I haven't spent much time in Arizona. I've backpacked the Havasupai part of the Grand Canyon, but that's about all. Over the last four weeks I've made two trips to Arizona, thew first one got hosed with rain and my second trip is was scorching hot. Nevertheless we pushed through the heat easier than the rain and bagged some really cool peaks.
On my previous trip I quickly scouted some of the approach around the McDowell Mountains and was impressed by the nature of the granite. Heading back I was excited by the research I had done. I read about a really cool link up that ascends one of the longer routes in the area then takes you to the iconic Tom's Thumb. On March 16th and 17th, 2017 we climbed some excellent peaks.
"Tom's Thumb is a prominent 140-foot plug of desert granite that perches atop the McDowell Mountains ridgeline. It is visible from miles in all directions. Originally called "The Dork" by the old time Phoenix climbers, it was rechristened Tom's Thumb in honor of climber Tom Kreuser back in the day.
The rock and the routes on Tom's Thumb are mostly in the excellent range. The harder routes here are some of the best you'll find on any granite crag in the Phoenix area. Because of the slightly burly approach, and the general notion that granite climbing is out of style these days in Phoenix, you're not likely to have to share any routes while visiting the Thumb. " - Mountain Project
With temps heading into the 90's for the day, we left the trail head at 7am to start hiking in, even from the parking lot you can see the Gardner's Wall on the left (our prospective first route) and the obvious Thumb on the right side.
The trails are super well established and it even appears the city endorses the climbing, with well built climber access trails and maps to the crags, it was a wonderful change from braiding trails found in Los Angeles rock climbing.
The hike looked easier on paper, a couple miles, maybe 1,000+ feet of gain, maybe 2,000'? still didn't seem horrendous. To be honest it started kicking our butt quickly and the heat and sun showed up with no delay.
After some brief gain, we saw the line of our link up perfectly, I have traced it in red below. The first route Hanging Gardens, splits perfectly up the Gardner's Wall, which is a large almost blade or fin shape if rock.
The approach to the wall was well marked with access trail peel offs. At one point you have to start tunneling under some large boulders and wind up climber's left of the cliff.
We got to the base after about a 90 minute approach, the sun had fully engulfed the wall, regardless that it was North facing. I was determined to lead the link up this day, so I began racking up and getting my head in the game.
The route, Hanging Garden's, is an area classic. It's a two pitch crack climb, and while the rating is moderate, the sandbag of the grade is certainly two numbers below what's listed in the guide. We were warned. The route starts with a funky ramp up, then you place a piece of protection and step out left to an immediately exposed hand crack traverse. It was either the crux of the whole route, or the warm up had me nervous. Was a good commitment!
With some positive encouragement from Taco, I made it up the first pitch and began belaying him up. Linking the days routes including bringing our backpacks (and tons of water for the hot day) up the wall, and over the back on the way to Tom's Thumb. This would shave precious miles and time and effort from descending back down Gardner's Wall to get our belongings.
I think we might have packed a little on the heavy side, granted I ended up drinking near a gallon of water this day. Was a haul bringing the bags up the cliff.
The second pitch was a bit easier, it had a thin start to the first piece of protection, but the crack ate gear and once you get the groove, one can move confidently up the wall.
We topped out perhaps a little more gassed than expected. We lowered Taco's ruck sack down the back of the wall and descending a third class walk off. From here we traveled cross country to the Thumb. Just point and walk, eventually we caught the official trail and saw a few hikers braving the heat and circling the Thumb as their main attraction.
Up close the Thumb has climbing routes on all sides, in all range of grades. The routes are mostly pretty stiff and a face or two were closed for seasonal falcon breeding.
At this point, my buddy Brandon from Two Punk Kids endurance races meet us up top to catch the peak. We had some light lunch, rehydrated in whatever available shade we could find and then I racked up and tied in for this route. I choose the path of least resistance, which although was easy fifth class climbing, it was awkward for the grade.
The second pitch crux read as "twin cracks" which sounded easy but when I got there I was puzzled, the right crack was way too wide to jam anything and the left crack was over hanging. I ended up hugging the thing trying to figure out a sequence. I plugged in my #4 cam on the left crack and was creatively stemmed off a knob behind the obvious sight line. From there is an slick traverse under a huge roof, and then up to the top!
