The morning light shined through the windows as Kari and I stirred in our sleeping bags in the back of the van. There were no signs of life from Sam and Sri in the tent outside, and after the long drive the night before, no one seemed to be in the mood to get going. I sat up and looked to the west to see a massive beast staring back at me. Baboquivari is an iconic feature in Southern Arizona, and it has a lot of history for the Tohono O’odam people. They believed that their creator, I’itoi, lives in a cave beneath the mountain and that this place was the origin of all people in the world after the Great Flood.
The beastly intimidating mountain had been on my radar for some time and despite my laziness to get moving, I was eager to take on this awesome backcountry climb. We finally peeled ourselves from our sleeping bags, got ready for the day. Cooking breakfast and going through the gear was the normal ritual as we got ready to roll. We took a short creek-covered drive to a metal gate that marked where the adventure began.
We let out on the dirt road headed towards the saddle on the north side of Baboquivari. We approached an old house that looked decently maintained, which marked the end of the dirt road and the start of the single track. We pressed on, following the sparse trail until it disappeared. We backtracked slightly, found a cairn and continued to hop back and forth across a creek headed upstream. The bushwhack became hardy. On the edges of the creek awaited catclaw and for Sam and myself, who chose to wear shorts, we were in for some “fun”! We pressed on, reading the land and picking up a sporadic trail, until finally we finally reached the saddle. What a push!
We took a nice, good break here where we decided to drop some packs and get partially geared up. We were all tired form the push and with the late start I began to question whether we would finish the climb before nightfall. Little did we know, we would not get back to the van until almost midnight. Following the description in the guide, we began skirting the east face of Babo. From the slopes below it was very unclear how we would traverse to the start of the climb. We hugged the rockface away from the exposed cliffs below, until finally the rock give way to the Lions Ledge, which was our gateway to the base of the climb. We skirted the vegetated ledge, where we once again found ourselves bushwhacking. This time not against catclaw, but now against pine and holly bush.
Finally, like being birthed from a thorn-filled tunnel, we popped out at the base of the 6-pitch Southeast arête (5.6) that we planned for the day. Finally! We made the short scramble up the low Class 4 chimney and geared up at the base of the first pitch (P1). We would climb in pairs of 2. I would lead, while Sri would clean. Afterward Kari would lead, while Sam followed him up the rear to clean the gear. The first pitch was pretty straight forward, but I quickly noticed the quality of the rock wasn’t the best (typical of many backcountry climbs). I banged on the holds to make sure they would hold my weight, and I only had to throw a few pieces of protection (pro) in before reaching the top of P1.
After setting up the anchor, I belayed Sri up P1 and soon saw his gleaming grin as he reached the top. What a fun climb! We swapped gear and I started off on P2 soon after Kari arrived to belay. The first move was an awkward high foot with decent holds, but full-on commit. After the move I quickly found good pro placement and cruised the rest. I was tossed out into a Class 4 scramble and pushed up through a shady tree through a “V” past a cactus (watch you hand!), where I combined both P2 and P3 and set up the anchor for the next push. Here I greeted a group climbing ahead of us, and we chatted for a bit. Apparently (as the other team informed me) the west approach had a much better road and hike to get to the base of the climb (hindsight is 20/20!).
Once Sri ascended P2 and P3, again with a big grin on his face, I set out on P4 all geared up to go for it. I started up the left crack system then realized I needed to be in the right, I down-climbed a few feet and went climber’s right into the correct crack system. On the way up I encountered another strange move – a high right hand and solid right foot. I threw a high left foot onto a small ledge and went to stand for a left hand. Once I put full weight onto the left foot, it blew off the rock. All my weight, including the weight of the backpack and gear I was wearing went onto my right arm. I heard the sound of velcro in my right shoulder and the instant pain, I knew right then I was hurt.
I was still hanging by my right hand while I managed to get a cam in. I rested for a moment, but decided to finish what I started in leading P4 of the climb. Once I reached the top, I belayed Sri in pain and tried to minimize the use of my right arm until he once again reached me. No one really knew the extent of the damage I had done, not even me. I decided to switch it up, ask Kari to lead on, then I would follow. He left the safety of the ledge where I belayed him traversing climbers left to find an old rusty bolt, and the start of P5.
We cleaned the layback P5 quickly, which everyone agreed was a lot of fun. I was just wanting to make sure I could still finish the climb, so I had to be as safe as possible as I climbed up. Kari grinned as I popped over the ledge while he was sitting under a nice pine belaying me. Sam was soon to follow, and finally we all met at the belay station. I decided to press on, finding the small notch to down-climb, before starting the final pitch (P6), which comprised a small 20 foot face climb and scrambling to the peak.
I felt like everyone was in pretty good spirits, and after some quick scrambling, we simultaneously touched the highest rock on the mountain! Finally!!! The sun was setting in the distance and the views of the desert below were absolutely incredible! We were far from done for the day, and had to do our best to find the descent route before all the light of the day disappeared. Attempting to find bolts in the dark on slabby slopes, where one false move means death, is never easy. We all left our offerings to I’itoi as it is tradition to bring an offering to the peak for the Tohono’s creator.
Smiling and dirty we pushed down the north side of the mountain to find 3 rappels in the dark and a long bushwhack-filled walk/scramble back to the van. We reached the van around 11:20pm, and were glad that we all came back safe. We set up, grubbed down, and were soon all back in our sleeping bags, where we started the morning. Even with the shoulder pain and the worsening swirling thoughts of possibly never being able to regain full functionality, I decided to just let it be, hope for the best, and go to sleep. I will never give up the mountains, even if I’m reduced to painting them in a wheelchair one day, I will still be drawn to these places. Craving the experience and the adventure. What another great adventure!
- Southeast Arete: https://www.mountainproject.com/v/southeast-arete/106147075
- Our Track from Saddle: https://hikearizona.com/gps=35731
- Initial Approach to Saddle : https://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=16033
- Weather: Hi 70s, Low 50s, Sunny
- Water: 3 liters
- Food: 2 Cliff bar, 1 orange, 2 Cliff builder bars, 2 Kroger protien bars, 2 Nature Valley Granola bars, 1 bag of gummy worms, 1 bag of mediterranian chips, 1 bag trialmix
- Time: 14 hours
- Distance: 8 miles RT
- Accumulated Gain: 3,500 feet ( 700 feet of gain on the Climb)
- Climbing Rating: 5.6 Trad
- Number of Pitches: 6
- Don Camelback backpack (3 liter bladder)
- Black Diamond Helmet
- Petzl Corax Climbing Harness
- 2 Black Diamond screw carabiner
- 4 Phantom DMM screw carabiner
- Black Diamond Camelot X4+C4 Cams – 0.2, 0.4, 0.5, 0.75, 1, 2, 3
- Black Diamond Standard Nut Set
- 14 Alpha Trad DMM quickdraws 12mm cord
- Black Diaimond ATC Guide
- 70 meter 9.8mm Sterling rope (Orange Slice)
- Webbing/7mmCord for personal anchor
- Arc’teryx Chalk Bag
- SPOT Tracker
- Cotton T Shirt
- Arc’teryx Hoody
- Cotton Handkerchief
- Nike shorts
- Darn Tough Medium Wool Sox
- Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
- La Sortiva TC Pro Climbing Shoes