Peak 1,431ft P300
Peak 1,900ft P300

Dec 6, 2023

With: Iris Ma
Tom Grundy

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX


Peak 1,431ft

We were camped at the Desert Tromp Base Camp in Arizona, south of Interstate 40, only a few exits east of the Colorado River. Eric was up early to begin his drive home to Albuquerque, well before the rest of us were ready to start our day. Peak 1,431ft lies in the The Needles, an area of rugged, dark volcanic pinnacles and summit in the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. Much of the refuge is covered by the Havasu Wilderness. A BLM Jeep road from our camp leads to a TH at the northern boundary of the refuge. We had been to the same area a year ago for some of these peaks that had been highly recommended by Stav Basis and Adam Walker, and we were not disappointed. On our return from that outing, I noticed another summit with prominence near the north boundary that looked difficult and showed no online ascents. We'd run out of time, so I left it for another day. Today was that day. When I suggested an exploratory visit to see if it could be climbed, Tom and Iris were both game. We would bring a 70m rope and way too much gear should it become a rock climb (it did), but since the approach is short, the extra weight wasn't too much of a burden - and besides, Tom was carrying most of it.

We drove the Jeep to the Wilderness boundary (a challenging road, not for large vehicles or low-clearance) and started from there at 7:30a. It took us only a few minutes to work our way to the main wash and our first view of the peak from the northwest. It was not encouraging, but then we were still half a mile away. We worked our way upslope, Iris and Tom following a gully rising along the base of the North Face, while I went up a minor ridge on the north side of the gully. Theirs went at class 2 while mine had some class 3 surprises, but we reconvened on the NE side and took stock of things. So far, nothing on the north or east sides looked anything like I would be able to manage, whereas Tom and Iris were offering some slight hope for things on the north side they'd scoped out while climbing the gully. I thought they were crazy to consider those options on what looks to be a 100' vertical cliff. I walked east to get a better view around the corner and concluded that the SE side might offer some possibilities, but we'd have to traverse around to take a better look.

Once we'd traversed the base of the east side, we could see that the southeast side did, indeed, offer some hope, at least for the 1/3 of the route we could see from below. I looked around the left to the south side and noted it was all vertical there, so no use trying that side. We stood around for five minutes or so discussing options and possibilities, all three of us contributing but knowing that all that really mattered was what Tom was willing to do in the end. It was concluded that it was worth exploring further, so we wouldn't have to head back just yet. Tom loaded himself down with about 15lbs of gear, tied himself into one end of the rope, and with Iris belaying, started up the chocolate-colored rock.

Following the obvious crack/gully between the differently colored rock, Tom worked his way up in less than 15min, placing 3-4 pieces of protection along the way. He'd used up a bit less than half the rope, but the wide shelf above seemed a good place to stop since the next section looked to be a scramble. I tied into the middle of the rope, Tom belaying now from above, and I almost immediately wandered onto a slippery face that resulted in my taking a short fall. I had tried to take a shortcut and had to sheepishly back down and take the route Tom had followed initially. I'd guess the crux at the small bulge where the gully narrowed was about 5.5 or so, a tame enough climb on toprope. Iris came up third on the end of the rope, and while she was working her way up I went ahead to explore the next section. The middle third was, indeed, a scramble as Tom had guessed, bolstering our hopes for making it up. I was stopped at the base of the upper third where things began to go more vertical again. I went back down to help carry the rope up while Tom took most of the gear once again. There's a short, exposed class 3 move just above the 1st belay station, but in short order we were all at the top of the scramble section, discussing where to go next.

