The Mountains of Arizona •
Tres Alamos • Sawyer Peak • Highpoint: Tres Alamos Wilderness
• Black Mountains
• Yavapai County

Tres Alamos
Tres Alamos at dawn
Tres Alamos
Closer in, sun came out
Tres Alamos
Two of the other Tres Alamos
Tres Alamos
I'd climb the left slope to the saddle, then up the ridges and rock outcrops to the top
Tres Alamos
Now on the slope up to the ridge
Tres Alamos
From the saddle, looking up at the next slope. I went right of the rock outcrop. The farther rocks in back are just before the summit
Tres Alamos
The last rocky haul to the top, which is hidden for the moment
Tres Alamos
Closer up, a little cave
Tres Alamos
The summit
Tres Alamos
Summit views, reference marker for "Sawyer", and the benchmark itself
Tres Alamos
Look back down at the ridge I ascended, and would then descend
Tres Alamos
The peaks as I exit, from the fence along US-93

All images

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The Arizona
Mountains Gazetteer

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Date: February 11, 2023 • Elevation: 4,293 feet • Prominence: 1,473 feet • Distance: 9 miles • Time: 5 hours and 45 minutes • Gain: 1,550 feet • Conditions: Cloudy, then sunny, then cloudy, and very windy

ArizonaMainAZ P1KPBLoJUSGS BM Datasheet

Tres Alamos is a set of three peaks, "the Three Cottonwoods", about 30 miles northwest of Wickenburg. The southern peak is the highest. The northern peak is ranked but surrounded by cliffs, and as of 2023, no one has climbed it going by the logs at ListsofJohn. The middle peak is unranked (about 230 feet of prominence). They are part of the Black Mountains, but not the range highpoint. They are enclosed within the Tres Alamos Wilderness. Some sources online refer to the peak as Sawyer Peak, a USGS benchmark stamped by that name on the summit. However, the USGS's Board of Geographic Names site formally names the summit "Tres Alamos".

I simply ignored this peak since it was never on my radar. It's remote and easy to get lost in the shuffle. But I was recently reading Stav Basis' trip report here from about three weeks ago. Looking at the photos, suddenly I remembered this peak existed and the images suggested this peak to be within my skillset. Plus, it's not too far from Wickenburg, about a hundred miles from my place in Tempe.

I was on the road at 5 a.m., intending to be at the peak at dawn. I had Richard Carey's detailed directions to get there, the crux being to find the right gate along US-93 that leads in toward the peak. This is all Arizona State Trust land out here, mixed in with ranches. It all looks the same, so having Carey's directions were critical. As it was, I showed up at the gate while still dark. I would never have seen it or known it was there otherwise. (The land between the highway and up to the east base of the peaks is State Trust land. Then the main body of the peaks and the land west is BLM land, enclosed within the Wilderness.)

In the darkness, I let myself in, then slowly drove inward, the road bumpy and rutted, but not too bad. I just went very slow in the darkness. I covered a little under three miles, following the road directions (with a couple of confusing spots). I got to where Stav got three weeks ago, a deep-cut channel that the road drops into and out of. Not sure if it was made worse by recent rains or a sudden swollen creek, but in any case, there was no way I would get my Subaru through it, and I wasn't about to try. So I parked.

By now, the sun was up, but still very low and most everything still in shadow. I could see the peak, mostly a silhouette for now. The sky was cloudy, but sunny in the east, and not too chilly, about 55 degrees. I started walking promptly at 7:15 a.m.. I had about three road miles to walk to get me to the base of the peak.

The walk went well. The roads are pretty good after the washout. I still followed Carey's directions to turn at strategic junctions. This land is leased to the Tres Alamos Ranch, and there were cows here and there, and occasional ranch things like a well, some water cisterns (?) and fences. The road doesn't gain much overall, just going up then down with the lay of the land. After an hour or so, I came to the end of the road, where it merges with a wash, southeast of the main peak.

The sun popped out here and gave me good lighting for photos, as well as a chance to study the lines and figure out what I was up against. Most people just aim for the peak directly, going steeply up a slope to it. Others have ascended to a saddle south of the peak, then followed a ridge to the top. This is what I chose to do. It would add a tiny about of extra distance, maybe a quarter mile, but should lessen the gradient as a result.

Once at the end of the road, I started up the easy slopes through moderate brush, a mix of creosote, barrel cactus, pencil cholla, prickly pear, ocotillo, palo verde and a few scattered saguaro. And oh yes, lots of cat-claw. While it was mostly open, I had to zig and zag a lot to get through the patches of pointed plants. I was ascending a gentle slope that seemed to aim for the slope I intended to take up to the ridge. The going here was slow, due to the pokey plants, but also to the many volcanic boulders that lay in heaps. They were solidly in place but walking through them always takes time.

