Ibex Peak P1K RS
Haystack Peak P900 RS
Howling Dog Peak P300
Peak 1,464ft P500

Thu, Feb 25, 2021

With: Eric Smith

Etymology
Ibex Peak
Haystack Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile

Continued...

Ibex and Haystack are two Arizona summits found in the Plomosa Mtns of La Paz County, featured in Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles. It was an hour+ drive from our campsite outside Parker, AZ, but seemed worth the effort, given the glowing review in the guidebook: "[Haystack's] full west ridge is easily one of the finest desert scrambles I've done." Eric and I had already spent five days scrambling in the Mojave Desert along the Colorado River, so I figured he might be ready for a tougher challenge. Given the choice between this and several other options, Eric chose Ibex/Haystack. And just to get it out of the way, I thought it was good, but hardly worthy of "finest". Probably not even in the top 25, if I had to put it somewhere.

Ibex Peak - Haystack Peak

We were up early to get a start on the driving to the Plomosa Mtns. Leaving Eric's Rav4 at our camp outside Parker, AZ, we drove the Jeep south on US95, then east on paved Plomosa Rd, then a series of dirt roads to the Southern Cross Mine. With high-clearance, we were able to drive within about 1/2mi to the north of Ibex Peak's summit, near some old mine works at the end of the spur road. Most of the area is BLM land, though the square mile around the old mine where we parked is Arizona State property. Ibex's impressive North Face rises dominantly to the south, in plain view. It was 7:15a before we were ready to head out.

We headed south towards our peak, aiming for the Northwest Ridge to the right of the summit. We climbed steepening gullies leading to the base of the cliffs, then traversed right to the NW Ridge with some easy class 3 just before reaching the ridge. Once on the ridge, it opens to the easier class 2 of the West Slopes, the only real difficulty is dodging an abundance of cholla cacti that cover the slope. We traversed south to avoid the harder terrain on the ridge, approaching the final summit climb from due west. We reached the summit in just under an hour. A MacLeod party had left a register here in 1981. Its 19 pages had entries from many of the usual CA suspects, most of them from decades past. The most recent entry was only five days before our arrival, and the most recent name I reckonized was Chris Kerth from November. The summit affords a swell view of Haystack to the east with its imposing cliffs encircling the mountain. I wasn't much worried about it at this stage, but Eric was already expressing some trepidation. To the south rises the minor summit, unnamed Peak 2,620ft, less than half a mile away. Barbara and Gordon had returned to climb that one in 1991 and I made a half-hearted effort to talk Eric into a side trip to nab it. I could tell that Haystack was weighing on his mind from his reply - "if you want to go do that one, I'll probably just go back to the car." No, this wouldn't do. Unnamed summits could wait.

After our break, we returned back across the cholla garden on the West Slopes and dropped down through the same notch we'd ascended to skirt the base of the cliffs on the north side. We dropped more than 700ft before passing through a saddle on the ridgeline between Ibex and Haystack. A first obstacle on the ridge was bypassed on the southeast side, as others had reported before us. We then reached a second saddle, the lowpoint along the ridge, and continued skirting the south side of the ridge to bypass cliffs immediately above us. The route-finding is not as tricky as I had read, really the important point to note is to keep traversing until you can follow a gully back up to the left to regain the ridge. This can be taken to extremes by traversing low across the whole of the south side of the mountain. In fact, a class 2 approach can be easily made from the dirt road coming up the valley between the two peaks from the south. A more adventurous route can cut back up the ridge on class 3-4 terrain early on, but I didn't think that was going to help Eric's confidence. So I kept leading us east until a class 2-3 route was obvious, leading us neatly back to the main ridgeline. We continued scrambling class 2-3 terrain up and over the west summit, a little dejected when we realized we still had a fair bit to go from the top of the west summit. I led us down the ridgeline to another saddle, and then started up again, this time with stiffer class 3 and more exposure. We had been going fairly steadily for about 2hrs from Ibex's summit when Eric called for a stop. He was tired and not at all comfortable on the terrain. He had read reports the evening before, mainly Stav Basis (of Stav is Lost), and had slowly come to realize that "airy class 3" is simply a kinder way of expressing "class 3 with exposure". This was more than a few such moves, and more than he was willing to commit to, especially since it would have to be reversed on the way down. I didn't know exactly where the route went nor if it would get easier or harder, but I went ahead to see if I could suss out what remained. After a few minutes I returned, with the unfortunate news that it looked like more of the same ahead. Eric decided to return to the last saddle and wait for me there.