There seemed to be maybe three options. The rightmost side was wildly exposed on steps slanting downward and we dismissed this as the poorest option. In the middle was a short scramble on a slanting crack that led to narrow shelf that might be traversed to reach a palo verde tree in the middle of the face. I went up to have a look at it, but the ledge was pretty dicey-looking with poor holds for the hands. Tom favored the left side option, where it was steep but looked to have small steps and holds, though the rock was most questionable there. It, too, would lead to an alcove next to the tree in the middle. From there, we guessed we could go up a ramp to the right, though we had no real view of what it looked like from below. After about 20min of deliberation, we got out the rope again and Tom started up the lefthand option favored by the only person that really mattered. On this longer second pitch, Tom put in more gear than previously, made his way to the alcove, then disappeared in the ramp leading up to the right. This pitch was a bit easier, perhaps 5.4 with the greatest concern being the loose rock. Again, I went up second followed by Iris, Tom belaying us both in turn. Above the upper belay station, the rest of the short distance to the top is all class 2, loose rock strewn everywhere. Tom's anchor was a minor engineering marvel containing more than half a dozen anchor points, all trying to make the best of the poor rock to which they were attached. By 10:45a, we had three of us at the summit - about three hours since we had first gotten the rope out.

There was a small cairn at the summit, clearly we weren't the first, but we still have no idea who it might have been. There was no gear left anywhere and it seemed unlikely to be the work of the Leaping Lizard Tribe. There was no register to be found, but we left one to mark our success. We also had summit cookies, something that has become a mainstay for Tom and Iris on many of their summits. We had a short discussion on how we might get ourselves back down. We had left the pro in place that Tom had secured on the 2nd pitch, giving him the option of downclimbing the pitch with a belay from below. We did not do this on the first pitch, so it would need to be re-placed to give him some protection. It was decided that Iris and I would rap off, Tom then downclimbing while Iris belayed him. I rapped down first, then Iris, after which Tom disassembled his upper anchor and then downclimbed the route. We packed up the rope and gear, downscrambled the middle section, then set up for a repeat of the rappels on the lower pitch. Rapping off second, Iris then replaced the pieces of pro on that section. And finally, Tom downclimbed the lower pitch, removing the gear such that we left nothing on the peak save our register. In all, we spent about an hour and a half on the descent. It would be another 35min before we had reversed our approach to return to the Jeep, arriving by 1:15p.

Peak 1,900ft

This was a very tame bonus peak we could do with the remaining time in the afternoon. It is located some 4-5mi east of the first summit, with very close vehicle access from several directions. I was curious about a BLM road from the north starting at I-40. The Google street view showed there was a gate along the freeway but I could not tell if it was locked or not. There are no signs telling one where to pull over and I'm not sure that it is even legal to do so. But I warned Tom who was following behind me to expect my blinker in less than 3mi while I followed my GPSr to the waypoint I had loaded for the exit. I slightly overshot it, but we pulled over and soon determined the gate had no lock. We drove both vehicles through the gate and closed it behind us, now likely safe from AZ state patrollers. We left Iris's Element inside the gate and took the Jeep south on the utility road towards our peak.

20min later we turned off the better road for a lesser one that goes to the Goldspeck Mine, a defunct operation that looks to have been the work of an individual rather than a corporation, abandoned not all that many years ago. The combination of cautionary signs, old wooden ladders, rusty gear and a modern house door to the entrance of the main prospect added to its eclectic nature. At this point we were less than half a mile from the summit, about 300ft higher to the northeast. We followed a miner's foot trail up to some additional prospects near Pt. 1,769ft, then traversed the SE side of the summit ridge to reach the top in about 25min. We would make it back to the Jeep before 3:30p, leaving us with almost an hour of sunlight.

We drove back out to the Interstate, then took showers before opening the gate once more and driving east on the highway. We stopped for supplies at the junction with SR95, then drove that south to the Goat Hill area on the east side of the wildlife refuge, maybe six miles north of Lake Havasu City. The road to Goat Hill had more than a dozen long-term campers found along it. We continued on lesser roads past Goat Hill and onto a low plateau above drainages feeding west into Blankenship Valley along the Colorado River. It was a fairly quiet place to camp away from people, though we were almost directly below the flightpath for the Havasu airport (which doesn't see all that much traffic, thankfully). We collected enough firewood for one of the largest campfires we would have on this trip, burning it all over the course of the evening's revelry...


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