional prickly-pear cactus and ocotillo. There was no cholla, but there was some catclaw. However, it was spread out so that we had to do very little actual bushwhacking. We moved fast, just following the ridges up.

Soon, we were at the last saddle below the top. The climb from there went well, with a few rocky sections that were fun. We were on the summit about 10 a.m., a 90-minute hike covering a little over two miles. That went fast! It was an easier climb than we were expecting.

The weather was clear and cold, with no clouds and a bright sun. We spent about a half hour up top, looking at all the peaks in all directions. There was some haze on the farthest horizons. The register showed about four groups visited the peak yearly. Curiously, some people had just signed in earlier today. We assume they came in from the north because we never saw a soul (or vehicle) on our hike.

For the hike down, we followed our same route, descending into the washes and back to that road, then back to Paul's Jeep. The egress took a shade over an hour, and by 11:30, we were back to our cars at the start of Edwin Road. I had come here mentally prepared for an all-day 10-mile hike, so to hike just 4 miles across easy terrain, and be done before noon, was a most unexpected surprise.

We spent some time shaking hands at talking about future peaks. I can't thank Mike and Paul enough for inviting me along, and Paul willing to drive us in his Jeep. That made a huge difference for us, turning the hike into an easy morning stroll. They were two very decent men and I was happy to tag along with them.

Since it was just noon, I decided to visit another peak, a small mountain called Suizo Mountain located about 15 miles to the north. I had not brought maps and had only a vague idea where to drive to start the hike. Would I get lost and perish in the harsh desert, or be successful? Click the link to find out.

(c) 2017 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.