Chiricahua Peak

March 21, 2023


Chiricahua Wilderness, AZ

Chiricahua Peak is the highest summit in Chiricahua Mountains and boasts over 1500 m prominence making it one of the 5 “ultra prominent peaks” in Arizona. The ascent is however, no-brainer with hardly any challenge. The standard route goes up from the west side via either Mormon Ridge trail or Mormon Canyon trail and can be done in any time of a year. The winter of 2022/23 saw some significant amount of snow in the deserts such that snowshoes wouldn’t be a bad idea for the final few hundred meters on the NW Face. This was the 4th day in the trip. Nikita, Raphael and I opted to leave the snowshoes in the vehicle but encountered some arduous post-holing.

After finishing Mt. Graham in the previous day we found a free campground not far from the town of Willcox and we got the tents erected after sunset. The forecast was calling for over 90 km/h wind gusts on the summit but I didn’t have much concern as the route would mostly be in the forest, sheltered from the winds. The camping area, though completely open, was surprisingly calm so we all got some decent hours of sleep. The alarms were set at 6:30 am and we eventually got to the trail-head near the end of Turkey Creek Road in less than 2 hours. One flooded stretch about 5 km from the trail-head made me get out of the vehicle to inspect. The water was about 1 foot deep, but the road’s bed was hard and not muddy, so we took our chance and drove through.

Raphael’s tent erected in the early evening.
A gorgeous sunrise show behind Dos Cabezas Peaks
The sunrise show lasted for about half an hour.
As you can see, we camped at an open and free spot
Chiricahua Peak via Mormon Ridge Trail. GPX DL

We decided to take the Mormon Ridge trail following Matt Juhasz’s recent GPX track. I was very tempted to take the shorter and more direct Mormon Canyon trail but I figured the ridge variation would give better views. The crux of was to cross the raging creek not far from the trail-head by balancing over a sketchy log. I walked across while the others more-or-less went for an au-cheval. The trail on the other side of this creek was easy to follow and there wasn’t much worth documenting. It was a seemingly never-ending plod. We tried to take short-cuts but mostly regretted as the bushwhacking wasn’t very pleasant in the area. A long while later we arrived at Mormon Saddle and throughout this entire ridge ascent the winds were “reasonable”.

Due to the recent rain and flooding we had to crawl across this log
It’s Nikita’s turn to balance over this log
Raphael leading us onto Mormon Ridge
The typical scenery in the lower Chiricahua Mountains
Typical conditions on Mormon Ridge trail
Some parts of this trail was overgrown with thorny plants
Nikita with the upper route behind
Raphael about halfway up Mormon Ridge
I found a pinnacle to stand on, as usual…
Raphael crawling over one of the few dead-falls en route
Nikita traversing one of the open stretches with some views behind
Approaching Mormon Saddle

The entire NW Face of Chiricahua Peak was still covered in snow but I anticipated the trail traversing to Chiricahua and then Junction Saddles to be packed by hikers. I was totally wrong. There wasn’t any recent track so we might as well keep following Matt’s GPX track aiming straight up the NW Face. I didn’t even bring gaitors and that was a mistake. The knee+ keep wallowing soaked my shoes in no time and my feet were cold. The snowpack was mostly supportive except for the shallow spots, so we were able to keep going. The worst was one bushy stretch not far from the summit where I went down and crawled through like a dog. That was the only way to avoid crotch deep wallowing. The true summit was forested with hardly any view.

Nikita ascending off-trail above Mormon Saddle
Instead of following the trail we opted for a straight-up ascent
Raphael leading the trail-breaking for a while
Struggling in the deep and loose snow
Raphael on the NW Face
At least we got great views towards Cochise Head to the north
Utilizing fatter patches of snow to avoid thin areas
Nikita marching up…
The other ridges and bumps in Chiricahua Mountains
Nikita scratching her head about yet another forested summit…
Me on the summit of Chiricahua Peak
Nikita and Raphael doing some Indian poses that I’m not too sure about…

The post-holing on the descent was considerably worse and we all walked like alcoholic drunks. At least it didn’t take us too long to descend down to Mormon Saddle. I had to clean my shoes and shake out any snow crystal that hadn’t melted. The rest of the descent was long and boring. Nikita as usual, ran ahead while Raphael and I took our time. Nikita waited at least 30 minutes for us at the trail-head. While descending Raphael and I checked the various forecast models and made the final decision to keep the original plan for the last day, to scramble Dos Cabezas Peaks despite the 110 km/h wind warning. We thought about to downgrade to Silver Peak but decided to just embrace the wind.

Nikita descending through the worst stretch of this whole route
As soon as we started descending we got some views
Dos Cabezas Peaks in the background, our objective on the following day
Descending to Mormon Saddle
Down from the saddle. Nikita about to run ahead…
Raphael and I really took our time taking in the scenery
Another view of the lower ridges in Chiricahua Mountains
Balancing over that log at the end