When I worked as an archaeologist, I did a pipeline survey that went from the New Mexico border up to Phoenix. It was great work, getting paid to hike along the pipeline and record archaeological sites. One of the areas the pipeline went through was what is now the Ironwood Forest National Monument. There was one peak that really caught my attention with it’s jagged appearance:
Now, by the looks of this peak, and knowing that there is no constructed trail on it, you would never guess that it is hikeable. For years after seeing the peak up close, I would look longingly at it when in the Tucson Mtns. or driving up to Phoenix. I eventually read about a way to get up to the top that required bushwhacking (traveling without a trail) and 2nd and 3rd class scrambling. Here’s a description I found of 3rd class scrambling: “steep scrambling with exposure. An unroped fall on 3rd class terrain would likely be fatal.” A couple of years ago, I would have never attempted such a hike. But since climbing Baboquivari last year, I realize that in addition to being just this side of terrifying, scrambling can be a lot of fun! I asked Dave Baker, the owner of Summit Hut who had taken me up Babo, if he thought that it was similar to the scrambling we did there, and he said similar, but easier. He said that I probably wouldn’t have a problem with it. I scouted this hike solo in November, but upon reaching the steeper parts, decided it was best to come back with at least one other person.
And so it was that Mitch Stevens, Bill Bens and I came together on a perfect winter day to hike to the summit. Mitch will be leading this hike for the Sierra Club in a couple of weeks and wanted to scout it out beforehand. Bill and I have corresponded with for a couple of years, but never met before. He runs the Tucson Hikers Yahoo Group. It was nice to finally meet him! Bill had been up Ragged Top before, but not on this route. We used a description by Dave Baker on his Trail Talk blog that can be found here.
Mitch had 4WD on his truck, so we were able to drive up to the base of the mountain. When I had scouted this in November, I had to park my un-trailworthy Thunderbird on Silverbell Rd. and walk an additional 1.1 miles in. We started hiking at 8am after taking a bunch of pictures of the early morning light reflecting off the peak. I had done some map and GPS work for my previous attempt that would prove to be really helpful in figuring out the way to go. There is no constructed trail in this area, but there are several game trails that aid progress up to the Wolcott Peak- Ragged Top saddle.
From the saddle, we contoured under Ragged Top’s peak with great views. There are many interesting rock spires along the way.
The hike up to the ridgeline was one of my least favorite combinations: steep, rocky, loose, and unstable. I was glad that we were doing a loop, so that I wouldn’t have to come back down this way. We took a long break when we got up to the ridgeline to take pictures and scout out the route. The next part of the hike went up a steep chute.
The chute was also loose and rocky, and required use of hands in places. The rock was so unstable, we would step on large rocks, only to have them move. The rock was also rotten, so every hand and foothold had to be tested before putting weight on it.
I tried not to look down too much- I am somewhat afraid of heights, though I can usually fight my way through it. Going up is not nearly as bad as coming down, and that was what was concerning me. Each bit I climbed, I would have to come back down. I was not looking forward to it. Thankfully, the views made it all worth it.
As we got to the top of the chute, the climbing became even more exposed and I got a little freaked out by where we were headed. We were so close to the top, but the last push was pretty scary. Any misstep would be bad news.
Finally, we made it to the summit, which had an old mailbox that housed the summit register.
The views from the top at 3907 ft. were incredible! The summit is a lot larger than it looks from the bottom of the mountain. We took a break to eat lunch and take pictures. Here’s a video from the summit:
After spending a while on the summit, it was time to head down. Now we had to climb down the scary part we’d just come up, only this time, the view was all the way down the mountain to the chute.
I took my time and tried to find the best line to scramble down, and when I got down to the chute, I used my tried and true technique of sliding down/crabwalking on my butt. The way I figure it, if I’m already on the ground, then I can’t fall. Dave Baker called it “rumpage” (it sounds best if you say it like it’s a French word)
As we were coming down the chute, we saw a man coming toward us and he stopped to talk for a minute. He owns the ranch in the valley and said that he hikes Ragged Top every day when he is in town. He went up to the summit, and came back down at an unbelievable speed while we were still negotiating the chute.
We finally made it down to the second saddle, and we went down the North Gully to continue our loop back to the car. We stayed to the right on a good game trail that made travel a lot easier than the way we had come up. It was still steep and loose, but there was a pretty well-defined path and it did not feel as exposed as the South Gully. The path even had steep switchbacks in parts. I continued my rumpage down the mountain:
The North Gully was a lot shorter than the way we came up the South, and before we knew it, we were down at the level that we needed to contour our way around the mountain back to Mitch’s truck.
We made it back to the truck at about 5 1/2 hours after we started and I was shocked to see that the entire hike was only 3 miles! That is one of the most scenic, exciting 3 miles I’ve ever hiked. What a wonderful, rugged route- but I would recommend it to experienced hikers only, and only when temps are cool. Even just up to the first or second saddle could be a destination in itself if you’re not comfortable with the climbing part. I am so happy that Bill and Mitch accompanied me up to the summit- our group meshed well and we are planning some more off-trail adventures in the future. The rest of the day, I was floating on an endorphin high. I said at the summit that I probably wouldn’t want to do this hike again, but now that I have completed it safely, I have a sneaking feeling that this wasn’t the last time I’d see the summit of Ragged Top.