|Mitchell Peak is a remote, brush-covered mountain located in central Greenlee County in far-eastern Arizona. Scenic US-191 (The Coronado Trail) runs north-south through the county, connecting the towns of Clifton and Alpine, and is one of the state's most scenic drives. Mitchell Peak is the highest summit of the collections of peaks that surround Clifton, the Greenlee county seat and home to one of the largest open-pit mines in the world, at Morenci. The highway gets very close to the summit, which is good because the actual hike is very brushy and slow-going, covering about 2 miles round trip and about 600 feet of gain (including some drops and regains). Most people will be content to slowly drive right by Mitchell Peak while enjoying the remarkable scenery along the highway, but peakbaggers may want to hike it for its prominence of 1,831 feet, ranking it in the top 100 in Arizona. The peak and most of the road are located on Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest lands. |
It would be silly to make this one peak your main destination. It should be done as part of a trip through the area. The actual hike will probably take just a couple hours. Surely, you will want to stop and ogle at the mines at Morenci if coming up from Clifton: Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold Mining, Morenci Arizona. Also, another prominent summit, Rose Peak, is a fun 45-minute hike up a trail, located 25 miles north of Mitchell Peak. These two peaks make for a good day's hiking effort, breaking up the drive nicely.
There are numerous hiking, horseback, 2-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive roads, and in winter, cross-country skiing trails in the region. During summer, Greenlee County is usually very pleasant compared to the baking deserts down below. However, it is so far from the major population centers that it is rarely crowded. Motorcyclists love the highway for its twists and turns. Traffic is light: we saw at most 4 or 5 other vehicles on our day trip up US-191 from Clifton to Hannagan Meadow.
|From Phoenix, follow US-60 through Globe, then catch US-70 to Safford. Past Safford, US70 and US-191 merge, then split, US-191 going northeast through the Black Hills, then dropping into the Gila River Valley at the community of Three Way. Turn left, staying on US-191, and drive another 15 miles into Clifton.|
From Tucson, follow Interstate-10 east to Willcox, then follow US-191 north into Safford, and from there, into Clifton.
Clifton is the only town of notable size in Greenlee County, a town built solely to service the huge mines. Clifton is built into a canyon, and is so narrow in places that many buildings abut the canyon walls directly. Many buildings are authentic from the town's founding in 1873. There is an enjoyable raggedness to Clifton: this is what a real, functioning mining town looks like.
From Clifton, carefully ascend US-191 through the mines at Morenci. Drive about 20 miles to Sardine Saddle near milepost 182, or better yet, a little farther to a picnic area at H L Saddle. Mitchell Peak is visible here, rising above Sardine Saddle.
RouteFrom H L Saddle, walk up an old road opposite the picnic area. Shortly the road comes to actual H L Saddle, where there is a corral. Ease through a wire gate on the right, then bear left and start going upslope, following a fence that runs up this slope and parallel to the ridge that fronts the highway. Do not do what I did, which was follow an old trail (wagon route) that stays level on the west-face of this ridge, directly above US-191. The going gets very brushy if you follow this "trail".
The fence will eventually dip into a major saddle just east of spot elevation 7704 as shown on the topographical map. Get to the other side, and now start following a series of ridge bumps in a north-east direction, bypassing four false summits until coming to 7,951-foot Mitchell Peak.
How you actually do this is up to you. If you stay high and hope for good line-of-sight navigation from one ridge point to the next, the brush gets extremely thick and closes in severely. If you angle slightly left (onto the north-facing slopes), the brush isn't as bad, but then it becomes guess-work where you actually may be. In any case, be ready for some heavy-duty brush-whacking-barging-pushing. You may spot a good trail as you get close to the top. Follow it.
The top is rocky and brushy with a small solar collector put there for some reason. The views are very nice.
On my descent, I followed this trail a ways, but it dropped faster and in a direction that I didn't want. I theorize it drops to the canyon coming off H L Saddle heading east, where there is an old forest road. However, I did not explore this route so I cannot be sure. I would suggest the next visitor to look into this. It could offer a brush-free, mostly-trail option to the top.
One could ascend from Sardine Saddle, too, but when I was there, the brush looked very thick and uninviting.