Picacho Peak 2x P1K RS / DPS / CS
Little Picacho Peak P500

Dec 9, 2017

With: Scott Barnes
Iris Ma
Karl Fieberling
Matt Yaussi

Picacho Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2
Picacho Peak previously climbed Feb 24, 2008


Saturday saw us making an excursion to Picacho Peak in the SE corner of the state, a DPS summit that makes for an exciting day. I had been to the peak with Matthew and Evan nine years earlier and had included it again on this year's itinerary to allow Tom Becht the chance to climb it. He had caught a nasty bug and would be unable to join us today, sadly, but most of the others were looking forward to it as the highlight of the weekend. Evan had joined us at camp the night before, but since he'd already climbed it, planned to head to the Colorado River to photograph some birds. I hoped we'd finish early enough to allow us to visit another peak in the area, Little Picacho Peak.

Picacho Peak

Aside from our usual desert daypacks, we carried some climbing gear which included helmets, harnesses, a rope, a pair of entriers (rope ladders) and as small collection of carabiners, cams and slings. I managed to distribute most of this to my companions, Karl and I claiming weakness as the elders in the group. We drove in Matt's Subaru north on Picacho Rd for about 10mi to the junction with Little Picacho Wash. Starting out on foot a short distance up the wash (a jeep can drive further, but we decided not to abuse Matt's car), we hiked up the gravel wash for about a mile until it narrowed (and the vehicle tracks stop). We scrambled up this fun little narrow section to find the wash opens a second time, with a bold view of Picacho Peak's East Face before us. We failed to find the use trail that would make things easier climbing out of the wash, but our little bit of cross-country cost us little and we soon picked up the trail leading to a saddle on the southwest side of the peak. We spotted two smaller, but still impressive pinnacles to the northwest, noting these as potential future endeavors. From the saddle, the use trail continues, skirting the base of the cliffs on the west side of Picacho to reach a class 2 gully that climbs high to a notch on the shady west side where the real fun begins.

The terrain becomes a mix of class 2 and 3 as one scrambles out of the notch to follow a series of switchbacking ledges up the northwest side of Picacho. Sadly, someone has deemed it helpful to paint green arrows at various points to help find the way. The options are limited, so it isn't hard to figure out, and certainly small ducks would have been a lot less intrusive than the ugly paint. At the end of the first ledge, one encounters the first of two ladders. Scott and Iris decided to bypass the short wooden ladder by climbing the class 5.6 rock on the side. Matt and I used the ladder and Karl decided he didn't like the look of either option and chose to head back. It was probably a good decision for someone who doesn't like exposure, because just past the ladder is the chasm leap. Others have belayed across this obstacle that has been described as a 3 to 4-foot gap, but it isn't all that bad. It's less than two feet across at its narrowest, but both sides of the rock slope down making it feel much more. Scott chose to carefully climb down the steepening rock to step across the gap while the rest of us decided a leap would be more prudent. Either way, there's a good deal of air beneath the gap that can't help but make one nervous.

After the last of us bridged the chasm, we continued along the ledge system for another 8min to reach the second ladder, a tall aluminum one. I climbed up the ladder and set up a belay (there's a convenient bolt to which the ladder is tied to make this easier) for Scott who hoped to free this one as well. It proved more difficult than he could manage and after trying for about ten minutes, he gave up and climbed the ladder. Iris tried to free it as well, but gave up after a futile effort lasting less than a minute. Rope recoiled and gear packed away, we continued up to the summit crest where a cold wind blasted us. We all scrambled up the class 3-4 section found halfway along the crest towards the highpoint to the south (a bolt atop this intermediate point helps for rappelling it on the way back). Finally coming upon the expected 20-foot cliff, we once again got out the gear to facilitate the short rappel. One by one we went down, then scurried out of the wind while waiting for the others to join. Once down, we all made our way to the highpoint at a small alcove at the southernmost edge of the summit ridge. Scott stood around with way too much gear fastened to his harness (none of it actually used) while in contrast, Iris huddled in the corner to avoid the windchill. We all signed the register and ate a few snacks, the most amusing of these being Scott's bag of Trix (not to be confused with a certain cartoon cat who carried his own). Perhaps the lighest of all possible snacks one could fit in a ZipLok bag, the mini Trix would just as likely blow off into the wind as find their way to Scott's mouth. I gave him a hard time for his environmental insensitivity which he tried to mollify by eating all the ones he could find scattered about the ground.

