Sun, Nov 13, 2022
Today was our last day in AZ this roadtrip, heading to an area in the Mohave Mountains called "The Needles." The sharp peaks are clearly visible from Interstate 40 and the feature for which Needles, CA is named. From the glowing reports we had from several previous parties, we expected this to be a fine outing, and we were not disappointed. We had planned to camp in an open area of BLM land south of I-40 called "Desert Tromp Base Camp" on Google Maps. What we didn't know was that we had unexpected arrived on the the weekend of the annual event. We found hundreds of RVs collected around the area, campfires ablaze, a band playing on a flatbed and all sorts of OHVs driving around. This would not do. We ended up finding a quieter place on the north side of the Interstate, one of the poorer sites we've had in the desert. In the morning we were up early to drive through base camp while all was quiet, save a few ladies out walking their dogs. On our way back out in the late afternoon, nearly all the RVs, vehicles and people would be gone. And they did a great job of cleaning up the desert afterwards, too.
Part of the fun was driving the BLM OHV roads to the starting point near the northern edge of the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. The final mile follows through a narrow canyon with an improbable road winding along the wash at the bottom. We stopped at a gate with a wide turnout to allow vehicles to turn around (would be a bit tough running into another vehicle going the other way for much of it). We parked the Jeep and started out at 6:30a. We had a GPX track from an Adam Walker party (joined by Steven Song and Sean Casserly) as well as some additional beta from an earlier trip by Stav Basis. As before, I only skimmed the report beta, concentrating most of my efforts on the driving route and then on foot following Tom and Iris who actually read the TRs. We had a 30m rope and some gear for the class 5 South Dome, the other peaks reported to be no more than class 3-4.
The route starts easy enough, following the wash downstream from where we parked. One soon realizes that the wash turns west while we really wanted to go south to Jackpot Spring. The terrain here is composed of low rises between adjacent forks of the main wash, so we turned off at different places to make our way across this geographic maze, rejoining after crossing a deeper wash. Up and over another rise, we then descended to the Jackpot Mine with open shafts and the detritus of mining days of yore. Just past this we started up another wash that led to Jackpot Spring, today just a small seep with little more than a puddle. Surprisingly, there were tadpoles in in the small shallow of water, suggesting it's more or less a year-round spring. Now heading south, we continued up the wash from the spring with Gold Dome visible on our left and looking quite rugged. The wash narrowed before opening up at a saddle between Gold Dome and Havasuper. The remains of the Gold Dome Mine are found here. There was an old road and more serious ruins that told of much activity that once took place. Cables running high up the west face showed they were pulling ore from quite high on the precipitous face - not easy terrain to move around on.
Following the GPX track, we followed the old road around the west side of Gold Dome, then further cross-country to ascend the semi-obvious gully that reaches up the west side. The gully narrows, but options abound as to continuing up or moving left to adjacent possibilities. The three of us took various minor variations of class 2-3 scrambling climbing higher on the face. The routes all converge on the south side of Gold Dome where the more exposed class 3 scrambling begins. The rock is more solid here and the scrambling enjoyable. The upper route on the south side converges on a short but very narrow knife-edge. Iris walked right over it like it was a sidewalk. I saw the easy bypass just below on the right and took that because I'm not getting any younger and as sure on my feet. Tom did something in-between, starting on the bypass but then climbing up to the knife-edge for the photo op of fear for humor purposes. From there, it's but 3-4 minutes of easy scrambling to the summit.
There is a good-sized summit cairn but no obvious register. Iris commented that a white rock at the base looked like it had been desecrated by the local bird population. I recognized that as the Leaping Lizard Tribe's marker for their register. Problem was, portions of the cairn were resting on that rock and we had to partially disassemble the cairn to dig it out. Deep inside was the remains of both the LLT register and an even older one. The older one was in a set of very rusted tins that had left the shreds of paper inside completely unreadable. The LLT register container was broken and the booklet inside missing. We left one of our registers with the remains we had found and tucked it all back inside behind the white rock.
