I live in the Phoenix metropolitan area, ringed by numerous mountain ranges and many smaller hills and peaks. Over the years I have climbed most of the worthy peaks, but never Sierra Estrella. The Estrellas are the big rugged range southeast of Phoenix, with the mean-looking profile. Very few people climb the highpoint of this range, as I would soon discover why.
I was one of five people who gave the peak a go in January 2007. The author of the main page, streeyyr, was one of the five. We followed a route that approached the summit directly, but with a very steep angle. We encountered steep bits that morphed into class-3/4 scrambling that morphed into cliffs, and after about the 5th such band, I called it a day, realizing I was probably in over my head on this route and would probably not be coming down until after dark. Since I live nearby, I figured if another opportunity came along, I could try again. I tabled future attempts of Estrella for the time being.
Summit and Ridge
Getting there is half the battle...
One reason so few people climb this peak is its primitive road net. On the northeast facing slopes (i.e. facing Phoenix), the Gila River and the Gila River Indian Reservation block all road access. The only feasible road access is from the southwest via Rainbow Valley and a series of remote section-line roads. Please see the "Directions to the TH" I made for this page. The ones stated on the main page are not helpful as many roads shown on the maps do not exist, and vice versa.
While technically the peak is on the Gila River Indian Reservation, they do not patrol the west side and you will not encounter any prohibitive signage along the way.
Ridge we followed to get to the main range crest
Vindication & Redemption...
On our first try in 2007 I felt there had to be a better route. Looking south one could see some ridges that looked reasonably friendly, and I wondered why we didn't try one of those. So in November 2009, I and three friends organized to climb this peak again, from a ridge south of the one we tried in 2007. SP member goat14er went this way on his summit and reported it was steep but non-technical.
Final bit to the top.
We started our hike early in the morning and worked our way past desert flats and arroyos to a saddle at the base of this ridge. The ridge itself proved to be steep, brushy, prickly, loose and relentless, but it was nothing more than class-2 all the way up to the range crest, near a sub-peak of elevation 3,660 feet.
From this sub-peak we could see the summit and the ridge walk we'd need to take to get to the top. The traverses were slow and brushy; it may be best just to stay high all the way and deal with the gains and drops. Overall, the route is not bad, but always very brushy.
Panorama looking south
I started to get some cramps in my legs on the final bit toward the top, which slowed me considerably. After topping out, the hike back to the cars was a very painful affair for me - my cramps had morphed into spasms and some charley horses. I was evidently dehydrated. I drank and ate but nothing really worked. But I had made the top and it felt great to finally bag this big peak I see every day of my life!
For a full trip report, see Sierra Estrella (Nov 21, 2009) at www.surgent.net
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