Ascent of Table Top on 2015-01-02

Climber: Mihai Giurgiulescu

Others in Party:Jeff Webb
Mayukh Banik
Liz Romeu
Date:Friday, January 2, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Table Top
    Elevation:4373 ft / 1332 m

Ascent Trip Report

Access notes: Reaching the trailhead for this mountain is a time-consuming endeavor requiring high clearance and 4WD. The key to successfully getting there is to link the dirt roads correctly - for which a map with the road numbers is essential. A map of the Sonoran Desert National Monument identifying these roads can be picked up in Gila Bend or in Ajo, if coming from Organ Pipe Cactus NM as we did. From Interstate 8 going east or west, take exit 144 marked as Vekol Valley Road and head south. The road turns to dirt immediately after getting off the ramp, deteriorating significantly the farther in one drives. The road is signed as '8007' at the entrance to the monument, and this should be the clue to keep in mind at the many junctions coming later. The first 1.5 miles are washboard with a few potholes - nothing too difficult for any vehicle, and very wide.
At the first major intersection, the left road goes to Vekol Valley Ranch, which has a sign identifying it as such. For Table Top, stay to the right. The road deteriorates almost immediately, becoming single track for most of the remaining way. The road crosses one wash after another, each becoming more difficult to negotiate as descent and ascent up the banks steepen. Various roads begin splitting off the 8007 artery, marked haphazardly with letters (8007A, B, C, etc) or numbers (8007 45, 36 etc). All should be ignored - continue following the main track to the south. At some point (don't remember the mileage) there are tunnels of vegetation to go through, which will leave some scratches on the outside of the vehicle. This is impossible to avoid, so be warned. After an old abandoned building surrounded by a fence is passed on the left, the road becomes really rutted and muddy. Should the mud be wet, getting stuck here is a real possibility so know when NOT to cross. There were big puddles of stagnating water decorating the bottom of some craters. Someone (the BLM?) brought in metal culverts to funnel the water where the road crosses washes, but these were not yet installed, so getting through and over each deep washout is a 4WD task in this section.
Soon after finally bypassing the muddy section, a road splits off to the left (east) at a cattle guard through a fence. There is nothing indicating to turn here, so look for the BLM metal sign for '8024' and the arrow with 'TRAIL'. The sign is past the cattle guard, and hard to spot from 8007 - vigilance is advised. Road 8024 is even worse than 8007, but thankfully is shorter, and after another 2-3 miles arrives at the parking for Table Top, located on the boundary of the wilderness area. There is another vegetation tunnel to negotiate and road 8024A to ignore, but the way is straightforward here. A primitive campground with 3-4 sites, metal tables, fire rings and one pit toilet is located near the trailhead. According to the sign when getting off the interstate, the distance to the trailhead is 13.2 miles, though I believe this is over-estimated. It is more like 12.5 miles, yet expect to take a full hour to get there.

Climbing notes: In contrast to the difficulties of getting to the starting point, the route to Table Top is signed and easy to follow almost the entire way. We were surprised to find two other vehicles parked at the trailhead, both SUVs. The occupants of the first vehicle returned right as we were getting ready to hit the trail, taking off without speaking to us. With a late start, we followed an abandoned dirt road for about a mile or so, reaching a metal register where we signed in. This is the "official" trailhead. From this point, the trail starts climbing up a series of lower hills, then reaches the SW shoulder of Table Top, where switchbacks are needed to overcome the increasingly steep and rugged terrain. We crossed paths with the owners of the second SUV halfway up the switchback section, learning they had decided to turn around at the lower south summit due to the late hour. Right below the top of the ridge, there is a rocky and steep section, where attention to foot placement both up and down is highly advised. Once the trail gains the ridge, it rises to the south summit, where a wood post marks the end of the maintained trail. This is not the highest point - the north summit is higher by about 20 ft. Getting there requires a half-mile horseshoe traverse, following the ridge line as it dips down to the east and then rises again to the higher summit. While the top of the mountain is not entirely flat, the terrain is gentle enough to create this impression when the shadow of the mountain is projected on the surrounding lowlands. We were fortunate enough to witness this projection as the sun was rushing to get below the horizon. The north summit is very flat, making it impossible to determine the absolute highest point. We found two USGS benchmarks, one at what looks to be the highest pile of rocks marked by an upright metal pipe, and another to the north in another pile of rocks. A frustrating search revealed no register at either location. Views from the higher summit are better to the north and west, while the south side of the mountain reveals deep landscapes to the east and south, particularly into Tohono O'Odham Indian Reservation. I may have seen Baboquivari Peak far to the southeast, but I'm not certain. With a 17:00 summit time, we knew we'd be returning in the dark, but having decided we'd camp at the trailhead we weren't too worried. We got down the rocky sections and through the switchbacks before all daylight was completely extinguished. We were treated to a spectacular sunset, full of magical colors as far as the eye could see. An almost-full moon illuminated our descent through the lower hills so well that we didn't even take out our headlamps. The walk back to the cars felt surreal in a landscape dominated by saguaro cacti and other desert plants.

Safety notes: This area of the national monument has seen illegal activity, with the Mexican border a few miles to the south. Previous reports, especially from several years back, make it sound like there's a lot of action off Vekol Valley Road. During our visit, the only other people we encountered were the two hiker parties mentioned above. We didn't come across any illegal immigrants or traces of their presence, nor did we come into contact with any Border Patrol teams. Camping at Table Top campground felt safe the entire time we were there. Exploring this part of the national monument is a great way to experience the landscape of the Sonoran Desert, provided adequate vehicles are used to get there and people understanding that they need to be self-sufficient in case of any mechanical problems. Help is a long way off.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2723 ft / 829 m
    Total Elevation Loss:2723 ft / 829 m
    Round-Trip Distance:9.3 mi / 14.9 km
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:2373 ft / 723 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 2073 ft / 631 m; Extra: 300 ft / 91m
    Loss on way in:300 ft / 91 m
    Distance:4.7 mi / 7.5 km
    Route:Table Top Trail/Summit Use Trail
    Start Trailhead:Table Top Campground  2300 ft / 701 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:2423 ft / 738 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 2073 ft / 631 m; Extra: 350 ft / 106m
    Gain on way out:350 ft / 106 m
    Distance:4.6 mi / 7.4 km
    Route:Table Top Trail/Summit Use Trail
    End Trailhead:Table Top Campground  2300 ft / 701 m
Ascent Part of Trip: AZ Sonoran Ranges 01-15

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Mount Ajo2015-01-012988 ft / 911 m
2Table Top2015-01-022723 ft / 830 m
3Harquahala Mountain2015-01-033401 ft / 1037 m
4Harquahala Wilderness High Point2015-01-03 
Total Trip Gain: 9112 ft / 2778 m    Total Trip Loss: 9112 ft / 2778 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Mihai Giurgiulescu
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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