Our next order of business was getting to South Dome, less than half a mile to the south, but some pretty rugged territory that would take us more than an hour and a half. The easy part was getting off Gold Dome, where we retraced our route off the class 3 upper south side, then down to a notch with the west side route that leads to a class 2 gully down the lower half of the south side. This led us down to some welcome shade where we traversed around an intermediate point (that looks quite difficult), and began ascending another gully on the north side of South Dome. We climbed this about halfway, until the GPX track suggested we should begin scrambling up to the right. The initial part is class 4, steep and exposed but with decent holds. Others described this as class 5, so ymmv. This got us past the initial cliff band with easier scrambing for a short distance afterwards. The easy stuff was soon done and we had several options to consider. I liked the look of a narrow left-leaning ramp and went up to investigate while Tom and Iris continued right around a corner, looking for an easier option. The ramp went well enough until the final 10-20ft or so where it goes more vertical and the holds are much weaker. This was a bit spooky and had me nervous until I found a solid handhold that let me relax and boosted my confidence. Things got easier after that, though I still had to ascent a 10-foot dryfall (described by Stav and others as a grotto). I was about to look for another way around it when I realized I could climb it with chimney techniques that felt fairly solid until I could exit above. I wandered right to the edge of the middle cliff band where I expected to hear or see the others. There was nothing but a faint breeze, sunshine, and a lot of rock as far as one could see. I was pretty sure I was ahead of Iris and Tom, but I couldn't be sure. I was really hoping they wouldn't be needing the rope that was safely tucked away in my pack. Figuring I'd meet them at the summit one way or another, I continued up the easier terrain for about 5min until I reached the base of the summit with another cliff section to negotiate. I wandered into a large cave to explore if there was a tunnel exit, but the holes at the end were too small to fit through, even without a pack. Back at the entrance, I noticed a small arch to the left. I think this might have been the tunnel one of the other TRs mentioned going through, but it looked to me like the arch itself would offer a way up. It's rather exposed, but no more than class 4 and quite short, and two minutes later I was at the summit.
The views are some of the best in The Needles, with views of the river and several of its estuaries and small coves clearly visible. It was 10:40p and I had the place to myself as far as I could see. The others were still struggling on the class 5.7-ish route they had ascended, not having fun with it and making no plans to descend the same way. It would be about 15min before they were able to join me. The LLT register was placed in 1996 by three tribe members. They returned for a few subsequent visits through 2002. There was then a 20yr gap until Adam Walker's party arrived earlier this year. Oddly, no entry from Stav, perhaps not finding it behind the white rock in the cairn (which had been left out when we arrived). Evan Battaglia had been the last to sign the register only a few weeks after Adam's party. After the summit festivities were concluded, we retraced the route I had taken, back down the exposed arch, some class 2 rock scrambling, the easy class 2 section, down the dryfall/grotto, then to the top of the ramp I had ascended earlier. We found several rappel anchors in the vicinity, one of which we would use with an added sling for backup. Tom looked at the ramp route and decided he could downclimb it, allowing him to bring our rappel gear with us. This was fortunate, because we had only a single 30m rope with us and it would not reach down to the bottom on a single, double-strand rappel. To save us time and effort, Tom suggested Iris and I do a single-strand rappel, after which he'd downclimb my ascent route. Iris and Tom's packs were combined into one which Iris would carry down, allowing Tom less encumberance for the downclimb. After the rappels were finished, Tom decided to pull up the rope and carry it with him in case he wanted to abort the down climb. He worked his way down the ramp carefully and rejoined us at the bottom. This was all done fairly efficiently in about 40min. We then had to get back down through the lower class 4 cliff band which was finished in another 10min.
Once back down in the gully, now 12:30p, the rest of the afternoon was a piece of cake by comparison. We still had one more summit, Havasuper, but this was all class 3 or easier. The peak has an elongated summit ridge and a very impressive vertical East Face that is overhanging in places. The route we followed goes up class 2 slopes around the left side of the cliff area to approach from the south. We were following the GPX track from the others up to the point when we reached the saddle on the south side. Around the bend I looked up and suggested we take the adventure route back up to the ridge more directly, rather than continuing along the track. It was uncertain, but would delay us only 5-10min if it didn't work, so up we went. It turned out to be quite nice, with nothing more than class 3, but the opportunity to follow the impressive ridgeline more directly. It would take us another 15min to make our way along the ridge to the uncertain summit with fine views off both sides. We looked for a register at the various possible summit rocks, eventually concluding there was none and left one of ours. Views are quite nice. After a short stay, we continued north along the ridgeline for more than half an hour, enjoying easy scrambling. At the far north end, we picked up a burro trail that took us down to a break in the cliffs that would allow an exit off the northeast side. A duck here looks to have been left by another party to mark the location. We descended the slope to a large wash, then followed this out to the main one we had started in. Some up-wash travel in the larger wash got us back to the Jeep shortly after 3p. All in all, one of the better scrambling days in the desert, for sure - Stav and others did not oversell it.
We drove back out to Interstate 40 where we showered and parted ways. Iris and Tom were returning to Southern California while I had a much longer drive to get home to San Jose. I decided to break it up by sleeping somewhere in the western part of the Mojave. I drove to Needles, CA to grab a salad at Jack-in-the-Box, then a few miles back into AZ for cheap gas. I hung out nearby eating dinner and uploading photos to allow the sun to set behind the horizon before I started driving again. After about three hours driving west on I-40 and SR58, I ended up parking on some BLM land just south of the town of Mojave where I planned a short hike in the morning before heading home...
This page last updated: Mon Nov 21 12:56:53 2022
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