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New access/parking for Gardener's Wall, Tom's Thumb and Sven Slab.
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Oct 5, 2009, 9:45 AM
Post #1 of 2 (1272 views)

Registered: Aug 31, 2002
Posts: 997

New access/parking for Gardener's Wall, Tom's Thumb and Sven Slab.  (North_America: United_States: Arizona: Phoenix_Area: McDowell_Mountains)
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City of Scottsdale planning for the North Access Area at the north end of the McDowells is proceeding. Climbing is now recognized as a legitimate activity (City approved) as long as we comply with the rules of the Preserve and guidelines for rock climbing. Rules will include item like stay on designated climber paths and no new bolts in new locations. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve, in which the rock climbing occurs, is intended to preserve the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert and we must tread lightly. We should be pleased to have kept all the historic rock climbing.

The Arizona Mountaineering Club applied for a grant from the Access Fund to install trail signage at critical points for climbers so that we all can do our part to help preserve the natural terrain. Essentially this will be somewhat like the Pinnacle Peak Park model with main trails and designated climber paths leading off the main trails. I am pleased to announce that the Access Fund awarded the grant and I will be reaching out to local climbers to help with work projects to install the signs.

On the other side of the equation, we will need to change some of our habits. There are already several road and trail closures which we must respect.

Three new temporary parking areas exist for the north McDowells. El Paraiso is the east-west dirt road. It is now closed west (before) the traditional Sven Slab parking area. The permanent parking is being designed, and we can park just west of the traditional access (where some folks have parked anyway). In addition, there are two temporary parking lots in the vicinity of the historic Morrell's Parking Area. The permanent parking will also be in these areas. Please do not park elsewhere along El Paraiso or otherwise in the desert and hike cross-country.

The old north-south road that to Tom's Thumb past the lone house is now closed to public access. We tried hard to retain some parking in this area, but it was not negotiable. Please respect the City mandate and park at the Temporary lots.

There is new access to the climbs in the Tom's thumb cirque. Tom's Thumb primary access is on a new City Tom's Thumb trail. Prepare for a big vertical and long hike, but the trail is great. At TT#3 (pole with numbered emergency marker) along the new Tom's Thumb trail, a new climber's path leads west toward Fort McDowell, Half and Half, and Lost Wall. Tom's Thumb can also be access this way by traveling easterly along the top of the ridge line.

Gardener's Wall can now only be accessed on the new climber's trail at TT#5 part way up the first hill on the new Tom's Thumb trail. It contours from the main trail around the wash and climbs up to Gardener's Wall just above the large boulders that hold the cave. Return the same way. All access to the "cave" and up the wash (historic access) will be closed. This is a critical wildlife habitat and the City is adamant about keeping humans out in order to restore the native habitat.

While considering climbing in the area, access to Sven Towers I, II, and III is now a lot easier. Those rock formations face east toward Four Peaks and are at the head of Mesquite Canyon. They contain some long moderates (multi pitch) where the AMC has been holding outings. There is a good set of trails leading up and out of the wash to the southeast from the large boulder (Morrell's Boulder) by the Temporary parking.

Please do what you can to educate other climbers. The tradeoff we've won is that we get to keep all the historic rock climbing. We may have to walk a little further to those crags, but it's worth it considering the alternative.

If you want more information, please contact Erik Filsinger off line at

Climber Liaison to City of Scottsdale Staff


Oct 28, 2009, 7:55 PM
Post #2 of 2 (1236 views)

Registered: Oct 28, 2009
Posts: 40

Re: [sonso45] New access/parking for Gardener's Wall, Tom's Thumb and Sven Slab. [In reply to]
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Having been involved with rock climbing developments with the City of Scottsdale for about 15 years, I would like to share my perspective on the formal re-opening of the north McDowell rock climbing areas. If anyone wants more information, I would be happy to visit offline with you at

The Preserve is currently around 16,000 acres of land purchased and owned by the City of Scottsdale. It is managed by City staff. The citizens of Scottsdale voted several times to tax themselves to buy and set aside for preservation this land that otherwise would have been developed into homes, resorts, and golf courses.

Climbers have been involved with the Preserve from the beginning. Paul Diefenderfer and Tom Matthews (Access Fund Regional Coordinator at the time) were among those who attended meetings of Scottsdale citizens in the early 1990s who felt that, “We need to stop losing an acre an hour to development.”

When the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission was formed, Bill Berkley from the AMC was appointed as a Commissioner. Wayne Schroeter of the AMC joined the effort and past AMC Presidents Tim Schneider, Tom Conner and Sue Goins were prominent and influential speakers for the “Save the McDowells” campaign. These rock climbers established extremely good relationships with City of Scottsdale staff and officials that continue to this day. I became a member of the Preserve Commission’s Planning Sub-Committee in the 1990s and have just come off a 6-year term as a Commissioner, serving the last several years as the Commission’s Vice Chair.

The purpose of the Preserve is to protect and preserve the land and the flora and fauna on it. That was clear in the citizen votes and in the governing ordinances passed by City Council. While education and recreation are also recognized, they are secondary to land preservation. (See: Chapter 21 of City Code is the Preserve Ordinance -

In this sense the Preserve is more akin to other nature preserves, not to city, state or federal parks. When you visit the Preserve, you are entering lands where the land owner feels very similarly to how the Nature Conservancy views Aravaipa Canyon or Hart Prairie near Snowbowl. A fair comparison would be to the Conservation Easement adjacent to Lumpy Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park; off trail hiking is prohibited where the trail to Lumpy Ridge crosses the Conservation Easement.

Over the years we have tried very hard to find ways to get the most climbing we possibly could. We have had to deal with those who wanted to label climbing an “off-trail” activity and prohibit it entirely (a similar argument has pretty much done away with rock climbing in the White Tanks, etc.); with those who wanted to “remove the bolts”; and with those who took a “no new climbing crags” stance, even when new City trails open potential new climbing, e.g., Sunrise Slabs to the south.

Against the backdrop of a “Preserve,” and working within the confines of an official mandate of “No Off Trail Activities,” the City Staff and Preserve Commission have come up with a way to allow for continued rock climbing. They have identified historic use trails to climbing crags, and where necessary are in the process of realigning those for sustainability. These are now part of the City's Rock Climbing Plan for the North Access Area (see AMC web site).

We have been able to save all of the historic rock climbing, though with no new bolts in new locations, and climbers must stay on the designated trails. If it's in Waugh’s or Opland's guide books, we can keep climbing. The AMC web site has maps and other documents - If contacted offline, I can email you photo/maps of other less well known crags where we will be able to continue climbing.

While all of us would probably like it to stay the way it was in the good ol’ days, consider the alternative – homes, resorts and golf courses. Isn’t “all the historic climbing” a reasonably good outcome? Troon Mountain, Lower East Wall, and the Boulders are basically lost forever – that could have true here too if not for the work of climbers.

Enjoy the beautiful granite!
Erik Filsinger

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