The Mountains of Arizona •
Rucker Benchmark • Chiricahua Mountains
• Coronado National Forest
• Cochise County

Rucker Benchmark Peak as seen from near my parking area

A view about a third of the way up. The fenceline I followed is to the left in the clearing

Another slightly higher view

The summit ahead along the top ridge. Note the heavy brush

Top rocks and benchmark

View east toward Swede Peak and FR-74. It's not visible in the image, but I could see my car from here

Bruno Peak to the southwest

View south as I start down back into the thick brush

Hiking down, a look at the fence I followed

All images

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Date: March 23, 2024 • Elevation: 7,136 feet • Prominence: 1,096 feet • Distance: 3.2 miles • Time: 3 hours, 25 minutes • Gain: 1,400 feet (gross) • Conditions: Cloudy, cool but not cold, breezy up high

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Rucker Benchmark is the name of a mountain in the southern Chiricahua Mountains. It is named for Lieutenant Tony Rucker of the United States Army, who died in 1878 trying to save the life of a colleague as both were trying to cross a swollen stream. From the 1870s to 1890, the nearby area was an Army post, later named Fort Rucker, that was part of the United States' campaign against the Apache. When Geronimo surrendered in 1886, the Apache Wars essentially ended and the post was no longer needed. Today, remnants of the post still stand and are publicly accessible.

The peak rises southwest of where the post was located. Access to it is via Rucker Canyon from the west, or Tex Canyon from the southeast. Coronado Forest Road 74 connects the two and is the only "thoroughfare" through the forest, connecting highway AZ-80 to US-191, covering about 50 miles. I wanted to climb Rucker Benchmark, and also drive the road through the forest lands. I had been on the road before, but just on segments, never driving the whole thing.

Two months ago, I climbed Limestone Mountain, which rises about five miles to the southeast. I had put off climbing that peak due to fears about heavy impenetrable brush, which is what the Chiricahuas are famous for. But that climb turned out to be much easier and less brushy than I had feared. I had heard the same about Rucker Benchmark, but surmised that the brushiness might be overstated, maybe it is not as bad as people say.

The mountain is a sharp ridge that runs north and south, with cliffs facing east and steep slopes facing west. There is a trail that gets to a saddle due west of the summit, but then there is about 700 feet of steep slope to the top, which looked brushy on the satellite images. One other report mentioned starting from Camp Rucker, which is to the northeast and would have required one to battle with the cliffs.

In studying the satellite images, I noticed a swath of cleared forest beginning from FR-74 to the east and running west-southwest about a mile to the southern tip of the ridge. This aligned with a fenceline shown on the maps. This looked promising. It appeared I could cut off a mile of heavy forest by following this swath, then do battle with whatever brush may exist on the ridge. From where the fence achieved the ridge, it was just a little over a half-mile to the top. I can psych myself up for a half mile of heavy brush if needed.

I wanted an early start so I left Bisbee while still dark, stopped at the usual Circle-K in Douglas, then followed AZ-80 north and east another 25 miles or so, turning onto the southern terminus of Rucker Canyon Road (FR-74). Many maps still cite this road as Tex Canyon Road. By now, it was light, but the sun was muted by heavy cloud cover, the leading edge of a storm we were expecting for tomorrow.

I followed the road across the flats, past a ranch complex, and into the hills and the Forest property. I could see Rucker Benchmark Peak easily, it being the tallest and most prominent peak in its immediate area. The road was good, suitable to most passenger vehicles, although some nominal clearance and decent tires would be smart to have. I drove until I was at a saddle east of the peak, west of Hill 6298. This saddle has an elevation of 5,940 feet and is the highest point FR-74 achieves. I parked south of a cattle grate and fence line, the time about 7:10 a.m.. Conditions were cool and mild. It was still very cloudy, but there was no breeze and the temperature was about 50°.

I started walking at 7:15, following an old track west into a clearing. It ended, so I angled to the fence, and would follow that all the way to the ridge, a little under a mile away, about 700 feet higher. The barbed-wire fence looked new, still silver and shiny and tight. The builders created a clearing about ten feet wide and often much larger due to natural spacing of trees. I stayed south of the fence at first.

Navigation was easy due to the fence. I did not have to stop constantly and scan my surroundings. There were faint paths in places, but often, it was just dealing with lots of grass, rocks and low brush. In places, the slope was very steep, but not difficult. I figured if a bunch of fence builders can deal with the terrain, so can I.

