Peak 2,050ft P300
Pisa BM P300
Peak 2,191ft P300
Peak 2,145ft P300
Pyramid Butte P300
Peak 2,139ft P300
Cairn BM P300

Feb 20, 2021

With: Eric Smith

Pyramid Butte
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profiles: 1 2


Eric had joined me the previous evening, driving in from Albuquerque, NM, about the same driving time as I had from San Jose. He would be peakbagging with me over the next six days. The Turtle Mtns are one of my favorite desert ranges, thanks to an abundance of volcanic plugs with some fine scrambling. The north end of the range has a high concentration of this type of summit as Tom Becht and I had found on a trip the prevous year. Even with two days, we had left a number of summits unclimbed. The main event today would be a quartet of summits in the same area that we would manage in the morning. The other three were some bonus peaks I did elsewhere in the range while Eric took it easy.

Peak 2,050ft - Pisa BM - Peak 2,191ft - Peak 2,145ft

Leaving Eric's Rav4 near US95, we drove the Jeep on Turtle Mountain Rd some 10mi in a straight line to where the road forks. The left fork turns southwest and goes to the popular OHV destination of Browns Camp. We took the right fork another four miles northwest and southwest to the edge of the Turtle Mtns Wilderness on the east side of our four peaks. There is a neat fence here with a Wilderness Access sign, courtesy the BLM. We headed out counter-clockwise on our 5.5mi loop to the four summits starting around 7:45a. Peak 2,050ft was less than a mile away and would take us half an hour to reach the class 2 summit. It was the easiest of the four peaks, the only one without any class 3 on either the east (ascent route) or west (descent route) sides. It did give us a good view of the other peaks that we would be heading to next.

Next up was Pisa BM, a little over a mile to the WSW. There are easier ways to the summit than we took, but probably not a more direct one. After a pleasant walk across the desert flats between Peak 2,050ft and Pisa BM, we began to study the cliff band at the top of Pisa BM. The easy route was to the left where a class 2 slope lead to a low gap. The hard route was to the right where a class 3 route might be found, but could be much harder. Eric had some trepidation that I was going to pick a harder option than he was comfortable with. I figured my job was to keep him safe but also challenge his skills, so I picked a middle option that would only have a short stretch of class 3. The chute was class 2 nearly to the top and comfortably in the shade, which we took advantage of for a short rest. Eric managed the class 3 well enough and seemed confident with his success. Once on the crest, it was an easier class 2 scramble for the last few minutes to the summit. We found remnants of a survey tower, the expected benchmark, and an imposing view of Peak 2,191ft, only a short distance to the south. Andy Smatko had been to the summit in 1973, but we were unable to find a register he may have left. So we left one of ours, including an entry for Andy.

Getting down the south side of Pisa BM was harder than expected, some class 3, but not much exposure. Peak 2,191ft was another story, at least the north side that we were looking at as we traversed between the two. There looked to be a dramatic cleft in the North Face that goes directly to the summit, but it was not a route to explore with Eric in tow, so instead we moved around to the northeast side where a convenient class 2 gully led 2/3 of the way up the peak. Upon reaching what might be called the SE Ridge, we found an even more convenient class 2-3 ledge system that led nicely up the cliffs found on this side. And barely 30min after we left Pisa BM, we found ourselves atop Peak 2,191ft. On our way down, we found a slightly more challenging route off the top portion of the SW Ridge, before dropping into a gully on the south side which would take us down to the desert flats. Our last summit, Peak 2,145ft, was another mile to the south. We crossed over an old road, now part of the Wilderness, at the halfway point. From our NNE approach, Peak 2,145ft appears to be split into two summits by a steep gully between them. The highpoint is on the left. We aimed for this gully, finding some class 3 near the top, then moved left to explore a route in that direction. There was some exposure on a class 3 ramp leading up that way, but the route ultimately failed when we found the ridgeline unclimbable and cliffs around the corner. We returned back to the steep gully and moved around to the right where we found a class 2-3 route up to the highpoint from the west. There was a nice little ridgewalk at the end, airy but easily managed. The summit offers views southeast of the higher and more complicated terrain in the Turtle Mtns around Kelbaholdt and Mexican Hat, and another group of four volcanic summits (though looking more tedious) to the southwest. We left a second register here before starting back.

We chose to descend the South Ridge as a change of pace, some fun class 3 on solid rock. We had to descend far enough down to get past the cliff band on the east side. After doing so, we turned northeast to slip through saddle east of the summit and drop down to the desert flats once more. It would take an hour and a quarter to get back to our starting point from the last summit, most of this a pleasant hike on mostly level ground that gave us time to appreciate some of the desert offerings like the unusual palo verde trees or the remains of a tortoise shell found in a wash. It was 12:15p by the time we finished, giving us time for some driving and a few bonus peaks.

Pyramid Butte

We returned to US95, picked up Eric's car, and drove about 13mi south on the highway. Pyramid Butte lies outside the Turtle Mtns, on the east side of US95, across from the access road for Mopah and Umpah. A BLM road gets one very close to the summit on the north side. The peak is a pile of volcanic rubble, hardly appealing, and Eric's reluctance to join me was understandable. Leaving Eric in the Jeep, I set off on my own at a quick pace, intending to do this one as quickly as possible. It took nine minutes to reach the summit where a large, squat cairn held a register left by John Vitz in 1999. For a desert summit, this one was a bit busy, with seven pages of entries, most recently visited less than two weeks earlier by Guy "Moving on Borrowed Time" Dahms of New Mexico. After photographing the pages, I tucked the register back in the rocks and zipped down the hillside - 20min for the roundtrip effort.

Peak 2,139ft - Cairn BM

We drove both vehicles to the Heritage Trail on the west side of the highway, stopping at the two mile mark for these last two summits. Our parking spot would also make for our campsite, so while Eric went about getting comfortable in the back of his car for a nap, I headed south for Peak 2,139ft. I hiked through a neat little valley tucked into the hills, golden brown from an unusual abundance of a low, dry brush. The peak was mostly volcanic rubble, not particularly fun or interesting, but easily managed in about 50min's time. I then turned northeast, descending the NE Slope of Peak 2,139ft, across the narrow width of the valley and up to Cairn BM, about 2/3mi from the first summit. The second summit was similarly forgettable rubble, but did feature a register left by Mark Adrian in 2018. Surprisingly, there were three other entries in such a short time, including Candace Skalet (who'd also visited Pyramid Butte). Mark had noted that another point about 500ft to the northwest sighted higher, so I went over to check, finding my GPSr concurred that it was indeed about 5ft higher. The register still remains at the Cairn BM location. I dropped back down into the golden valley and returned north back to the road and our vehicles, finishing up just after 4:30p. As I crossed a wash shortly before the road, I noted an abundance of firewood, dragging a good quantity back to the cars with me. This would easily provide enough fuel for a campfire that night and lead us to the realization that the washes were the key to campfires in the desert. We would make good use of this tactic over the course of the week...


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