Signal Peak, Castle Dome Peak, Picacho Peak
By: George Hubbard
Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful at the Palm Canyon turnoff with the sun just poking over the Kofa range. Fourteen climbers signed in and after driving to the mouth of Palm Canyon, we started hiking up the canyon. We soon passed the solo grove of palm trees far up a side canyon to the north. After some 3rd class climbing, we were seemingly out of the canyon near the headwall. Inspecting what seemed to he hopeless possibilities to the right, we went off to the left and found a route with two short 5th class pitches which led to what we thought was the summit ridge, After proceeding up this ridge and on to the top of the "peak", we discovered that we were on the peak roughly 1 mile NW of Kofa. After some groans and about 15 min of scouting, we found a 30' 5th class route from which we descended onto a shoulder to the south. From here it, was about 300 yards until we joined the upper portion of the "standard" Palm canyon route and the easy walk up to the summit. There we rewarded for our efforts as Tom Cardina and Delores Holladay celebrated the attainment of their Desert Emblem by "showering" us with the bubbly (well, Tom did anyway). After consuming all of Delores's champagne and the rest of Tom's we had a quick snack and headed down the ridge to descend via the 2nd class route down Four Palm Canyon. We overcame some minor problems locating the notch leading into the canyon and made our way down to the desert floor just at dusk. The remainder of the walk was routine (finally) and we were all back at the cars by 8:00PM for the end of an 11 hour day.
Because of the late hour, we camped in the Palm Canyon Road just a mile in from the highway. The next day we were joined by Steve Weiss, a BLM desert ranger from Yuma, and his wife, Maxine. After an uneventful drive over to an abandoned mine, we piled into the vans and VWs for the last three miles of rough road to the Castle Dome roadhead. The cholla cacti were out in large quantities and more than one got "stuck" during the course of the day.
We walked about 1.5 miles up the standard canyon west of the peak before heading up a ridge and around to the SW face of Castle Dome.
Tom Cardina had scouted the route the week before so we had no trouble picking the "right" chute. After about 200' of enjoyable 3rd class climbing on firm rock, we came to an exposed 4th class move where we roped up. Once past this point, it was easy sailing to the summit, some 5 minutes away. Here we enjoyed fine views and helped Jim Erb celebrate his emblem. Because of the wind and rain clouds coming in from the SW, we ate a hurried lunch and descended via the standard route on the north side of the peak. After tripping back to the cars, we headed toward Yuma. Even though it didn't rain, the wind and cold dampened enthusiasm for an outdoor dinner that night; so all but two had a fine Chinese dinner in Yuma.
Thus fortified, we headed for the Picacho roadhead. After waiting at the Picacho road turnoff for a half hour, we gave up on one man. He was lost and went to the roadhead point just east of Picacho Peak. An hour later the last car showed up and informed us that they had driven half way to El Centro before turning hack. Again intact, the group turned in at about 10:30.
The wind had calmed during the night and the sky was again clear the next morning at our 7:30 departure time. We headed east across the flats to Little Picacho wash and walked up the wash to a point just south of the peak. Heading due north, we shortly came to the spot where Ron Fracisco, Tom Cardina and Al Toering had left the new ladder when they climbed the peak the weekend before. Ron had gone to considerable trouble building this ladder and hauling it down there; it is much more substantial than the old one and he deserves our thanks. We hauled the ladder up to the first moderate 3rd class pitch where most put it to its first test. Shortly past this point is the famous "jump across" where we installed a fixed line that people clipped into. I think that the easiest (and safest) way to negotiate this 3' wide chasm is to climb across it next to the wall so that jumping is not necessary.
The next technical section is the "ladder pitch" which is about 10' of high 5th class without the ladder and is the main reason that the peak is designated class 6 on the peak list. From here it is an easy climb up to the summit ridge where a 10' exposed 4th class pitch must be ascended, followed by a 15' rappel to a notch just, below the summit. What took one sentence to write took l.5 hours to accomplish and all were finally on the summit by about noon. The views were magnificent with the highlight being, the sparkling Colorado River winding its way through the desert to the north.
Lunch was followed by people struggling up the rappel pitch by either prusiking, clawing or being hauled (or a combination). That obstacle completed, it was relatively simple to get the rest of the way down the peak and back to the cars by 4:00 PM.
All that remained was the long drive home to end an enjoyable weekend of climbing, that saw all participants making all three peaks.
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