Peak 5,164ft P500 CS
Painted Rock

Feb 25, 2022

With: Scott Barnes
Robert Wu

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile
Peak 5,164ft previously attempted Jan 8, 2022


Peak 5,164ft

Peak 5,164ft lies about 800ft north of the more well-known Old Woman Statue in the Old Woman Mtns. I had visited the unnamed peak a month earlier, and to my surprise, found that it was a class 5 summit with a massive summit block offering no scrambling route. With 550 feet of prominence, I surmised in the TR that I wrote that it might be the most prominent unclimbed summit in the state. I don't know if this is true and proving it would be a challenge, but I figured if anyone was able to speculate on such a thing, it would probably be me. Shortly after posting it, I got a few emails from Kevin Lei and Ellen Sebastian inquiring about some additional route information to help with a trad ascent. Unfortunately, I was looking for a scrambling route and did not study the rock for where one might use a rope, but I thought it was going to require drilling bolts like on Old Woman Statue. Neither had done aid before, let alone drill bolts, so it seemed a climb might be beyond their abilities. I suggested they might want to scout it out and the email trail ended there. As I was preparing for an extended roadtrip in early February, Scott contacted me about climbing it with Robert. I readily agreed and ordered a drill and bolt/hangers for the effort towards the end of February. Two days before our attempt, Robert was checking for weather reports and noted that Kevin had posted an ascent on LoJ. I then sent Kevin an email inquiring about it, and found that he, Ellen, and a third person had indeed climbed it on Feb 20, only five days before our effort. They had used aid but drilled no bolts, going up the west side where cracks run to the summit. Feeling the peak was fair game, I held no animosity towards them and congratulated them on the climb. At least we knew we didn't have to carry a drill and bolt kit on what would now be the second ascent. If you have a Strava account, you can read Kevin's report at

I met up with Scott and Robert near Essex around 6a, on a cold Friday morning with the temperature around 28F. We piled gear into the Jeep and drove it for than an hour to the trailhead at Painted Rock. It had warmed by about 10 degrees by the time we started out around 7:30a. I pointed out Painted Rock a few hundred yards to the south as a possible bonus climb if we got back early enough. Robert commented that it looked quite hard, but having already scoped it out earlier, I offered that the south side looked more promising. We spent about two hours on the four and a quarter mile approach, following much the standard route used for Old Woman Statue. We climbed to the right (north) of the gully that leads to the saddle between Pts. 1,429m and 1,354m, where the terrain has less brush and boulders. We then skirted Pt. 1,429m on its SW side, and traversed the ridgeline to the base of our peak. It was a clear, crisp morning that made for a pleasant hike, three of us chatting away as we took in the sights of our peak and Old Woman Statue from the saddle and along the traverse.

We were not quick about getting started. There was some discussion and manuevering of packs and ourselves on the ramp I had identified that first visit, before eventually settling on the route Kevin's team had used on the West Face. It starts up a vertical crack near the base of the ramp. We had brought a ton of gear, almost all of it carried by Scott and Robert. I had a 35m backup rope and my personal gear, a fairly light pack compared to the others. They refused my offers to carry more, perhaps not wanting to wear the old man out (which it might have done had I been carrying a similar load). They would wonder at the end of the day why I seemed much less tired, but I'm sure it had to do with lugging those loads back and forth.

While Robert was gearing up, Scott seemed to be losing his mojo and commented that he might sit this one out. Robert and I looked at each other and then at Scott and politely but firmly went about getting that thought out of his head. "Oh, I haven't climbed in ages" and other thoughts needed squashing and dismissing as they came up. It was cold up there, and that may have had some to do with it. The route was currently in the shade and there were few places one could escape the cold wind blowing through and around the huge granite blocks. I had failed to bring enough layers and Robert kindly offered one of his for me to use. Without much discussion, it was decided that Robert would lead with Scott belaying him, myself sitting and wandering about taking pictures and trying to stay warm. Shortly before 10:30a, the real work got under way.

