Old Smokey Mountain P500 RS
Peak 4,220ft P300
Summit Peak
Peak 4,380ft

Mon, Dec 12, 2022
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


Day five in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge had me driving in on Kofa Queen Road for an outing to Old Smokey Mountain, about three miles southeast of Signal Mtn, the highpoint of the Kofa Mountains. Old Smokey appears in Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles. The area has a large collection of fantastical summits, pinnacles and towers, many of which are class 5 by the easiest route. Most impressive are Squaw Peak and Summit Peak South, two of the best-looking desert peaks to be found in the state. I had planned an out and back outing, but after arriving at Old Smokey, decided to try traversing to Ten Ewe Mtn. I didn't make it to Ten Ewe, but I visited a few other summits and had quite the adventure trying to traverse the complicated ridgeline.

Kofa Queen Rd is in good shape for the first five miles or so, then becomes progressively worse as it works its way up the rocky wash in Kofa Queen Canyon. I parked near the junction with Summit Canyon and started from there shortly before 7:30a. I hiked up Summit Canyon Wash while the sun began to light up the surrounding peaks. Where the wash turns southwest, I climbed out of the drainage, over a low saddle to the next drainage to the east. I then headed due south for more than a mile, Old Smokey found at the head of the canyon in that direction. I used a combination of sidehilling and walking directly in the wash to reach the base of the peak. A mundane climb up the North Slope followed, steep and somewhat loose. The final 20ft goes class 3 on a thin edge with big air off the south side. It was just after 9a when I reached the summit. Squaw Peak rises impressively to the east only a mile away. Unfortunately, the view was marred by the early morning sun behind it. The huge King Valley spreads out to the south and across to the Castle Dome Mtns. Two miles to the west is Summit Peak South, ranked at #10 on LoJ's list of the steepest summits in the US. Barbara Lilley and Royt Magnuson left a busy register in 1982 attesting to Old Smokey's moderate popularity. An entry by AZB mentioned traversing the ridge from Summit Peak, about 2/3 of the way to Ten Ewe Mtn. Could I make it to Ten Ewe following the ridge? Seemed worth a try, and I had most of the day remaining.

What ensued was a very adventurous ridge traverse that I would spend most of the next four hours pursuing, roughly following the crest of the range while bypassing various class 5 features in the way. Peak 4,220ft is about a mile and a quarter to the northwest, the easiest segment that would take about an hour. Gordon and Barbara left a register here in 1995, noting that the point 1/4mi to the SW is higher, which I readily agreed with - the topo map is simply wrong on this. The higher point is surrounded on all sides by huge cliffs and is probably over 5.9. Regardless, I wouldn't be climbing it today, and happily bypassed it on a sheep trail on the north side.

Summit Peak is about a mile to the WSW, lower than Summit Peak South, for which the contours are completely missing on the topo map - a big error considering it has 600ft of prominence. The lower north summit would be my next goal. I knew from views I had earlier that I would need to ascend a steep gully on the north side of the feature, but which one? I looked at the leftmost one which probably would have worked, but at the last second chose to take a narrow gully just to the right. This turned out to be a brushy class 4 affair, very adventurous but probably completely unnecessary. It merged with the leftmost gully at a saddle on the SE side of the summit where the topo maps has a spot elevation of 4,222ft. Easy class 2-3 then goes up to a false summit where one is confronted with a huge gap, much like the one I encountered the previous day. At first I was thinking I came up the wrong gully, as the one descending from the gap looked to go all the way to the bottom on the north side. Looking around, I found that I could descend a short distance on the south side, then climb back up to the north. A convenient class 2 ramp then goes up to the higher west summit. A pretty cool peak, but sadly, no register (and none with me to leave). I got even more impressive views of Summit Peak South, now only about 1/4mi to the south. LoJ has it rated 5.8, A3, from a 1972 article in Summit Magazine. Way above my grade.

I decided to try the direct gully (rightmost) down from the notch. This was choked with brush that I mostly went over without touching much ground, clutching branches to control my descent. It would have been awful if I had to go back up through all that heavy brush. At the bottom was a class 3-4 rocky drop with a tree to keep things interesting. Once executed, I was off the hard part of Summit Peak and on my way to Peak 4,380ft. There was more hard work making my way around obstacles on the ridge, but eventually made my way to the summit an hour after leaving Summit Peak. No register here.

My last goal, Ten Ewe Mtn, was now less than half a mile to the northwest, and seemed like it might be in reach. The descent to the saddle with Peak 4,380ft had some fortuitous gullies and ledges that led almost directly down to the saddle, all class 2. It was at the saddle that my luck ran out. The south and east sides of Ten Ewe are towering cliffs hundreds of feet high. The east side is the most featured, but after studying it for several minutes, there was nothing that would go as a scramble route. I could descend the south side of the ridge to get around to the west side of Ten Ewe, but this was far from trivial and I didn't have any idea what I'd find there (the standard route up Ten Ewe goes up the NW side). I decided to cut my losses and simply head back rather than spend a few hours on a fruitless exercise.

The descent down Ten Ewe Canyon would take me another hour and a half, a mix of brush and steep slopes in the upper half of the descent, eventually getting better in the lower half. There was one constriction in the canyon that narrowed to a 20-foot dryfall, but there was a nice way down to keep me from having to climb back up and into an adjacent drainage. I picked up the Kofa Queen Rd for the last mile of walking back to the Jeep, finishing up after 2:30p.

It had started off the morning with blue skies, but had become increasingly overcast as the day wore on, and by the time I had finished it had become quite chilly, around 45F. It looked like it might start raining at any time, so I decided to call it a day, showering where I'd parked before driving back out to the highway and then on to Quartzite to resupply and meet up with Eric who was driving out from New Mexico. It would rain some in the evening, but not enough to do more than make things wet. More fun tomorrow as we drive back up Kofa Queen Canyon...


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