Courthouse Mountain, Kofa Butte, Old Smokey, Polaris Mountain
2-Jan-93 & 19-Mar-93
By: Richard Carey, Gall Hanna
This is a summary of two trips we made to the Kofa Range in western Arizona to climb these unlisted peaks. After climbing Signal on New Year's day with a CMC group we decided to do some exploring on our own in the central part of the rugged Kofa mountains. All of these peaks are accessible by taking the good dirt road east at the Stone Cabin turnoff about 48 miles north of Yuma on route 95. All of the peaks have registers, but they are seldom climbed and sometimes have gaps of three years or more between entries. We suggest picking up the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge brochure available at the entrance which has a useful map and identifies the numbered backroad junctions. Here is a brief description of the climb of each peak and our impressions:
Old Smokey, 4373 ft. This peak lies about 2.5 miles SE of Signal in the heart of the Kofa Range and is on the same Palm Canyon topo map. Take the road east into the broad King Valley from the Stone Cabin junction. At jet. 79 turn north toward the King of Arizona mine and after about 6.5 miles turn left at jct. 63. The first 100 yards is rough as it crosses a wash so high clearance is needed. The road then improves and you will follow it for 3.1 miles to where it makes a loop to the south. Start the hike here where there is good camping at the entrance to a large canyon. We have shown our route on the topo for this peak since it is the longest hike. The upper part of Big Dick canyon becomes steep and rough, but at the top the going is much easier across many small washes. We contoured left to the south and west of spectacular Squaw Peak until Old Smokey came into view and then climbed its east-side slopes to the summit block at the NW end of the sloping ridge. To gain the summit there is an interesting class 3 move on a narrow ridge. On the return we went on the north side of Squaw Peak looking to see if there was a break in its defenses, but it looks like a class 5 peak. An interesting fact is that the older 15' Livingston Hills map shows a benchmark on this peak which is missing from the newer 7.5' map. We would be most interested in knowing if anyone has climbed Squaw Peak and whether or not there is a benchmark on top! Old Smokey: Gain: 2200 ft. RT: 7.5 miles, 8 hours. Class: 2(S3) Map: Palm Canyon 7.5'
Polaris Mtn., 3624 ft. Polaris is directly east of the trailhead for Old Smokey and can be done by heading across the wash and up the west slopes to the broad summit. The climb would be easy if it weren't for the treacherous cactus on this peak, the worst of most any DPS peak. There are thick stands of cholla, lots of barrel cactus, some agave, and thorny ocotillo and pale verde branches to watch out for. If you really want to do this peak there is a long scree slope on the north side which avoids most of the cactus. Gain: 1400 ft. RT: 3 miles, 3 hours. Class: 2. Map: Kofa Butte 7.5'
Kofa Butte, 3247 ft. Kofa Butte is reached by driving to jet. 65 and then to jot. 21 where you will turn left up Yaqui wash. Stop after 1.7 miles from jet. 21 and you will be at the closest point of approach to Kofa Butte to the east. We hiked up the slopes toward the center of the cliff and then traversed on a ledge around the north side of the butte. Continuing around to the east side we found an easy chute to the summit plateau. The high point is a half mile further south. The summit can also be reached by going around the south end of the butte to the east side. Views off the cliffs are great. Gain: 1400 ft. RT: 3 miles,2.5 hours. Class: 3 Map: Kofa Butte 7.5'.
Courthouse Mtn., 2413 ft. This peak is on the Engesser Pass map and lies SE of Kofa Butte. At jct. 21 continue straight ahead on a poor road (high clearance needed) for 10.1 miles to jet. 62 where you will turn right. Go south for 1.0 mile and you will be directly west of a sharp pinnacle which is the peak. For the climb proceed across a wash and to the left side of the peak and then right up a steep slope next to the cliff face. At the top you can find a way up several narrow gullies to the summit. The rock is rough and flaky so care is needed. Some may need a rope for descent. The summit is the westernmost of three nearly equal high points. A short, scenic class 3 peak in a remote area. Gain: 1000 ft. RT: 1 mile, 2 hours. Class: 3. Map: Kofa Butte 7.5'
Skipping Polaris, the other three peaks could probably be done in two days. The area is really scenic and there are very few other campers. Most of the roads are good and 4WD is not needed. Courthouse Mtn. is about 30 miles from the main road and is the most remote of the group. Our January trip was cold and windy, but our return visit in March was delightful with spring flowers.
Participants: Richard Carey, Gall Hanna, and we were joined by Charles Hummel for the March trip.
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