Whipple Mountains, Chemehuevi Peak


By: Gary Craig


Last summer, we on the Management Committee decided to put together a trip for the special New Year's 1999-2000 weekend. The original trip was to be to Saline Valley, but as the time drew nearer, that plan was scrapped for a number of reasons.

First, there were reports that road conditions on the long drive in to the hot springs were much worse than usual. Second, we were a bit apprehensive of the larger-thanusual crowds that might be attracted to that area for the big holiday weekend. Third, and most important, it conflicted with Neal Scott's planned list finish on Whipple on New Year's Eve. Neal and I decided that we should combine the trips, with a possible climb of a nearby peak (Chemehuevi) on New Year's Day.

We had a number of late cancellations, some due to the change in plans, but more due to the "millennium bug" flu going around. Neal would not be deterred from his list-finish goal however. A thousand thank-you's also go to Mirna Roach, who filled in at the last minute as assistant leader. Other participants for the climb of Whipple were Greg Roach, Bob Michael, Gary James, Jane Gibbons, Patrick Wood, Rich Gnagy, Tom Sumner, Al White, Ron Menges, Chet Nickell, Irene Acosta, Jack Wickel, Fred Daly, Judy Ware, Gail Hanna, John and Kathy Lakey and their four children, ages 7 to 13.

Neal had previously scouted out the start of route "B" in the guide, which starts from the War Eagle mine north of the peak. The DPS Peaks Guide driving directions to the trailhead are right on the money, and the road is passable to any high-clearance vehicle. The mine itself is not much to look at with a great deal of old machinery scattered about. After gathering everybody together, we had an even two dozen hikers moving toward the peak through the maze of washes and small hills by about 8:45am. The route trends generally south, and before long enters a canyon which narrows at around the 2000' level, makes a sharp turn to the ESE, and narrows further. This is quite an interesting canyon with high walls and several small dryfalls which don't exceed class 2. It leads to a saddle at 3000+', where we took our last major rest stop. One generally ascends the ridge above this saddle, but it is necessary to bypass the lower half of this ridge by entering the next gully to the east, climb a bit, then move SW up a steep, tiring section to regain the ridge. We regrouped here and had a short break. It is class 1 from this point as you climb to the summit ridge and walk NE along it toward the summit. We had Neal up in front now, and several people noticed that we were picking up speed as we closed in on his 98th peak. At last the big moment was at hand, and Neal stepped upon the highest summit rocks, with his climbing partners all around. Champagne and sparkling cider flowed, and several gifts were bestowed, the first of which was the famed "ram's behind" list finisher pin. There was also a commemorative banner signed by all of the participants, and a fine t-shirt sporting a photo of Neal with his Harley from the early 60's.

There was a breeze on the summit, but some earlier high clouds had mostly blown away and we had nice clear views in all directions. After lunch and photos, it was time to return to the cars and camp. We decided to go down route "C", which follows a ridge and then a canyon to the east of our ascent route. The upper part of the ridge had several spots where we puzzled a bit to find the easiest route around buttresses and small cliffs, but the climbing remained class 2. The ridge ends at about 2500' where you enter a narrow canyon which has more than its share of large boulders and catclaw. The canyon opens up at about 1800', and shortly thereafter the "C" route is shown moving west over a ridge. However, we remained in the broad wash running generally NW for a bit more than a mile farther and then turned west through a low gap in the hills (which had an old spur of a mining road running through it), from which the cars were plainly visible just a few minutes walk away. I'd like to take credit for this navigational stroke of genius, but I'll admit that GPS helped. A little...

The group took 7:45 round trip, not bad considering the size of the group (everybody made the peak), and the special nature of the hike. But, it's now 4:30pm, and time to party. We headed back down about 2 miles on the road to where a few cars had been left at a great campsite on a sloping bench with nice views of the desert to the north and east, the Colorado River, and Lake Havasu City. Who did we find in camp? Linda McDermott, that's who - she wasn't able to do the climb with us (flu), but had to come out for the party. Hey, its New Year's Eve, remember? Potluck appetizers and entrees quickly appeared, as did more champagne. We had our own miniature (unplanned) chili cookoff featuring entries from award-winning chef and campfire-tender Tom Sumner, among others. There was also barbecued steak, salads, pasta, and on and on and on. Pumpkin pie and brownies were among the dessert offerings.

A few members of the group drifted off to their vehicles as the evening progressed, but many were determined to see in the new year, fortified by a warm campfire, a healthy supply of food and drink, and a little music and sing-along led by Kathy Lakey on the guitar. As it got late, temperatures remained reasonable, with no wind. We noted the hours passing with growing anticipation... When it was 9, the new year had struck in New York. At 10, in Chicago. At 11, right across the river! Huh? Seeing how Arizona is in the Mountain time zone and is one hour ahead of California that time of year, there was a nice (but distant) fireworks display from the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City at I I pm according to our watches. We toasted this in amusement and counted down the final 60 minutes to the dreaded Y2K, when we celebrated a second time. There was not a single taker on the proposal to celebrate the new year in any more time zones, so it was quickly off to bed for the 15 or so who had made it till midnight.

Not surprisingly, the next morning started slowly, but Linda provided the now-almost-a-tradition pancake breakfast to help the groggy jump-start their day. We had nine people express interest in climbing Chemehuevi on this first day of the new year, including myself, Greg and Mirna, Gary J., Jane and Patrick, Rich, Jack, and Gail. We offered our final congratulations to Neal and said our good-bye's to the rest, and drove over to the Chemehuevi trailhead, which took about an hour. The road to the trailhead is the same powerline road as for the drive in to Whipple, just across the pavement. There's a bit of sand on this road and it's cut by some washes but there are no real difficulties. We did the peak via the standard route in a leisurely six hours. There was much more haze than the day before and a pretty good breeze at the summit. Once back at the cars we had a mini-happy-hour before starting the drive home. We were back on the road by 5pm. ChemehuopOevi is a fun climb that rounded-out the weekend nicely.

This was a great trip, one that you just didn't want to end. Thanks to everybody who participated and congratulations again to Neal Scott.

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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