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McDowell Mountains

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Gardeners Wall 
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Tom's Thumb 

McDowell Mountains Rock Climbing 

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Elevation: 2,500'
Location: 33.68665, -111.8089 View Map  Incorrect?
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Administrators: Greg Opland, JJ Schlick, Hendrixson, Kristine Hoffman (sitewide)
Submitted By: Orphaned on Jan 19, 2006

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The McDowell Mountains feature most of the main granite climbing crags in the northeast metro Phoenix area. Several fine formations of rough grained desert granite are found in the area featuring routes of all difficulties. The climbing is traditional in nature, both gear and bolted routes, and climbers should expect to place their own protection on a lot of the routes here.

Once threatened by house and golf course development, the city of Scottsdale (with the help of it's citizens, who kept voting in tax $$ support to acquire the land!) managed to turn the whole place into the McDowell-Sonoran Preserve, starting in the mid 90's and continuing to this day. The Preserve today sits at almost 22,000 acres with the eventual plan to encompass some 36,000+ acres!

Getting There 

The McDowells are located in northeast Scottsdale, just to the east/southeast of Pinnacle Peak. The area is accessed via the Tom's Thumb Trailhead (est. fall 2012) on the north side of the range. There are a couple of ways to get to the TTT as follows:

1) From the intersection of Happy Valley Road and Alma School Road (near Pinnacle Peak and just southwest of Troon Mountain), continue east on Happy Valley Road. Stay with it as it curves around to the north, then turns into the north bound 118th Street. Make a right on Ranch Gate Road (look for signs to the trailhead) and go east to 128th Street. Make another right and go south until you basically run into the trailhead entrance.

2) You can also come in from Rio Verde Drive by turning south onto 128th Street and taking it (initially dirt, then paved) to the trailhead entrance.

Rock Climbing Photo: Follow the signs to the new trailhead...
Follow the signs to the new trailhead...

Note: You CAN do the approach to some of the crags from the Gateway Visitor's Center
off Thompson Peak Parkway, but this is a long (~6 miles to Tom's Thumb), uphill,
rocky approach and NOT recommended.

Climbing Season

Weather station 3.9 miles from here

121 Total Climbing Routes

['4 Stars',0],['3 Stars',43],['2 Stars',48],['1 Star',27],['Bomb',0]

Classic Climbing Routes in McDowell Mountains

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes for McDowell Mountains:
Unknown Handcrack   V-easy 3     Boulder, 1 pitch, 20'   Girlie Man Area
The Crawl of the Wild   5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c     Trad, 1 pitch, 100'   Sven Slab
Kreuser's Route   5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c     Trad, 2 pitches, 150'   Tom's Thumb
Changes in Longitude   5.5 4b 13 IV+ 11 MS 4a     Trad, 2 pitches, 150'   Sven Slab
Quaker Oats   5.5 4b 13 IV+ 11 MS 4a     Sport, 1 pitch, 95'   Sven Slab
Hanging Gardens   5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b     Trad, 2 pitches   Gardeners Wall
One for the Road   5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b     Trad, 1 pitch, 80'   Sven Slab
Renaissance Direct   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b R     Trad, 2 pitches   Gardeners Wall
Treiber's Deception   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 1 pitch, 90'   Tom's Thumb
Ego Trip   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b PG13     Sport, TR, 90'   Sven Slab
Beat Feet   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 1 pitch, 150'   Morrell's Wall
Spinal Tap   5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 150'   Sven Towers : Sven Tower 3
Leave It To Beaver   5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a     Trad, 90'   Morrell's Wall
Sphinctre Boy   5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a PG13     Trad, 1 pitch, 60'   Girlie Man Area
Girlie Man   5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a     Trad, 1 pitch, 65'   Girlie Man Area
Jeff   5.10a 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a     Trad, 2 pitches, 150'   Morrell's Wall
Space Cadets   5.10- 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a     Trad, 1 pitch, 165'   Morrell's Wall
Dark Passage   5.10c 6b 20 VII 20 E2 5b     Trad, 1 pitch, 65'   Sven Slab
Deep Freeze   5.11- 6c 22 VIII+ 22 E3 5c     Trad, 1 pitch, 130'   Tom's Thumb
Spinal Block   5.11b/c 6c+ 23 VIII- 24 E4 6a     Trad, 1 pitch, 65'   Sven Towers : Sven Tower 3
Browse More Rock Climbing Classics in McDowell Mountains

Featured Route For McDowell Mountains
Rock Climbing Photo: William Nelson going for it!

