The Mountains of Arizona •
Granite Mountain • Prescott Area • Sierra Prieta
• Granite Mountain Wilderness
• Yavapai County

Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
Granite Mountain
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
Close up shows the rocky nature of the peak
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
The big cliff where the falcons nest
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
Hiking up, Scott and Matthias are up ahead
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
Portion of the trail before reaching the upper ridge
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
Surmounting the main upper ridge, the summit then comes into view
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
The summit, with lots of rocks and brush to dodge on the way there
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
Looking back at Peak 7185
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
Matthias and Scott below the summit
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
Now we're on the steeper parts
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
Scott and Matthias make the top - surprise: a little patch of snow!
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
North view: Humphreys Peak, Kendrick Peak, Sitgreaves Mountrain and Bill Williams Mountain are seen rising above the Coconino Rim
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
South view: the peak closest in with snow on it is Little Granite Mountain. Behind it is the southern part of the Sierra Prieta wih West Spruce Peak. In the back slightly to the right is Weaver Peak, and way in the back, barely visible, is Harquahala Mountain
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
Summit benchmark and ladybugs
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
Hiking down, we inspect a burned juniper
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
View of the summit as we exit
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
A view of the big cliffs
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
Another view of the route
Granite Mountain Prescott, Arizona
Blair Pass

All images

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Date: February 27, 2016 • Elevation: 7,626 feet • Prominence: 1,666 feet • Distance: 9.4 miles • Time: 7 hours • Gain: 1,100 feet • Conditions: Cold at first, then warmer with blue skies and high clouds • Teammates: Scott Peavy & Matthias Stender

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Ambiguity Alert: There are many mountains named Granite in Arizona. Others I have climbed are Granite Mountain in Scottsdale, Granite Mountain near Superior, and Granite Mountain near Bartlett Dam.

Granite Mountain is a landmark in Prescott, a peak covered in an incredible jumble of rock outcrops and featuring many large cliffs. Rock climbers come here to scale the rock routes, while a good trail reaches to the top ridge, ending near an overlook atop these cliffs. The actual summit is about a mile from the trail. A lot of people hike here, going by the registration log at the trailhead. Relatively few go to the summit, but enough so that it seems about a half-dozen parties per month make it to the top, weather permitting.

Scott Peavy and Matthias Stender hatched the plan to hike this peak this weekend, and I was able to tag along. Granite Mountain is a "classic", which means that at some point, it must be climbed. Driving into Prescott from any direction, the peak is hard to miss. It stands tall, with over 1,600 feet of prominence, and its rocky slopes and jagged profile causes it to stand out, compared to most surrounding mountains which usually have smoother profiles.

The three of us met at 6 a.m. at the Denny's on Carefree Highway and Interstate-17. We then rode with Matthias, who drove us into Prescott and to the Granite Mountain area. We pulled into one parking area near a small pond and saw that we could access the trail (Trail 261) from here. So we parked and got our stuff together. We started hiking about 7:45 a.m., the temperature about 30 degrees F, cold enough to make our fingers hurt at first.

From the parking lot, we followed the small spur trail to the "official" Trail 261, which went both ways, said two small arrows on a sign. Which way do we go? We guessed and went right, and it was the right guess. A left would have taken us to another parking lot, the apparent main trailhead for this trail. We dropped a little elevation at first, coming to a kiosk and registration log near the Wilderness boundary. We had covered about a quarter-mile.

Past the boundary, we followed the good trail as it gained gently, trending northwest toward Blair Pass, which separates the big mass of Granite Mountain on our right from smaller Little Granite Mountain to our left. In about thirty minutes, we had arrived to Blair Pass, where we took a break. The temperature had risen a few degrees, and the chill no longer had a bite. To here, we had covered about a mile and a quarter, gaining about 400 feet. Trail 261 continued to the right. Along the way, we passed by cliff walls that were sheer rock hundreds of feet high, with interesting overhangs. Falcons nest here and this area is closed to rock climbers in Spring. However, it does not affect hikers on the trail.

The next segment runs about two miles and switchbacks up the rocky slopes. Blair Pass is at 5,960 feet elevation, and the ridge line above at 6,820 feet. The trail was wide and easy to follow through the rocks, and we made good time. This segment took about an hour, and when we reached the saddle, we stopped again for a break. Up ahead, looking south, we could see a couple of ridgeline gendarmes, and the main cliffs. The trail wanders up slope, curling around one gendarme, dropping a little, then coming into a small valley hemmed in by rocks, a summit up ahead listed as Peak 7185. This is where the trail goes. However, our intended summit was still off in the distance, only now coming into view.

