Copper Mountain P1K
Peak 3,012ft P1K
Peak 2,710ft P500

Sat, Dec 12, 2015

With: Karl Fieberling
Tom Becht
Patrick O'Neill
Laura Molnar

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3


The easternmost point of California is found at Parker Dam on the Colorado River. The dam hold back the waters of the 30mi-long Lake Havasu, whose shores are home to thousands of retirees, snowbirds, native americans and desert folk of a hundred flavors. Most of the larger developments are on the Arizona side, but one finds RV parks, campgrounds, small towns and other developed sites on both sides. The Colorado River Aqueduct has its inlet at Lake Havasu where the waters are pumped almost 600ft up into the Whipple Mountains to a pair of reservoirs before starting their long journey westward to the Los Angeles Basin. The Whipple Mountains rise to over 4,000ft, their highpoint a P2K and DPS summit. Though considered part of the same range, the eastern part is geologically a very different animal, a tightly packed volcanic region that has half a dozen summits with more than 900ft of prominence - the densest concentration of such summits anywhere in the state. There is almost no mention of anything in this area in the online archives. Our plan was to climb all of these in two days, a feat that proved too aggressive by the end of the weekend, but it was a great success nonetheless. The scrambling proved to be superb with tricky route-finding on most of the peaks we attempted. Having missed out on a few of them only provides a good reason to return again in the future.

Copper Mountain

The eastern point of this unnamed P1K is Monument Peak, one of the more impressive pinnacles found in the state. First climbed in 1939 by a John Mendenhall party, this notoriously loose spire has seen only a handful of ascents since. I knew nothing about this beforehand, but Patrick had come prepared with a printout of a Glen Dawson attempt in 1938. If Glen couldn't climb it, certainly we couldn't, but that was no cause for despair - Monument Peak was simply the bonus peak to the higher P1K to which it was attached.

Five of us drove in two vehicles up Bowman Wash for 7.5mi until we were a mile WNW of our summit at the site of the old Bowmans Dam. Any high clearance vehicle should be able to make the drive up Bowman Wash into Copper Basin (we had Tom's Jeep and Karl's Element). There is sand, but not too deep. The drive is interesting and one can't help but notice all the castellated summits on either side of the wash. We were struck by all the scrambling possibilities this area affords even before we had gotten out of our vehicles. Noting the cliffs ringing the upper half of our summit, we struck off to the southeast with the intent to climb it from the southwest side where we could only hope to find breaks in the cliffs. My companions were less optimistic than myself but happily tagged along on what might be termed an "exploratory mission" or "fool's errand", depending on your perspective. Upon rounding the western edge of the peak we traversed into a basin on the southwest side where the cliffs opened to possibilities, but not entirely good ones. An hour after starting out we encountered what we guessed would be the first of several difficulties. While waiting for the last two of our party to join us at the base of the cliff band, I went up to see if the route would work. It did, but with a 30' section of class 3-4 that I knew some of the others wouldn't appreciate. The rock was solid enough but the problem was the exposure for a short stretch where falling would not end well. I traversed a bit further along the route but could not ascertain an end to difficulties nor find an impasse that would require a retreat. I went back to report my findings without reversing the class 3-4 section.

While waiting thusly, I heard Laura scream just out of sight in the vicinity of where Tom, Patrick and Karl were waiting. Seems she slipped on the steep, loose embankment leading to where the others were waiting. She didn't fall far, but hit the ground rather hard, causing a good deal of bruising with the expected scrapes and cuts such mishaps tend to accrue. Laughs mixed with the shouting that ensued, leading me to understand it wasn't all that serious (her Facebook photos days later of her bruises would garner far more sympathy than we were willing to provide at the time). After this bit of excitement settled, the other four showed little appetite for following me. I knew Tom was certainly capable of following and probably would have were we alone, but instead he and Patrick went off to explore another possible route to the west up a steep ramp. Recognizing that no one was going to follow anytime soon, I simply continued up. To some surprise, I found that the remaining route to the top was no more than class 3. Some meandering was required to keep it to this, but the route-finding was not overly difficult. The biggest obstacle was the abundance of cholla that permeates the upper slopes and summit plateau. With none of the stuff found lower about the desert floor, it was a surprise to see it grow so abundantly here.

