Pinto Mountain, Orocopia Mountains


By: George Wysup


Tom Hill and I decided that a respite from HPS stuff was in order, so we thought we'd turn to DPS. Fearing that Picacho del Diablo might be a bit of a stretch (no one would follow!) we picked a pair we thought we could handle, Pinto and Orocopia. Neither of us wanted to botch our first DPS lead. Should I bother with a report on two peaks that few "need"? Here it is anyhow.

The trip was billed as a DPS introduction, but sans the usual DPS loooong drive and hideous approach road. We signed up some participants who had no clue what DPS meant; they just wanted a nice hike in the desert, no list finish obsessions involved. Refreshing.

For the Saturday hike to Pinto we attracted two DPS veterans, Jane Gibbons and Patrick Wood, who had somehow not yet visited Pinto. DPS newcomers were Connie Torres, Ken Howman, Gary Schenk, Shane Smith, and Patricia Arredondo.

Tom Hill was the only one who already "done" Pinto. Tom is the type who will pursue any emblem out there. Most recently he is anxious to become a Desert Explorer. For this reason we opted to climb Pinto via the West Wash route (not shown in the DPS peak guide, at least not mine) which is clearly shown in most Joshua Tree guidebooks and maps.

We began this trip at 0930 at the usual spot on the Pinto Basin road at elev 1790'. Heading due north, passing to the right of bump 2017T, we turned east near the 2000' contour line to go up the very wide wash. We hiked up the wash for just over 2 km and turned NE up a gully just W of bump 3218T. We followed this gully for a short distance until it began to be a mite troublesome at about the 3200' level, then scrambled east up to the top of the ridge where we found a good use trail. This is one ridge to the west of the route A ridge. Our ridge went to the summit with no complications. This route goes class 1, and is about the same elevation gain as route A, but perhaps 1/2 mile longer. The West Wash is not difficult, though it is uneven and rocky. We encountered many boot prints and a few ducks.

We spent a half hour around the big cairn, replenishing body fuel and, in general, reveling in the view and identifying other summits. Always hating to duplicate a route, we elected to follow the alternative route A back to the vehicles. The alternative, suggested in the DPS guide, consists of going down the interesting gully just to the west of the route A ridge. This avoids some inconsequential saddles along the ridge, reducing the net elevation gain by perhaps 100'. The gully provides some pleasant waterfalls to negotiate. This route goes class 2.

We returned to the trailhead at about 1730 hrs in pleasantly cool twilight. Trip stats: 9.5 miles, 2300' elev gain, 8 hours. We felt that the 5 to 6 hours stated in the DPS guide is somewhat misleading, as our group were not slow and we missed the upper bogie by 2 hours. Admittedly, the West Wash may have extended our sojourn by as much as an hour.

Jane and Patrick signed out and headed off to climb Granite #2 the following day, already having an Orocopia in the bag. They plan to move to Maine around the end of the year. Jane "the Obsessive" Gibbons has concocted a precarious schedule for finishing the DPS list by that time. She only needs 43 more summits after Granite 2. Jane admits that some assistance might be needed, especially on the class 4 stuff. Any volunteers?

We parked beneath a bright 80 waxing moon at a fire ring along the dirt road to Orocopia, about 1.5 miles S of the pavement, and enjoyed a fire (wood courtesy of Shane and Patricia) while we alleviated our hunger and thirst. Being all DPS newbies, we were unable to tell any tall tales of DPS baggings. We had to settle for HPS stuff. To induce sleep, some of us tried counting headlights on I-10.

Sunday morning the group was joined by DPS vet Duke Blakesley, who "needed" Orocopia. Opting out was Gary, who was reduced to a limp after bashing a rock with his leg somewhere along the Pinto way. There remained 7 clueless leaders and participants. We were at the total mercy of the DPS peak guide. Fortunately we were just doing route A.

The two cars parked, of necessity, at the 2WD spot. We proceeded up the road, actually doing the wrong road (but not terribly wrong-- only a 5 minute error correction was needed). We hiked alongside the large wash, then went into the wash, following more than less the dashed line on the DPS guide map. We followed a gully, negotiating some easy class 2 falls, and arrived at UTM 133156. The guide insisted we leave the gully at 133157. A brief discussion attributed the 100 meter difference to GPS "selective availability" which existed at the time the guide was written. So, up the slope and follow the ridge to the summit. Not so bad! Everyone was pleased with the hike and the view.

On the summit we speculated about the reason for entering the gully from the road at the particular point specified in the guide. What's wrong with just staying in the gully? Only one way to find out. On the return we continued past the point where we descended into the gully. Everything was fine until we came to a 50' vertical drop! Class 5-point-bunch, maybe class 6. Quod Erat Demonstrandum. Retrace a few yards, up the slope to the road, back to the cars. We recommend the extra distance down the wash since it is a more pleasant hike than on the road, and the big waterfall is truly awe-inspiring. This fall should probably be mentioned in the guide.

Stats: 5.5 miles. 1400' gain, 4.5 hours. We were pleased to beat par by 1/2 hour.

No deaths or debilitating injuries, and everyone seemed happy. A leaders' dream: a very nice and cooperative bunch of participants.

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