We stayed on the trail as long as we could, but where it made a hard-right bend toward Peak 7185, we stayed straight, following a scant path that was discernible for a few dozen yards. Then it simply petered out in the rocks and brush. Now the fun began. Scott's GPS had us about 0.6 mile from the top, but between us and the summit was a maze of rocky formations, trees, brush, gullies and little canyons. Following a straight-line path was impossible. Often, the rocks and brush would limit our views to just a few feet.

We were able to follow pink ribbons tied to tree branches, and occasional cairns. But staying on route meant we had to stop and look around often, to be sure we had not missed a ribbon or cairn. Having three sets of eyes worked well. Our route seemed to zig and zag, until we were below a rock band about a hundred feet high. Here, we angled left, then somehow worked our way around it, now trending right, the summit now in view again, much closer now.

The ribbons ended after a certain point, and so did the cairns. It was clear that we'd have to traverse to southeast of the summit, where the slopes seemed friendlier. We wormed up these slopes, hopping from rock to rock, occasionally battling brush and thorns. Soon, we were below the summit. The final hundred vertical feet went well. We found a nice slope with no barriers that fed us to the top rocks. We had actually "corkscrewed" to the top, essentially going around to the backside in order to gain the top.

Scott and Matthias were a few feet ahead of me. I stopped to snap images of them, amused to see a small snow patch still lingering in the rocks and shade directly below the summit. Soon, I was up top to join them. The benchmark sits on the top-most rock. It is generic, with nothing stamped on it. We signed into the log within a strongbox. The last visitors were here a week earlier.

The early high clouds had burned away, leaving perfect blue skies and low humidity. We had great views in all directions. To the north were the four big volcanoes (and volcanic blobs): Bill Williams Mountain, Sitgreaves Mountain, Kendrick Peak and Humphreys Peak. The cliffs of the Coconino Rim could be seen. To the west we could see Mohon Peak and Hualapai Peak. To the south was West Spruce Mountain, Weaver Peak, and way in the distance, Harquahala Mountain. The Bradshaw Mountains and Prescott were to the east and southeast. We stayed up top for about a half hour, the temperatures very pleasant for 7,600 feet in February. The top rocks were covered in ladybugs. We tried not to step on them, but there were so many, we may not have always succeeded.

We descended the same way down -- at first. However, as usual, we saw ribbons and cairns and paths that we had not seen coming up, and it was too tempting not to follow some of these. Thus, we descended more "down" than "across" as we had coming up. This wasn't a problem, but we still had to descend the hundred-foot wall of rocks mentioned earlier. We scooted down the rocks, using five points of contact in places. Below the rocks, we were able to repeat our route from earlier, now seeing the ribbons again. Once back to the actual trail, we took a break.

We had heard stories from others that the off-route portion, from the trail to the summit and back, can be tricky and that rescues are "common". It took us about an hour each way. The actual climbing was never beyond Class 2, but in places it was sloppy, brushy or tight. However, the terrain will cause one to zig-zag there and back. It is easy to get cliffed out or run up a dead end. We would often scale a small rock pile just to get a higher view of what was ahead. It was challenging, but not impossible.

At the trail, I suggested we hike the extra quarter-mile to the lookout area (just flat rocks) and possibly up to the top of Peak 7185. We followed the trail upward, and it curled around the peak, but the actual summit was guarded by sheer rock cliffs. They were only about twenty feet tall, but getting up them seemed to require more skill and desire that we had at that moment. So we returned back to where we took a break to start the outward trek. This side trip added about a half mile and 20 minutes to our day.

The hike down went fast, now on the good trail. We descended back to the Blair Pass in less than an hour. There were more people on the trails now, a lot going to the lookout area, but apparently no one going to the top. From Blair Pass to the trailhead took about 25 minutes. We were out a little before 3 p.m.

Matthias drove us back to the Denny's at the Carefree Highway. We shook hands and parted ways. I was home by 6 p.m., feeling more tired than usual. I was happy to have finally climbed this peak, and thanks to Scott and Matthias for proposing it at the last moment.

This narrative may not be sufficiently detailed to explain how to manage that last mile through the maze of rocks and trees. It seems there may be a few ways to get to the southeast side of the summit going by cairns and ribbons we saw, and in the future, those items may not be there any more ... or new ones placed to add to the confusion.

We tried to stay as close to the main ridge as possible, which meant we were usually to the west or northwest of the summit. We had to angle through rocks, and gain a steep slope below the summit before traversing across its base to get to the southeast side. However, expect to go slow and study the options. I can understand better how people do get stuck up here. However, getting lost would be a challenge. You could always scamper up a nearby pile and then identify the summit and Peak 7185 as landmarks.

Images from Scott Peavy's camera:

Matthias and I chat

Me at the top rocks

Click here for a full set of images by Scott Peavy

(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.