After what seemed a sufficient time at the summit, I shepherded our group back to the 20-foot cliff where we'd left our rope in place. The entriers turned out to be of little use. Instead, I used a set of prussiks to climb the rope then belayed the others one by one up the face. It has been described as strenuous 5.8 or 5.9, but I don't think it was that hard as the holds are large and plentiful. Once Iris had joined us atop it, we packed up once again and headed for the intermediate point with the class 3-4 step. Scott chose to downclimb this while the rest of us elected to rappel off. We then continued reversing the route, down the tall ladder, along the ledges, across the chasm and back to the short ladder. Here we had a minor snafu - we had left the wooden ladder lying to the side when Scott and Iris had chosen to free that section. By scrambling down much of the section, I was able to hook the top of the ladder with my foot and move it back in place. Past this, we returned to the notch, down the gully and back to the saddle before pausing for a short rest. We did a better job of following the use trail down into the wash on the way back, eventually rejoining Karl back at our car around 11:45a. The outing came in at just short of five hours roundtrip.

Little Picacho Peak

Finishing up with plenty of time, we headed north on Picacho Rd for the second outing of the day. While not as exciting, this one had the air of adventure since we had almost no beta. LoJ showed one climber visiting in 1998, but that was it - no details. There is a Little Picacho Peak on PB, but this is not the same point and should probably have been more accurately called "Little Picacho Benchmark". Our smaller cousin to the one we just climbed is about 7mi ENE of Picacho Peak. After about 4mi we entered the state park and almost immediately to a right fork onto a jeep trail that we followed for another 3/4mi to a trailhead for Marcus Wash. We parked here, about 3mi WNW of our summit, and started off on the trail into Marcus Wash. The trail disappears as it enters the wide wash through a narrow channel. The Colorado River is less than 3/4mi downstream, but we turned south to follow the wash in a wide arc upstream, eventually heading east as we followed the left fork of the wash where it makes a significant branch. For more than an hour we plied this convenient wash whose headwaters drain the north side of Little Picacho Peak. As we neared the peak we began to worry that it might be quite difficult. There was a steep gully running up the northwest side that might work, but it looked to become class 5 in the upper reaches. Expecting (hoping for) nothing more than class 3, we had brought no climbing gear with us. Angling left towards the NE side, I was happy to discover a class 3-4 gully running up that side that had been hidden from view on our approach. Karl had begun angling right towards the uncertain gully and had to be chased down by Scott to bring him back to the fold on the NE side. A large chockstone a short distance up the gully blocks easy progress, making it was necessary to climb out on the left side lower down to bypass this. The class 3 remains sustained for some time, but Iris and Matt did a fine job of finding a suitable route up through the gully that we could all follow.

Two hours after starting out, we found ourselves at the top, all of us elated with our success and good luck. The south side had even more imposing cliffs, so there were no hidden routes on that side to discover - this was one tricky summit. There was a cairn and survey stick at the top but no register, so we left one of our own. We retraced our footsteps almost entirely on the return, especially for the tricky descent down the NE Gully. We wouldn't get back to our vehicle until nearly 4:30, only minutes from sunset - good timing! It was a longish drive back to our campsite where we found Evan relaxing after his less than strenuous day, and once again we were treated to more of Matt's BBQ magic to fill our hungry bellies. Iris had to return home after dinner, leaving us a little sad, but we had more adventures planned for the next two days...

Matt's Video


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