By: Mark Adrian
Being infatuated with southwestern Arizona, I'm not sure which is more fun, looking at topo maps of that area or climbing peaks I find on those maps. In either case, the work is a labor of love and the rewards are always worth the effort.
My first exposure to this vast area was years ago with Richard Carey when we spent some time peakbagging in the Cabeza Prieta. Since then, I have climbed just about everything I could find there. But one peak had always caught my eye from a distance while driving highway 86 about 20 miles south of Gila Bend. Kind of a loner looking mountain, which, perhaps is why I identified so well with it. Standing in solitude with a crowned, butte-ish style summit, traditional and archetype Arizonian, the profile you expect to see in artist watercolors or postcards. But, the topo map doesn't really reveal the aesthetics properly enough so that demanded a closer look.
To access the peak, you need permission from the BMG, bombing range. It is simple enough to fill out the form and they send you a (free) permit; you call their 877 number, 7/24, and get the gate combo to access the east side of the range known as Areas- A and B. Permits must be renewed each season. Really, riot that big a deal and a LOT simpler than the struggle it is to access our "sister" SPS section's peaks in the summer months.
At first, from a distance, some seven miles east of the highway, it seems there'd be an easy or non technical route. So much for that illusion back in December 1999 when I scouted it out. I was confronted with vertical walls for 360-degrees. Despite the relatively easy, yet chollastrewn approach, the summit's crown is well protected yet offers an interesting cat-walk around the perimeter, perhaps 80 or 100' below the flat topped nipple. Another fact about desert rock, is that, it is chronically crumbling, especially in the low desert where it's baked and frozen over the years making it notoriously loose, but that's no surprise to veteran DPSers. So, after scouting the peak, I took mental images and determined the easiest route was the southeast arete, quality 4th with maybe one move of low 5th as it would turn out. I had made a minor attempt but I know when I'm well out of my comfort zone and decided to abort and return safely. Sometimes, despite the desire to summit, one must realize their limits and consequences. I decided to just enjoy the view, sign in at the lower bench mark (Hat Brim, which had a very old register from the 60s) and to let the peak wait for another tin when I could return to follow a capable leader.
As luck would have it, Carol Snyder and friends were planning an overlapping trip in the area during Presidents Day and I suggested after their attempt on Montezuma's Head that we all converge on Hat Mountain. Additionally, my friend Andy Bates from Tucson (a capable rock climber and peakbagger) was also interested, so, it was a plan.
Monday morning, we caravaned into the trailhead and set out for the one hour approach hike. Along for the climb were Andy Bates (our technical leader), Dave Jurasevich (on belay from Andy on front cover), Terry Flood, Carol Snyder, Richard Carey and myself. We all started for the peak mid-morning, enjoying comfortable weather and great- views. It took us about an hour to climb the 1,000' of gain to the base of the southeast arete where Andy quickly assessed the pitch.
My previous scouting had paid off. Andy was soon on lead with Dave belaying Andy. Andy is a good rock climber and commented he'd not have tried the 100' pitch without protection, so it was a good thing I had stopped when I did back in 1999.
Andy seemed to fly up the rock, setting pro and enjoying the beautiful day we had for the climb. Next up was Dave, then Terry, myself, Richard and finally, Carol. The pitch was on mostly good rock and enough of a challenge to be called a rock climb. There was no summit register, but there was a benchmark and a small radio installation, both courtesy of the U.S. government. After placing a register and taking summit photos we setup for the rappel, which was just to the north of where we upclimbed.
The rap route required some rock gardening and despite that, a few "pebbles" rained down, so helmets are highly recommended. After everyone was safely down, we retraced our approach route and were back at the trucks by mid afternoon. enjoying adult beverages and chips. The stats for the climb are 1,000' gain and 1.5 miles roundtrip. I'd recommend a full length llmm rope, several slings, various cams and stoppers (sorry I didn't interrogate Andy more on the technical gear) and helmets.
DRIVE: from Gila Bend, AZ, drive south on highway 86 to milepost 20 and slowing, be on the lookout for BMGBLM gate number 9 on the east side of the pavement south of milepost 20 and north of milepost 21. Obtain permits at home (call 877-CAMP-010 for info), then, before leaving Gila Bend, call and obtain access permission (for Area AB) and the gate combo from the BMG and pass through the gate on a good dirt road. Proceed east/southeast for about 7.1 miles towards Hat Mountain. At a staked "Y" fork in the road, proceed to, the right passing below the southwestern side of Hat Mountain for another mile or so and park.
CLIMB: From the parking area, climb slopes northeast towards BM Hat Brim Near here is the southeast arete, an 80100' 4th class pitch that warrants protection. Climb the pitch and proceed northwest to the highpoint of the flat topped summit area. The pitch could be rappeled down, but we chose to rap just off to the north where there was a more vertical face. Be careful of loose rocks. Several solid blocks on the summit provide ample anchors. Allow 1 hour for the approach.
|DPS Archives Index | Desert Peaks Section|