Toward its end, it crosses a steep scree and small-talus slope that was loose and unnerving to walk across. I eased to the north side of the fence in case I were to fall. I just went slow in this segment. At times, I'd kick loose a torrent of small rocks, demonstrating how unconsolidated this slope was. But it wasn't too long. I was at the saddle, elevation 6,660 feet, in exactly an hour after starting. So far, my plan was working well. The tales of heavy brush I'd heard about weren't a problem so far. My thanks to the fence builders. I took a break, having a drink, and enjoying a molasses chorito I bought at the Circle-K in Douglas.

The fence line then turns north, running up the ridge. Up ahead was Peak 6996, and it didn't look too bad from where I stood. I stayed left (west) of the fence at first and this worked well until I hit some brush, then I moved to the right side where things were more open. For the most part, this 300-foot gain was mostly open, up steep grassy slopes. Any brush or trees could be bypassed easily, and only once did I use hands to scale some bouldery outcrops. "This is cake," I thought. The summit was less than a half mile distant.

Then I hit the brush I had heard about. It closed in fast and lanes were hard to come by. It was the thick, woody manzanita that grows about chest high and its branches are tangled and not pliable. I tried everything, often going far to one side or another looking for lanes, but sometimes with no luck. More than once I would just get on all fours and crawl through an opening. There was also plenty of other brush and small trees such as juniper whose branches intertangled. Moving from one side of the fence to the other sometimes helped. Needless to say, it was very slow going here.

I made slow progress, and luckily things opened up a little more on the final slope to the top. Funny enough, I arrived on the summit exactly an hour after starting from the saddle, down to the minute. The top is brushy but open facing east with good views. I found the benchmark in a rock and one witness marker nearby. A couple nearby boulders rose a little higher so I tagged them, then sat down for a break and to sign into the register.

The register went back to 1990 and held few names, mainly the usual ones, a couple that I did not recognize, and the most recent being from December, a group from Fort Huachuca. But it would appear this summit would go years between visitors. I had some sun briefly so I shot some images of the nearby mountains. Cliffy Bruno Peak rises southwest, and the bigger peaks of the Chiricahuas to the north. The breeze was stronger up here but not too bad, just enough to be chilling. I stayed up top for about ten minutes. I wanted to start down while I still had the patience to deal with the brushy ridge.

Going down was ever-so-slightly easier, as I could see ways through the brush or options to bypass it, but even so, I found myself chest-high in woody crud, literally pushing and leaning my way through it. It was about this time I though a pair of hand-held loppers would have been smart to bring with me. I got through everything, then down the easier slope back to the saddle. It had taken me 50 minutes to get down to the saddle, meaning I was travelling at half a mile per hour. I did not stop. I just angled east and continued following the fence line. I wanted to get past the scree and talus slope, then I would stop for a break.

I took a break once past the scree slope. The remaining hike out looked like it would go fast. It was all downhill except for a couple small regains. I made excellent time, the only challenge being the rocks that rolled and slid with each step. I was back to my car in less than a half hour from my last break, a total time of 3 hours and 25 minutes on the hike. I only covered 3.2 miles, but if all my little adjustments are added in, my route would look like a Brownian-motion fractal with infinite length. The net gain was about 1,200 feet, but there were two drops of about 40 feet and another of about 20 feet that I figured into my statistics. I was happy the hike had been a success and also happy to be done with it.

It was about 10:45 now, so I decided to enjoy a leisurely drive following FR-74 the rest of the way through the forest. It's a fine road all around in dry conditions and offers good access to plenty of side roads and various trailheads. I already have a few ideas for the future. I passed by Camp Rucker but did not stop to look. I exited going west, then followed Leslie Canyon Road south and west toward McNeal on US-191, then followed smaller connectors to get back to Bisbee.

I found the hike to be easier than I had expected, but also to be quite brushy, as I had expected. The route I followed worked in that it eliminated potentially a mile-plus of heavy brush and reduced the heaviest brush to about a quarter-mile segment. I cannot comment on the other routes, but I expect they have their heavy brush parts too. I enjoyed the hike and am happy to have been successful. I would advise future visitors to dress defensively and be prepared for some heavy brush, but that it's not a nightmare peak by any means. I've been on much worse.

(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.