Gavilan Peak

Gavilan Peak 2980′

Phoenix Area

Total Time: 1:30

Round Trip Mileage: 1.25

Elevation Gain: 1150′

Class III- IV (Class II variation on descent)

Trailhead: Undeveloped lot off 35th Ave in New River




Along my many journeys headed north on I-17, I have always been fascinated with Gavilan Peak. The mountain is almost volcanic in both isolation and mass, dominating over the small town of New River. Besides being a beautiful mountain, my fascination of this small summit extended beyond aesthetics. On the SE slopes of Gavilan sits an unassuming 112 acre ranch named Starflash Ranch, which in 1997, was the centerpiece of a raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms after owner Chuck Byers was found to be stockpiling a large quantity of explosive and chemicals, including materials to make grenades and booby traps. The site was occupied for a year and a half before the FDA deemed the site “safe.” This excitement was soon forgotten save for a handful of New River residents and swept into the dustbin of history until November 4, 2013, the night before my interview with Mayo Clinic. As I turned on the morning news and prepared for my interview that day, there was report of an explosion on Starflash Ranch that cost a “hiker” his lower leg while hiking near Gavilan (in reality, the man was not a hiker but trespassing on Starflash Ranch for an unknown reason). At the time, my first thought was “I could never live in a place where hikers need to worry about losing a leg while exploring!” Now here I was, 2 years later, living in Phoenix and planning an ascent of this peak. In truth, the area is quite safe, with locals climbing to the summit of Gavilan all the time. You can even rent out the ranch provided you stay away from “restricted areas.” Still, I wasn’t looking to take any extra chances, and planned to climb the west ridge, staying as far as possible from Starflash Ranch. With the help of Google Satellite and HikeAZ, I found an undeveloped lot for sale at the base of the west ridge and parked my car.

Parking area.
Parking area.

From this lot, I was pleased to find a solid use trail heading up that I would use intermittently all the way to the summit. It seems the West Ridge is the route of choice for locals as well. The thin trail was quite steep, made tougher by the light rain that had been falling off and on throughout the morning. I headed directly upslope towards some cliffs along the ridgeline, which the trail skirted to the north, heading up a fractured class II gully to regain the ridgeline.

The fractured gully.
The fractured gully.

The trail would occasionally disappear near some ledges or drainages, but it was easy to refind and soon I was above the steepest part of the gully and just below some rocks along the ridgeline proper. I stayed on the trail, traversing low until heading for the high saddle about 100′ below the summit.

Nearing the high saddle.
Nearing the high saddle.

Here the trail splits, one branch continuing to traverse along the north slopes below the summit cliffs to ultimately ascend via a northern ridge, or continuing along the west ridge up exposed class III rocks.

The base of the class III.
The base of the class III.

I headed up the rock face, and found surprisingly good climbing. While I felt the climbing never exceeded class III, there was some significant exposure which might make some consider this easy class IV. The rock was mostly solid, and the real obstacle was climbing around the various cacti clinging on to the mountainside. The enjoyable climb was shortlived, and I popped out on the summit, just 47 minutes from the car. Evidence of locals could be found all over the summit, with graffiti sadly covering most of the summit rocks (and maybe some petroglyphs?) and scattered beer cans.

Summit art. Not sure if some are petroglyphs?
Summit art. Not sure if some are petroglyphs?
Summit panorama.
Summit panorama. Daisy Mountain right of center.

I wandered over to the lower, east summit and looked down on Starflash Ranch, rather unimpressive from above. Sadly, it seemed like that ridgeline would be the easiest way to the summit.

The infamous Starflash Ranch.
The infamous Starflash Ranch.

After a short break, I decided to try following the use trail down the north side and traverse below the class III ridge. The trail was easy to follow and descended a steep drainage alongside the ridgeline rocks before traversing back to the saddle and meeting up with the main use-trail.

Traversing below the class III-IV.
Traversing below the class III-IV. You can see my car parked in the dirt cul-de-sac far below.

If someone was at all uncomfortable with exposure, that would certainly be the preferred route to the summit. From there I retraced my steps back down the class II gully and down the use-trail back to my car, all limbs intact.

Looking up from the car.
Looking up from the car.

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