I reached the summit by 9:20a, finding a pair of old registers dating back to 1973. The seven pages of the first register told of a flurry of activity between 1971-75 by various DPS parties. The DPS archives have several short TRs from this time period, including a 1971 report by Andy Smatko and a 1973 one by Bill Banks. Barbara Lilley and Bill Sanders left a second register in 1977 with only a handful of ascents recorded since then, the peak having quickly lost its short-lived popularity. Only four parties had visited since 1977 with the last entry in 2007. The view from the top was nice, particularly looking east over the blue waters of Copper Basin Reservoir contrasting sharply with the dark brown tones of the surrounding desert.

I decided to drop west from the summit, exploring the possibility of another route off the mountain. This took me down over class 2 terrain (and plenty of more cholla) to the top of the route Tom and Patrick had explored. Unfortunately the top 70-100ft were too vertical to make a go of it and I could neither climb down that way nor had the others been able to find a way up. My backup plan took me across on a descending traverse to the east to connect with my ascent route just above the crux. I reversed those moves, dropping into the basin below, before returning via the route we had taken in. The others were nowhere to be seen, but I found them milling about the cars when I got back not long before 11a.

It turns out there's an easier way to reach the summit as described by Bill Banks in his DPS TR. The class 2 route can be seen in the center of this photo as a diagonal ramp rising left to right up the northwest side to the angled summit plateau. It's a much shorter route as well.

Peak 3,012ft

1.7mi northwest of Copper Mtn is the third highest and fourth most prominent summit in the range, Peak 3,012ft. We could have driven about half a mile closer by following the road further into Copper Basin, but decided just to leave the cars where they were and start from there. The others had already scoped out a deep canyon cutting into the east side of the massive that looked to afford the easiest approach. The south side was a rampart of vertical cliffs that looked impregnable, so we all started out heading for the canyon. Karl and Patrick were quickly out front, releasing the pent-up energy from sitting around the cars for the past hour. Tom and I were behind them with Laura still further behind. She was nursing her wounds and didn't know if she actually cared to ascend this second summit - she would be happy just walking around the desert, taking in the scenes.

On our way around to the east side and the canyon, I spied an interesting ramp that seemed to offer a way up through the cliffs on the southeast side. Tom saw me looking up and easily guessed what had caught my attention. We discussed it briefly before I decided to give it a go. It wasn't clear that the bottom part was even accessible, but the Plan B wasn't bad - I'd simply have to skirt the base of the cliffs counterclockwise around the peak until I got to the canyon, maybe a 20min delay. It seemed worth a try to find a more interesting route up. Tom seemed to agree and began following. Meanwhile, Karl and Patrick were 100yds ahead, just about to go over a low ridge out of view. They noted Tom and I heading off in a different direction and soon figured out the game. Karl wanted none of it and continued towards the canyon route, but Patrick decided to come join us. We could see him start off at a jog, but he had to give this up quickly as the slopes steepened. Leaving Patrick to play catch-up, Tom and I continued up over steep class 2 terrain to the base of the narrow ramp. The bottom section was worse than it had appeared from below and I initially lost much confidence. But standing at the base I noticed a small pile of rocks that had been placed by a previous party to initiate the crux move onto the ramp. I spotted Tom from below as he went up without his pack, a short struggle before mantling his way onto the start of the ramp. Tom went about 30ft higher to ascertain that bigger difficulties did not appear ahead. Patrick soon caught up with us but was less than enthusiastic about joining us. I offered to spot him as well before going last myself, but he declined. I then tossed the two packs up to Tom and asked Patrick to spot me from below while I went up. A short rope would have made this easy for Patrick to join us, but he decided to return via the Plan B around the base of the cliffs.