Spinal Tap 5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c  Arizona : Central Arizona : ... : Sven Tower 3
Start is same as Ergon but traverses right toward and into chimney instead of going straight up at the head wall above horizontal crack and after first bolt on that wall. Psychological crux is stemming out and transitioning into the chimney. Finishes on left arete after 15 feet of chimney climbing straight up....[more]   Browse More Classics in Arizona

Photos of McDowell Mountains Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: Spring!
Rock Climbing Photo: View from the base of One for the Road on the Sven...
View from the base of One for the Road on the Sven...
Rock Climbing Photo: A good look @ The Waffles, as I like too say, and ...
BETA PHOTO: A good look @ The Waffles, as I like too say, and ...
Rock Climbing Photo: Coral Snake sighting 9.24.12 on Tom's Thumb trail ...
Coral Snake sighting 9.24.12 on Tom's Thumb trail ...
Rock Climbing Photo: The lizards are almost always up for a game of tag...
The lizards are almost always up for a game of tag...
Rock Climbing Photo: New Trail Markers courtesy of AMC and City of Scot...
BETA PHOTO: New Trail Markers courtesy of AMC and City of Scot...
Rock Climbing Photo: A few random boulders seen out in the McDowel Moun...
A few random boulders seen out in the McDowel Moun...
Rock Climbing Photo: Guarding the trail at Toms Thumb.
BETA PHOTO: Guarding the trail at Toms Thumb.
Rock Climbing Photo: Follow the signs to the new trailhead...
BETA PHOTO: Follow the signs to the new trailhead...
Rock Climbing Photo: Thimble or Thumb Butte - Atop a ridge in the McDow...
Thimble or Thumb Butte - Atop a ridge in the McDow...
Rock Climbing Photo: The McDowells
The McDowells
Rock Climbing Photo: Rick descending the Tom's Thumb trail.  The closes...
BETA PHOTO: Rick descending the Tom's Thumb trail. The closes...
Rock Climbing Photo: Morrell's Wall from the wash approach to Sven Towe...
Morrell's Wall from the wash approach to Sven Towe...
Rock Climbing Photo: A little closer- random nice boulders near Mt McDo...
A little closer- random nice boulders near Mt McDo...
Rock Climbing Photo: East side of the Boulder Wash trails, past the poi...
East side of the Boulder Wash trails, past the poi...
Rock Climbing Photo: My all time favorite boulder problem. This photo w...
My all time favorite boulder problem. This photo w...
Rock Climbing Photo: CW topping out on his proudest boulder problem
CW topping out on his proudest boulder problem
Rock Climbing Photo: View of Four Peaks from the McDowell Mtns
View of Four Peaks from the McDowell Mtns
Rock Climbing Photo: I think that is Morrell's wall in the center and T...
BETA PHOTO: I think that is Morrell's wall in the center and T...
Rock Climbing Photo: Craig Wilson bouldering in the McDowells
Craig Wilson bouldering in the McDowells
Rock Climbing Photo: Better picture of the possible FA
BETA PHOTO: Better picture of the possible FA
Rock Climbing Photo: Some cool bouldering to be found in the McDowells
Some cool bouldering to be found in the McDowells
Rock Climbing Photo: Springy!
Rock Climbing Photo: Pic of the new park climbing map.
BETA PHOTO: Pic of the new park climbing map.

Show All 27 Photos

Only the first 24 are shown above.

Comments on McDowell Mountains Add Comment
Show which comments
Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated May 18, 2016
From: Scottsdale
May 1, 2008
Yes in fact that is the Dome Wall, or Morell's Wall as it's often referred. That Photo is captured during summer from atop the Slab Ridge, or Sven's Slab as its known, looking South - West to the Wall as well as the Granite Thimble, or The Thumb.
From: Scottsdale
May 1, 2008
Generally, climbing in the McDowell Mountains means stiff ratings to include run-out’s as many of the routes are longtime established. Expect a wide variety of formations on varying quality of Granite. Hours Sunrise to Sunset, Stay on well established trails, No off-road driving, & No Fires or Camping!
By Scott Z
From: Highlands Ranch, CO
Feb 8, 2009
looks to be a new trail going up the ridgeline to the right (looking north from the thumb) that meets up with the gully north of Gardner's Wall and continues SE. permanent access spot???
By Tradster
From: Phoenix, AZ
Jun 15, 2009
The access to Gardener's Wall and Tom's Thumb has changed. The City of Scottsdale requires you to park over near Morrell's Wall and to take the new trail from that point. This will add at least 45 minutes to any Gardener's Wall approach and about the same to Tom's Thumb.
From: Mesa AZ
May 18, 2010
Anyone interested in hiking up to Glass Dome area? Looking at exploring some of the cracks and, climbing the East side of Glass dome...
PM me or email -

By Aerili
From: Los Alamos, NM
Jan 5, 2011
As of January 3, 2010, the road into the McDowells is in EXCELLENT shape! I never remember it being so good--EVER!! Basically, I think any 2WD, low clearance vehicle can make it all the way back. (This may change eventually with weather?)

