Picacho Peak

22-Apr-00 (San Diego Chapter Trip)

By: Dennis Richards


While making the final preparations for my San Diego Chapter restricted climb of Picacho Peak ( I abhor the term "Little Picacho" ), I received word that the Chemgold Corporation had filed a suit in Reno, Nevada, against the BLM, seeking to force the granting of a pen-nit to "exercise their mineral rights" in this area. I quickly gathered some written information about the consequences of this mine expansion to share with my participants.

I didn't want to do the standard two peaks in two days routine, so I decided to do it on a Saturday, after Daylight Savings Time took effect. Having done it twice before, once as my last restricted trip, I was determined to take the time to really enjoy the experience. Also, I had some participants who were new to the "desert peak experience" and wanted them to enjoy it also.

Mike and I met in San Diego early Friday afternoon to car pool to the trailhead. We noticed high winds across I8 as we drove East. After a stop in Yuma for an early dinner and gas, we found the Picacho Road. It's not quite exactly as the Third Edition describes it; there has been some road work done in Winterhaven of late. But it was straight forward enough that everyone found our camp.

Mike and I drove to the trailhead for Route B intending to spend the night there. After some thought, we decided to drive back and camped about a quarter mile in from the main road, in a wide spot in the wash. This had the advantage of being easy to find, a fire-ring and some shelter from the wind. Mike and I started a fire, opened the wine and waited for everyone to show up. By bedtime, late into the night, everyone save two had arrived.

After breakfast, around 8:00 AM, we left to drive the final few rniles to the trailhead still missing two participants. After parking, sorting gear, introductions, announcements and such, we were on our way. Before leaving, I gave a brief talk about the proposed Cherngold Mine expansion and the recent lawsuit, filed by Chemgold in Reno, against the BLM. I pointed out that the San Diego Chapter has been fighting this proposed new mine for several years now. The fight is not over!

The hike into the notch was just as I had remembered it, i.e., short, steep and, in some places, loose. After scrambling out of the notch and starting up to the first 61move", someone said that they heard voices. Looking down, we saw our missing participants. They had hiked all the way in from our campsite as they were driving a low-clearance sedan. They missed us by five minutes and had camped about a quarter of a mile away. After signing them in and collecting their signed waivers, we continued on.

Moving up, I was startled to see an aluminum extension ladder on the first "fourth class move" . All but two of us used it. Continuing on, we found the famous "step across". I was rather dismayed to find new bolts on either side. On my last trip, I used large camming devices to protect this section. We used the new bolts and everyone made this move while being belayed from "both ends". We left a short rope here. Continuing on, we next found the "fixed ladder". Three times for me on this rock for me and every time with a different ladder! All but two used the ladder and we were soon at the false summit. Again, I was dismayed to find lots of new bolts in place here. I led the false sunu-nit, choosing to go over the top. After all were on top, Mike and I set up a rappel and I clipped two five step eteriers together for the return. All rappelled off of the false summit and strolled over to the real summit for the customary sign-in and photo-op.

On the way back, participants were "top-roped" over the false summit while using the eteriers. Two elected to free climb this section. We quickly retreated from the sunmiit and were back at the cars by 4:00 PM. Thanks to Mike Brown for his able assist and participants Carol Snyder, Jan Drover, Matthew Haynes, Byron Cook, Virginia West, Jerry Higgins and Sue Pease for a safe and enjoyable outing. Matthew and Byron deserve kudos for "freeing" all of the pitches. Jerry rejoined the Sierra Club just to do this climb!

On Sunday, Mike, Jan and I drove into the Valley-of-the-Moon, between Imperial and San Diego Counties, to check out the new rock climbing area. This location is awesome, quite reminiscent of Joshua Tree's Wonderland-of -Rocks. Lots of upper end sport routes but lots of untapped potential for "trad routes". I'm going back!

The addition of new bolts has made Picacho Peak "safe"; it's now a routine climb. We have lost something in this transformation. Large groups DO NOT need , long slings, multiple ropes, hardly any protection, or anything longer than a sixty foot rope to do this peak now. It's clip and go. I used one piece of protection, the smallest Lowe Tri-cam to protect the move onto the false summit. Leaders climbing in the shortest days of winter may still want to use multiple ropes to "save daylight".

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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