Sierra Estrella Highpoint, Part 1: Desert Mountain Happiness

After my hike through Sycamore Canyon, I was ready to do a bit of highpointing. I spent some time browsing and settled on tagging the summit of the Sierra Estrella mountains. Visible from throughout Phoenix, the Sierra Estrellas are a northwest-southeast trending range between Avondale and Maricopa.

To reach the beginning of the hike I had to drive all the way round to the southern flanks of the mountains. The roads weren’t in really good shape but the going wasn’t too bad (follow the directions on not your GPS…) Although it sounded like I could drive right up to the base of the mountains, I reached a wash with deep sand about 4 ½ miles from where I expected to start my hike. The van was definitely not capable of this and I knew it was as far as I could drive. I pondered the situation for a minute and decided that it was a lot of extra hiking but it was flat and along a road so I shouldered my pack and headed out.

For a long time, it seemed like the mountains just wouldn’t get any closer. Finally, I reached the powerlines that I’d hoped to begin my hike from. I headed up into the basin hopping along big boulders in the wash. As directed by my beta, I headed up the rightmost drainage to attain the ridge. It was a pretty stiff climb but it was a lot of fun with picking a route and scrambling up boulders.

On the ridge, I got a good look at the summit (with the radio towers). What really attracted my attention was the summit on the left: Peak 4232. I decided that I had plenty of daylight, water, food, and energy to add it to the plan for the day and set off for the Sierra Estrella summit (4,512′) with new energy. The whole ridge hike, I kept my eye on the drainage coming down from the saddle between the two peaks to determine if it was passable as it would be a much quicker descent route.

From Sierra Estrella HP, I had great views north towards Phoenix and south towards Rainbow Valley and the Maricopa Mountains. It was hard to believe that four million people were just to my north. I’d worked hard to get to that perch and was feeling pretty relaxed and pleased with myself and dreaming about future hikes. More than nine miles in, my legs felt good and I was starting to mark this down as one of my Best Hikes Ever.

Down at the saddle between my two objectives, I tried to figure out my route up Peak 4232. It was a fun assent with some 4th (perhaps low 5th) class moves. I was confident and moved quickly up the north side of the peak. Peaks like this with just a couple of easy but heady moves are my favorite (Thielson was another).

There was one move that I didn’t really want to down climb so I checked out a descent from the south side of the mountain. I scrambled around and reached a point where I thought I could make the move. I thought about it. And then I thought about it some more. This mountain was definitely not worth dying on so I headed back up to the summit a little unnerved that I would have even considered doing something that dangerous.

More on the hike tomorrow!

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