Stepladder Mountains, Sheephole Mountains


By: Bob Michael


Seven peak aspirants met at a relaxed 9am at the intersection of US 95 and. Turtle Mtn. Road on 7 March. Rain had dampened the previous night, but the sky looked friendlier by the minute as, following Gene Olsen's excellent directions, we set off on the long (35 mi RT) dirt road drive to the Stepladder roadhead.

The peak pulled a grand fake-out on me. As we hiked up a lovely wash toward the imposing north end of the Stepladder Range (which looks very much like a miniature version of Crestone Peak and Needle, two of the most challenging Colorado fourteeners), Gene's pencilled route on the new 71/2' Stepladder Mountains topo ceased to make sense. The route appeared to go up a big dihedral and face system to the north peak, a route that, as any fool could see from below, was impossibly technical at least fourth class. As I scanned the bristling defenses of these mini-Tetons, the next peak to the south looked like it would go, and, sure enough, it did, on mixed second and easy third class terrain. But my summit yelp of victory died to a groan of despair as I sprang to the top only to see that the impossible-looking north summit was clearly higher. Donn Cook and Jon Lutz, who had climbed the thing before, held a quick conference, and I asked Donn to scout ahead to see if he could find terrain that he recognized. Working out an easy "thank God" ledge, Donn presently reported that he found ducks and remembered the upper part of the route he had climbed before. We scampered over to join him, on a fairly sound volcanic breccia with many very merry bucket holds, and were soon on the top.

Unfortunately, we were not able to savor our victory; the still, humid morning had generated big, black-bottomed cumulus clouds which were dropping gray veils of rain to the desert floor all around us. Although I had heard no thunder, I was worried about lightning; we could be dead ducks on this exposed point if the clouds overhead switched on the voltage. Also, I did not relish being caught on rock in a downpour. So, I hustled the troops down the rock pitches on the east side to a rain-spattered lunch at the base of the steepest stuff. Imagine my amazement as the class 2.9 stuff (never quite really 3) we descended turned out to be the face with the leaning dihedral that had seemed so utterly impossible from below! Gene was right all along. Not even the two who had climbed the peak before had recognized the intimidating route from below.

A long, lazy chips/salsa/beer session back at the cars was followed by a dinner at the cafe in Vidal Junction, as the steakhouse in Vidal was closed. Afterwards, four who had other Sunday plans than Sheephole departed, while we were joined by Bill Quinn from Las Vegas, who was checking out the DPS.

Thus, four of us set out from Sheephole Pass at 9:15am on Sunday for the standard westside canyon route on Sheephole, topped by a challenging scramble through gigantic boulders to the delightful summit. It was a desert day minted in Heaven, and the party lounged atop Sheephole for an hour to make up for the hurried departure from Stepladder. So we fortified ourselves with the vast peace of the desert to help us through another week of jobs and the City.

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