The ramp was an enjoyable class 3 scramble (after the class 4-5 start) on good rock that ended all too quickly, eventually devolving into a standard desert gully ascent up talus with mild brush. Less than 15min after leaving Patrick we were atop the summit. The MacLeod register we found here dated to 1988 with only a handful of parties since, including Vitz and Bob Greer. Sitting on the leeward side of the summit out of what had developed to be a cold, stiff breeze, we took a short break to eat a snack, peruse the register and take in the views. Tom was expressing regrets on missing the first summit when we noticed the route on the northwest side of Copper Mtn. It wasn't clear that it would go, but it seemed worth a try (and later I found it does indeed offer the quickest way up as described by Bill Banks).

After our rest we headed northwest over easy terrain, aiming for the top of the canyon acending from the east side. We met up with Karl a few minutes below the summit and then with Patrick just as we were dropping down into the canyon. He advised that the traversing Plan B route was a good one with use trails making things easier, and would save us some elevation loss in dropping to the bottom of the canyon. This was good advice and made the return shorter than it otherwise would have been. The base of the cliff on the north side is riddled with caves that the burros have made good use of. On hot summer days the vertical cliffs provide ample shade, probably one of the coolest places the burros and sheep can find. The vegetation is greener here and the route an interesting one. Comparing notes later with Karl who went up the canyon bottom, this was the better choice. We returned to the SE side, crossing over our ascent route before heading south on a more direct return to the vehicles.

Peak 2,710ft

The 3rd summit I'd planned for the day was Peak 3,357ft, the range's second-highest summit, about 4mi to the west. It was already 1:30p by the time we returned from the 2nd summit, leaving us about 3hrs of daylight. Depending on how far we could drive, it might or might not have been too late to attempt it without finishing in the dark. Laura was already back when Tom and I returned but the others would probably be much longer. We decided not to wait. Laura wanted to take a leisurely walk down the road and get picked up by Karl and Patrick after they returned. We left a note to this effect on the Element, Tom and I then taking the Jeep to head for the third summit. We didn't get far. The old side road shown on the topo map was now within the Whipple Mtns Wilderness and we couldn't drive west of Bowmans Wash Rd, making the approach some 4-5mi. A quick calculation told us it was impossible to finish before dark over such terrain. It still seemed too early to call it quits so we settled on a closer summit with 600ft of prominence that looked interesting. It made for a good scramble from the southeast with more non-trivial route-finding. We found ourselves on the west side of the serrated SE Ridge where the going ahead kept looking harder and harder. Tom began to have doubts and verbalize these regularly while I remained cheerily optimistic, telling him he would be embarassed after such a fine climb for complaining so. Or something to that effect, anyway. We managed to keep the scrambling to class 3, finding our way along the sunny side of the ridge, peering through holes in the rock and down very steep notches.

We reached the summit by 3:10p, finding no register or other signs of visitors. During the ascent we had noted old mining roads on the west side of the mountains and decided to use these for any easier descent. This turned out to be the easy way up the mountain, no more than class 2, and considerably easier with the help of the old road and the spur branches leading to various prospect sites. Down lower on the south side of the peak we found the remains of a homestead that once occupied a spot above the wash here, some junk and an old icebox littering the surroundings. It was 4p before we returned to the Jeep with little remaining daylight.

Tom and I met the others on the AZ side of Parker Dam where we ate an enjoyable meal at the Paradise Bar & Grill. Afterwards, we drove back to the CA side where we parked off Trails End Camp Rd to spend the night near a little-used DWP airport near the aqueduct. Our sleep would not go undisturbed tonight...


Shane Smith comments on 01/02/16:
Thanks for the great summit register and card photos! Nice!
Candace Skalet comments on 03/28/20:
Regarding Copper Mountain's class 2 route, I *think* I see it in your photo. But I'd love to see it on a topo map! Does such a map exist?
It does now. I've added it to the map link on the TR page, upper right corner.
Candace Skalet comments on 03/29/20:
Awesome, thank you!!
Candace Skalet comments on 12/23/20:
Yesterday, I climbed Copper Mountain via the class 2 route described by Banks. Getting to the ramp/gully and up it was no problem. Quite steep at times, but indeed only class 2. Except the last moves to gain the ridge are prob easy class 3. I had a little route-finding trouble from that point. But eventually found a class 2 and relatively cholla-free route to the summit. I'll post a report on Peak next week. Thanks for your help with this!
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