By: Wynne Benti
On Saturday morning at 6:30am, Randy Bernard, Tom Jeter, Judy Ware, Delores Holladay, Bill Gray, Ron Grau and Wynne Benti-Zdon met on the White Wash Jeep Trail, amidst the blooming Palos Verde, smoke trees and ocotillo of the Sonoran Desert. In three vehicles (including Randy's two-wheel drive Ranger), we navigated the jeep trail which weaved in and out of various channels in the wash until we reached a waterfall, impassable to all vehicles. It was soon discovered, that everyone, with the exception of the author of this write-up, had climbed Little Picacho at least once. We parked in the cool shade provided by the tall pinnacles and buttresses of Little Picacho. We divided up the ropes and began wandering up the wash around 7:30am. The steep gully (as described in the guide), between the two distinct buttresses of the peak, soon came into view and we ambled over to it. We continued up the steep, loose rock of the gully to a notch, which somewhat resembled a doorway to blue sky and the thin air beyond. Just before reaching the notch, Tom saw some pieces of wood off to one side of the gully which appeared to he parts of a ladder. He and Randy collected the pieces and carried them up the mountain.
Once we reached the notch, the route side-hilled across some exposed ledges and stopped at a vertical, slightly over-hanging ledge which needed to be climbed. A belay was set up and most used the belay. On the other side of this short pitch was the famous "Jump-Across." Some hopped, unroped, over the edge of the exposed cliff while others found some psychological comfort in pursuing the step across the narrow chasm by facing the mountain, with back to the thin air. Once on the other side of the jump-across, the route followed some narrow zig-zagging ledges, passing over a natural bridge, then steeply ascending under an over-hanging ledge which required a stoop in body posture. This over-hanging ledge was christened the "Toad Walk" by Ron Grau for the strange toad-like rock formation at its base and the strange toad-like posture everyone adapted to avoid striking heads against the over-hanging rock.
Shortly past the "Toad Walk," we reached the ladder, which was built and installed by Betty Olin (as recorded in the summit register). The ladder was in beautiful condition - each inlaid rung attached with four wood screws and the entire surface coated with a lacquer finish. It was here that Randy and Tom deposited the wood pieces they carried up the mountain. The group climbed the ladder without belay to a series of exposed ledges which ended at another notch at the base of the false summit route and at the top of the keyhole bypass route. A belay and rappel was set up for the keyhole route, and Tom Jeter had the honors of belaying everyone down to the gravel-covered ledge known as the keyhole bypass - an open tunnel which passed beneath the false summit, to more open ledges and the final approach to the summit. This rappel, though short in duration, was fairly exposed with 800+ feet of drop-off behind the rappeler's hack. Randy set up a fixed line of 1/2" shocking pink webbing from the base of the rappel, through the keyhole to the more solid footing of the open ledges on the other side of the keyhole. The summit was a short, pleasant walk from this point. All climbers signed into the register by 10:45am.
Bill Gray had switched positions with Tom Jeter and belayed everyone back up the pitch that had been previously rappelled. Once we all reached the belay station we lingered for awhile to eat lunch before beginning the return descent. Some climbers used a belay down the ladder, where the descent moves were more awkward and precarious then those of the ascent. We revisited "Toad Walk," the natural bridge, the Jump-Across and the final descent of the first pitch, which most down-climbed and one rappelled.
It was approximately 2pm by the time everyone returned to the vehicles. We drank a few beers, ate some chips and cold honey-dew melon before heading over to Picacho State Park where hot showers awaited us. Prior to going to the state park, we dropped Delores off at her car, the wheels of which became imbedded in the deep sand of the wash. Bill Gray attached a tow rope to his Blazer and with Randy at the wheel of Delores' car and four pushing, we were able to rescue her vehicle fairly quickly. Once that was done, we continued to the state park where, at the ranger's headquarters, we were told that the daytime temp had reached 98 degrees.
Following showers, or optional swim in the Colorado River, the wine flowed and story-telling ensued. Delores made a delicious three-bean salad; Judy brought a spicy chick pea dip for pita bread and Bill provided memorable crackers and cheese spreads. We never really ate dinner -just dined on appetizers and sipped fine wines. It was a great evening spent on the Colorado River, despite the preponderance of a few tenacious mosquitoes. The last of the party had breakfast in Yuma the following morning and were on the road back to southern California around 8:30am. Everyone had an excellent time. Unanimous thanks to Randy for getting the trip together and to Tom and Bill Gray for their assistance to Randy on this excellent climb of Little Picacho.
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