The route up the West Face has three stages of roughly equal distances to climb the 80-foot feature. The first has two cracks one might use going up to a broken ledge. Robert chose the right crack, taking hands and feet and all of ten minutes to reach the ledge above. He might have belayed both of us up to this point as the original party had done, but it would have been colder in the more exposed position and Robert wanted to keep going anyway. He was in favor of doing it all in one pitch (we had a 70m rope to easily accommodate this), but Scott and I thought communication would be better breaking it up. Robert continued on the second section which goes up a thinner crack with poor holds to a horizontal crack just below a small alcove in the face above, taking another 15min. Once there, he was able to put in enough gear for an anchor and give himself a chance to rest. More discussion ensued before it was decided to belay Scott up to the ledge before Robert continued, facilitating better communication. I would stay below. I had already decided the initial crack would be tough for me and I would be happy to prussik my way from the bottom. Half an hour was spent in getting Scott up to the ledge and Robert ready to resume the climb. Scott seemed to relish his return to climbing and communicated to us that he was now enjoying himself immensely. We had used the rope to ferry the aider steps we'd brought in case Robert needed them at the crux above the alcove. He attached these to his harness with the rest of the gear, and after removing most of the anchor, continued up the left-hand side of two cracks running above the alcove. He had initial success in freeing this, but it goes to overhanging at the most severe angle, and combined with the cold that would quickly numb his hands, he fell off twice towards the end of the 30min he worked at it. Later he would guess this to be 5.10 or 5.10+, though with some hesitancy since he hadn't actually climbed it free. After the second fall, he switched to aid climbing and took only another 15min to work through the crux and the last easy part to the summit. Success!

It was only about 12:20p, but we still had to get two others to the summit including the weakest member who was still running around the base of the peak trying to keep warm. The sun had at least cooperated by moving around the monolith to start warming the rock on that side. After a summit anchor was established, it was decided that Scott and I would both prussik up the route, using some cord I had brought in conjunction with some micros that Robert had provided to make things easier. I first jugged up to meet Scott, then set him up with cords and ascenders to go first up the remaining distance. It was his first time using this somewhat awkward method of vertical travel, but in a few minutes he had the rythmic motion down and slowly worked his way upwards, cleaning gear left by Robert as he went. It would take each of us about 20min in turn to join Robert at the summit, finishing shortly after 1:30p.

The views from the top are as nice as imagined, particularly looking south across the southern part of the range. There are at least three other lower summit blocks with their own challenges in that direction, with an unusual view looking down on Old Woman Statue behind them. The first ascensionists had left a nice metal thermos with a notepad for a register. Scott and I were amused that Kevin had given credit to the "Register Committee of the Sierra Challenge", something Scott had pioneered (and made up entirely without a single committee meeting) years earlier. Along with our signatures, we left an official Sierra Challenge register to give weight to the occasion. After an appropriate stay at the summit, it was time to head off. We added a section of webbing to the cord the first party had used for rappeling, then chose to go off the near-vertical north side since it offered the least chance of getting the rope stuck. There was some concern as to whether it would reach the ground, but it did, with some to spare (the West Face is the shorter side). Robert went down first, then Scott, then myself. The rope took two of us to pull down, but it was retrieved in time and then we went about packing up all our gear. It was nearly 2:30p by the time we had gotten it stowed away and started back down, myself once again with the lightest pack. Robert had a stretch hope of having time to do Old Woman Statue (Scott and I had done it in 2017), but we were well past the noon deadline that we had set for attempting that. Someone else will have to be first for the combo climb. I still held out hope for Painted Rock as we set off back down. We did more sidehilling on the way down than we'd done earlier, and I wasn't very happy about my route choice, but the others seemed to mind little and we got back down to the TH in a little over an hour and a half.

