Wed, Dec 7, 2022
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The Whipple Mountains continue to surprise me. I had expected today to be somewhat chill, a collection of three summits near Copper Basin Reservoir that can be accessed from SR62 via 5mi of BLM roads. It turned out to be another classic adventure, for reasons I hadn't expected. There are two unusual features I discovered on the outing. The first, is that Copper Basin Wash has water flowing year-round. This makes for some unusual flora for the area, including palms and cottonwood trees. The other is Minnick Wash, which flows between the second two peaks and empties into Copper Basin Wash near the reservoir dam. Minnick Wash narrows sharply between Peak 1,896ft and Lunch BM, creating an unusual slot canyon cut through the volcanic rock. Both of these wash features would catch me unexpectedly, creating new challenges to overcome.
I had spent the night above the Colorado River just past the start of the BLM road, at an overlook. It was a superb spot with river views, wifi, and none of the distractions I'd found in Parker the previous night. The morning treated me to a fine orange sunrise around 6:30a as I was getting ready to head out. The BLM roads were a fun bit of OHV driving, high-clearance and 4WD required. Along the way, I passed by a gravesite for an old prospector who died in 1931 at the age of 55. I spent about 40min on the drive, ready to head out on foot just after 7a.
Peak 1,924ft was less than 2/3mi northwest of where I parked near the end of the road. I had 1,000ft of gain, helped in the first half by burro trails leading up to the south side of the peak. Turning north, I ascended rubbly volcanic slopes the rest of the way to the summit with some class 3 near the end, taking about 35min. There was a 4-foot cairn, hollow inside, but no register that I could find, so I left one of two I carried with me. Copper Mtn and Monument peak could be seen to the northwest, though this angle is poor for a good view of the latter summit. To the south is the Colorado River and Parker, AZ, while to the northeast can be seen Copper Basin Reservoir, one of the first stops along the Colorado River Aqueduct to Southern California. I descended back via much the same route, returning to the Jeep by 8:30a.
So far so good, and it looked like I would be done much earlier than the previous day. The route I had sketched out to the other two summits was about 6mi roundtrip, about 3-4hrs of work, or so I thought. I moved the Jeep a short distance to the east, but probably could have just done all three summits from the same parking spot. The topo map shows the BLM road continuing north to the reservoir, but an old gate here is signed for No Vehicles. Folks have driven around the gate, but the road lower down where it drops into a wash is very rough - I wouldn't have tried it in the Jeep, but better drivers have. I walked down the road to enter the wash, then followed it downstream for a mile to its junction with Copper Basin Wash. Tire tracks in the gravely wash show that plenty of folks have driven down it. At the junction, I was surprised to see towering trees and palms, tall reeds and nearly impenetrable brush. I tried to follow Copper Basin Wash upstream on the west side, above the brush, but cliffs soon made this impractical. I then made several attempts to cross the wash, stopped by brush before finally powering through to the other side, discovering water in the creek which created a swampy obstacle. On the east bank, I discovered an old roadbed, no longer driven, that I followed upstream, thinking I'd found the key. Alas, it ended in less than a quarter mile where the wash narrowed with steep cliffs on both sides. I was still 3/4mi from Peak 1,380ft which I intended as the 2nd summit, but the brush was too overwhelming. I needed a new plan.
The new plan suggested to me was to get the hell out of the wash and find another way to Peak 1,896ft, leaving Peak 1,380ft for later. Only minutes after climbing out of the wash, I was much more relaxed even with the uphill through a maze of volcanic terrain. With very little vegetation on the slopes and none of yesterday's cholla, it was a pleasant, scenic route, following the divide between drainages. There were a handful of intermediate points to go over or around, but I hardly minded, all class 2. I eventually reached a saddle on the west side of the peak and scrambled the class 3 SW Slopes to the summit by 10:45a. Not too shabby, I thought. With more than 500ft of prominence, I left my second register on this summit while I took in the views and a much needed rest.