I linked two pitches with a 70m rope, carefully using several double and a triple length sling to avoid rope drag. I belayed Brandon up to clean my gear, and Taco came up mostly on belay as well.
There was a really rad summit registry at the top. The ammo can was wisely bolted down and inside was a really officially look pad of paper with a custom made cover exclusively for Tom's Thumb.
After exploring the top and taking in the amazing views, we were able to set up a successful rappel off the south face with a single 70m rope. I made Brandon rap before me and shoot handfuls of awesome photos of me standing on top. Thanks Brandon! I couldn't resist and I'm glad I did, was a long drive to Arizona followed by a long day of leading rock in hot weather. I'll cherish these photos!
Before we headed down we took an exceptional long gaze into the skyline and took note of Pinnacle Peak across the way. See the white arrow pointing to it below. It's prominence and unique stature had us intrigued. It became the new subject for the next day's adventure.
We rapped off and now around 3pm set for the couple mile hike back to the parking lot.
I admired this comically large cactus on the way down, only to the response from Taco and Brandon "that's not even that big, there's much bigger" Ha!
Almost home, Brandon took us to a quick pit stop to see the "Ogre's Den" a really cool large cave setting that has been popular with stoner's since the 1960's. We enjoyed the momentary shade and then hightailed it out.
The next day we had a powerful St. Patrick's Day breakfast at the trendy Hash Kitchen restaurant, then headed back to the mountains for our second round of spankings.
Pinnacle Peak isn't far at all from the McDowell Mountain's Tom's Thumb Trail head. The place was EXTREMELY popular. It was Friday morning around 8:30am and the parking lot was was overflowed, and cars were parked a block down the street. Mostly casual morning hikers, some trail runners, lots of Dads and some mother's pushing baby strollers. The trail that passes nearby the actual summit block is about 5 miles round trip.
"Pinnacle Peak is the crown jewel of the Phoenix granite crags. Nearly lost because of development, the area was closed in 1994. Eight years later, local climbers were finally able to leverage the park out of the developer through a loophole in the land deal. It reopened as a Scottsdale City Park in 2002. The area features fun gear and bolted climbing on desert granite spread among the array of formations within the park." -Mountain Project
With MUCH MUCH lighter packs, a shorter approach, and a singular objective I was a slightly more relieved for the time being. About a quarter mile up the mail trail is well marked turn off for climber's access. One could get used to this type of distinct directionals.
Pinnacle Peak proper is the home of some of the best granite routes in the Phoenix area. Some of the face routes up on the Peak stand as a testament to the mindblowing footwork of the hard dudes of early Phoenix climbing. Our aim was to stand on the true summit by means of the South Crack route. We got to the base with relative ease, granted it was very warm already.
The route starts with a 4th class squeeze chimney that basically suckedMuch of the route required super tight or wide chimneys, nothing was very straight forward. From the top of the 4th class you reach the "sun deck."
Belay the first pitch up some weird moves to a mega tight squeeze bulge (seen above). On top of the squeeze is a bolted anchor for the second (third?) pitch (see below).
I don't have photos but the second pitch was a wide chimney gully thing, that was much trickier than it looked. Taking sand bagged grades to an entire new level, Taco and I argued about the lead and sincerely noted the shocking discrepancy of the route rating.
After the pitch 2 chimney you follow up some weird boulder ramp to the true summit, which has the most oversized ridiculous eye bolts one will ever see. So large, no carabiner could ever clip it, so the slings were just girth hitched. You could die a knot on the end of your rappell rope and pull the knot all the way through the anchor, for real.
At the top we really enjoyed the view, there was no registry up here but I pointed out the view looking back at Tom's Thumb. Really fun to be on top of both special peaks. We did a series of easy raps down the same way we came up, hiked down and got back to the car around noonish. Was about 3-4 hours car to car, not terrible.
We got some drinks and gas and heading back to Los Angeles with alot of respect for the granite in Arizona. The challenge was surprising and we felt pretty rocked by the experience. Was a blast, thanks to Odette and Brandon for the hospitality! Til next time fam!