Dec 7, 2023
We were in the Havasu Wilderness area to visit a few Leaping Lizard Tribe summits that we'd first gotten wind of from Stav Basis. He'd been talking on the phone with Tim O'Conner, the LLT's ringmaster and president, and heard that Kongs Head and Monolith were two of their names for summits in the Wilderness, a few miles from where we had camped for the night. Kongs Head was a short scramble where some might want a rope for the initial 20' or so. The Monolith was described as a "whole other animal" by Tim, a bolted route that his clan had spent six weekends on before topping out. Stav had bypassed The Monolith and turned back on Kongs Head while picking up four other summits in a nice loop. We were hoping to reach all six summits in a similar loop, though we'd consider it a success if we just managed The Monolith.
It was 7a when we were ready to leave camp. Stav had started his loop from nearby, but we used the Jeep to get us closer on the east side, very close to the Wilderness boundary. Not an easy driving route, but fun in the Jeep, and by 7:30a we headed out on foot. I carried the rope as the previous day, while Tom carried even more gear since we'd need a cheater stick, leg loops and other aid gear. Our first stop would be Peak 1,540ft on the way to The Monolith. We started by dropping to the large wash on the north side of Peak 1,540ft, following it past the Wilderness boundary, then more directly up to the summit ridge from the northeast. Most of the rock is the dark, volcanic varnish found throughout the area, generally with decent footing. We took 40min to find our way to the top where a large cairn is found. I'd neglected to bring registers today, so on the easier summits we visited, we had no registers to leave. From the summit, we descended to the southwest, skirting cliffs on the west side to reach the base of the peak at Dead Burro Canyon. We crossed this heading west and were soon approaching the base of The Monolith from the east, reaching it shortly after 9a.
The Monolith is about 160ft high, vertical or overhanging on all sides. It appears to be a thin pinnacle from the east or west, but from other directions reveals that it is more of a fin, an ancient extension of nearby Peak 1,460ft's NE Ridge that has been eroded to leave this impressive feature. Class 3 scrambling got us up to a wide ledge at the base of the difficulties. We worked our way around to the east side which seemed to offer the only reasonable way up. It did not take long to find several bolts starting about 10ft above us. Tim had told us the first two bolts had been chopped since they were only used to protect the belayer when they were putting up the route. Thus, the extension pole we'd brought with us. The rock quality was as bad as advertised and this had me opting out of the climb after a few minutes of staring up at it. There was no doubt I would have to aid my way up the entire thing, and I worried that the tension on the rope while doing so would bring down a rain of rock upon my noggin and possibly damaging the rope, too. Sad-faced Iris was enough to bring me back around after a few minutes. What I hadn't considered was that the others would need to aid this one as well, so I wasn't going to be a complete boat anchor for the operation. Iris took a pretend nap while Tom spent more time scoping out the route above, taking photos with his zoom lens and identifying a whole string of bolts that would make the climb feasible. Naptime didn't last long as we were soon getting out rope and gear and preparing to give things a whirl.
About 30min passed between when we first reached the face and Tom was clipping the first bolt with the pole. I sent an email to Tim O'Conner on a whim, letting him know we had just clipped the first bolt on our way up The Monolith. Once that first bolt was clipped, things began to progress quickly. I was stunned by the rapidity with which Tom was able to climb the bolt ladder, deftly moving from one set of leg loops to the other in a very fluid manner, taking but 20min to get to the top of the first pitch where a 3-bolt anchor is found. He fixed one segment of the rope that Iris and I would use to ascend, belaying us from above with one of the rope ends. Iris wanted to go up second so that I could help her with the use of the ascenders. She expressed unfamiliarity with the equipment, but once she was tied onto both ropes and had a few bits of instruction, she quickly got the hang of it and was having a ball. She reached the top of the pitch, clipped into the anchor and I was soon working my way up next. My fears of falling rock were mostly unfounded. Tom had let loose many small projectiles during his ascent, but these were expected and we could keep out of the way. Other rock came down while Iris and I were ascending, but these were due to our feet, not the rope, and would rain down harmlessly below us. It was after 11a before the three of were together again at the wide shelf, and another five minutes before Tom was ready to start up the second pitch. This starts by traversing right a short distance, then up a crumbly face and open book. Like on the first pitch, Tom placed a few pieces in addition to the collection of bolts that made this route somewhat safe. We'd been warned that the 2nd pitch was more difficult, tricky, and would require wide cams (that we didn't have with us), but Tom made it seem no harder than the 1st pitch and never needed the extra cams. There were more rocks that came down, most of those dropping to the right, but as Tom moved higher, we became the targets and had to hug the rock our back were against to keep from getting hit. After belaying Tom from below, Iris and he switched roles and Iris went up again with the ascenders. She seemed more skilled and to be having even more fun on the second effort. While I was halfway up the pitch on my turn, the phone in my pants pocket began to ring - didn't seem like a good time to answer it. In finishing the second pitch, we were left with an airy class 2 walk to the highpoint where a large cairn is found. After we went to the highpoint, I redialed the AZ number that had called me, figuring it was probably Tim. It was not. It turned out to be his sidekick, Joel Dugdale, a name often appearing with Tim's in their registers. Tim didn't have my phone number and called Joel, figuring he could find it online. And so he did, calling me from Flagstaff. After chatting briefly, Joel texted me Tim's number, and I called Tim. Tim had driven out from his home in Lake Havasu City and was parked somewhere near Goat Hill watching us through binoculars. He was excited that someone other than his tribe had taken a crack at it, guessing we might be the first visitors in 20yrs. He was not far off, for once we'd found the register (it was at a second cairn near the top of the 2nd pitch, not at the summit), we could see that the last to visit were a party of three (Tim, Joel, and John Bradbury) in 2002. John had helped Tim establish the route back in 1992. Our chat continued for a good ten minutes before it was time for me to join the others for a summit celebration.
