By: Mark Adrian
(How low can a Picacho go?)
I had planned to meet Dave Jurasevich, et. al. (after their climb of Picacho Peak) at the Picacho Peak trailhead Saturday night. I had been climbing the high point(s)/BMs of the Fish Creek Mountains (now a wilderness) in far western Imperial County with the SDPC. Unfortunately, Dave and "his" group had changed their plans to do the high point of the Cargo Muchacho Mountains Sunday, rather than camp at the trailhead for Picacho Peak Saturday night. Our pre-established objective was to try Picacho's sister peak to the north - Little Picacho BM. Furthermore, the HAM radio repeater we scheduled to meet on was unexpectedly down. So, I "blindly" headed towards White Wash Saturday night, "enjoying" an obligatory night-time 4WD misadventure, before finally camping just N of Little Picacho BM on the White Wash road, about two miles from Picacho Road. I was definitely alone.
Sunday morning found me, still, alone and staring at Little Picacho BM. I had very little, if any, route information, other than I expected it to be a technical climb and much in need of Dave's skills and rock climbing gear. Nevertheless, even if! didn't summit, at least I could do a reconnaissance for the approach hike.
From my campsite, I had a good view of the NW face and the day was clear and ripe for climbing. So, somewhat hesitant, I set off up an obvious chute heading SE (consult the DPS Guide's No 5.4 map, UTM 185522) towards the peak's imposing "crown". Somewhat loose, this chute leads to the base of a wall on the peak's N side. From here I peered around to the E. It was not a pretty sight -- a 200'+ wall of vertical, pock-marked rock. Sony, I don't free solo, especially when no one knows where I'm at or what I'm doing. So, I headed back to the N and then wrapped around to the WNW side of the crown, where I spotted a blue and white sling about 50' up yet another wall above the class two terrain I was on. This was becoming discouraging. I sat down for a drink and pondered what challenges lie over in the seemingly-doable nearby Cargo Muchacho Mountains to the SW.
It was an exceptionally clear and calm day, and, I had no where else to go and nothing else I could do that day. So, I felt compelled to circumnavigate this peak just for "fun". Trying to contour was futile as I was again and again "pushed" down by formidable walls on the peak's SW and S sides. Climbing back up into the saddle between the two peaks, I encountered a ledge on the SE side, with ducks. My "high" spirits renewed and I thought for sure this would go. Following these luring ducks however, only led me to an old mining claim (wood planks anyway) on the peak's E side at the bottom of more formidable cliffs. Patience is a virtue and mine was being tested. Calmly, I again sat down to contemplate and wonder what the heck I was doing out here alone, trying to climb this obscure desert bump. Deep into peak meditation, I was interrupted by a Ranger's plane overflight. He buzzed by twice, probably wondering what I was doing sitting out in "the middle of nowhere". Nevertheless, it was a beautiful day and I found inner satisfaction just being in the desert ogling this intriguing natural "sculpture". Continuing once again from the mining claim, I traversed N across a wide chute to find myself back where I had started my circumnavigation, a small, but anticlimactic surprise still no peak in the bag! Well, at least I knew what options existed -- go get Dave and/or technical gear. But first, I wanted one more look at that sling.
So, back around I went to the WNW side of the crown. Yep, the sling hadn't moved. But, was the presence of the sling a determining factor in forcing a technical climb? It looked a little iffy as I again gawked in speculation. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I could always turn back if it got too airy -- right? I dropped my daypack and walked up to the base of the wall and "discovered" a medium 3rd class move with some (OK, maybe more than "some") exposure. From this vantage point, I couldn't see the summit, but was able to contour a few feet across a ledge/alcove to another similar 3rd class move, which brought me up to yet another ledge. OK, so far, so good, I could still retreat safely. Now what? No more slings above, but no peak in sight either. Where was this route, if it was a route, going? Groping around, I found yet another 3rd class move leading to yet another ledge. It's hard to describe the anxiety I felt, but, this time, I looked up and, much relieved, could see the summit! I placed a small duck here to mark my way down and then an easy class two scramble brought me to the register-less summit's BM. This had to be one of the most satisfying climbing experiences I've ever had. Neither a long or tough climb, not even a high peak. In fact, had I known the route, the climb wouldn't have taken more than an hour and a half. The pleasure this day was defeating the peak's elusiveness and finding a route.
I downclimbed (some may want to be belayed here) to my daypack, retrieving a new, glistening, can-over-can register. Retracing my up-route, I savored the summit and views of "our" (Little) Picacho for about an hour, before returning to my truck. On the way down, I couldn't undo the sling's tight water knot. I then drove over to climb Stud Mountain (@ 2130', the southern high point of the Cargo Muchacho Mtns, aka American BM. Only several feet higher, the true high point is unnamed and at the northern end of the range.) the following morning, and then, nearby Pilot Knob before heading over to Anza-Borrego.
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