Elephant Head; Phoenix/Tucson, AZ

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Phoenix/Tucson

Elephant Head

  • Elevation: 5,607 feet

  • Route: West Gully (5.6 R, 1,000 feet)

  • Drive: 2 hours, 20 minutes (Phoenix)/45 minutes (Tucson)

Head south of Tucson and Elephant Head is bound to catch your eye as it forms the abrupt west end of the Santa Rita Mountains, rising 2,000 feet above the desert floor. The West Gully, the easiest technical route to the summit, is a desert mountaineering romp to an incredible viewpoint. Make a day of it in the spring or fall, and avoid the peak desert heat in the summer.

CLIMB IT: Follow the easiest line up the gully for 5 to 8 pitches on granite, passing through a notch near the top. Be prepared to run it out on easy terrain. At the summit, check out the “Elephant Shrine,” a collection of miniature elephants left by hikers and climbers.

BACKPACKER RECOMMENDS: Ascend the tricky class three terrain of Elephant Head’s East Ridge route, the standard descent for the West Gully, to views of the rugged, dry ranges of the Santa Rita and Baboquivari mountain ranges.

GET THERE: From Tucson, drive south on I-19 to the Canoa Road exit, turning south onto the frontage road on the east side of the freeway. Drive 3 miles and turn left on Elephant Head Road. Follow it as it changes to Canoa Road, and turn right onto Hawk Way. After 1.5 miles of dirt road (high-clearance vehicle recommended), take the left fork in the road. After 0.4 miles, turn right and head down into a wash. Follow the road through two more gates to the base of the west face of Elephant Head. Hike up slabs on the west face and rope up when necessary.

BETA:Backcountry Rockclimbing in Southern Arizona, by Bob Kerry (out of print), is viewable at climbaz.com.