Painted Rock

This impressive feature is a squat pile of granite rising from the desert floor at the base of the range, not very high compared to the surrounding summits, but a fine-looking object on its own. It is part of the Old Woman Preserve, a cooperative effort by Native American groups to preserve this ancient landmark and surround areas in this part of the range. There are petroglyphs on various facets of the rock and the preserve features some interpretive trails to the southwest. Signs and placards placed around the area tell of Painted Rock's history. I was happy to see there were no prohibitions to climbing or scrambling on the rock, though of course one would need to be careful not to damage the petroglyphs. On a previous visit, I had concluded that the southwest side offered what I guessed would be the easiest route to the summit. Most of the route goes up a broad crack/chimney system in the easy class 5 range, but above that I could not ascertain and there was no small chance it would end in failure. It was just after 4p by the time we got to the base of the rock, leaving us a few hours of daylight. Suspecting we might finish in the dark, I went back to the Jeep for some headlamps while the others prepared to send Robert up on lead once again.

As expected, this was an easier effort. Robert went up the initial crack system relatively easily, reaching a large alcove above that, approximately 3/4 of the way up. From there he worked his way left up through a series of short ramps while Scott continued to belay from below and I wandered about taking photos from different angles. Where I was most concerned about running into a blank section near the top, Robert discovered a hidden crack at the crux (about 5.6) that was blocked from my view. And only 20min after starting up, he was standing atop Painted Rock. For a second time, Scott was having doubts and suggested he might prefer to sit it out, primarily because he was afraid of the time it would take to get all three of us up. Once again, we did our best to talk him out of it, and I suggested we could speed things up by simul-climbing on the same rope while Robert belayed from above. We had about 20ft of extra rope, so we would not be far apart. I tied in to a figure 8 on a bight while Scott took up the rear position at the end of the rope. This worked nicely, primarily because of the easy climbing grade. I unclipped the rope from the pro as we went up, Scott cleaning the gear. It went very smoothly, taking only about 12min to get both of us to the summit shortly after 5p. The actual highpoint is a bit to the northwest, so we each visited it in turn before returning to the business of getting down. Higher than the summit block of Peak 5,164ft, Painted Rock could not be descended in a single rappel. It was decided to go back down the way we ascended, since I had high confidence we could find a suitable anchor in the alcove for the second rap. We slung webbing around a huge boulder and sent Robert down to the alcove first. We then had him test whether the rope could be retrieved since there was significant friction where the rope ran over rock slabs. He could not. We then used the remaining webbing we had with us to extend the rap ring much nearer the edge. With this he could then pull the rope, so Scott and I joined him in turn. While Scott was coming down last, I was disassembling my prussik cords for use as a rap anchor - they were the next cheapest pieces of hardware we had with us to use for the purpose. After slinging a chockstone, I went down first, followed by the others in short succession. It was 6p by the time we had gotten down and stowed our gear for a second time, now only about 15min from darkness falling. Luckily, we had only a five minutes' walk to get back to the Jeep to finish up the day - a very full one at that...

Via email from Eric N, Feb 13, 2023:
Just noting that the crack on Peak 5164 ("Old Woman Spire") was freed by myself and David De Renzy last Saturday, ground up and onsight. Chris Henry also toproped it clean, and Mason was able to toprope it without direct aid (but hung on rope a few times).

Route goes free at 5.9+

Start with the right crack (5.5) to a large ledge. Face climb up the ledge with a balancy move onto a dike (5.9). Enter an alcove, plug in a small cam, then switch cracks to the upper handcrack on the left (crux, 5.9+). Jam upwards around a bulge on the upper and top out.

We also located a 1970 Sierra club register by chance (I had gone to pee and saw it sitting in a crack between two boulders below the summit block), and we brought it up to the true summit.


anonymous comments on 03/02/22:
The route is now on Mountain Project:
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This page last updated: Mon Feb 13 16:38:49 2023
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