Picacho Peak

1 Mar-97 (List finish)

By: Bob Michael


All through my DPS career, which began in December 1964 with a Gordon MacLeod led climb of Big Maria Peak, I've heard tales of Little Picacho, ranging from "Fun!" to "Scared the ------ out of me!". And all these years I knew that, as surely as the sun must rise. I would one day get up close and personal with this impossible-looking volcanic crag.

So I was happy to have on my long-awaited List Finisher among others. Randy Bernard: "Mr. Little Picacho" with around ten(?) ascents? his son Glen, discoverer of the "B" route (how many climbers world-wide have put up a recognized route variation at age 12?); rock jocks Tom Jeter and Steve Nardi and a whole bunch of other great folks like you only find in the mountains. The weather even assisted; in what has been a very warm spring, we had a spell of cool (almost too cool in the morning) weather.

We all met at the standard point in the DPS Bible. 017 the Picacho Road north of the gold mine. and caravanned in to the roadhead north of the Peak. (I remembered Ron Grau's comment that, when you look at this thing for the first time, it appears so precipitous in a Shiprock kind of way that all you can think is, "This is madness! No WAY could there be a route on that thing!! What an I doing here?") Steve "Take-Charge" Nardi led us around the west flank of the peak, and up the loose Class 2 chute on the south side of the peak (not visible until you're in it) which gets you a lot of elevation fast. The first serious rock pitch, above and to the east of the notch between the twin summits, went well with a belay. While some leapt across the Step-Across with the nonchalance of a child playing hopscotch, most (including myself) found the landing zone a little intimidating and elected to climb down into the hole to the right, stem across, and climb up the far side. (I jumped it on the way down; no sweat in that direction.) Then we scrambled up an incredible system of crazily tilted, deeply incised ramps that almost seem to have been constructed by some alien intelligence that ALMOST connect with each other to give a Class 2-3 route up a Class 6 peak! At the most famous "almost" point, we belayed up the ladder, a lovely piece of hand craftsmanship and yet another bizarre feature of this strangest of all listed peaks - how the HECK did it get there?

Soon after, we came to the summit ridge, where the gentle stroll to the top is rudely interrupted by the "jumping-off-place" . I thought Route B must surely go off to the right of the false summit block; it didn't look too bad over there. I couldn't believe my eyes when Steve Nardi down climbed around a vertical corner to the left, over some absolutely obscene exposure - but that's Route B. We rappelled down this pitch on belay, and you better believe we belayed back up it.

Much film was wasted taking hero shots on the summit. And, the celebration and party that evening and far into the night lived up to the most hallowed of DPS traditions. A decadently opulent birthday cake even appeared in celebration of Randy Bernard's birthday.

I want to thank all 12 people who turned out (many driving all that long haul for a repeat) to help me celebrate this lifetime milestone, including Ernie Spiehler, who was on my first listed peak in 1964 and was on my last. I have professional friends, volleyball friends, musical friends, etc, etc.: but they don't compare to mountain friends. Mountain friends are the best. Period.

As a postscript, the next day Rich Gnagy, Patty Kline and I climbed Blue Angels Peak (4648'), the Imperial County summit in the extreme southwest corner of the County, and the only county summit in roughly the southern half of the state that's not on one or another Angeles Chapter list. It's a very scenic short hike almost on the Mexican border with characteristics of both a Hundred Peak and a Desert Peak. so I sent a write-up on it to the Hundred Peaks Lookout (which see).

Detailed information for visiting one or more peaks mentioned in this article can be found in the
Desert Peak Section Road and Peak Guides

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