That left Dean and me to get ourselves into trouble. We drove to Apache County to attempt Mount Baldy the highpoint of Apache County. There are extensive road closures around the access routes for Mount Baldy for construction, so we were stymied on this one. We moved on to Black Mesa the highpoint for Navajo County. After tagging Black Mesa, the only logical thing we could think to do with our time was to tackle nearby Navajo Mountain. Navajo Mountain isn’t in Arizona, but the trailhead is within a mile of the border, so it fit within our Arizona climbing itinerary.
After our long hike on Black Mesa we headed into the town of Kayenta for a meal. There isn’t much to chose from here and we wound up at McDonalds. I had a salad and Dean had everything else. After dinner, we drove out to the Navajo National Monument because we didn’t want to spend an extra $10-$15 to car camp some where on the Navajo Reservation. The Navajo National Monument is only 9 miles off of Hwy 160 and the campsites are very nice. The best part is that there is NO FEE for camping. The campground roads are paved and there are nice heated restrooms. This was better than car camping in the brush somewhere.
The wind had been blowing for the last couple of days and this evening at the Navajo National Monument, it was still windy. We couldn’t see Navajo Mountain from the campground because there were heavy dark clouds north of the monument obscuring the views. Elevation here is about 7,250 ft and it was kind of cold too. Just as it was getting dark, it started to snow lightly. We decided to see what the weather looked like in the morning before we fully committed to driving over to Navajo Mountain.
In the morning, it was cold but clear. Blue skies abounded and we could see Navajo Mountain in the distance north of the monument. It looked like a great day for a hike, so off we went. There is some kind of back country road network going directly from the monument to IR 16, but we decided to stay on the highways and drive the extra distance. The roads were good and we made good time. There was a short stretch of road construction just before the Utah border, but we weren’t delayed there.
Navajo Mountain is a beautiful mountain that dominates the landscape for a hundred miles in all directions. It is easy to identify and I was getting excited as we approached. We easily found the turnoff for the trailhead and followed it southwest for a couple miles. My Trip Report produced by the Sierra Club Desert Peaks Section described this road as “poor”. I have to agree even though 4WD wasn’t required, high clearance was required. After passing a small radio repeater station on the left there is a wide parking area before the road heads north up the mountain towards the summit. The road definitely turns into 4WD above this parking area and it is steep and rocky. We didn’t push our luck too far and finally parked in a wide spot on the road at about 7,368 ft elevation. The road above looked pretty rough with huge rocks in the roadway. This wide spot was just wide enough to get off the road and it took us a little maneuvering to turn both trucks around and get them off the road.
After parking, we donned our hiking clothes and boots and started up the road. It was cold here and we both had an extra layer and gloves on. The route is not difficult to follow because it is a big dirt road all the way to the summit with no forks or alternate routes. Dean and I took our time and were soon shedding layers and getting into a rhythm. At about 8,000 ft the road was completely blocked by a dead snag that had fallen onto the road. A couple nice size boulders had come with the tree and we would have never been able to drive beyond this blockage. It didn’t block our hiking though and we were soon moving up higher on the mountain.
The trees up high are large old growth pines that are beautiful to see. Soon the steepness of the road moderated and we were traversing to the west across the face of the mountain. It is nice and scenic along this stretch and we started passing patches of snow and frozen puddles on the road. The only significant feature was that the road took a large dip towards the western end of the traverse. It is always discouraging to lose elevation when climbing a mountain. I think we measured this drop at 170 ft. Beyond this dip, the road took a couple of long uphill climbs with a switchback in the middle. These climbs were in direct sun and on a hot day it would be tough. Fortunately, it was still cool for us.
At about 9,000 ft the snow on the ground increased and it was soon more snow than road. Since the air temperature was still freezing, the snow was easy to walk on with no post holing. We continued up towards the summit and slowly but surely, the summit area came into view. When I saw the communication towers, I knew we were almost there. The summit had 2-3 ft of snow and it was cold and windy. We quickly put back on our layers that came off earlier and sought shelter on the lee side of one of the communication buildings. It had been a nice climb and we took some time and ate lunch. There are no views from the summit because it is so broad and forested. We took a few pictures and then headed down before hypothermia set in. Did I mention it was cold up there?
Dean set a wicked pace down from the summit and the snow was great to walk on. When we got lower on the mountain and the road bed started showing up again, we avoided it and walked on the snow wherever we could. About 1.5 miles from the summit and down to 9,000 ft in elevation, we stopped and took off the extra layers. It was already much warmer than the summit and the snow was all but gone. In fact the frozen puddles from earlier had melted and were clear water now. It was a pleasant hike back down to the trucks except for hiking back up that little hill.
The trucks were a welcome sight. Our hike covered 10.0 miles in 5.5 hours. With the ups and downs, the elevation gain was about 3,400 ft. If you parked further down the mountain, it would add mileage and elevation to these totals. After climbing Navajo Mountain, it was time for Dean to head north for home and I headed west. I still had a couple mountains on my list to break up the long drive back to Oregon.