Courthouse Mountain

January 2, 2022

735m

Kofa Mountains, AZ

There are three Courthouses in Arizona and all three are somewhat challenging. Courthouse Butte in Sedona and Courthouse Rock near Phoenix both require multi-pitch rock climbing. Courthouse Mountain in the eastern Kofas is only “class 4”, but locates in one of the most remote areas in Arizona such that the drive-in takes 3-4 hours each way on rough roads. This peak is also much more obscured than the other two Courthouses such that finding “beta” on the internet was next to impossible. A few local legends including Bob Packard had logged in on peakbagger.com but none had written a trip report. We had absolutely no idea what exact route they took and how difficult the route was. Adam was very curious about this peak and I had spent at least one hour zooming-in on all sorts of map layers on Gaia app and determined that the west slopes to south ridge would offer the best chance. However, the summit block looked challenging on the maps so we would bring ropes and gears to be prepared for class 5 terrain.

Greg K. from Phoenix happened to have a day and half to join Adam and I and with Greg’s monstrous Toyota Tundra we instantly threw out the suggestion of Courthouse Mtn. and Tank Mountains High Point in the eastern Kofas. After talking to Matthias who had logged the most recent ascent of Tank Mountains High Point roughly a year ago Adam learnt that there’s absolutely no way for us to get into this area in Adam’s Subaru. We had to take advantage of Greg’s vehicle to get into an area that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Greg seemed keen on challenging scrambles so the mysterious status of Courthouse Mtn. and the fun class 4 finish on the other objective made this suggestion an instant sell. Greg picked us up in the Pilot gas station in New Hope at about 3:30 pm and the adventure started. The first 20 km dirt roads were wide and easy, but immediately after turning onto the “Kofa Manganese Road” the going had become rough. Had we tried this objective in Adam’s Subaru we would have to turn around very soon. The road ascended “Red Rock Pass” just to the west of New Water Benchmark and made a very rough descent into the Kofa Wilderness. And then we turned onto “Engesser Pass Road” which was just as rough and sustained.

It’s pointless to describe the exact road system we took as I had recorded a GPX file for the entire drive-in for those interested in these objectives. Darkness fell at this stage. There were sections where we constantly drove into and out of washes with extremely steep banks, navigated around narrow canyons and crawled across boulders after boulders. About an hour into the night the rear left tire went flat. Greg changed the tire while Adam cooked the curry rice dinner for us. An hour later we were on the go again, but at a much slower pace since we no longer had a spare tire. We were still a long ways away from the destination and the going around Engesser Pass was probably the worst. Eventually we wrapped around the NW side of Tank Mountains, made to the base of Courthouse Mountain’s west slopes and set up camp. Looking at the maps it’s possible that we could drive in from the west via some unknown roads near Kofa Butte. That route looked slightly shorter on the map, but the status of those roads are entirely unknown. The southern access from I-8 likely had some better roads, but is the longest and travels through military bases. The northern access which was the one we took had the only known beta and turned out to be the worst drive-in I’ve ever done considering the length and the sustained roughness. I had been to spots in BC almost twice as deep as this one (such as the 126-km FSR followed by 10-min heli ride to Tsar Mountain), but the roads were much better overall. I’ve also ridden on dirt roads doable by only ATVs or modified Jeeps but those were weren’t nearly as long.

Courthouse Mountain ascent route. GPX DL

The ascent of the west slopes was actually quite easy with some loose rocks and chollas but nothing worth noting. In short time we had made to the south ridge. Traversing the south ridge was almost mostly straightforward albeit with route-finding to the summit block. The one bump in front of the summit block required some scrambling but nothing difficult. The summit block appeared steep and difficult but the central gully seemed to offer a route.

Greg’s tent at dawn with Courthouse Mountain behind
Morning alpenglow on remote summits in the eastern Kofas
A view of our objective just before leaving the camp
Great views of the Castle Dome Mountains
Adam and Greg plodding up the west slopes on loose rocks
A traverse higher up would bring us to the south ridge
Cresting the south ridge, looking at the morning sun
Adam and Greg topped out on the south ridge with a sub-summit behind
Adam scrambling along the south ridge
This buttress ahead was class 3 with route-finding
After the buttress, we had a head-on view of the summit block
Adam and I took a slightly lower line around that buttress than Greg’s
The summit block looks challenging

After ascending into the bottom of this central gully the terrain no longer seemed that daunting so I started to scramble up some steep shits. In no time I got onto down-sloping 4th class terrain and realized that it’s harder than expected. I sucked it up and just scrambled this pitch to a wide belay ledge. Greg also scrambled to this spot but we set up a belay and tossed the rope down for Adam. The second pitch appeared similar to what we just did. Greg soloed it ahead to scout out the route. I also scrambled it, but dragged the rope up so that we could give Adam another belay. The top of this second pitch was basically the “summit plateau”. From there we easily scrambled to the southern of the two equally-high spires, which Adam and I thought was the true summit.

Adam scrambling across a short narrow spot towards the summit block
Gaining height on the lower flanks of the summit block
Things started to become interesting from here
Greg soloing the first 4th class pitch
Me leading the second pitch in the central gully. Photo by Adam W.
Adam coming up the second 4th class pitch
Me on the south spire and Greg on the north spire. Click to view large size.
Summit Panorama from Courthouse Mountain. Click to view large size.
Greg on the north spire
Greg’s photo of Adam and I on the south spire of Courthouse Mountain
More remote peaks in the Tank Mountains of the Eastern Kofas
A zoomed-in view of Castle Dome Peak
In the foreground is Tank Mountains High Point, our next objective

While Adam and I scrambled to the south spire that held a register, Greg climbed the north spire. It was impossible to tell which was higher so we had to bag both. The ascent of the north spire was much harder with another proper 4th class pitch with loose rocks and lots of chollas. While down-climbing this pitch I got a cholla ball on my ass right on the most awkward part of the down-climb. That was painful and awful, but I sucked it up and descended with no mishap. The others then helped me to get the chollas out.

A closer look at Greg on the north spire of Courthouse Mtn.
Greg down-climbing the north spire pitch
A closer look at Greg down-climbing that crux zone
Greg now coming up towards the south summit to join Adam and I
Me dragging the rope up the 4th class pitch on the north spire.
Adam coming up the north spire pitch.
Adam on the last few moves to the summit of the north spire
Greg checked out a lower, 3rd summit

To get off the summit block Adam and I did two rappels off two boulders. Greg cleaned the anchors and down-climbed both pitches so that we didn’t have to leave anything behind. We then mostly reversed the exact same route we took down the south ridge and finally the west slopes. The ascent of Courthouse Mountain was short and sweet and being able to climb a technical-ish peak with absolutely no beta whatsoever was very satisfying. We then turned on the truck again, drove a few kilometers back towards Engesser Pass for an ascent of Tank Mountains High Point.

Me starting the first rappel. Photo by Adam W.
Adam finishing the second rappel
A review shot of the summit block of Courthouse Mountain
Descending the lower west slopes
Almost back to the vehicle, looking back