East End

East End 4067′

McDowell Mountains

Total Time: 3 hours

Round Trip Mileage: 6.0

Elevation Gain: 2150′

Class II

Trailhead: Tom’s Thumb TH, water, bathrooms, trash

Companions: Holly, Mark Sugi




The McDowell Mountains above Scottsdale are somewhat of an anomaly to Arizona, a fairly young range with plenty of granite and some of the best. most accessible rock climbing in the state. The highest point in the range, East End, is mostly hidden by many of the more prominent landmarks when viewed from Scottsdale, such as Thompson Peak and Tom’s Thumb. Although the summit is hidden from the west, it offers outstanding views to the Tonto National Forest to the east and Fountain Hills. The three of us set out in the midafternoon, hoping to time sunset around Tom’s Thumb. The trailhead is incredibly well maintained, with new bathroom facilities and a sun shelter.

New Trailhead facilities.
New Trailhead facilities.

After a short flat section, we quickly started climbing, switchbacking up the northern slopes of East End. The views of the valley continued to improve, with random rock features scattered across the valley to the northeast.

Views towards the TH.
Views towards the TH, Pinnacle Peak in the distance.

After about 1000′ of elevation gain, the trail leveled off at a high saddle on the north side of East End. I had told everyone that I had planned to tag the summit before Tom’s Thumb, and Mark was in for the side trip. It looked like there was a use trail leading up to some boulders above, with the route beyond unclear. I figured it would probably go, so we headed up the steep slopes towards (what we thought) was the summit. The lower slopes were pretty tame, weaving in and out of brush with the occasional loose section. But, when we hit the boulders, it quickly became clear that there would not be a simple way up.

Reaching the base of the boulders, Tom's Thumb across the valley.
Reaching the base of the boulders, Tom’s Thumb across the valley.

The terrain quickly turned to consistent class III with a splash of Sonoran Desert brush to keep things painful. Faced with solid move after solid move on gritty rock, I started to think this would be both the first, and last time I would hike with Mark. I finally found a decent ramp that would bring us to the top of the rocks, and thought our troubles were over.

Mark grows tired of brush and sketchy scrambling.
Mark grows tired of brush and sketchy scrambling.

However, when I popped out on top of the higher boulders, I found myself on a false summit, with the true summit on the other side of a high saddle with an easy use trail to the top.We were now stuck on top of a huge boulder pile, with a sketchy, brushy downclimb to the saddle. The last bit off the pile of rock was a leap of faith into some locust brush, any my guilt continued to grow. From there, it was smooth sailing, with a 5 minute steep hike to the summit. We signed the summit register, and Mark took out his camera to grab some photos of Fountain Valley and Tonto National Forest to the east.

Summit Panorama.
Summit Panorama.
Fountain Valley area.
Fountain Valley area.
Zoom to Tom's Thumb.
Zoom to Tom’s Thumb.

After getting our fill of photos we headed down to meet back up with Holly via an easy use trail that was clearly the route of choice for anyone looking to replicate our adventure. The trail met at a second saddle at a signed trail junction. Reunited with Holly, we continued on the ridge towards Tom’s Thumb, crossing a pseudo-valley to gain the ridgeline. The official trail ended with a branch towards “Lookout Point,” but we followed an easy to follow climbers trail along the ridgeline the remaining distance to the base of the Thumb.

Base of Tom's Thumb.
Base of Tom’s Thumb.

Tom’s Thumb is a 140′ plug of solid desert granite and offers dozens of climbing routes, the easiest rated at 5.2 (West Corner). Originally called “The Dork,” it was renamed for a well known local climber, Tom Kreuser. We broke out some beers for sunset while Mark ran around trying to find the best lighting and angles. While I don’t claim to be as skilled or dedicated a photographer as Mark, I played with the setting sun and some filters on my own camera, and got some pretty cool shots of my own.

Dramatic filter.
Dramatic filter.

From the base, Tom’s Thumb did not seem climbable to novices. Once I finished my beer, I circled the Thumb, looking for the easier West Corner route I had read about. After traversing almost entirely around to the opposite side, I found the route, which looked actually quite doable, even possible to relatively safely climb free.

West corner on the right side, rated 5.2.
West corner on the right side, rated 5.2.

I decided to come back with ropes in the future as a good route to practice some easier lead climbing. Once the sun dipped below the horizon, we headed out, trying to beat the waning light. It took about an hour to get back to the car, getting there just in time to not need flashlights.

Desert twilight.
Desert twilight.

2 Comments

    • Christopher Czaplicki Reply

      Thanks, hard to mess up sunset in the desert!

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