The route I had drawn on the map used Minnick Wash to get between Peak 1,380ft and Peak 1,896ft. It would have been impossible, due to the slot canyon, with dryfalls I would not have been able to surmount. I misread the map on my GPSr while I was atop Peak 1,896ft and thought Peak 1,380ft was connected via a ridgeline. So after descending the class 3 section and through the saddle, I started following the ridge on the SE side of Minnick Wash. This worked easily enough for about half a mile before I realized I had to cross to the NW side of Minnick Wash to reach the last summit. I found a steep gully dropping 300ft to the wash, almost all of it class 3 slabs that had me going slowly and cautiously. I started to expect it would end in cliffs before I got to the bottom, but I couldn't tell from above, so I kept going. I was sort of dreading having to climb back out, but realizing as I neared the bottom that it was a very narrow slot canyon, I began to dread reaching the slot even more. I found it went class 3 all the way to the bottom, so far so good. Looking upstream, there was a 50-foot dryfall that would have kept me from descending the wash as intended. Heading downstream, I worked past a first easy dryfall only to be stopped by another only seconds later. There were pools of water below and it looked like I might be able to drop into the first one, but I'd never get back up. And it seemed highly probably there were even larger dryfalls past that. I would have to go back up. Drats.
It turned out I didn't need to go all the way back up to the ridge. I scrambled southwest out of the gully I'd descended, finding easier terrain I could traverse across, then up to a buttress where I found more reasonable terrain on the other side. It offered a class 3 way down to Minnick Wash on the downstream side of the slot canyon, in a more open area immediately below Peak 1,380ft. And the route up to the last peak didn't look more than class 3 - excellent.
I climbed Peak 1,380ft from the shady east side, a bit of class 3 to reach the SE Ridge above. From there, more fun class 2-3 scrambling along the narrow ridge would see me to the summit by 12:45p. The last two summits were separated by less than a mile, but it took 2hrs to get between them, all great fun. At this point, it would be quickest if I could drop down the west side of Peak 1,380ft, cross the dam, and climb up the other side to reach the utility roads I'd seen earlier. I went off to explore this option, but the face drops steeply down and looked like it could get hairy before reaching the dam. Considering I'd already had way more adventure than I'd planned, I decided to take the easy gully on the south side to reach the road below the dam. Back up and over the summit I went, then down the south side. The gully was mostly class 2, brushy towards the bottom, but nothing sketchy. At the junction of Minnick and Copper Basin Washes, I found the bottom of Copper Basin Wash has been bulldozed clear of vegetation. This would obviate the need for any bushwhacking. I started to follow the road upstream to see the bottom of the dam, but I stopped short when I found water and swampy conditions mixed with the bulldozed streambed. It appears the year-round water is fed by a mineral spring (lots of minerals on the rocks in evidence), or perhaps simply leakage from the reservoir. A fern grotto was a lovely green on the cliff faces. Small pools to the side of the roadbed held, of all things, crawdads. God knows how they got there, but I doubt they are native.
I turned to follow the road downstream, marveling at the small stream that crossed the road several times before the road eventually climbs steeply out of the creekbed to the north. I noted at this point I was less than 1/3mi north of where I had abandoned Copper Basin Wash earlier in the morning. I saw that without too much trouble, I could traverse the east side of the wash, crossing a subsdiary drainage, then up to the ridge I'd climbed onto earlier. Better, I thought, would be to make a bigger loop of it, so I hiked up the steep road towards the reservoir. This offered me some swell views of the dam and reservoir. I passed by a small P62>utility shed with a microwave relay and power poles, then left the road to follow burrow trails heading along a collection of ridges to the southwest. I eventually dropped into the wash I'd started on hours earlier, then climbed back up the road to the Jeep, finishing just after 2:15p. This last leg went so much smoother.
It had been a fine day, but I still had much to do before meeting up with Matthew in Kofa NWR later this evening. I headed to Parker for supplies and dinner, south to Quartzite for gas, then to the TH for tomorrow's hike. It was long after sunset before I arrived, finding Matthew had arrived only a short time earlier. We chatted only briefly before I headed off to bed. Long day...
This page last updated: Mon Dec 26 16:32:30 2022
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