After leaving Eric, it would take me another 25min to get to the summit. I worked my way along the crest, over three bumps, the last of which I knew would dead-end with a cliff to a notch. I downclimbed the south side of the ridge until I could slip through the cliffs and worked my way over to towards the final summit bump. One can scramble the class 3-4 along the SE Ridge, or find a class 3 way up through a gap in the cliff on the south side. I did the latter, after which I was quickly on the summit. Barbara and Gordon had climbed this summit as well back in 1981, but if they left a register, I didn't find it. In its place was one from 1993 left by a local scrambler, with nine pages of entries. Mark Adrian left a larger notepad in 2000, also with nine pages of entries. I quickly signed it, took a few pictures from the summit, and reversed the route back to Eric in another 25min. I found him rested and actually exploring the route above the saddle some, now more relaxed and smiling. We discussed the earlier events and some ideas for improvement. For one, it would have helped if I'd slowed down and taken breaks now and then. Not one of my strong suits, I know.

Rather than reverse the route over the West Ridge, I suggested we could simply drop down the north side from the saddle and circle around back to the Jeep, all class 2. There's some brush and a bit of class 3 to contend with immediately below the saddle, but it becomes easier and more relaxing the further one descends. We paused at one point when a 12" chuckwalla was found basking on a rock. It was kind enough to let us get pictures from a variety of angles, not seeming too frightened by our presence. We continued our traversing to the west, taking about an hour from the saddle to return to the Jeep by 12:30p.

Howling Dog Peak

This summit is found on the drive back out to Plomosa Rd, an easy summit only a quarter mile from various roads on all sides. We chose to approach from the SE. Aiming for the SE Ridge, Eric spotted a bighorn high on the ridge while we were still some distance away. It stood almost completely still and we had some trouble deciding if it was sheep or rock. It was a neat find to go with the chuckwalla we found earlier. It stood there for perhaps 10min, finally leaving as we started up the slopes to gain the ridge. There was a short bit of easy class 3 just below the ridge, then easier ground once the ridge was reached. We spent about 20min in reaching the summit. Barbara & Gordon had left a register in 2002, and with 11 pages of entries, looked to be somewhat popular. Chris Kerth was the last to sign in back in November. The peak is not very high nor prominent and the name has been unofficially conferred. When I asked John Kirk (of LoJ) the source of the name, he unusually had no written reference for it, other than that it was used by Andy Martin sometime in the past. After returning to the Jeep, we spent some time trying to Jeep our way to Peak 2,001ft, about a mile and a half northeast of Howling Dog. After trying several routes that didn't seem to get us close enough that I could talk Eric into it, I gave up.

Peak 1,464ft

We drove back to our camp outside Parker where I dropped Eric off while I went to tag one last summit with the few remaining hours of daylight. This unnamed summit lies east of Black Peak. The summit was less than a mile south of our camp, so there was very little driving. I parked in the wash on the northeast side of the peak, not a quarter mile from the summit. My first effort went up a slot canyon formed by dry mud layers which I didn't give much chance of success. I made it past one 5-foot obstacle but got stopped by more serious walls higher up. I had to retrace half my route back out the slot canyon before I could climb up the sides to easier ground above. The loose slopes getting out of the slot were particularly treacherous and not the safest way to the summit. Once outside the slot, the ground became firmer and the rest of the route went easily enough without incident, about half an hour to the summit. Once again, Barbara & Gordon had beaten me to the top, this time leaving a register in 2003. There were only a handful of other entries, the last by Valerie Norton in 2019. I traveled south from the summit a short distance before dropping down an alternate route on the east side, finishing up in the wash by 3:45p.

I showered there in the wash before returning to our campsite. The two of us then drove into Parker for dinner before returning for our nightly campfire. It was our last evening together before it was time for Eric to head home in the morning...

Continued...


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