We had reached the top around 12:15p, staying up there for 45min until it was time to rappel down. After replacing the tattered webbing on the anchor, Tom went down first so that he could work on the same at the lower anchor while Iris and I rapped down behind him. It would be 1:45p before we had all gotten down safely to the bottom of the route and packed away the gear - a most spirited success! We still had the business of four additional summits and this would occupy us for the remainder of the afternoon and then some.
We traversed the shelf at the base of The Monolith around to the saddle on the west side with Peak 1,460ft. The summit of Peak 1,460ft was only a few hundred horizontal feet from us at this point, but it was all vertical cliffs on the north and east sides. We dropped our packs and took a quarter hour to traverse around to the south side before we could work through the cliff bands and make our way to the top from that direction. The large summit area is surprisingly flat, the highpoint found near the northern end. There is a fine view looking down on The Monolith, another of Kongs Head to the west, and the Colorado River to the southwest. We returned back to the saddle to retrieve our packs, then headed off the north side and down to a lower saddle with Peak 1,660ft before starting up the other side. We made an ascending traverse to the northwest and then west to the saddle with Kongs Head where we dropped our packs a second time. There was some minor discussion about whether to bring them in case we needed gear, but we decided it wasn't that far if we had to come back for it.
I reached the base of Kongs Head ahead of the others and after sizing it up, went up the 20' foot class 4 crux that comes at the beginning. It was a face climb with what I thought were decent holds that I felt comfortable on as long as I took my time. Iris came up second, followed by Tom. The rest of the short distance to the summit was all class 2. As expected, we found another register from the Leaping Lizard Tribe, tucked behind a white-painted rock at the base of the summit cairn. Tim and tribe had first climbed it in 1994, and the tribe made up all but a few of the dozen ascents recorded. They were also the last one to record an ascent back in 2020. After putting everything away as we'd found it, we reversed the route off Kongs Head and returned to the packs we'd dropped earlier.
By now it was almost 3:30p, leaving us about 45min of sunlight and two more peaks remaining. It was looking at this point like we might have to resort to headlamps. Peak 1,660ft could not be ascended directly along the SW Ridge, so we traversed right to the South Slope that we could use to bypass the difficulties on the ridge. We returned to the ridge above these, and made our way to the summit by 3:45p. This one had been pretty straightforward and the last one, Peak 1,665ft, was little more than half a mile to the northeast. Maybe this would go faster than I'd thought. Getting between the two through a low saddle was straightforward as well, following the connecting ridgeline. Stav had reported the descent off Peak 1,660ft to be the most enjoyable part of his outing, and we agreed that the scrambling along it was enjoyable, even if it had no real difficulties. Tom and I were almost racing as we ascended Peak 1,665ft, hoping we might make the top before sunset. We missed it by only a few minutes, finding a benchmark at what we guessed to be the highpoint. It turned out to be the slightly lower SW summit, so we still had another five minutes to get to the NE one. Iris joined us in short order and we went about figuring the best way off the peak.
We were perhaps a mile and a half from the Jeep and my first instinct was that we'd beat the need for the headlamps. But it turns out that the east side of the peak is fraught with cliffs and it wasn't obvious which route would work best. One option was to drop north to a saddle and then SE down a wide gully. Another more direct option was to drop SE off the summit then east down a narrow gully through the major cliff band. We couldn't see from above that either of these would work, the shadows and failing light offering no help. In the end we decided to roughly follow tracks by BobG and Stav that went down to the SE, then south along a lower ridgeline before turning east at the saddle with Peak 1,540ft. This would involve more hiking and added elevation gain, but it seemed the most certain route at this point. Somewhere along the southern travel on the lower ridgeline we switched on our headlamps and within five minutes I was in trouble when the batteries in mine faded to useless. I probably should have swapped to the better headlamp before we left the Jeep. Following behind the others, I was at first able to keep up, but as the twilight faded further, I began to smash my toes on rocks and stumble and eventually I called out for help. They wondered why I hadn't said something earlier, but I told them I was in need of some punishment for my planning failure. Maybe this would reinforce better preparation in the future. But probably not. The let me walk between them after this and things worked better. Much of the last half mile followed a trail that was constructed around Dead Burro Canyon. We'd seen others hiking on it earlier in the day, so were expecting to find it sometime after we'd turned east to descend from the last saddle. It was somewhere around 5:30p when we finally got back to the Jeep. I was pretty wiped out from carrying the heavy pack these past few hours and was relieved to finally unweight it all.
We drove back to the same camp we'd used the previous nights with plans to spend a second night. It was nearly 6p when we arrived and it was as much as I could do to take a tepid shower, get on some fresh clothes, and lounge inside the Jeep with the heater running. Meanwhile, my companions had collected a huge amount of wood for the night's campfire, such that I felt embarrassed for my laziness when I finally emerged. I will chalk it up to their being younger and more fit, but I certainly appreciated their efforts. It was a great last group campfire for this trip, and one of the better ones, too. It helped revive my spirits and we had a fine evening. It had been one of the more adventurous days of the year, to be sure...
This page last updated: Mon Dec 25 09:20:10 2023
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