Blue Peak Lookout
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
Total Time: 1:20
Roundtrip Mileage: 3.0
Elevation Gain: 650′
Trailhead: Blue Peak Lookout Trail
Greenlee County is a small sliver of land in far Eastern Arizona bordering New Mexico, and is AZ’s second smallest county after Santa Cruz County in the south. The county is one of harsh contrasts- the south is dominated by the Morenci mine, one of the largest copper mines in the world, the north by rolling hills and the rugged Blue Mountains. After a climb of Escudilla in the early morning, I planned to tag the Greenlee County HP and Blue Peak, hoping to continue south and tag Guthrie Peak on the way home. Chasing county highpoints is a dubious endeavor at best. Most county lines are drawn fairly arbitrarily, and the highpoint of Greenlee County, arguably Arizona’s easiest, is a short 1/4 mile bushwack off Rte 191. My interest in nearby Blue Peak was somewhat dubious as well- it falls on the Arizona 20/20 list, a list of the 20 highest summits and 20 deepest canyons in the state. Yet the list itself imposes a number of arbitrary rules, excluding any summits without a trail to the top or that are too difficult to get to, ignoring worthy summits such as Sitgreaves near Flagstaff or Roof Butte and Pastora in the northeastern part of the state. Even multiple summits near Mount Baldy with trail to the top were ignored. I contemplated these facts as I drove south along Route 191 in this remote part of the state, eyeing the thunderheads already building at 9AM. It took about 45 minutes to reach a pulloff near the Greenlee CoHP from Escudilla, and I parked and started uphill aiming for the highest ground. There was a good amount of brush and even some ferns in this wet region of the state. There was a pile of rocks at the highpoint with a small summit register tucked in.
The summit seemed to get a handful of people/ month, and had actually already had someone that morning! I dropped back down to my car and drove another few miles south to the Blue Peak Lookout trailhead. It was about 4-5 miles of dirt road leaving the 191, and was the worst road I had to deal with on the trip. It was by no means horrible and a passenger car could probably manage it with a good deal of patience, but still slow as I rushed to beat the afternoon storms. The sky was growing more ominous and I was having a hard time remembering if the hike was 3 miles roundtrip, or 3 miles one-way, a big difference when you’re trying to outhike a thunderstorm at over 9,000′. The entire prospect was made all the more ridiculous by the fact that I was chasing this summit and racing a storm due to it’s inclusion on an arbitrary list. Such is the life of a peakbagger…. I reached the trailhead at about 11:30AM under almost solid cloud cover and wasted no time heading up the trail. The Blue Mountains were the last primitive area designated in the US in the 1930s. Managed the same as a Wilderness Area, the range has minimal roads and trails and home to a small population of Mexican Wolves, reintroduced to the area in 1998. I was more focused on the weather than wildlife sightings as I followed the trail as it traversed several false summits below the Lookout.
I was moving fast and soon reached the saddle just below the summit- it was clearly 3 miles roundtrip, not each way. Unfortunately, the section below the summit entered a burn area, and the remote peak had not seen any trailwork, with fallen logs littered across the trail every 20-30 yards, and a good deal of thorns growing back over the trail. The upside was much of the thorns were wild Raspberries. I hadn’t noticed any raspberries since hiking Miller Peak almost 2 years prior, and it was nice to pluck them off the bushes as I went along. I reached the first and only switchback as it nearly crested the summit ridge and started to slow down for the first time since starting, with pockets of blue sky breaking through the clouds. By the time I reached the summit, the clouds had rolled into New Mexico and I had sunny skies above, taking me a little over 30 minutes from the trailhead. After checking the empty summit register (aside from 100s of ladybugs), I climbed up into the fire lookout, in much worse shape than the one on Escudilla, but only a few stories up. The rain and lightning had started a few ranges away in New Mexico and despite the sun above, some larger cumulonimbus clouds were building, looking more and more threatening.
I was holding out hope to climb Guthrie Peak further south in the afternoon, so I headed down towards the trailhead, moving at a much more leisurely pace compared to the ascent. The rain held the rest of the hike, and I even drove the length of Route 191 to Morenci Mine without any precipitation. But as I reached the small town of Clifton, I could see huge storms forming in every direction, one of which was moving directly towards Guthrie. It would have to wait for another day. It seemed like I was outpacing the storms all the way until Globe when I hit torrential rains that lasted until I cleared the Superstitions, with sun above Phoenix as I made my way home.