Legend has it that the first men to scale Baboquivari built a fire on top of the peak that was visible across most of southern Arizona and parts of Mexico.
It is also home to some of the best backcountry rock climbing in Arizona, including the only grade 6 aid routes in the state. Not to long ago I was offered the opportunity to ascend this significant landmark, so after giving in to the illogical side of my brain I decided to give it a try.
We began our trip by driving to Baboquivari late in the afternoon. The plan was to get to the base parking lot and then make the short, although quite steep, hike to Lions Ledge where we would spend the night perched precariously above the valley below.
At 5 PM, with fully loaded packs, my friend Greg and I started walking. The switchbacks started at 5:57 PM and continued relentlessly for the next 35 minutes as we inched our way closer to the top of the 7730-foot summit.
It was almost 8 PM and pitch dark when we reached our destination. Lions Ledge with its nearby spring was the perfect place to spend the night. After removing our packs, the task of creating dinner was quickly underway.
The next morning, after separating the necessary equipment that we would need for the climb from the other gear, we crawled under scratchy branches the short distance to the climb. Fifteen minutes later, we were there, looking strait up at the series of pitches we would be climbing. Greg set up the first belay while I put my overly tight, borrowed, 5.10 rock shoes on.
"Climb on," I said, and Greg was on his way. First he placed a friend, then a stopper (protection gear to aid belay). After about ten minutes he was at the top of the pitch. "Off belay," he shouted down to me. Soon the rope was being pulled up and I was readying myself for the ascent. " Climbing," I yelled upward.
The first piece of "pro" appeared within a few minutes and I made it without difficulty. This wasn't so bad after all ... my fingers found the chalk bag and I started climbing again.
Greg's face appeared and the pitch was over. "Thank god," I said out loud. We took a few minutes to relax and enjoy the spectacular view before continuing up the peak.
Greg climbed effortlessly and reached the top of the pitch in a matter of minutes. After he hauled up the slack rope, I started to climb again. The second pitch went by much more easily than the first. Before long I reached Greg's location.
The third pitch, however, looked ridiculously difficult, never mind the sheer exposure of three or four hundred feet. I protested immediately. After a few minutes of listening to my whining. Greg reminded me that his girlfriend had climbed it. But it didn't matter to me. I was having no part of it.
Greg consented to a retreat. We returned to the Ledge, gathered our gear, and then made our way around the mountain to the easier Forbes Route. On the way, though, I was surprised to spot a large, tightly coiled rattlesnake inches from my left foot. Fortunately, it had been cold the night before, so the snake was wrapped tight and not ready to make lunch out of my leg.
The shorter, less difficult Forbes Route took us just under two hours to complete. By the time we reached the summit, I had decided unequivocally that I'm simply not a climber. On the way back down, Greg said I should stick to high-speed mountain biking.
General guidelines: The important thing to remember about Baboquivari is that it is a sacred Indian landmark. Adherence to the tribal guidelines is essential. The peak is the birthplace to I'ITOI, believed to be the creator of the Papago Indians.
The approach from the east is accessible without a permit because it is on private land. The western approach requires only minimal notification, and there is a beautiful campground that can be used for a nominal fee. The west side is also the easier, more direct approach.
The Forbes Route, the easiest and most direct way to the top, was first scaled in 1898 by Dr. Forbes and Sr. Montoya. Legend has it that they built a fire on top of the peak that was visible across most of southern Arizona and parts of Mexico.
Directions: From Tucson, head west on Hwy. 86 to Robles Junction. Turn left on Hwy 286 and drive south 30 miles to milepost 16. Turn right just past the sign and head west for 2.7 more miles, and then take a right at the "Y" intersection. Continue toward the peak on the rough road for 8 more miles to the locked gate. Park here and start walking up, up, up.
To get to the west approach, continue past Robles Junction until you reach the small town of Sells. Head south toward Topawa. Follow the signs to Baboquivari, which is 10 miles east on a graded dirt road.
For more information: Check out Bob Kerry's Backcountry Rockclimbing in Southern Arizona. This book has excellent route information and invaluable topo maps.