Red Bluff Mountain (AZ)

December 28, 2021


Yuma, AZ

Red Bluff Mountain is a cool-looking but obscured peak off the I-8 corridor not too far from the city of Yuma. This peak also boasts over 300 m prominence. There had been next-to-nothing “beta” on the internet asides from a few “logged ascents” on None of those accounts were helpful in any fashion but one did mention “exposed scramble” as opposed to “rock climbing”. This peak had been on Adam’s list for a while and it didn’t take him too long to convince me to try. I generally do not like to gamble on the success so I did spend at least 1 hour zooming-in on various maps. I was confident that we could find a scramble route to the summit, but the decision was still made to carry a rope, harness and basic pros to give a wide range of contingency. Adam’s friend Matthias, another accomplished peak-bagger based in Phoenix decided to join us for two days starting on Red Bluff Mountain.

Red Bluff Mountain via south slopes. GPX DL

Matthias had also done his homework and his words were to drive in from the south. The three of us met in Wellton at about 6:30 am and drove north onto those dirt roads in two vehicles. About 1 km from the driveable end the road had become too steep/rough for Adam’s like, so we parked the Subaru and piled into Matthias’ 4Runner with monstrous tires. That vehicle is one of the best I’ve seen for mountainous accesses. We drove up and over one sketchy hill and some more rough spots and parked at where we were supposed to park. Apparently there’s some issues with this peak’s access so do your own research. Meanwhile the sky had been lit up by the Arizona’s gorgeous sunrise.

Apparently this kind of morning sky is very common in Arizona
Red Bluff Mountain from where we parked Adam’s Subaru

The general consensus was to use the south slopes that consists of several gullies and ribs to ascend, but to get there we must do about 1 mile of cross country travel on the desert floor with some undulating micro-terrain. In terms of the bigger picture it really didn’t matter where exactly to go, as long as the general bearing was correct. We opted to link up several washes and plodded up and over a few smaller passes before plodding onto the lower south slopes. The exact route we took on the scramble was quite different than what I had pictured from just gazing at the maps, as the actual terrain looked to be a lot less intimidating. We decided to just ascend uphill and decide one step at a time.

This is from where we parked Matthias’ 4Runner
Looking back towards Matthias’ 4Runner
Red Bluff Mountain from the approach.

We scrambled mostly class 2 terrain for a few hundred vertical meters of gain and bailed left into a major gully system upon reaching the base of a steep section. Continuing farther up the ridge would bring us to the wrong summit while bailing into the gully had some annoying side-hilling and about 50 m of elevation loss. I thought we would cut across the gully and ascend the climber’s left side rib but the gully itself looked feasible, so we just scrambled in the gully. We encountered a few dry-falls and some bushy sections with some unavoidable 3rd class scrambling, but no real exposure. The top of this gully leading towards the col between the main and central summits had lots of treadmill scree. We ascended the climber’s left side of this zone on mostly bigger rocks and soon topped out on a small summit on the south ridge of the main peak.

For the lower slopes we followed an obvious rib
Matthias plodding up the typical terrain on the lower south slopes
This was where we started the traversing descent into the gully, left of center
Me traversing into the gully. Photo by Adam W.
Into the middle of this gully, looking ahead
Me picking my class 3 route up the dry falls. Photo by Adam W.
Matthias scrambling up the dry falls
Higher up in the gully.
Adam topping out on this highpoint with the middle summit behind

Seeing the route ahead we made the decision to ditch all of the unnecessary climbing gears. I decided to just simply ditch the entire backpack as the route ahead looked to be really short. After a short down-climb to the saddle we easily scrambled the uppermost south ridge to the summit. The scrambling was again, mostly class 2 with maybe a few class 3 moves. The register revealed a few more ascents than what the internet suggested, but overall this was still a very obscured peak with no more than one ascent in several years.

Adam starting the scramble up towards the main summit
Matthias scrambling up the south ridge
Partial Summit Panorama from Red Bluff Mountain. Click to view large size.
Partial Summit Panorama from Red Bluff Mountain. Click to view large size.
Matthias approaching the summit of Red Bluff Mountain
In the foreground is another rugged massif to the SE of our objective
The typical desert floor in this area
Thumb Peak to the north would be our next objective later in this day
A zoomed-in view of Muggins Peak to the west
Me on the summit of Red Bluff Mountain
Another photo of me on the summit of Red Bluff Mountain

We talked about to descend a different route to close in a loop, but we couldn’t see the entire picture and the last thing we wanted was to get cliffed out. The decision was then made to retrace the same route despite that annoying 50-m side-hilling re-ascent. The descent of that gully was also not quite pleasant with some loose terrain and we also missed the easiest line down through that dry-fall and down-climbed some harder 3rd class steps. The rest of the return was uneventful and the entire hike turned out to be much shorter than anticipated. Given the time of the day we made the new decision to drive into the Castle Dome Mountains to scramble Thumb Peak in the afternoon, as otherwise we would have been wasting the previous daylight time.

Adam and Matthias descending the south ridge of the main peak
Adam with the middle summit in the background
Adam descending into the gully
Matthias in the upper gully
Down-climbing the dry falls section
Traversing back across that annoying stretch with our gully behind
Back down to the desert floor now, looking back
Matthias’ 4Runner leaving dusts on the road