The Mountains of Arizona • www.surgent.net
Cat Hill • Light VABM & "The Scar" • White Tank Mountains
• Highpoint: City of Buckeye
• Maricopa County

Cat Hill The Scar, Arizona
The day's objective appears on the far skyline to the left
 
Cat Hill The Scar, Arizona
A rare sight: low clouds in Arizona!
 
Cat Hill The Scar, Arizona
Cat Hill, "The Scar", and some more low clouds
 
Cat Hill The Scar, Arizona
The Scar is still up ahead
 
Cat Hill The Scar, Arizona
A view of Cat Hill, and the famous "scar", as viewed from the higher of the two pits dug out by caterpillar machines
 
Cat Hill The Scar, Arizona
The gate at the top of the road
 
Cat Hill The Scar, Arizona
Now on the off-trail portion. I am aiming for the old wooden power-line apparati
 
Cat Hill The Scar, Arizona
Nearing the upper ridge
 
Cat Hill The Scar, Arizona
On top: the old structure, plus Barry Goldwater Peak in back to the left
 
Cat Hill The Scar, Arizona
View east at the other bump on the small ridge
 
Cat Hill The Scar, Arizona
View down into the big "Cat hole"
 
Cat Hill The Scar, Arizona
The light structure as seen from the far point
 


Close-up of the structure

 
Cat Hill The Scar, Arizona
Hiking down the scar
 
All images

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Date: February 15, 2019 • Elevation: 3,671 feet • Prominence: 611 feet • Distance: 9.7 miles • Time: 5 hours • Gain: 2,250 feet • Conditions: Foggy and low clouds and humid, then clearing later on

ArizonaMainPBLoJCity HPs of Maricopa County

Cat Hill is an unofficial name of a peak in the south half of the White Tank Mountains. The peak is visible as the highest peak south (left) of the towers when viewed from the east, or as the peak immediately to the right of the famous "scar" when viewed from the south, e.g. along Interstate-10. The peak has about 600 feet of prominence, but does have a minor claim to fame: it is the highest point within Buckeye city limits.

The land within the lower hills south of the range was part of a "proving ground" for Caterpillar earth movers for many decades. There are two massive pits in the lower foothills dug out by the Caterpillar machines. The Scar is a steep segment of road that leads up from one of the pits to a saddle immediately west of Cat Hill. From a distance, it appears as a vertical band of light-colored earth contrasting against the natural colors of the mountains.

In the late 1990s, the land was sold to a developer, and the new Verrado Community was established. The old tracks are now unofficial hiking routes, possibly to be incorporated into the Skyline Regional park at some point in the future. For now, these tracks are minimally maintained, but easy to walk and follow. I was here about a month ago when I hiked Javelina Summit. It was my first time hiking here in many years and partly served as a scouting mission to learn about access into the upper range.

I had nothing much going on for Friday, and a storm had moved through the state over the previous 48 hours. So I slept in a little, then studied the weather. The google machine said it was supposed to clear out today. So did Alexa. With that, I decided I would drive over and hike this peak. I left home about 8:30 a.m. to allow traffic to die down a little, then crossed Phoenix and headed west, exiting at the Verrado exit and driving to the trailhead at the west terminus of Lost Creek Drive. I got my stuff together and started hiking about 9:40 a.m..

I went west about a hundred yards on a small spur track, then came to a main north-south track. I hiked this track north for a mile and a half. It was mostly level and very wide, being an old road. I met a couple hikers along the way. The track comes to the first of two big pits dug out by the Caterpillars many years ago. The track bends a little left and then bends a little more left, now heading northwest. I passed through a rock barrier put up to keep vehicles from driving this track. I had covered about two miles thus far.

The weather was clearing but still very moist, with temperatures about 60 degrees. There were low clouds and even some ground fog and general mist. There was no breeze, and when the sun would shine, the ambient humidity would spike. Although the temperature was cool, the dewpoint was close to the air temperature, which meant no cooling effects at all. Ironically, I was quite warm at times.

I kept to walking up the northwest-trending track. There was a group of women hiking ahead of me about a hundred yards, and they were keeping up a steady pace, along with their two dogs. I soon came to the second of the two pits, and followed the road around and down slightly to where it meets another road, now at the base of "The Scar". Up to here, I had hiked three miles and gained just 800 feet, but I never needed to stop so I was making good time. A slight breeze would pick up at times and cool me, which was welcome.

At the base of the scar, there are signs about using low 4-wheel drive and a sign about a $25,000 fine for using excessive speed. The signs are very old and weathered. Above me was the scar, which up close was a very wide road, about 30 feet wide in spots, with lots of berms and shoring. I wonder if most of the dirt here for the road was dug out of the nearby pit. Why, Iíll bet it was. As usual, what looked vertical from a distance was just kind-of steep up close.

