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Day 2 of our Arizona roadtrip saw us leaving Needles around 5:30a and driving across the CA/AZ border towards Kingman. Our goal was the highpoint of Mojave County about half an hour south of Kingman in the Hualapai Mountain County Park. The small range is a forested oasis amidst some of driest parts of the state. The 7.5' topo map is fairly useless for finding your way around on the system of trails and roads in the park, better to pick up a trail map at the park entrance or copy the one I scanned in.
Our first stop was a slight misstep when we turned off at the first side road, taking us to the lowest starting point which adds an extra mile each way to your hike. Not necessarily a bad thing, but with Ryan along I try to minimize such extra credit efforts since he will probably struggle on this one as it is. Realizing this right away, I drove back out, continued south to the ranger station and main entrance, and proceeded through the campground to the trailhead marked well by signs. This brought us to the Main Trail Junction, marked as "4" on the park map. We parked the van and started from here not long before 7a.
The trail starts off a bit steep until one reaches the Potato Patch Loop, a roughly four mile loop around Aspen Peak. We set off clockwise around this loop, looking for the shortest way to reach our main goal, Hualapai Peak to the southwest. The traverse around the east side of Aspen Peak is quite picturesque, with rocky granite outcrops on Aspen's flanks, and a fine view to the east of Dean Peak and the surrounding desert.
An hour after starting out we were on the southwest side of Aspen at the junction with the road to Hualapai. The route to Hualapai is not signed at all as the way to Hualapai appears more as an afterthought than part of the trail plan for the park. It is marked nicely on the map, but one needs to be a bit careful to follow the right road while ignoring half a dozen side roads that appear to be in various stages of return to wilderness. Added to this is the road descends as it crosses a broad valley before starting to climb steeply towards the peak from the southeast.
Our most interesting find on the hike today was a horned toad, in fact three of them at various parts along the trails throughout the day. I had only seen one in all my desert travels before this, so it was a nice treat for both of us. Ryan informed me that they can spit blood from their eyes (educational TV at work), but we couldn't get one to demonstrate this little trick for us. We did get one to hiss and jump and gape his mouth widely at us in a defensive posture, but no blood. We were both too chicken to actually pick one up - we'd need to study up on this reptilian species before risking our lives in doing so.
Just before 9a we'd reached the end of the road on the south side of the peak near its base. There used to be communications equipment installed here (and hence the existence of the road), but it has all been nicely removed. There are no signs to indicate a route to the summit. From the end of the road to the summit is 150-200ft of class 3 scrambling, fairly enjoyable unless you are a nervous dad. And so it went, with Ryan enjoying this part a great deal, Dad carefully following behind to make sure he doesn't make a bad foot placement or fall too far if he slipped. Dad is never sure which part could be worse - seeing the son injured, or getting it from Mom afterwards. Of course Ryan did just fine and we scrambled up in just over ten minutes.
There was a summit survey marker from 1925, though the biggest surprise was the presence of thousands upon thousands of ladybugs clustered in dense groups among the summit blocks. We climbed onto the highest block where we found the register inside a plastic jar under some rocks. A small opening in the side of the jar had been used by the small insects to crawl inside, probably for warmth from the chilly mountain air. As I opened the lid I had first to shake out hundreds of them before I could get to the register. What they could be feeding on was lost on us, and if this was some sort of mating ritual it seemed a most uncomfortable one at that. Ryan was nearly flipping out by this time. Like a nature movie gone bad, he was getting the heebie-jeebies from so many ladybugs. He didn't want to touch the register, in fact he wanted to get off the summit as soon as possible - he was looking a little terrified. Though I found his reaction humorous, I was also sensitive that it was causing distress, so we beat a retreat to a non-buggy side of the summit to take a short break.
After taking in the views (nice ones of Hayden Peak to the north, Aspen Peak to the northeast, more mountains to the south and west), we retreated off the summit and back to the road. Hayden Peak is not too far north and from a map it would seem a smart move to try and negotiate the connecting ridgeline. Sadly, this isn't a very workable plan. We did find an old side road that went up to the north side of Hualapai, but this ended abruptly at the ridgeline and would have led to some serious bushwhacking. Not even I could be that cruel to a twelve year-old. Back to the main road we went.
We returned via the road to the Potato Patch Loop, then continued clockwise on the loop. This took us through the BSA camp and the many-forked trail junction found at the north end. Here I gave Ryan the option of joining me for a side trip to Hayden Peak or he could rest and wait for me. I offered to upsize his Starbucks reward if he'd join me, but he wasn't taking the bait. I left him on a rock and promised to be back within half an hour. I figured with a bit of hussle I could make the two mile round trip distance in that time.
It ended up taking me 45 minutes because I found two summits at the top and it was impossible for me to discern which was higher. Though the road leading to the summit is listed as a route on the park map, I found a locked gate that I had to crawl under on my way up. The top is crowned by a myriad of radio towers and various maintainence buildings. An interesting array of walkways gets you about the place, some metal stairways, others a maze through large boulders. I visited the north summit first, whereupon the south summit looked higher. Finding no register about, I headed back for the south summit, tagging that but finding no register there either. I then jogged the mile back down the road, meeting Ryan near the same rock I'd left him at.
Rested, he was willing to be bribed to join me for the side trip to Aspen Peak. We headed up the nice foot trail that spirals around the west and south side of the peak leading to an overlook between the summit and the impressive south tower (looked class 4-5 to me). From the overlook we followed a use trail up to a campsite with a dilapidated log shelter and its own road sign. No trail seemed to lead further, but we cross-countried it the last ten minutes to the highpoint atop a large granite boulder. No ladybugs this time, Ryan was able to enjoy the views in a more relaxed state. No register on this peak, either.
After returning to the BSA camp, we continued on the Pototo Patch Trail, completing the loop and returning to our van shortly after 1p. That was it for our warm-up day. The big hike to Mt. Humphreys was planned for the next day. We still had a long drive of several hours to reach Flagstaff, but the Frappuccinos from Starbucks helped make it a smooth ride...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Hualapai Peak
This page last updated: Wed Jan 20 20:38:51 2010
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