Per Tradster's comment, I didn't actually time the hike in, but I don't think the new parking location adds 45 minutes--maybe 25-30?
.....Or perhaps living near the Sierras has made me burly. :)
By cesar libanati
Mar 8, 2012
Hello all, i was wondering if anyone could help me out. I am coming out from Cali this weekend and wanted to do some climbing on the gardeners wall.

Some of the threads are saying to come in from the north 128th dirt road,

Is that the best way to approach gardeners wall? any suggestions?

I have a older person with me who was gonna watch, but im not sure he can do 45 min in and out. is that how long the approach is from the north east parking area?

Thanks in advance
By ErikF
Sep 7, 2012
Climbing friends,

Below please find the rock climbing guidelines that govern rock climbing in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

The City of Scottsdale’s City Council has formally adopted climbing policies and maps for the McDowells. There were years of work and meetings on which this final outcome was based. In order to keep our climbing areas open we will need to abide by these policies and keep the crags clean.

As you can see, they are modeled after the Pinnacle Peak Park climbing guidelines. The City of Scottsdale wanted to have similar policies throughout the parks and preserves it owns.

The good news is that we can keep climbing. The challenges involve climbing only on designated crags (named and mapped), staying only on official trails and climber routes to access the crags, and complying with the policy of no new bolts in new locations.

The City has constructed a new Tom’s Thumb Trail Head, which is now open. The best way to the new Tom’s Thumb Trail Head is to take Pima to Happy Valley road and head east. Pass by the 104th Street stop sign, and continue easterly. Eventually Happy Valley turns north for a short while. Turn right/east on Ranch Gate Road to 128th, where after a couple of miles a right turn southbound takes you to the new trail head. This is shorter than going all the way to Dynamite and is the only other alternative.

For more information and to discuss any questions please contact Erik Filsinger at I can also send you the climbing plan (map) for the Preserve.

Rock Climbing Guidelines

City of Scottsdale - McDowell Sonoran Preserve

(Approved by the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission in February, 2011,

and the City Council in October, 2011)


The McDowell Sonoran Preserve has been acquired by the City of Scottsdale to preserve and protect the natural beauty and ecological features of the McDowell Mountains and Sonoran Desert, provide accessibility to the Preserve for passive recreational uses in a safe and healthy environment, and provide educational opportunities related to the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert.

In order to insure the long-term protection of this natural resource and facilitate the safe use of the Preserve by the general public while mitigating impacts to the natural environment and surrounding residents, Ordinance # 3321 was approved by the City Council on May 23rd, 2000. These Rock Climbing Guidelines provide additional guidance related to accepted practices, responsibilities, and areas where rock climbing will be allowed within the Preserve.


Rock or cliff climbing or rappelling is allowed only in designated areas within the Preserve. The designated areas correspond to existing and historical crags. Please also see the Conceptual Preserve Rock Climbing Plan for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, on which the Climbing Areas are identified. The areas are named in the following list by the common name for the key rock formation in the area but also include other nearby rock formations to the key rock formation. (The list of Climbing Areas in the Preserve may be modified from time to time to reflect additional land acquisitions that include historical climbing areas.)

Those areas are as follows:

1. Rock Knob and vicinity

2. Sven Slab and vicinity

3. Sven Towers I, II and III and vicinity

4. Morrell’s Parking Lot and vicinity

5. Morrell’s Wall and vicinity

6. Gardener’s Wall and vicinity

7. Crossroad Wall and vicinity

8. Glass Dome and vicinity

9. Goat Hill and vicinity

10. Tom’s Thumb and vicinity

11. Lost Wall and vicinity

12. Half and Half Wall and vicinity

13. Fort McDowell Wall and vicinity

14. Granite Ballroom and vicinity

15. Rosetta Stone and vicinity

16. Hog Heaven and vicinity

17. Thrasher

18. Lost in the Air and vicinity

Violators of climbing and other regulations and laws governing the McDowell Sonoran Preserve are subject to prosecution resulting in fines and/or imprisonment in accordance with City of Scottsdale Ordinance # 3321.


