Bushwhacking on Antelope Peak

Antelope Peak, from Congress about  10 miles southwest.
Antelope Peak, from Congress about 10 miles southwest.

I’ve long wanted to hike to the top of Antelope Peak.  And yesterday I finally did it.

There are no trails up there.  It is just brush and rock.  Every step is a step on rock.  I waded through chaparral up to my waist and stumbled a lot.  I fell hard once.  I was crossing a rock slide.  Most of the rocks were firm but one wasn’t.  I caught myself with my right arm and saved remaking my face.

About a quarter-mile out, I came upon a barbwire fence.  Someone built it good.  Posts close together, wires taut.  It took about 15 minutes to find the right spot to crawl under it.

Saw no one and voices from the town down below died out once I got up higher.  No one down there in Yarnell seemed to know much about Antelope.  Or how to get up there, to find a trailhead.  If there was one.  I asked one guy about the mountain, and he had no idea what I was talking about.   All of which surprised me.  They live in Antelope’s morning shadow.

I had my eye on this tree scrambling up to a ridge.
I had my eye on this tree scrambling up to a ridge.

It is a beautiful mountain, a high mesa that reaches 5,673 feet elevation about 90 miles northwest of Phoenix. You can see it far off in the distance from the desert floor around
Wickenburg.  Yet it does not get near the attention it deserves.  Certainly not the attention that nearby Rich Hill and Vulture Peak receive.

My first view of a King-Cup Hedgehog cactus.
My first view of a King-Cup Hedgehog cactus.

My cellphone rang at 12:25.  It was from Nebra.  She was down there in Yarnell working.  She’s a newspaper reporter in Phoenix and was doing a following up on the Yarnell Hill Fire, the wildfire that killed 19 young firefighters last June just west of town.

“I’m about a hundred yards from the summit,” I said. It had taken an hour and a half to get this far.  Only .95 of a mile.  I told her I would be back down by 3 o’clock.

Someone's old mountain-top campsite.
Someone’s old mountain-top campsite.

Finally looking out over that high cliff, I was happy.  It was a spectacular vista, looking south down on the sun-baked desert floor.  The old ghost town of Stanton was down there somewhere, and beyond that the historic Hassayampa River, an intermittent stream followed by those first gold-seekers, the Walker Party of 1862, the first whites to arrive in central Arizona Territory.

But there was something else.  It was being up there alone with no evidence that anyone had set a boot there before me.  No graffiti, no foot prints, no sign of life other than the “caw” of a crow and some scat pellets from a rabbit.

Looking south from top of Antelope Peak
Looking south from top of Antelope Peak

I walked a long the mesa’s ledge west to east.   It was flat up here, all right.  My GPS measured only a six-foot difference along the way.

Near the eastern end I walked out to a rock ledge and did a petroglyph.  Wrote my initials on a rock with a rock.  And the year.  It will soon be weathered and gone and that’s OK.

I started back still thinking, kidding myself really, that I was the only human to ever come this way.  I walked away from the cliff and back toward the middle.  I passed a small pinyon pine, the only pine I saw.  Lots of alligator juniper and some cedars.  And the ever-present scrub oak, shrubs that tore at my forearms and hands.  Clusters of wildflowers, oranges and yellows mostly, and century plants with stalks fallen.

Scene of Yarnell Hill Fire, from Antelope's west flank.
Scene of Yarnell Hill Fire, from Antelope’s west flank.

Everything seemed so pristine.  For a while.  As I started back something blue caught my eye.  I walked over to a large alligator juniper where someone had built a lean-to.  Neatly cut wood poles layed against the tree and the tatters of a blue tarp.  Someone had lived up here for a while in the last 10 years, I thought.  Farther on west, I ran across a rock cairn.  Small rocks on top of a boulder in an open field.

I tried a different route down to the car.  It was foolish.  I ended up a steeper and more rocky slope.  It took a while.  My hips and upper legs got sore.  I could not put my feet where I wanted.  But I made it.  And right at 3 o’clock too.

It was the most unusual hike I’d taken this year.  Glad to have done it.  Glad to have survived a solo bushwhack into what in modern Arizona anymore amounts to the “real wilds.”


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