Sun, Dec 11, 2005
Before the weekend started, we expected the climb of Mopah/Umpah to be the toughest day of the four. Now, after two outings returning by headlamp, we were thinking this had to be easier - or at least hoping so. From our motel in Needles we drove south on US95 for the better part of an hour and half to arrive at the Mopah/Umpah TH at 8:30a. There were two other cars there, one accompanied by a large tent and other camping accoutrements surrounding it. Three guys were outside moseying about camp, but we couldn't tell if they were preparing to go hiking or just hanging about camp. We spoke to them briefly as we were getting ready to go, and they indicated they were planning to head out to Umpah Point. They weren't in any hurry though, and when we headed out about 8:45a, they were still about half an hour getting ready.
From the highway, Mopah and Umpah are two impressive looking peaks jutting up from the middle of the Mopah Range. They certainly look difficult from a distance. We carried a short 8.5mm rope, a harness and a few slings "just in case." To be honest, my side of the "we" was carrying none of this as it was all stuffed away in Matthew's pack. We hiked along the road and then up the wash NE of Mopah for several miles. The approach had no route-finding challenges at all, and it would have taken a good deal of effort to get lost along the way with Mopah looming high to the SW for most of the way. We followed an ascending traverse across the NE slopes of the peak until we got around and into the large gully on the East Face. Ducks along the route here led for hundreds of feet up the gully. We followed a general "C" shape going from the bottom to the top of the gully. I was ahead of Matthew as I reached the top of the gully where cliffs block progress and followed the last few ducks into a small alcove up and to the right. I could see the first class 3 section before me, a rappel sling around a rock some 40 feet up, but the climbing didn't look anything difficult. I was there some five minutes before I started to wonder what happened to Matthew - maybe he missed those last few ducks? I walked back into the larger amphitheater and sure enough there was Matthew trying to match the route description to the overhanging cliffs above him. Stare at the rock long enough and you can make it into anything you need. Another five minutes and I believe he would have found a perfect match.
Redirected, Matthew came up to the smaller cave, then led up the class 3 section. It turned out to be as straightforward in practice as it appeared from below and we both moved up to the next section. The second section was a narrow trough with interesting, wavy rock patterns forming it. The rock did not appear altogether solid, but numerous climbers before us seem to have knocked off all the loose stuff in the trough. The top of the trough is steep and narrow, and I found myself a bit uncomfortable trying to find a solid stance to take a picture of Matthew below. From the top of the trough the route leads through a small notch to easier ground on the other side. I had to take my pack off and pass it through the notch before I could get myself through it. From here we dropped down about ten feet to a platform leading up the last of three class 3 sections. Being mostly vertical for the first 10 feet, this one was the most awkward with some exposure. Matthew went up first, I followed, and just like that we were on our way up the remaining class 2 to the summit.
It was just before 11a when we topped out, a bit more than 2hrs for the climb from the TH. Not having to use the rope saved us considerable time. While we were at the summit taking in the views and signing the register, we could hear voices drifting up from below. Looking down the east side, I spotted the three others heading to Mopah. They were just abreast the chute on the east side. I briefly considered going over to tag Mopah's lower south summit, but once I surmised it was easy enough to do, I lost interest. Down we went. We reversed our route in the same fashion with the exception that we avoided the narrow trough by following a ledge system around it as pointed out in our route beta. In descending the main chute we kept to the south side and angled right where it opened up, in order to save some distance on the hike over to Umpah. We made good time getting over to Umpah and found we'd caught up to the others who were just crossing the main wash between Mopah and Umpah. We were about 100yds west of them and didn't have a chance to talk with them.
We headed up bouldery cactus slopes on Umpah's NE side, following one gully into another in order to make our way up to the East Ridge as outlined in our route description. There was little to recommend the peak until we at last reached the East Ridge. From here, there was some interesting class 3 scrambling along the spine (easier class 2 could be found in the wide gully just left of the ridge). This led up to the crux at the base of a rock tower that proved to be a bit more than class 3, an awkward chimney with some nervously loose rock (class 4 or low class 5, take your pick). Above this was more class 3, but the enjoyable variety, and we soon found ourselve at the summit, 2hrs since we'd left Mopah's summit. Compared to the previous two days, this was seeming almost too easy. We looked around for a register but found none, contenting ourselves with a few pictures for posterity. On the descent we found an alternative way around the south side of tower, easier than the crux on the ascent, but still not trivial. We heard voices again coming up from below, but were unable to spot the others. We expected they ought to be coming by us at any time, but were surprised to hear the voices fade out and disappear. We retraced our route down the East Ridge and then down the gullies on the NE side, and once we were halfway down we again spotted the others - heading back this time. Once again we passed by them a good deal to the west and didn't have a chance to speak with them, but it seemed pretty clear they were going too slow to make it to the summit and back without night befalling them.
It was nearly 4p when Matthew and I returned to the car, the sun just dipping down behind Mopah for the evening. Looking at the lonely tent fluttering in the light breeze beside their car, Matthew tongue in cheek suggested they ought to move base camp closer to the peak before their next attempt. By this time they were probably another 45 minutes behind us, just making it out before dark.
With clear skies, a bright moon promised for the evening, and still some energy left, I was hoping there might be another DPS peak we could knock off in a few hours. Unfortunately, all the other ones in the area were going to take at least five hours, far more than we'd want to spend by moonlight. We decided to call it a day. We drove back out to US95, then south to SR62, then west. We drove a hundred miles in that direction chasing the little daylight that remained. We took a room in Twenty Nine Palms, planning to climb nearby Sheephole in the morning, East Ord in the afternoon. Going out to look for dinner, we stumbled upon a BBQ joint that fit the bill nicely - large quantities of food, modest setting, crowded with marines from the nearby base, some out with friends, others with family. A nice ending to an enjoyable day.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mopah Peak - Umpah Point
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