Signal Peak • Highpoint: Yuma County
• Range Highpoint: Kofa Mountains
• Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

Date Climbed
1. December 18, 1999
2. February 1, 2003
3. April 10, 2005

Elevation
4,877 feet

Distance
4 miles round trip

Time
5 hours

Gain
2,000 feet

Conditions
All times in spectacular
dry winter weather

Prominence
3,477 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


Signal Peak from the west near US-95 (February 2003)
 

The Kofa Mountains as we enter Kofa Queen Canyon Road
 

Beth overlooks the spiry Kofa Mountains from atop Signal Peak
 

Oh, and me too.
 

Both of us, kneeling and sticking our hands in unseen cactus
 

Ten Ewe Peak
 

Looking back into Kofa Queen Canyon
 

The half-way saddle is just to the right of this rocky tooth-fin
 

The summit team (April 2005) Me, Dean, Bill and Rick

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Arizona's lowest-elevation county highpoint is probably one of its toughest to achieve. Signal Peak is the highpoint of the Kofa Mountains in Yuma County, an impressively rugged range of volcanic origin, and featuring innumerable cliffs, canyons and rocky spires. Most of the range is within the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge and as a result, there is very little development and infrastructure. Primitive camping is allowed along the desert floor, but roads into the heart of the range are sandy, rocky and unmaintained. The hike to the top of this peak is just a 4-mile round trip with about 2,000 feet of gain, but most of it is on very steep, cactus-laden hillsides and with sections of rock scrambling. Route-finding is a necessary skill here.

On my first trip here in 1999 with Ken A., we bumbled our way up some imposing cliff walls and even though we made the top, it took 4 hours one way and I ran low on my agua. Coming back with Beth a few years later, it still took us awhile since I had to stop in places and "remember" the route. Have I mentioned the cactus? Bring pliers. Seriously, You'll need them.

First visit, December 1999: I picked Ken up in Scottsdale early in the morning and headed west along Interstate-10. Passing through Quartzsite and south on US-95 to Palm Canyon Road, we eventually made our way along Kofa Queen Canyon Road into the the actual canyon, parking where big Ten Ewe Canyon opens up on the right. The drive had been uneventful except where I ran off the road when blinded by the sun, and hit some soft sand.

There was no information to go on, so Ken and I started our hike hoping for the best. We entered Ten Ewe Canyon, so named for the giant blocky Ten Ewe Peak that sits dead-center at the canyon headwall. Signal Peak was currently not visible. There is a trail, but we never saw it. Instead, we started trending right and starting aiming for a set of cliffs in the far right "corner" of the canyon. The going here was moderately challenging. Mainly, we had steep, loose slopes with considerable vegetation, including cactus. We worked our way up to these high cliffs, and somehow found some chutes that weren't too technical to clamber up, and soon, we were atop these cliffs.

Looking south we could see a higher summit, which turned out to be the northern (and nearly as high) subsummit of Signal Peak. We descended and there it was, the nice path. This we followed to a saddle, then up behind the northern peak to the true top, or so you'd think. Well, we thought the summit was actually farther south where some small repeater equipment sits. We hiked almost all the way there but then, looking back, saw the true summit, which we gained with no troubles. However, we had spent four hours on the hike. It was a hard-earned peak, and we were rewarded with million-dollar views in all directions, today being a wonderful, clear blue December Arizona afternoon.

For the hike down, we followed the path and the cairns, which worked a million times better than the route we "pioneered". The descent took 90 minutes, and we were back to my truck in the mid-afternoon. Being close to the solstice, darkness was not too far off. I was able to get us back to the better roads with plenty of daylight to spare. In fact, we drove to the Palm Canyon parking area where Ken made a short hike into Palm Canyon, where some California Date Palms somehow survive in a sheltered canyon amid this hot, dry desert. I stayed back at the truck to take a short nap.

Next on our agenda was a hike up Blue Angels Peak in Imperial County, California. It was dark by the time we drove into Yuma, and we camped for the night at the Algodones Dunes, both of us sleeping in the open directly on the sand. It was surprisingly quiet.

