Cochise Stronghold: Rock Climbing Meets Uncommon History

August 14, 2018

Few rock climbing footholds qualify as actual sacred ground. An ascent up the Cochise Stronghold mountain range in southeastern Arizona, USA, combines the experience of crag and crevice knowledge with the respectful attention of battles waged decades earlier — and possibly even a wandering spirit, depending on who you ask.

Nowadays Cochise Stronghold, as part of the Dragoon Mountains in the aptly named Cochise County, is a destination for climbing enthusiasts drawn to its 6,044-foot peak and 294 climbs on the East and West Stronghold. Cochise Stronghold is a fantastic climbing area located near famed Tombstone, Arizona, reports the Coronado National Forest, with over 1,000 routes that exist, although many have yet to be reported.

A climber works his way up a route in Cochise Stronghold.

That secrecy is part of a lineage dating back to the 19th century.

Cochise himself called this area home.

“By the mid-19th century, he had become a prominent leader of the Chiricahua band of Apache Indians living in southern Arizona and northern Mexico,” The History Channel states of the legendary Native American freedom fighter who battled for his people from both sides of what was becoming a crowded border. “Like many other Chiricahua Apache, Cochise resented the encroachment of Mexican and American settlers on their traditional lands. Cochise led numerous raids on the settlers living on both sides of the border, and Mexicans and Americans alike began to call for military protection and retribution.”

A nearby campground is located in a magnificent, rugged canyon that served the famous Apache Indian leader as a refuge against his enemies, according to the Coronado National Forest. As climbers enter the East Stronghold Canyon, they “pass in the shadow of rocks that quite likely served the Apache warrior as perches for his lookouts.”

The Chiricahua tribe lived in the Dragoon Mountains and surrounding valleys until the arrival of American and Spanish settlers.

Some of the classic climbing routes at Cochise Stronghold pay homage to history, with names such as The Peacemaker, Warpaint, and Mystery of the Desert, according to the routes listed by The Mountain Project, the definitive resource for the climbing and mountaineering community. (There are plenty of other non-Cochise devoted route epithets named as well, including the Zappa Dome, Shake N Bake and, as a nod to another nearby cultural designator, The Tombstone Stripper.)

But climbers from all walks eye the Stronghold itself.

“The terrain is rugged and maze-like, and it is generally easier to get lost than to get where you are going,” Mountain Report explains.

“The amount of rock in Cochise Stronghold is large, and some of the rock is of outstanding quality. Many super classic routes, put up by pioneering climbers since the 1970’s, ascend the various spires and domes in the area. Many of the quality crack climbs in Southern Arizona are found here, as are some of the longest routes in this part of the state. Some of these historic routes are difficult, committing, and runout. If you can’t climb them this way, go climb something else.”

The large slabs of rock which helped hide Cochise and his warriors now provide great opportunities for rock climbing.

Climbers will find the solitude they seek. The Stronghold Trail is a six-mile out and back. And the closest town is Pearce, with fewer than 2,000 people, on a lonely stretch of Highway 191.

“The Stronghold has long had a reputation for very bold backcountry climbing,” the Forest notes. “Today, there are also a large number of very well protected routes. Routes range from one to seven pitches in length and range from 5.6 to 5.12 in difficulty. Most approaches are 30-60 minutes in length, although there are a number of known areas that are easily accessible from the roads.”

Perhaps more than any other climbing space, visitors are reminded to be wholly respectful and aware of their surroundings.

 “When Cochise passed away in 1874, his body was interred here in a secret crevice somewhere in the Dragoon Mountains,” Wesley Treat, Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman in their book “Weird Arizona: Your Travel Guide to Arizona’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets” said of what they referred to as the Stronghold’s “granite citadel.”

“Some visitors to Cochise Stronghold believe it’s still possible to see the famous warrior. A man in Native American dress with long black hair is often seen wandering among the hills.”