Sheep Mountain (Arizona)
By: Dean Acheson
We'd been in the Barry Goldwater Range a few times in the past, and had enjoyed the area for its serene absence of city clatter and its sheer desert beauty. We'd climbed Tinajas Altas with Steve Smith and Ron Jones some years back, and had heard from Ted Brasket that the climbing just west of there was rugged, beautiful and worthwhile.
So we set out to share Thanksgiving with Pat's brother Bob Henry and family in Yuma with the idea that we might talk them into climbing up Sheep with us. Bob is Regional Game Manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department and his wife Suzanna is Assistant Manager of the KOFA Wildlife Refuge. They both make great hiking partners, but since Sheep is a bit much for their daughters Mattie and Tara, Bob and Suzanna had to draw straws.
Suzanna won and by the time we slept off the turkey dinner Thursday night, Lin Piest, the Regional Non-Game Manager also for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, who works with Bob, was talked into going along. So early Friday morning we headed off to the far east side of Yuma and into the northwest corner of the Barry Goldwater Range. (Note: you must get a permit from the Yuma BLM to enter this area.)
Ted Brasket has been out climbing in this area as I write this. He supplied the following driving directions, which I quote verbatim:
"(Maps: 7.5 Wellton Hills and 30 X 60 1:100,000 scale Yuma) - Coming from the west from Exit #12 on 1-8 east of Yuma, continue east over the pass to Exit #21 (Dome Valley - La Gusta). The off ramp crosses to the north side of 1-8. From the restaurant at La Gusta (great breakfast here) continue east 5.3 miles to Ave. 25E Turn south here. The pavement ends after passing under 1-8. The excellent dirt road takes a sharp left (east) turn just over a canal. In a short distance it goes back west then south to the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range boundary. This is 3.1 miles from Hy 80 and Ave. 25E junction. ...Permit and 4X4 drive required beyond this point. For permit info the phone# is 520-317-3200 (Yuma BLM). (Note: ...Sheep Mt., (is) the high point of the Gila Mtns. 0.6 miles to the east of Sheep Mt. on a difficult north-south ridge are ... high points ... 3010', ... 3030' and ... 3092'.
"From the BMGR boundary drive SE for approximately .6 miles on the main road. Take a road going south at this point. The 7.5 Wellton Hills topo and the Yuma 30 x 60 quadrangle maps show this road as a road with no junction. (No such luck!) When you come to a `T' junction go right a short distance to the first road going south again. (If you don't find a road going south in a short distance from the `T' junction go back to the east side of the junction a short distance. There are too many tracks in this area but if you just continue south on the 2-track road you'll get to the mountain in about 4 miles. You'll drive on to several large flat areas on the way down. You may think the road ends but drive to the south end of these and you'll find the road (continuing) south. Beyond these there are no junctions until you near the mountain. At a .,junction near the mountain turn right. (You may want to be sure you head north coming out at this junction to avoid dead ends.) At the edge of the large wash where the road ends on the map you'll be able to see a 2-track road going up the bank on the other side. A rocky primitive track will take you to where 1 camped on 2-13-99 Not the greatest camp spot, but it will put you at 2 hours from Sheep Mountain Summit. "
Despite Ted's detailed description of the drive, I somehow got on the road about a mile west of Ted's north/south road and ended up at the mine a mile to the west of where Ted camped. Turns out the mine is near an excellent camping spot. The wash at the mine heads southwest and doesn't go up to Sheep summit, but the next wash to the east looked like it would get us there. So we hiked east from the mine to the next mouth and headed south up a beautiful canyon. Before this -canyon topped out we turned east and up to a saddle where we could look across to Sheep summit. The traverse was quite loose and steep from here, but we all made it over to the final ascent route that went straight up and topped out just west of the peak.
Great views made this a most rewarding climb. To the south was Mexico and to the north, standing ever so proudly was our old friend Castle Dome. Our climb up had taken over 4 hours. After some photo exchanges and .leisurely sightseeing, we went back essentially the same route we'd come up, except for finding a better traverse route to the saddle into the wash we'd come up.
Bob was waiting with the girls when we got back. The fire they'd made was a welcome site and provided a warni centerpiece for our small talking circle, warding off the encroaching cold of the evening. Somewhere in all of this I got the "brilliant" idea that if I could talk Bob into going with me, I'd come back again the next day and see if by going up Ted's route (the next canyon over to the east) we could come close to matching Ted's time up of 2 hours.
It really wasn't such a hard sell. Everyone thought I was crazy to want to go up the same peak the very next day, but since Suzanne was willing to take Pat, Mattie and Tara plus the two dogs Gozer and Chancy to the Kofa Wildlife Refuge for a special tour, and since Bob had been over Sheep numerous times in the `copter counting sheep but had never climbed quite ail the way to the top, everyone agreed.
So next day while the girls went off picnicking at KOFA Bob and I went off in the general direction of Ted's route. I say general direction because this is Bob's back yard and he just seemed to know where he was all the time. We parked at the end of the road where Ted had camped and started up. This canyon was quite different than the one just to the west that we'd come up the day before. There were much larger boulders here and the footing for the most part was more solid. After about 45 minutes we came to an obvious junction with a large wash coming in from the right. I had remembered Ted saying he'd run into a 0 class wall when he had descended the main wash, so avoided that by taking the wash to the right, which appeared to go fairly directly in the direction of the peak.
Bob was good to hike with. Out of long habit, he would stop quite often for slow minutes at a time and scan the cliffs with his binoculars for any signs of sheep. We didn't see any that day, but we did see plenty of scat, some of which Bob determined was not more than a day or two old. He also knew the names of all the plants that, try though I might, I couldn't remember the next day. We hiked far too leisurely to make Ted's 2-hour ascent, but we weren't too far behind.
Sheep is one of those peaks that you don't mind doing more than once. The Gila Mountains are low altitude (not much over 3,000 feet) but you'll work for every inch of gain. There are hundreds of challenging, rugged scenic peaks there, great for winter climbing. And in fact I think Pat and :1 will pack up the Dakota and Gozer and go meet up with Ted next weekend and who knows, maybe I can talk Bob or Suzanne into going along.
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