For those seeking a backcountry climbing experience with big payoff, Baboquivari Peak may be just what the doctor ordered. This 7,734-foot peak, visible to the west from Tucson, is one the few in Arizona that requires technical climbing to summit. It also rewards climbers with a rare 360-degree summit view, as most Arizona peaks are obscured by heavy forest.
Though Baboquivari hosts all of the Grade VI climbs in Arizona, one need not climb A4 to enjoy the summit. The Southeast Arete (III 5.6) is the most popular route, with three-star climbing and breathtaking exposure. There are also two 'hikers' routes, one of which includes only about 80 feet of easy technical climbing on the famed 'Ladder Pitch'. Routes are accessed via Lion's Ledge.
While the climbs can be approached from the east or west, the western side of Baboquivari Peak lies on the Tohono O'odham Nation. The mountain is of immense cultural and religious importance to the native people, and should be treated with due respect.
Descending from the summit of 'Babo' can be notoriously epic. It is customary to bring a small gift to the summit to appease I'itoi. This, and some detailed beta, should help greatly with the descent.
For more information and a bit of interesting background on Baboquivari, see Bob Kerry's guide 'Backcountry Climbing in Southern Arizona.'
Caution should be exercised when visiting this area, due to human and drug trafficking.
Drive south on I-19 from Tucson, and exit Ajo Way (Hwy 86), heading west towards Robles Junction and Sells. Depending on your intended route and willingness to bushwack, make a decision to approach from east or west.
East:A four wheel drive or high clearance vehicle is recommended for this approach. Drive Hwy 86 west to Robles Junction and turn south on Hwy 286. Continue on for 29 miles, then take the first right after mp 16. Stay on this road for 2.7 miles, taking the first dirt road forking to the right. You will reach a sign and a gate at 6.5 miles. Park and continue through the gate on foot. After about a half mile, you will directed around the house and corrals to the trail up Thomas Canyon. This trail will put you on the saddle below Babo in two to three hours. Expect difficult route-finding.
West:Continue on Hwy 86 past Robles Junction to Sells. In Sells, take the 'business loop' and make a turn south toward the settlement of Topawa. Turn left at the sign for 'Baboquivari Park' and follow a good dirt road 10 miles to a fork. Go right. This will take you to Baboquivari Camp, which is operated and maintained by the Tohono O'odham nation.It is a great place have base camp. From camp, it is about two hours to the saddle, depending on party speed. The trail is well established and nearly impossible to lose.
East/West: From the saddle, it is another half hour to an hour hike to Lion's Ledge. Many parties drop packs and rack up at the saddle. It is also a nice place to bivy if you want to hike in the night before. Lion's Ledge is the large, heavily vegetated ledge running across most of the east and south faces, by which most routes are accessed.
An ascent of the Forbes Route is an outing not to be missed, earning three stars not for the technical climbing, but for the experience as a whole. The mountain will make you earn its summit; with a lengthy approach, unmarked trails, fickle weather by Southern Arizona standards, and virtually unprotected yet straightforward climbing, it defines the classic Arizona mountaineering experience. Hikers who know how to belay and rappel can ascend this route if accompanied by an experienced c...[more]Browse More Classics in AZ
The most important thing to know is how to pronounce the name Baboquivari. It's bad enough that you're traipsing around on O'odham creator I'itoi's sacred domain. To be making gringo mispronunciations within earshot of the Man himself isn't going improve your chances of making it back to the camp by nightfall. I believe the correct stress is on the KEE syllable. It is _Bab - oh - KEE - var - ee_, not _Bab - oh - kee - VAR - ee_. It's said like _den-of-thievery_, not like _bought-a-Ferrari_* or _shot o' Bacardi_.
I recently approached from the east and didn't have any of the problems listed up above. Although the dirt road after 286 is a bit rough, I believe its passable by a passenger car in good weather. Second, the trail from the ranch to the saddle is actually quite good. It follows the streambed for a ways, but eventually heads out of the drainage on the right, where it switchbacks up to the saddle. From the saddle to Lion's Ledge is a different story, but that's an adventure whether you approach from west or east...
the falcon guide has a lot of mistakes for the se arete. i wrote up a quick beta-page (www.electricant.net/beta/babo.htm) which should set the record straight for all you fellow backcountry guide-less brethren.
The Falcon guide descent beta sucks. If starting from the east it gives very little info on how to descend after the rappels. We did a lot of unnecessary rappelling and bushwacking. There had to be a better way. Oh well, it was an adventure.
East trail is easy to find. Descend the Forbes Route. When you reach the bottom of the Ladder pitch, move immediately north to the slabs through some bushes. Keep heading northerly on the slabs and you will come to the second rap point. After that rap, keep moving down and north to the chock stone and single line rap down that and follow the trail to the saddle. Kerry's beta on descending the Forbes route is spot on. Bring a light rack for the S E Arete route. You can get by with cams up to a # 3 Camalot. Enjoy yourself and have a great time.
Just did the west approach. Spent the night on the western saddle. At about 5:30/sunset, realized that a train of about 20 illegals were passing about 25 meters from our campsite. They saw us, we saw them, they continued on there way. The illegals don't scare me, however, the drug runners who use the same trails do. Beware. Personally I had my handgun with me because I had beta that about this certain threat before I went. Just be prepared and have a plan. Other than that, enjoy the fact that you are as close to the old west as you can get in a truly beautiful area.
