Barry Goldwater Peak

Barry Goldwater Peak

Total Time: 6 hours

Roundtrip Mileage: 13.3

Elevation Gain: 3500′

Crux: Class I

Trailhead: Goat Camp Trail, $6 entry. Full services.




The White Tank Mountains form the western boundary of Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun, with the McDowells and Superstitions to the east, the Sierra Estrellas and Hayes Peak to the south, and the New River Mountains to the north. Of those various ranges, the White Tanks were the last that I had yet to visit. The highpoint of the range, Barry Goldwater Peak, is an Arizona P2K peak, and would be my 22nd of the list I was slowly chipping away at. Barry Goldwater Peak is named for the famous Arizona Senator whose name is also attached to buildings, high schools, parks, and various other landmarks and features across the state. As an interesting aside, his name is also tied to the Goldwater rule, an informal guideline from the American Psychological Association stating that mental health professionals should not give a professional opinion about any political figure after Barry Goldwater sued Ralph Ginzberg for libel for publishing an article polling psychologists on the mental state of the then presidential candidate. This rule has been challenged recently given the current occupant of the White House…. Regardless of the politics behind the summit name, I set out early on a Friday morning for White Tank Mountains Regional Park and reached the trailhead 45 minutes from home, with Barry Goldwater Peak is hidden from view by the slightly shorter Telecommunications Peak nearby. I parked at the trailhead for Goat Camp Trail and set off, hoping to get as much mileage behind me before the temps rose into the 90s.

Starting out along Goat Camp Trail.

The trail starts out in an irregular wash, weaving over small ribs and around boulders up canyon. After about 1 mile from the start, the trail finally began to gain some real elevation, ascending the north slopes of the canyon beneath a small cliff band to a notch, gaining the upper drainage. At the notch, Telecommunications Peak dominated the view, with the summit towers of Barry Goldwater faintly visible in the distance. I was staring up at the peaks above in oblivion of my surroundings, and almost stepped directly on a rattlesnake, which gave a not so friendly rattle just before my foot came down next to his head. I jumped back in surprise, only my third rattler in two years since moving to Arizona, the most recent being my climb of Saddle Mountain the month prior.

Climbing into the upper drainage.
The upper drainage.
Rattlesnake making his escape.

It slithered into the bushes before I could snag a good picture, then I continued along the trail, now hyper vigilant of any lizard that moved across the trail. The trail continued to more or less follow the course of the canyon with the occasional switchback along the slopes for about another mile from the notch before hooking west and across the eastern ridgeline of Telecommunications Peak. I had considered tagging that summit first (although it was strictly forbidden), but decided I would just head directly to Barry Goldwater before the sun got too hot, then decide from there. The trail continued another 1-2 miles to the north staying fairly level as it traversed a number of small ridgelines and drainages, crossing over the main drainage off the saddle between Telecommunications Peak and Barry Goldwater before stopping at the next ridgeline.

More even trail below Telecom Peak.

Just as I crossed over the next ridgeline I found a very old 4×4 track heading up the ridge towards the road that goes to Goldwater’s summit. I was a bit unsure of the legality of the route- while offtrail hiking was prohibited in the park, this was actually an old track and there were no signs to indicate one way or the other. I know that Telecommunications Peak was off limits, but I had no clue if those same rules held for Barry Goldwater.

Ridgeline turnoff.

After a short break at the junction I started up the ridgeline, the trail a bit brushy but overall easy to follow. Traversing a series of bumps and false summits, the use trail hit the road marked by a series of cairns. Now on the road, I had my work cut out for me, nothing but steep, hot and dusty switchbacks on littered fire road to the summit- not exactly my kind of peakbagging. It took about another 30 minutes of hiking the road to reach the summit, arriving just before 11AM, taking under 3 hours from the trailhead. I found a patch of shade behind some towers and had lunch. The views were extremely hazy and I could barely make out Harquahala to the west. The best views were to the south across the range with the Sierra Estrellas and Hayes Peak in the distance. I signed into the summit register tucked underneath some of the rocks and was not surprised to find it had been placed by Barbara Lilley in the 80s, a name I’ve seen in almost every summit register in the west.

View southwest.
View northwest.
First page of the register.
Summit panorama.
View southeast.

As I started to head off the summit, I spied a truck making his way up the road to Telecommunications Peak, effectively ending any plans to tag the second summit. I doubted the workers would actually care if a hiker went to the summit, but I really wasn’t looking for the inevitable confrontation for an overdeveloped summit. So I simply headed down the road and turned off onto the old track back the way I came, reaching the Goat Camp Trail in under an hour from the summit. The temperature had rose considerably since the nice 70s from the morning, now in the mid 90s and climbing. Even with minimal uphill on the return hike, I had to pause several times in what scraps of shade I could find, ultimately drinking about 1 gallon of water for the day.

One of the few shady spots on the descent.

The extra breaks and slower pace in the heat meant that it took me about the same amount of time to descend as it did to ascend, reaching the car at about 2PM, taking 6 hours to hike the 13 miles plus breaks. I cranked the AC as I drove out of the park, happy to cross another P2K off the list.

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