The Mountains of Arizona •
Apache Peak • Oracle Ridge • Santa Catalina Mountains
• Coronado National Forest
• Pinal County

Apache Peak

Now seen as I approach the Arizona Trail let-in point

On the Arizona Trail now

Looking up at the steep slope to the top

About halfway up

The summit rocks and cliffs. There's more than meets the eye

On the top ridge, I thought this point was a possible highpoint

Summit cairn, Rice Peak and the Santa Catalina Range in back

The steep hike down, but at least it was colorful

Looking east, the road I hiked in. I'm parked about a mile down the way

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Date: May 7, 2024 • Elevation: 6,440 feet • Prominence: 480 feet • Distance: 6 miles • Time: 3 hours, 15 minutes • Gain: 1,680 feet • Conditions: Clear, sunny, warm but pleasant


I had to drive to Phoenix for a doctor's appointment and to have my car serviced at the dealership. I figured I would make an adventure out of it and drive out the day before and either get my hair permed, or hike a peak. When unable to find a good perm place, I opted for plan B, which was to hike a peak.

It was going to be a warm day in the lower elevations, highs in the mid 90s, so desert peaks would be shut out. I looked toward the Oracle area, and zeroed in on this peak, Apache Peak, which is one of the big bumps along the Oracle Ridge. It rises south of Peak 5466, which I hiked a couple years ago, and north of Rice Peak, which I hiked last way back in 2003. Apache Peak's elevation was over 6,000 feet with a starting elevation nearing 5,000 feet, with most of the hike on road and trail. I figured it would be about ten degrees cooler. And for the last off-trail segment, I would finally try out my new snake gaiters.

I left Bisbee a little after 8 a.m., drove through Tucson, then took various connectors in north Tucson to get me onto highway AZ-77 near Catalina, following that a few miles into the town of Oracle. I followed more roads south of town, eventually turning onto Campo Bonito Road. Apache Peak rises about two miles to the west.

Campo Bonito Road was graded dirt and in good shape. It is also signed as Coronado Forest Road 639. I just made sure to stay on FR-639 at any splits. Fortunately, the roads matched the map and were well signed. I drove in about a mile, as far in as seemed wise, basically going in as far as the road stayed in good condition. I got as far as the split with FR-4466. That road actually was now the better road, but I did not want to go that way. I parked in a grassy pullout below a couple trees, which would keep my car in shade.

By the time I rolled in, it was about 10:15 a.m., sunny and warm, but comfortable, temperatures in the mid 70s. The sky was cloudless and there was no wind except for an occasional slight breeze. I changed into my hiking clothes and got my pack together, and started walking at 10:20. I walked west on FR-639, which was rockier now. For about a couple hundred yards, the road was flat with some ruts and erosion. Yeah, I could have driven in a little more ... but then suddenly, the road got very steep, so I felt good about where I parked.

The road-hike was not difficult, just steep in spots, but easy and plainly obvious which way to go. The road gains about 400 feet in about a mile to where it ends at a simple turn-around near the Arizona Trail. A beefier vehicle would be fine, but the very last segment was in bad shape, with deep erosion channels and bad cambering. I covered this segment in about a half hour.

I was now on the Arizona Trail, heading south, uphill. Apache Peak rises above, a pointed peak from this vantage, the summit about a mile away on a straight line. The trail was in great shape and made it easy to put in the distance and time. It gains steeply but the tread was always smooth and even. I had fantastic views as I gained elevation.

My plan was to hike to the saddle beyond the peak to its southwest. This would leave me with about 500 feet of elevation gain off trail to the top. It looked steep no matter what. But any other off-trail approach looked worse, mainly with heavy brush, cliff bands and low trees with tangly branches. I got to the saddle, having hiked now about an hour, covering a little over two miles when all the bends are accounted for.

Now it was time to strap on the snake gaiters. These wrap around the shins and strap underneath the boot, rising about a foot in length. It's a hard plastic inside, and offers full coverage around the shin. If a snake were to bite higher, I could still get bit. With snakes, it's always a matter of playing the odds. The gaiters turned out to be rather comfortable. It took a couple tries to get it strapped on so it felt tight yet comfortable. My ankles were restricted slightly, but that was fine. I just moved slowly within the constraints of the gaiters.

Looking up, it's a steep slope topped by a jumble of rocks and cliffs, and as always, looks steeper than it really is. The lower half went fast, being mostly open clumpy grass, with some brush but nothing to stop me. I could sense the grade getting steeper by increments. I was about a hundred feet below the cliffs. Things got the sloppiest here, with slopes of loose scree, more brush, and patches of red penstemon flowers, which looked very lovely except that they buzzed. I moved carefully, managing the loose slope and being sure not to annoy the bees. It occurred to me that my nifty snake gaiters would only protect me from bees if they attacked my shins. Otherwise, I was at their mercy.

I was now on the lower rock margins. I tested each one for stability, and moved from rock to rock, up through chutes and traversing in a couple spots, using the hands often. It was steep and open, but it was mostly Class-2 low-end scrambling, maybe a couple Class-3 moves in places. In some cases, I just busted up ten feet of rock and dealt with whatever it entailed rather than look for an easier work-around. The rocks seemed to go on more than at first appeared. Finally, I could see I was nearing the top.

The grade lessened and I walked right to a big cairn. It seemed unlikely that I would be fed right to the actual highpoint. I walked the short ridge about fifty feet northish to another highpoint spot, but when I walked back to the cairn, it did seem highest. I found a register and signed in. This peak doesn't see a lot of people but the register held about one name per month, and a few Southern Arizona Hiking Club sign-ins, names going back many years.

Views were very good. The highest ridges of Mount Lemmon still had patches of snow. The view east into the San Pedro River Valley was especially impressive. There was some dusty haze in the deserts looking north and west, though. I spent about ten minutes up top.

Going down, I tried to repeat the same route through the rocks, which I did, and it worked out well. Then I carefully tip-toed through the penstemons and their bees, then slowly down to the saddle and back to the trail. I stopped and sat in the shade of a small tree and had a proper drink break, plus to remove my gaiters. They worked well. I never saw any snakes, but having them on gave me a little extra sense of precaution against the snakes.

I followed the same route out as I did coming up, and I was back to my car at 1:45 p.m.. I was surprised it had taken me over three hours on the hike, but later, when figuring my mileage and elevation gains, it was both longer and with higher gain than I originally assumed. Thus, three hours felt right. It was warmer, too, which probably slowed me, pushing 80 degrees once back to my car.

After changing, I exited back into Oracle, got gas and snacks, then drove AZ-79 through Florence then west through Coolidge and the Gila River Reservation to get onto Interstate-10. I had reserved a hotel in Chandler. This being a Tuesday, I got a good deal. I splurged on barbecue from a place nearby, and watched North by Northwest on TV that night. It's probably my favorite Hitchcock film. Eva Marie Saint is heavenly to watch. I looked her up online and she's still kicking; she'll be 100 this July. Good for her.

I also noted that the NASA channel had a special about the Hubble telescope being used these days to detect interstellar gas.

(c) 2024 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.