Kofa Peak (4,877'), Castle Dome (3,788'), Picacho Peak (1,910+') January 1-3, 1987
Ecstatic about being able to join this DPS climb, I left home on New Year's Eve, and motored down first toward Los Angeles, CA. Taking the Hollywood freeway, I took a drive along Hollywood Boulevard, then Sunset Boulevard. I then met the friendly trip leader at his home, further south.
We carpooled east out of town, and made the after work drive along a desert Interstate. This was a classic lead for this DPS leader, and one mountain was the most technically difficult of the DPS peaks. We were all in good hands!
Waking up at sunrise to the sight of perhaps 30 hikers set to do this first peak, Signal Peak, or otherwise, the King of Arizona, Kofa Peak, we had too many to climb the direct class 4 route. Another experienced leader offered to take us another way, around to the north. Said to be scenic, I could hardly resist taking pictures in bad light. Most of this class 2 climb was then in shade, and we were led up a maze of gullies, past pinnacles and cliffs. The whole group followed dutifully, as this was no place or time to sign off and get lost. We took a good pace, all experienced climbers, and set to abide fully by the DPS rules.
Topping out on the highpoint, I snapped away. We didn't celebrate the New Year much, with no big quantities of champagne or anything. I sought to remain just another trip participant. A view east was nice. Then it was time to leave the top. The days were short, and some of us became separated as the group straggled back. I remembered the way, and went ahead to find my own way back.
To the vehicles, then having a nice car-camp somewhere, I took flash photos of the people about the campfire, and supped on the variety of foods.
In the morning, we shortly motored off to our next peak, Castle Dome. We lost a couple hikers, once back to U.S. 95, and then took the bad road to Castle Dome. It looks nearly vertical, and is very imposing from the west, the side that the route ascends.
This good route goes up plenty of class 3 desert rock, and I shot many pictures of the sights and the climbers. Despite my photo record, I doubt that I could ever find this exact route, again. It was fun to follow the sizable group clambering up the cliffs, and I was certainly surprised at the level of climbing skills in this group. Some chose a more difficult route, and this made for great climbing shots. The exposure was severe in spots, but we summited at a good time.
I shot so many more photos, then we had to go back down. I had a view back to the peak, and then it was to the cars. I marveled at my ride op, with 4WD to take us along these rough roads. Pretty much, there was no way I could ever do these peaks on my own.
Fixing a flat tire, we headed for our final
peak, also known as "Little Picacho." Camping somewhere
along the way, we had only 19 climbers left to do this. The climb
was so greatly expedited by the leader's knowledge. No time wasted,
This climb entails some class 5 and 6 climbing, with ropes absolutely necessary. I was comfortable knowing the group had been screened. No beginners sneaking onto the trip, as would happen with other groups and chapters!
We did the roundabout approach to the chute and notch that turns into the climb, then came to the first section of climbing. Urged to safety and expediency, by the rope leader, we ascended on belay. I had been designated an assistant, as I had extensive class 5 training and experience, or at least comparatively a lot, although so deep in the past.
The route requires a step-across, and then following wide ledges along a huge vertical face. We finally came to the class 6 part, which has a step ladder to assist plain hikers. The leader led a 5.9 variation free, and then others chose to do that, too, bypassing the ladder. Unfortunately, I was too occupied for a photo record of these moments of bravery. I wouldn't wish to distract climbers from their fullest concentration on the moves. A fall would be terrible.
I took the ladder, and then hiked up to the summit area. A large plug in the middle of the summit ridge requires more rope work, and another group was ahead of us. Various younger people took their time, with apparently lessons in progress. I became upset, as I had come all this way, the furthest possible drive for any California peak, to have my summit chances diminished by this set of beginners. We held back, and then they had finished with their climb.
One leader saw a way to bypass this other group, by rappelling down to a very exposed ledge. I had to help on rappel set-ups, and was puzzled why the complicated arrangements for one hiker. But then, I had asked for a fixed line to secure this wide ledge, and though I then found it was not too bad, was glad for the assist.
Scrambling to the top, I signed in the register, and then the group was climbing back up and over the intermediate plug, using a fixed etrier (webbing ladder), which facilitates what would normally be a time consuming prussik. I made the rappel off the plug's downhill side, and took a picture of this particular segment.
We all headed down as we could, and I had no big problem with the downclimbing and route navigation. The DPS guide then declined to give details on the peak route, as liability could be attached. This is a dangerous climb, and should only be conducted by experts. Being off-route might become very deadly.
So, a nice hike back to the cars led to my departure from the group. The climbing was over, and I had to get home. I carpooled with another climber, and arrived back to the Los Angeles area, and my own car, in the early a.m.
I had hiked and climbed 17.5 miles, with 6,300' gain, total, by the DPS Guide. I shot some nine 36-exp. rolls of Kodachrome film.
This was one of my better holiday weekends, and provided some nicer climbing for my now weak, or unrefreshed, skills. I heard later of an attempt on one of these peaks, by the local chapter peak baggers, to closely brush with disaster, having a car wreck and a near fatal rappel. All from inexperience and moronics, by most.
It is a blessing to have such generous and friendly people, working for explore, enjoy, and protect, so well. Sad to see it going down the tube, by the irresponsible and hateful acts and urgings of the local chapter. This climb had been run safely and successfully by the DPS, for so many years. Now, it's declared a hazard, with potentially huge liability forced on all of us. While with good climbers, I wouldn't have any hesitation to repeat these climbs, there are other types of people getting into all this. Tragic to see such desert fun forever banned by hateful, Northern California, enviro group officers, intent on other agendas.
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