Access to the climbing areas is allowed only via designated and signed climbing access routes, as identified on the Conceptual Rock Climbing Master Plan for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. These routes connect the primary Preserve trails system to the rock-climbing areas.


The City of Scottsdale recognizes, as should all climbers, that all climbing activities are inherently dangerous. Further, it is impossible for City staff to guarantee the safety, experience, or ability of any climber. City staff will not inspect or certify the climbing equipment or ability of any visitor. City staff will not certify any route’s difficulty rating, safety or the reliability of any fixed anchor.

Preserve visitors climb at their own risk and are solely responsible for their personal safety while climbing on Preserve property. Climbers are expected to secure proper equipment and training, and are expected to adhere to standard climbing safety practices. Safe climbing demands that each climber has experience in route finding, route protection, rope handling, retreat from steep faces, and emergency first aid.


1. All climbing activities are inherently dangerous and may result in injury or death.

2. Climbers climb at their own risk and are responsible for obtaining proper equipment and training.

3. City staff does not create or maintain any climbing route.

4. City staff does not install or maintain the fixed anchors on any climbing route.

5. Route selection and the decision to rely on fixed anchors are the climber’s responsibility.

6. New routes are not allowed.


1. Climbing is allowed in designated areas only and must coincide with the Preserve’s posted hours of operation.

2. Climbers must utilize the designated climbing access routes leading from the main Preserve trail to climbing areas.

3. Temporary or permanent closures of individual routes or specific climbing areas may occur to protect the natural resources or for visitor safety.

4. Fixed anchor locations are limited to those already established, unless subsequently authorized by City Staff.

5. Unroped climbing is not recommended on the larger formations, but bouldering is permitted within the aforementioned climbing areas.


Prior to the acquisition of McDowell Sonoran Preserve by the City of Scottsdale, the climbing areas on the property were established by the local climbing community using fixed anchors, primary expansion bolts and pitons (collectively referred to as fixed anchors). Responsibility for the installation, inspection, and long term maintenance of these fixed anchors rests completely with the climbing community. The City of Scottsdale makes no claims as to any fixed anchor’s condition or reliability and does not guarantee that any fixed anchor is still in place. In addition:

1. All anchor placements will be installed on a volunteer basis by members of the climbing community.

2. All climbing equipment, tools, anchor hardware, and any other costs associated with anchor placement are to be provided by the climbing community.

3. Old anchors are to be completely removed and carried out.

4. When possible, old anchor holes will be redrilled and reused. Otherwise, old anchor holes are to be sealed with a mixture of epoxy and rock dust.

5. City staff will have no role in anchor placements.


1. Rock Climbing includes the following:

· Rappelling: Using a rope to descend from a steep slope or face.

· Free Climbing: Climbing in which the climber relies on the rope only for safety. Progress is made by using the hands and feet on the natural features. Anchors are typically used, but only to stop a fall; they are not used as climbing aids.

· Direct Aid Climbing: Climbing in which the climber is completely dependent on the rope for support and safety. Progress is made by installing protective anchors in the rock and then relying on them to support the climber’s weight as the climber stands on them and reaches up to the next anchor.

· Bouldering: Climbing that occurs on rock faces usually less than 20 feet high. Typically it involves repeating a sequence of moves up or across a rock face. Usually done without a rope.

2. Fixed Anchor: Climbing protection that is installed and intended to be left as a permanent fixture on a climbing route. The most common examples include pitons, which are hammered into cracks, and expansion bolts, which are drilled into smooth rock faces.

By ErikF
Sep 7, 2012
Rock Climbing Photo: This is the new official rock climbing plan for th...
This is the new official rock climbing plan for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, an area owned and managed by the City of Scottsdale. See previous comment for details on the official climbing policies that have been adopted.
By Donovan Allen
From: Subaru
Feb 7, 2015
NOTE: although the area has seen much work & development it still needs more. Particularly at the Sven slab ... It might be worth sorting the routes in correct order as well. Climbed Sven slab yesterday, approached via marked trail/ faint cairn trail however, I noticed two other groups unable to find the proper trail and proceed to bushwhack through erosion and they even had topos on them. Oh also Sven slab is a longer approach than is made out to be. Don't go here on a time limit. You'll just end up bush whacking. Stay on the " trail " though it may be impossible.
By ErikF
May 18, 2016
FYI, Cheryl Beaver and I just came out with a new rock climbing guidebook to the McDowells. It contains updated access and route information. Check it out at:

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