Elephant Head is a prominent natural land mark in the Santa Cruz Valley at the base of the Santa Rita Mountain Range. This enormous chunk of rock can be seen from Tucson, and bosts nearly 1,000 feet of vertical rock! Getting to the top is no joke. If you are an avid backcountry rockclimber, the north face offers steep, scary lines, with plent of opportunity for new routes. The south face is the mountaineers dream, 5.6 and under climbing for 1,000 feet gets you up the mountain. It can also be climbed via the east saddle. However you plan to get to the top, take a camera, as the view is astounding. Also, make sure you where some thick jeans, as approaching Elephant Head from any side is the epitome of Arizona backcountry torcher.
Use your imagination! (Drive, Bike, Hike, whatever!) Initially, drive south on I-19 to exit 56 (Canoa) then take the frontage road south for a couple of minutes and turn left on Elephant head road. The Follow the road to it's end several times (left, right, left, then right again, and you'll find a dirt road and a cattle guard. Cross it, and follow the dirt road, bearing right at all forks, passing through a couple of gates (make sure you close them behind you!), and eventually you'll find yourself near some descent camp sites at the base of the west face. 2 wheel drive will get you this far, but you'll definately need a vehicle with good clearance. 4-wheel drive is highly recommend if you're going to drive any further.
If you don't want to drive to the base, you can approach Elephant Head from the north, using the mountain bike trail starting in Madera Canyon. Highly recommended, ESPECIALLY for mountain bikers!
FAT TIRE has a great trail desription:
During dry fire seasons, this area is a time bomb, so don't even try to go there... and the summer months can be pretty toasty, but sometimes bearable. I've seen a couple of signs that say a permit is necessary, but I believe you drive THROUGH that area, and by the time you get to the mountain, you're in no-mans-land. I could be wrong, but I've never been hassled or approached by a ranger...
Also, there are some remnants of very primitive indian ruins near the top of the Elephant. Please watch your step... you may find some interesting artifacts. Broken pottery mostly, but you'll never know when something else might turn up! Please leave any artifacts there for future hikers/climbers.
When To Climb
Winter climbing is definately recommended, and if you climb in the summer, bring PLENTY of water!
No fees, so far, but nice little campsites near the base of the west face.
Guess what?! New route developement, both trad AND sport, will be underway shortly. If you're interested in checking it out when it goes, just give me a holler and I'd be glad to give you some detailed beta about the area.
Rumor has it, a cave runs underneath the entire mountain, and I am in the process of interogating the "locals" to learn more information about it... Sounds too good to brush off!
Update: On our Dec. 21st ascent of the West Gully, we came across several openings in the rocks... what we explored came to a dead end, but I think we may be getting close!
Lots of pictures of climbing in AZ! Just follow the galleries link to the Elephant Head gallery.