Waterman Peak • Range Highpoint: Waterman Mountains
• Ironwood Forest National Monument
• Pima County


View of the peak from Johnston Mine Road
 

The initial canyon that we hiked
 

Zoom image of Bighorn sheep, including a young one. Look closely
 

Looking up from the first saddle
 

Now looking up from a higher saddle. Note that the palo verde and ocotillo are lower down, the saguaro higher up
 

A memorial for a helicopter pilot, Loren Leonberger, killed in a crash in the area, January 2011
 

The summit block
 

Getting closer, the slopes lie back a little
 

Me at the top. In back are Coyote Mountain and Kitt Peak, with Baboquivari Peak's pillar between them
 

A zoom image showing Coyote, Kitt and Babo
 

North view of the Silver Bell Mountains, Ragged Top to the right, and in the distance at right, Newman Peak and Picacho Peak, which looks like a cat lying down
 

Matthias hikes out
 

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Date: April 23, 2016 • Elevation: 3,830 feet • Prominence: 1,250 feet • Distance: 3.5 miles • Time: 2.5 hours • Gain: 1,260 feet • Conditions: Clear and pleasant, but warm as we descended • Teammates: Matthias Stender

Waterman Peak is the highpoint of the Waterman Mountains, in an area dominated by huge mines. The Waterman Mountains lie about 15 miles west of Interstate-10, about 25 miles northwest of Tucson. There is a good road to the trailhead and the hike is short, much of it on older roads and faint footpaths.

This was a last-minute planned hike. The weather is warm about now, highs in the low 90s, but clear and dry with cool mornings. We knew this might be our last desert peak for a few months, so we went for the hike while conditions allowed it. It would be just Matthias and me today. Our usual partner, Scott Peavy, had climbed this peak already. It was his information that we relied on for this hike.

I met Matthias at his place at dawn, and he drove us to the Avra Valley Road exit off of Interstate-10, in the community of Marana. We went west on Avra Valley Road through the spread-out homesteads, then through more desert, the Waterman Mountains to the left and the Silver Bell Mountains to the right.

We found Johnston Mine Road on the left, but there was no sign at the junction with its name. There is an old mailbox here, and the stop sign is about 4 feet off the ground. Johnston Mine Road goes southwest about a mile or two toward a pass. We pulled into the second of two parking areas, near the mouth of a canyon.

The day was cool for now, with no clouds. We were moving at 7 a.m., exactly. The parking area is at 2,640 feet elevation. An older road, now closed to vehicles, goes up this canyon. In about a half mile, we had reached a saddle, elevation 3,050 feet. Along the way, we saw two groups of bighorn sheep. I was able to get a couple of them in a zoom image.

From the saddle, we angled right (southwest), and started up the open ridge. From here to the top is slightly under a mile, and much of it follows a faint footpath. Sometimes the path is substantial and easy to see. Other times, it disappears completely. At those times, we used common sense and always re-found the path. Even without a path, the way was straightforward.

We went from point to point, stopping in the saddles to rest. Above us we could see a cross on a promontory. In time, we had hiked to this, a memorial for a helicopter pilot who lost his life here in 2011. I found information about him and made a link in the caption of the photo at left. The memorial is in good shape and regularly looked after.

At the memorial, we could now see the summit of Waterman Peak unobstructed. It’s a fin of rock with vertical cliffs on its north and west faces, and a steep slope on its east, the way we were coming. From a distance, it looked vertical, but up close, it lay back nicely.

The final 50 vertical feet was an easy scramble up the rocks, which were very sharp. The summit itself is a narrow ridge on which two or three of the bumps could be the highest point. We hiked to the westernmost bump, where there was a sign-in log and a stick at the cairn. We both felt a bump about 30 feet away was a foot higher. In any case, all the bumps were easy to reach.

The one-way hike had taken us just one hour and seven minutes, a gain of about 1,250 feet. We had a breeze up here, plus great views. Across us to the north was a huge mine at the south foot of the Silver Bells. Below us was a smaller mine along Johnston Mine Road. It looked active. The most interesting view was southwest, where the pillar of Baboquivari Peak was centered exactly between Coyote and Kitt peaks. We spent about a half hour up top, in no hurry to get down.

The sign-in log went back to 1996, and we recognized many of the names. The Southern Arizona Hiking Club seems to come up here about once a year. Many of the names were from the Border Patrol, guys out for a little exercise. This peak seems a little far north to be on the main migrant or smuggler routes, but I could be wrong. We didn’t see any hints of their presence. We were apparently the first to sign in since January or February.

The hike down went fast, taking us an hour. We were back to Matthias’ vehicle a little before 10 a.m. Even moving at a leisurely pace, we moved fast. The paths helped. The hike isn’t long at all.

From here, we drove back to the freeway and back to Matthias’ place. I transferred my stuff into my truck, then found a lucky golf ball lying in the street, which is not uncommon as Matthias lives near a golf course. This was my first “found” golf ball in over 40 years, back when finding them was my hobby at age 5.

Back in about 1972, we lived in Azusa, California, in a housing tract bordered on three sides by a municipal golf course. Not all the homes were built at once, and the homes along the boundary (those bordering the golf course) were built last. My friend Tim and I would go walking in these lots, looking for errant golf balls. It was like finding easter eggs, and at age 5, randomly finding a golf ball was thrilling. We'd sometimes do this on our own. Here we are, five years old, poking around brush and construction crud for golf balls. I am surprised we didn't get bit by snakes or kidnapped. I kept all my golf balls in a drawer in my room, and had about 30 at some point. I still have a memory of my mother discovering all my golf balls one day, absolutely baffled how so many golf balls were in her kid's drawer. This has nothing to do with today's hike, but it was fun to think about again after all these years. I must have some mystic connection with errant golf balls. I now keep the lucky golf ball in my truck. The irony is, I don't really like golf, and the only actual game I ever played, a 9-hole, par-27 course in San Diego back in 1988, I won. I won by using the putter and hitting grounders to the hole, which was better than shanking the drives into the brush like my mates were doing. I have forever retired with a perfect 1-0 golfing record.

The Waterman Mountains are now enclosed within the Ironwood Forest National Monument, and a ranger came by to chat with us as we were starting in. A sign a few feet into the hike suggests (does not forbid) that people not be in the area between February 1 (?) and April 30, for bighorn calving. The ranger said nothing about this.

The peak is notable for its geology. The rock is very sharp, and usually this is a hint that it’s limestone. The summit block has that “limestoney” look too. I was able to find a source that mentions limestone in the range. So there must be limestone there, which is kind of unusual for this part of Arizona. Or maybe not, as I am not a geologist. Also, the summit elevation varies, depending on the source. The map shows a 3,820-foot contour with no elevation figure states. Other sources say 3,808 feet.

My thanks to Matthias for driving and selecting top-quality music such as Soft Machine and King Crimson, classic prog-rock from about the 1972 era, back when I was out looking for golf balls.

(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.