Swansea Wilderness HP P300
Peak 2,180ft P500
Peak 2,008ft P300
East Cactus Plain Wilderness HP
Cactus Plain WSA HP

Nov 30, 2023

With: Eric Smith

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profile


I had noted that Eric was fond of Wilderness HPs and Wilderness peaks in general, so today was designed to get us a few of these HPs without too much effort. Today's main feature was a visit to the Swansea Wilderness HP which would involve some Jeep driving and about 6mi of hiking in a tame portion of the Buckskin Mountains. Afterwards we would hit up some easier summits to keep us busy for the rest of the day.

Swansea Wilderness HP

This 16,400 acre Wilderness lies across both sides of the Bill Williams River and two Arizona counties, Mohave and Yuma. There have been only a few ascents recorded on LoJ and PB, and a single GPX track on PB posted by Matthias Stender. There were no directions on getting to the starting point which proved rather tricky, but with the aid of the satellite view we were able to cobble together a driving route that worked out. It took us east of Swansea Mine Rd, past the defunct mining town of Swansea, now a popular destination for off-roaders. Beyond Swansea, high-clearance is definitely needed, maybe 4WD for sandy conditions in places. The approach from the southern edge of the Wilderness makes use of an old Jeep track for the first mile of hiking, covering almost a third of the distance to the summit. The terrain in this Wilderness is mostly low, rounded hills with class 1-2 cross-country travel. We made an effort to use Mattias' track for the ascent, following the old road up and over a low saddle. It appears to have serviced several prospects in the area, none of which seemed to have panned out. Once the road drops into the sandy wash on the northwest side of the saddle, it all but disappears, but the wash is easy to follow downstream. We left the wash to work our way east and northeast as Matthias had done, up and over several ridgelines to cross a couple of other drainages until we were almost due south of the summit. We then followed a ridge up towards the summit, short-cutting its meandering line near the summit by crossing a last drainage to get to the top more directly. We took a bit over two hours in reaching the summit. The register we found was placed by John Vitz in 2013, the other entries pretty much matching those recorded online. We had a long break at the summit under overcast skies, but no threatening weather - really just delightful hiking conditions today. On the return, we took a much more straightforward route, returning to the main wash by following the peak's SW Ridge all the way down. This eliminated the unnecessary ups and downs of the ascent route and worked out to be about the same distance, too. We were back almost exactly four hours after starting out.

Peak 2,180ft

We drove back out to Swansea, then a short distance west on Swansea Mine Rd, stopping for this minor summit on the southwest side of the old mining town. The half mile ascent starts up a rocky gully, then traversing around a lower intermediate point, over a false summit and onto the highpoint in about 30min. MacLeod & Lilley had left a register here in 2006, no one signing it until our arrival. After adding our names to it, we returned the same way.

Peak 2,008ft

We next headed towards the East Cactus Plain Wilderness HP, stopping on the way to tag this minor summit on the Wilderness's eastern edge. High-clearance is needed to drive the rough road on the south side of the summit. A spur road gets one closer, right to the base of the peak. We had some cholla to dodge on our way to the summit via the SE Ridge, taking about 20min for the short hike to the top. Barbara Lilley had been to this one in 2014 (MacLeod had stopped climbing by this time), leaving another register where we got to add the second entry. Both Planet Peak and Swansea Peak that we'd climbed the previous day could be seen to the north. The vast Cactus Plain stretches out to the west and south.

East Cactus Plain Wilderness HP

This is about as easy as a WHP can get. There is a powerline road running along the NE boundary of the East Cactus Plain Wilderness. A small summit forms the highpoint just inside the same boundary. A spur road runs up the east side of the hill to service a transmission tower perched on the edge of the summit. The hike from the tower to the summit takes all of two minutes. Vitz had left a register here in 2013, the day before he'd left the one on the Swansea WHP. Andy Martin visited in 2016 and Matthias Stender in 2022.

Cactus Plain WSA HP

This one is rather disappointing, as there's no obvious highpoint like the previous one. As the name suggests, it's basically a flat plain with elevations that vary by only 5-6ft. LoJ identifies a point near the Hayden-Rhodes Aqueduct that runs along the eastern boundary and separates this study area from the established East Cactus Plain Wilderness. At first look, it appears to be a 2-3mi walk from Swansea Mine Rd because the aqueduct road is gated off to the public. But as we came to find, there's a sandy, unsigned road along the west side of the aqueduct that we used to drive nearly to the highpoint. High-clearance and 4WD recommended. We went to the point marked on LoJ and immediately noted a point to the west that was obviously higher. We walked out to that point but still had no real idea if this was the true highpoint. We checked out another contender to the northeast and called it good. There's no place to leave a register as there's no rocks, just sand, grass and cactus all around. The lighting in the late afternoon made the outing worthwhile, however, and we lingered about to take in the sunset there before calling it a day.

Afterwards, we drove back to Swansea Mine Rd, and then to a campsite on the south side of the Gibraltar Wilderness where we planned to hike the next day. Once again, we found a nice wash with plentiful firewood for a fine campfire that night...


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