Peak 2,673ft P500
Peak 2,553ft P500
Kettle BM P750
Peak 2,688ft P500
Peak 2,273ft P300

Sun, Feb 21, 2021

With: Eric Smith

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


Today's effort was a five peak loop in the Turtle Mountains in the vicinity of the popular Mopah and Umpah Peaks. We would use the same trailhead as used for those two summits, at the end of the dirt Heritage Trail off US95. My main goal was Kettle BM, a summit with more than 850ft of prominence. We drove both our vehicles to the TH, allowing for more options to return at different times. The only other visitor had driven in on a motorcycle about 20min ahead of us. We wouldn't see see him while we were out hiking, but Eric would find him back at the trailhead, confirming he'd gone to Mopah and Umpah. It was 7:15a by the time we were ready and heading out. We followed the Mopah Trail for about a mile and a half, or 2/3 of the distance to our first stop, Peak 2,050ft. The Mopah trail continues around the north and west side of our peak, but we headed cross-country up towards its summit from the northeast. We climbed the class 2 slopes to gain the NE Ridge just below the summit, and found our way to the top an hour and twenty minutes after starting out. The summit has a stunning view of Mopah Peak about 2/3mi to the southwest. It certainly looked imposing from our vantage point. We talked briefly about diverting to Mopah to give Eric a crack at it, but he wasn't yet ready to take on the class 4 crux without more preparation. We knew that Chris Kerth had been here back in November, but found no register, so we added his name to one that we left before starting down. Later, I learned that he was here with Stavros Basis (of, on a 5-peak loop that included both Mopah and Umpah, a pretty burly outing. Sorry to leave your name off Stav - it was ignorance, not intent.

Getting off the SW side of Peak 2,673ft was not as easy as we might have hoped. There is a reasonable class 2-3 route, several in fact, one of which Chris and Stav found seemingly without much trouble. We stuck close to the SW Ridge and ended up descending a neat little chimney/gully that ended with a dry waterfall. I had Eric waiting a short distance above so I could scope out the route. I noticed there was a class 3-4 bypass for the waterfall and would have skipped it if there was any doubt about what lay below. But it was clear that there was nothing but easier class 2 ground, this being the last difficulty. I figured I could talk Eric through this one, so I had him come down and join me, watching as I made the 15-foot bypass. The rock wasn't very good and some pieces came out - this wasn't going to help things much. But I cleared out what I could and helped Eric with the various foot placements - no time for pictures during this process. Eric did quite well, both of us emerging unscathed, and Eric merely commenting that he hoped I didn't take him down anything harder than that the rest of the day. I didn't.

Once on easier ground, We turned south and southeast to our second summit, Peak 2,553ft. It took us past the East Face of Mopah with a close view, though it still looked quite difficult from that distance (the East Face has some class 3, but the class 4 is out of view around the northeast side, higher up). Peak 2,553ft was not without its challenges, two pointy summits along a rocky summit ridge. Knowing the south summit was the highpoint, we made our way up the class 2 West Face aiming for the saddle between the two points. Once there, we found some nice class 3 scrambling on good rock, not quite a knife-edge, but pretty airy. Eric and I had been conversing this whole time and he paused to comment that it was helping a good deal to keep talking and take his mind off the exposure. We landed on the summit at 10:30a, finding a register left by dhgold in 2016. There were a few other entries since then, including Adam Walker in 2018. This had been the last peak that Chris and Stav had visited on their November tour, so it's probable that they simply missed finding the register tucked in the summit cairn. Kettle BM, our third stop, was still some distance to the south and quite a bit higher. Eric had already begun to waiver while climbing the current peak and by now had decided that he was going to cut the loop short, skipping the next two summits.

Our descent of Peak 2,553ft went off the SW side, down a class 2 gully that took a little class 3 scrambling and a dose of faith to make work. Eric was surprised that it worked as well as it did, thinking I had some sort of magic powers where a bit of luck was all it required. After reaching a wash at the base of the peak, we took leave of each other, heading in different directions. We would meet up again back at the TH. While Eric turned southeast towards Peak 2,273ft, I continued south, in a fairly direct line aiming for the summit of Kettle BM at the eastern edge of a rather large summit plateau. Though direct, my route was somewhat tedious, crossing over a number of ribs dropping down from the upper cliffband that guards the east side of the plateau. It would have been nicer to gain the plateau earlier, but I could find no suitable break in the cliff until I was within a short distance of the highpoint. The 1,400ft of gain was somewhat deceptive and it took me much longer than I expected to get between Peak 2,553ft and Kettle BM, about an hour and three quarters for a distance of under two miles. The ascent wasn't much to recommend, but the register was a good one. The oldest sheet was one of Smatko's tiny scrolls from 1971 with Bill Schuler. The next vistor was John Vitz in 1994, leaving a more standard notepad that had 9 pages of entries. The most recent visitor was Guy Dahms earlier in the month. There weren't as many visitors as one would guess from counting pages - those nine pages were from only six parties, so the summit sees only a few visitors each decade.

Descending the east side of Kettle BM turned out to be the most difficult part of the day. I hadn't realized just how fraught that side is with steep gullies, dry waterfalls, detached pinnacles and generally crappy rock. It would have been easiest to reverse my route off towards the north, but in the search for new adventure, I walked south along the plateau, going around Pt. 3,444ft before dropping off the NE Face. This began a series of dead-ends and backtracking that took me into various adjacent gullies to the north before I found one that didn't end in a dry waterfall. It was over an hour before I finally emerged from the cliffs and gullies to reach easier ground. I crossed the south end of the valley with Peak 2,688ft, my next stop, aiming for the South Ridge/Slope, a straightforward class 2 route to the summit that took about half an hour from below. Had I done the loop in reverse, I would have clearly seen how convoluted Kettle BM's east side was. Oh well, I doubt that route will get much repeat business.

After leaving a register at the lonely top of Peak 2,668ft, I headed off the North Ridge, hoping to reach a saddle from where I could then drop off the east side towards the last summit, Peak 2,273ft, just over half a mile away. The ridge was fun class 3 up until it wasn't. There was a class 4-ish drop with crappy rock that I couldn't bring myself to execute, even though it would mean more back tracking. I ended up on a very airy class 3 descent route on the upper part of the west side before I could reach easier ground that allowed me to traverse to the saddle I'd been trying to reach originally. Once at the saddle, the rest of the day would be a class 2 affair. As I'd hoped, the saddle offered the easiest route through the cliffs on the east side of Peak 2,688ft, after which Peak 2,273ft was a more mundance pile of volcanic rubble with more slog than excitement to it. I was on its summit by 3p, an hour after leaving the previous summit. I left a register here, adding Eric's name since I already knew he'd been here several hours ago from the various texts we'd exchanged.

At this point I was about 3mi from the TH, almost due north, and set off in that direction much as Eric had done hours earlier. From high on the summit of Peak 2,273ft, it seems like this is a straight shot, mostly downhill or flat, but as one descends off the north side of the peak, it becomes clearer that there are some rounded ridges one has to go up and over enroute. Because the terrain is fairly tame, I didn't much mind the extra gain and loss, happy to be in cruising mode for the last hour and a half of the day. It was 4:30p by the time I returned to the vehicles at the TH, finding Eric comfortably ensconsed in his sleeping bag and car, reading. He was so relaxed that he asked if it would be ok if we simply camped there for the night. It would. We had some driving to do in the morning to return to the highway and then to our next peaks in the Whipple Mtns, but there was no reason that couldn't wait. As it was Sunday night, there was little chance of being disturbed by others at the TH, and indeed it would prove a very quiet place to spend the night...


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