Smuggling activities in this area are reportedly high as of 3/25/11. We ran into an armed border patrol unit Friday night at the east side trailhead, who advised us that there was a lot of activity recently with heavily armed smugglers, and told us we were crazy to be out there at night. We climbed the peak the next day and did indeed encounter many signs of (non-climber) traffic through the area. If you are headed out to Babo, be forewarned; it is dangerous.
Everytime I go to Babo, some border patrol guy tells us that it's full of "guerrillas and dopers" and to "watch your ass, guys". We should have asked the guy what he was doing down at the road harassing us while Babo was "full of guerrillas and dopers" (go get them!).
Lucky me, I've never seen any. Also, I have never seen any border patrol officer hiking the trails or "border-patrolling" up there. The immigrants are common, and the ones I've met (never in Babo) were fearful individuals who want to stay out of your business. However, I wonder what kind of evidence is there to suggest the frequent presence of "heavily armed drug runners" in the trails. Personally I think the border patrol doesn't like to have people walking around and watching them do their job. They have to justify their salary and the spending of all these tax dollars. And let's face it, they basically do a job that thrives on people's fears.
From what I have seen in the news in the past year (border patrol being infiltrated by numerous drug cartels [says a lot about their recruitment filters], and the killings in Arivaca) I think Babo's trails are actually pretty safe. I like the idea of the wild west and places with a "frontier feeling", but I don't like the idea of you guys (the 'pmg' individual) feeling paranoid and carrying handguns up there. You mean you are going to engage the drug cartels? Someone will sooner or later pop a cap onto some poor climber that stumbles into a campsite after dark...
I respect your opinions Aleix, but who said anything about carrying handguns and engaging cartels? I'm only trying to keep climbers informed so they can make their own decision.
I can't speak on the border patrol's motives for what they say, I'm just reporting our experience. Illegal immigrants don't scare me and I'm sure they want trouble less than I do. On the other hand, I don't doubt that most smugglers (human or drug) are well armed, and I have personally seen US Border Patrol up trail at Babo. If you want to risk stumbling between them in the dark, that's your choice. I'm only trying to keep climbers informed so they can make their own decision.
True, I was referring to the posting before yours (about the handgun). My posting was vague as to who I was adressing (my apologies) and I added a reference to the author of the post before yours. As for the rest, I do agree with your efforts to keep climbers informed about the fact that Babo's area is not the same human environment as climbing destinations further north, even if our views may differ on the risk level.
Just got back from Babo March 11, 2012. No problem with encountering unlawful folks. We got there before daylight, and left after dark. I don't feel it is unsafe at all, as long as you are just doing Babo. I have been there five times over several years so have some experience when stating this. Border Patrol out in force with checkpoint on the highway about 15 mi south of Three Points junction. The saddle is scorched by a recent fire. The climb really is more like 5.7+ or 5.8 in one or two spots. East trail easy to find, though the upper portion is fire ravaged and in poor condition compared to 2009. You can use just one 60m rope to rap the Forbes Route. Make sure to have a wonderful drink from the spring on Lion's Ledge, a wonderful elixer of life. Babo is special, so please treat it as such.
A permit from the Tohono O'odham Nation is necessary when approaching Baboquivari Peak from the west. This can be obtained in advance by calling the Baboquivari District Office at 520-383-2366. Alternatively, you can obtain a permit in person during weekday business hours at the Baboquivari District Office (at the intersection of Indian Route 19 and Baboquivari Mountain Road, on the way to the climb) or from the caretaker at Baboquivari Park, where you start the hike.
Posts around the web quote various prices for the permit, but the one I obtained in May 2013 was free. The permit actually states that "you shall not be charged for hiking/camping" on it. Perhaps this was different in the past.
Forbes Descent Information: For those climbing routes on the SW face, finding the Forbes route for descent can be difficult and potentially hazardous as there are many hanging gulleys with huge drop offs. These directions should help: 1. From the summit, find the observatory on Mt Kitt to the north. Head about 30 degrees to the right and after 100-200 ft., you will find a broad ramp that slants down and to your left. 2. Follow the ramp down about 100 ft, and find a narrow trail that runs right alongside the cliff on your left. The trail is fairly flat initially, then increases in angle for another 100 ft until you are forced to turn right and head down further. 3. After heading down and right for about 75 feet, you will encounter a large block that you will have to pass on the right. We think passing this block is the “10 ft of 5.5 climbing” described in the Forbes route description. 4. Now turn right and scramble/ bushwack your way along a ramp for another 100+ feet. The ramp narrows and steepens and as it becomes more exposed, you will find a pair of new rap anchors. The Forbes route description speaks of slings around a tree at this location, but it appears that this has been replaced by bolts. 5. A 30M rappel from the bolts lands you on another left-sloping ramp that eventually delivers you on to the large sheet of rock that comprises the lower section of the great ledge. After the rappel, be careful to not stray too far to the right as you head down the ramp; doing so will likely deliver you somewhere else besides the great ledge. 6. Caution: There are two places where uncertainty during a night descent can potentially kill you. If you take a right turn down the natural drainage rather than hug the cliff at step #2, or fail to bear right at step #4 and continue down the natural drainage, both will leave you at huge drops of 100+ feet. As of Jan 2014, both had rappel slings tied around a trees at the cliffs’ edge which may lead you to think this is the slung tree described in the Forbes descent. We are not sure whether two 60M ropes will reach the next ramp, however, there is no way you can reach ground with a single 60M rope.