The Mountains of Arizona •
Pine Butte • Mazatzal Mountains
• Tonto National Forest
• Maricopa & Gila Counties

Pine Butte, Arizona
Pine Butte.
Pine Butte, Arizona
Suddenly, there's the top.
Pine Butte, Arizona
Southwest view toward Saddle Mountain.
Pine Butte, Arizona
South view.
Pine Butte, Arizona
Southeast view, Mount Ord and the Beeline Highway.
Pine Butte, Arizona
Descending the east slope.
Pine Butte, Arizona
Back on the road looking up.
Pine Butte, Arizona
Our cars parked down there.
Pine Butte, Arizona
Montage: Pine Butte in early morning light, views of the peak from the descent ridge, and me.

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Date: April 4, 2020 • Elevation: 6,420 feet • Prominence: 820 feet • Distance: 5.3 miles • Time: 4 hours • Gain: 1,420 feet • Conditions: Blue skies and cool temperatures • Teammate: Matthias Stender


Pine Butte is the main peak opposite the highway (AZ-87, the Beeline Highway) from Mount Ord. It is visible from many vantage points when driving north or south along the Beeline. I think the best view is when driving northbound, descending from the pass near milepost 224. For that stretch, Pine Butte is situated dead center in your field of vision.

I conned ... I mean, I kindly asked ... Matthias into joining me for the hike, which he was amenable to doing. We met one another a little before 7 a.m. in a dirt pullout along Sycamore Creek Road, which drops off the pass opposite Mount Ord. We then drove in a two-person convoy down the road, then onto Forest Road 201

FR-201 ascends gently below Iron Dike, then at a y-split, stays right and starts somewhat steeply uphill. I led, but went slow. We covered a little less than three miles, parking in a pull-out just short of the junction with FR-1683. I had been on FR-201 once before, back around 2000, but could not remember how it was. It was in great shape, and I was happy to get where we did. We could have gone farther, but we were close enough to start hiking. We started hiking about 7:30.

We followed FR-201 steeply uphill, then around Hill 5489 to where it comes to FR-191, which goes right. Here, Pine Butte stood high above us, a southeast-trending ridge coming down to us to where FR 201 and 191 intersect. In between, a steep jeep track heads directly up this ridge, aiming for Hill 5885.

We should have followed this jeep track, but gambled and decided to follow FR-201 another mile, to a saddle at elevation 5700 feet, west of the peak. Our logic was that the west slope looked shorter than the southeast ridge, which would mean less off-trail bush-whacking.

We got to the saddle and entered into the brush. It was low-set manzanita and chapparal, which at first was open enough so that we could walk lanes through it. Soon, it was waist high, then head-high, then taller than us. The growth grew so thick so as to form tangles with one another. Our progress slowed.

We often found ourselves moving level left or right to find lanes, or anything we could power through. Then, amid the dense brush, we came upon huge fallen trees, bleached white from age, with their limbs in all directions. There is just no way to get through this. We were making essentially no upward progress. Sometimes, just to move forward, I would lean into the crud and just use my body weight to break the tangles.

We were close to bailing. I kept angling left (north), hoping for a break, and luckily, came out onto open ground, now beneath a small patch of ponderosa. Finally, we could move uphill. That stretch of brush was the heaviest, most difficult bushwhack I have done in the state to this point, and it was not fun.

We now trudged uphill, the brush lighter in general, at least where we could find ways through the thickest parts. The trees gave way to more manzanita and brush, and the slopes steepend and became looser and rockier, but we were able to get up past everything without too much difficulty. We were soon on top of Pine Butte, two hours after starting.

This was a hard-earned summit. The views up here were excellent, a unique vantage point to identify the various big peaks in the Mazatzal Mountains. The summit itself was small and open, but with no cairn or register. We stayed up top about fifteen minutes, debating the descent. We wanted no part of that brush we had encountered coming up, so we chose to descend the east slope and take that long ridge down to FR-201.

This worked well. The top couple-hundred feet was thick but always with room to move through, nothing remotely as thick as the west slope. We lost elevation fast and were now on the ridge itself, which was more open with wider lanes and even what looked like a use-path.

We followed the ridge down and down, then up a couple times to get over a couple bumps. We had about a hundred-foot gain to get atop Hill 5885, where we soon found the jeep track. This track was very steep and loose, and walking it was challenging, but at least it had no brush in it. We got down to FR-201 safely, no slips or falls. From here, it was an easy stroll back to the cars, arriving back at 11:30 a.m.. Matthias' GPS said we covered 2.8 miles to get to the summit, and 2.5 coming back.

We spent some time hanging by the cars, changing and getting stuff packed. By now, more people were on the roads, some in Jeeps, some on Polaris quads, and one guy in a Subaru Forester which I thought was cool. The day was sunny but pleasant, about 65 degrees up here. I was dinged up but happy we got the peak, although not at all happy about that bushwhack part.

Matthias wanted to get rolling to hike another nearby peak (one I had already done), so we drove down FR-201 back to Sycamore Creek Road. More people had come by now, their trucks and trailers stowed in the various open spots. There are numerous side roads to follow so we did not see most people, and despite the "crowd", it was never full of people. We were able to keep well-apart from one another and everybody else.

Back on pavement, we shook hands and went our separate ways. I drove back to Payson and showered, soothing all my new dings and scratches. I have no regrets other than we should have taken the southeast ridge. I apologized to Matthias for the bushwhack. We just hit some very heavy stuff.

(c) 2020 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.