I started hiking up the scar. The women were ahead of me about 200 feet. Their dogs would run around and up and down, adding about double the distance to their hikes. The scar runs about a mile and gains about 800 feet, a consistent 15% grade. I stared down and just walked, and when I thought I had gained most of it, I looked up to see I had just hiked about 20% of it. It was easy, but tiring. It took me about 30 minutes to get up the scar, which included my first rest stop for the hike.

At the top, the women were all sitting around and their dogs still cavorting back and forth. There are two Caterpillar machines up here still, and they look modern, like they still work. I said hi, then walked about another 50 feet to a gate made of massive welded chains. I stepped over it and hiked down the opposite side, losing about 20 feet. Ahead of me was Barry Goldwater Peak and the nearby Radio Towers peak. I was abeam of Cat Hill, now just needing to find a way up.

The earth movers had dug out some steep cuts for the road, so I had to go a little ways down to find a spot to get onto the slopes. The topographic map shows a road to the top, but the satellite images show nothing. I saw no roads or anything that could have been a road. Instead, I found a slope and started hiking upward. Up on the high ridge were two power-line apparati, one a rectangle shape and the other the more familiar pole with a cross beam. I hiked toward these.

The hiking was easy, as the slope was moderate and the brush not too heavy. About half-way up the slope steepened and I came to a couple low rock outcrops and cliff bands, but there was always an easy way around these. I zig-zagged a little, but never encountered anything difficult. Soon, I was nearing the ridge and those two power-line things.

Past the higher of the two, I dipped to the opposite side of the ridge and finally could see the summit ahead, an old wooden structure visible on top. On this other side, the slopes were far friendlier, and it was almost a walk in the park for the last hundred vertical feet. I arrived on top at 12:40 p.m., a three-hour hike with about 2,200 feet of gain in just under five miles. Up here, it was cooler and breezier.

I spent about 20 minutes up top. I inspected this structure, which stood about 10 feet high and looked like a small oil derrick. The top is a ridge about a hundred feet long. The highest point (to me) was a small mound of rocks about 30 feet east of the structure, which lies on the west tip of the small ridge. A pointed rock outcrop lies at the east end, and I walked to these too, but felt this rock outcrop was a little lower. Nevertheless, I covered all bets by visiting all these spots. I was looking for a benchmark or a register or anything, but had no luck.

I took time to relax, have a snack and drinks, and look around at the surrounding peaks. I could see the big pit below and the roads I had just walked up. I looked at peaks in the distance but most everything was hazed out by the moisture and mist, with some low clouds north of me, too. When I started to chill, I got moving downward.

The topographical map mentions a "Light" at the top, plus a VABM (Vertical Angle Benchmark) of 3,671 feet. At first it seemed to me that there was a benchmark up here called "Light", but evidently, not so. The online datasets have no mention of any such benchmark. Obviously, the "Light" must refer to this apparatus, while the VABM is simply not there, possibly never was there, or maybe buried. Some websites that mention the area call the slopes and this hill "Cat Hill". I suspect most people just want to hike the road part, and few bother with the summit.

I followed the same general route back to the road, then down the scar. The women were long gone and by now, it was just me. The walk down the scar was boring, but at least I had gravity on my side. Once at the base and near the big pit, I decided to walk down the road I was on and circle around the pit, rather than retrace my route exactly that I followed upward. However, this proved to be unwise. I had trouble finding a spot to get off the road and down into and across the pit. I had to hike down a little more, then dip into a deep erosion ditch, then through brush, to get onto a track, and finally, back to the main road. Suggestion to everyone forever: just stay on the main road.

Once back on the main road, I walked the remaining two miles back to my vehicle, arriving there a little after 2:45 p.m.. I battled traffic back to Scottsdale, but saw that as a small price to pay for the journey. I enjoyed this hike very much, but it is not likely one I will repeat. I do like the scar. I could see how people would really like hiking up it regularly for the exercise. It may not be a pretty sight, but it does wonders for the glutes.

Buckeye city highpoint: The city limits of Buckeye are the bizarrest thing you'll ever see. The city limits encompass the south and west portions of the White Tank Mountains, excluding that already contained within the White Tanks County Park. The city also includes land in the desert west of the White Tanks to the Hassayampa River, going as far north to near Wickenburg and as far south to nearly connect with the city limits of Gila Bend. There are blobs of the city connected to other parts of the city via narrow tendrils (so-called "strip annexation"). As of 2019, the city encompasses about 390 square miles of land. Go to this cool site then click on Buckeye and you'll see the city limits.

Anyway, locating the city highpoint wasn't that difficult because most of the city that lies in the desert can be ignored. Then it was a matter of matching the boundaries to the topographic maps for the portion within the mountain range. Cat Hill lies within one section of the city that abuts the White Tanks Park. It is unlikely the city can annex more land that contains higher peaks, so this hill will be the city highpoint for a very long time.


This is a view of Cat Hill as seen from the summit of Barry Goldwater Peak.

(c) 2019 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.