I was pleased to make this summit and assumed this would be it forever. I suspect we may be the only people ever to follow the route we followed.

Second visit, February 1, 2003: I came back with Beth; for me, a chance to hike the peak following the better route, and for Beth, her first "rugged" Arizona desert peak. I was looking forward to another hike, figuring it shouldn't have been as nasty as what Ken and I did in '99. We left home early in the morning and started our hike around 10 a.m.

Knowing my error from before, we started in among the sandy wash bottom for about 0.3 miles and deliberately did not beeline for the cliffs off to the right. Instead I hiked by sight on a bearing toward the right flank of massive Ten Ewe Mountain, and shortly found a use-trail that leaves the wash bottoms and starts up the ridge which would eventually lead us to the top. This trail is rugged and loose, but easy to follow, and we took our first break at a noticeable "notch" below Ten Ewe's big cliffs.

After the notch things get sloppy and narrow, but we made good time and did alright, working our way under a giant "fin" of rock, scampering up to a high saddle below Ten Ewe Peak, and a noticeable dry waterfall. We followed the trail from this saddle, following the better of two options. This trail worked high up on Ten Ewe's flanks and I started to suspect this isn't what Ken and I did in 1999. It wasn't, and not wanting to turn back, we continued up this route until we had gained onto a ridge directly below Ten Ewe. From here we hiked up one small hill and down the other side, and there, we found the trail we should have been on.

From here to the summit we walked up more of the steep, rocky slopes. But the going was marked with cairns and it was never as bad as it looked from below. Still, we took things carefully, and eventually had worked up to high saddle below the top. From here, it was an easy walk to the top, where we celebrated. Today was cool with high clouds. Beth was happy, but not necessarily with me for not being up front with what this peak's hike is really like.

Our hike down went well and we had expended about four hours for the whole journey, much better than my first hike. We drove to Yuma and stayed a night at the oldest (so they say) Best Western in the country. There, we learned of the Columbia Shuttle tragedy that had occured earlier this day. We were shocked, needless to say. It was an odd feeling to have been so cut off from the world for the past 12 hours to not know of the tragedy, but then again, that's part of the deal of being in the wilderness.

Third Visit, April 10, 2005: I learned that Bill Jacobs, Rick Hartman and Dean Molen were planning a hike up this peak and I wanted to tag along. I was hankering for a good hike and looked forward to the opportunity to get back into the wilderness. Also, now knowing the route, I hoped we could go up without getting lost, like I had done on my previous two visits. I drove out Saturday afternoon and arrived at the Kofa Wildlife Refuge area about sundown. I had enough time to score a good campspace. There was no moon and the night was dark, but specked by millions of wonderful stars in the sky. Amazing. I passed some of the time listening to the Dodgers-Diamondbacks on the radio. Dodgers won a messy game, 12-10.

I awoke as Rick and Bill were rambling up the road in the early morning. We were expecting to meet Dean, coming in from Las Vegas, but he was nowhere to be seen, so we drove up into the canyon to the trailhead and parked. Shortly Dean rolled up in his new truck and the foursome was set. A father and his son were also hiking the peak. They got an earlier start than us; we were walking into Ten Ewe Canyon about 8:30 a.m.

The hike went very well. Rains in recent months had carpeted the mountain in yellow and purple flowers. Great for the eyes, not so much for the schnozz. Rick had climbed the peak three weeks earlier with Dave. He and I together kept everyone on track, and we had no navigation problems. The father and son, ahead of us, got off track and we hoped they'd figure out their error sooner than later. The four of us made it up to the waterfall and were resting when the father/son showed up. Sure enough, they had got cliffed out and had to retreat a bit to get back on route. The six of us climbed as a spread-out group, and we all made the top after just over 2 hours from the trailhead. Conditions were stunning, maybe just a bit windy. We took our photos but actually rested a few feet down the east slopes to get out of the wind. On the hike out we checked out the little hill to the north. My gut says Signal Peak is still higher, but the hike up the other knob took all of 10 minutes. We were out to our cars by 1 p.m. My thanks to the team!


Dean Molen made up this nice image of us at the summit.

(c) 2006, 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.