My route slowly curved around to where I could see up the slope I intended to follow. The low saddle was visible, and I planned to follow the slope slightly left (south) of the saddle, then sidehill over to it when about abeam of it. In increments, the grade steepened, and it was a case of not being aware I had gained significant elevation until I looked back, surprising myself. The slope laid back well and was steep but not impossibly steep. The ground was solid, and there were plentiful rocks and small cliffs that made the overland travel go by fast. Brush was tolerable. This segment went well.

I angled toward the saddle and even followed a path for some of it. In the saddle, I took a break and studied the slope in front of me. It looked about the same gradient as what I had just come up. Up at its apex was a noticeable rocky crown. I could also see the summit rocks, technically those in front of the summit but still very close to it, from the saddle. Everything looked promising.

Getting up this slope went fine, too, no issues to report, except maybe a tad looser in spots. I got up to the rockier apron below the crown. Going up and over seemed unnecessary. I was about 30 feet below it, so I angled right and curved around it in its east face. The rocks were all stable, and other than needing to drop down then up in places, went well too. I was now on a narrow rocky spine, a straight-shot to the summit rocks I mentioned just now. These have a couple cavey voids in them.

Up on the ridge, the clouds had closed in again and I was now privy to a stiff breeze that at times was strong enough to knock me off balance. The ridge was narrow but not a knife-edge. I wasn't concerned about being blown off, but at times it would knock me aside. I generally crouched low in this segment.

At these rocks, I found a small chute to climb up, about 10 feet of easy scrambling that maybe, if being generous, could be class-3-minus. Once atop that, I had a short sloppy slope of rocks that fed me right onto the summit rocks. I was quite glad. It was windy up here and very gray, with some virga nearby. I found the highpoint rock and tagged it, plus another one nearby just to be safe. I found the benchmark "Sawyer", and one of the reference markers with bird poop on it. I looked around at the desert flats and ranges both near and distant, but the clouds occluded most of the viewshed, and the cold heavy wind prompted me to keep moving. I signed into the log. There were two, one being from 1980! I signed into both. But I didn't stay long, maybe 5 minutes, before heading down.

The climb downward went quickly. I took advantage of elevated perches to see ways down and enjoyed the hopping and hoisting and butt-scooting and leg-reaching to scramble down the rocks, then slowly baby-step down the more open slopes. Once back at the lower saddle, I stopped for a proper break, all the hard stuff behind me. The wind was still strong, but hunger and thirst took precedence.

I then downclimbed the slope back to the lower basin. Here, I had more cactus-spine encounters. One small but aggressive spine breached my boot leather and poked the heck out of my left foot. I had to remove the boot entirely and feel inside for the little bastard, then ease it out until I could pinch it and remove it entirely. Then, not five minutes later, another one got through the leather. This time, it embedded into my foot and I had to take both boot and sock off to find it and remove it. Once back on the road, I could walk more freely and not worry about cactus spines. The three-mile walk took about an hour and I was back to my car at 1 p.m..

As I walked out, the sun came back out and lit the countryside nicely... except for the peaks. A persistent cloud hung over it and kept it in shadow, which bummed me because I wanted some photos. I piled into my car and slowly exited. More toward the highway, I saw a rattler crossing the road. It wasn't that warm now, maybe 65 degrees, but evidently warm enough for a rattlesnake. I didn't run him over. He wasn't bothering me and I was safe from him (I assume it identifies as a he). Rattlesnakes are cool, when not getting ready to bite.

Back at the gate, the clouds had finally moved on and now everything was sunny, all those gray wet clouds from a couple hours ago simply gone. Now I wanted a second peak, a bonus for the day. I had two in mind, one by Congress, and another in the Merritt Hills. Which one would I do? Click this link to resolve the mystery.

The climb had gone well and I was happy to tag this peak and get it into the books. It was an efficient climb and solid the whole way. I never felt in danger nor feeling like I got into some treacherous terrain. I went slow and tested every rock, and in places it looked intimidating, but overall, not a problem. I can't think of one spot where it casued me trouble. Really, the only trouble I had was walking into cactus spines. I should know better by now.

As I mentioned above, Richard Carey's driving directions are very helpful. The gate along US-93 is completely anonymous and it would be easy to whiz right past it. However, I noted two mileage errors. The power lines come at about 0.8-0.9 mile (no big deal, you can't miss them). The right turn near a well for me was at 1.9 miles, and stays outside of an open gate. You'll parallel a fence line on your left, drop into an arroyo then up and out of it to the gate he mentions. The only other thing to mention is to ignore the many smaller side roads that branch off. Stay on the main route, which should be obvious --- most of the time. It is rocky in spots, some ruts need to be taken slowly, but my Forester did fine. Much more robust vehicles may be able to manage that "washout" arroyo.

(c) 2023 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. WHA