Tank Mountains HP P500
Courthouse Mountain P750
Black Dome P500

Fri, Dec 9, 2022

With: Matthew Holliman
Chris Kerth
Stav Basis

Black Dome
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX


On the second day in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, there were four of us to climb a trio of summits in the Tank Mountains. The range highpoint and Courthouse Mtn were to be the highlights, difficult from even the easiest routes. We would come prepared with ropes and gear in case they were needed - the TRs were a bit all over the map describing them as class 3 to class 5.

Tank Mountains HP

We had gathered the night before at the junction with the Kofa Butte spur road near Kofa Butte. Not knowing the condition of the roads beyond this towards the Tank Mtns, we had chosen this spot and then carpooled in the two Jeeps. Wanting to start hiking around sunrise at 7:30a, we were up to start the drive SE at 6:30a. It would take us most of the hour to drive about 7mi to our starting point due west of the summit. Not the roughest of roads, but it was good to have the Jeeps to make it brainless. Our route was fairly direct up the west side to a saddle on the south side. This lower part was pretty standard AZ desert fare, all class 2. The interesting part happens in the upper reaches where some fun class 3 is found, followed by less exciting class 2 through cholla, to reach the summit features. There are two summits, the lower north summit a straightforward class 2-3 affair. I was the only one to visit this, while the others went to work on the the real meat - the higher and more challenging south summit. It's class 3 up from the base on the NE side, then some narrow grooves to reach the crux on the south side. Here there appears to be two options - a 5.2 direct route on good rock, or a chossy class 4 route to the left side. The other three had gotten to the start of the crux before me, but with a sort-of-casual "this looks tough" comment when I joined them where they'd paused, I kept going over to the class 4 option and worked my way up slowly to the summit. Not so bad, I thought. The others didn't like the extra exposure that route offered. Had I given it more thought, I would have taken the rope with me to the summit to make it easy to offer a belay, but it was still safely stowed in Matthew's pack. Chris decided he'd be more comfortable with the 5.2 route, so he led up that, trailing the rope behind him. Once at the top, he handed the rope to me and I belayed the others up to the summit in short order (it's all of about 30ft). It seemed a quick ascent, but it was nearly 2hrs to get us all up there.

We were suprised to find no register, but having brought one with us, left that to delight future visitors. After belaying the other three back down the 5.2 route, they pulled the rope and I reversed the scramble down the class 4 option. We then packed everything up and reversed the route back down to the Jeeps, arriving at 10:30a - much faster for the descent.

Courthouse Mountain

We had thought the previous summit would be hardest because Courthouse has been described as class 3, but we would find differently. We drove a little over a mile south on the continuing road until nearly due west of Courthouse. It looks to be about the same short distance (less than half a mile) and similar elevation gain (1,000ft) as the previous summit, but would prove more difficult due to the poorer rock conditions. We spent about 45min on the easier lower terrain, class 2-3 until the more exciting part on the south side of the summit was reached. With Stav in the lead, we worked our way up until he began to hesitate and eventually decided he'd gone far enough and was ready to call it quits. Nonsense - we have rope and gear. While Stav waited at the crux, Chris, myself and Matthew went up in turn, promising to toss the rope down when we found a good spot. After we were about 60ft up at a flat area, I called down that we were ready to toss the rope. Stav called up that he didn't have a harness - had left that in the Jeep after the first summit. "Do you know how to tie a bowline?" I called down. "No," came the reply up from below. Matthew had a harness in his pack, so we tied that to the end of the rope and tossed it down. The first toss was hopelessly off-kilter and did not reach Stav. I pulled it back up and made a second, more accurate toss that reached Stav. I then belayed him up to join us. We left the rope there and all went up the nearby south summit, class 3, where several registers are found.

The oldest register dated to 1990 by Bob Martin and pals. A second, better register was left by Mark Adrian in 1999. We knew from the TRs that the north summit is close to the same height, so both needed to be climbed. A steep groove on the SE side is loose class 4 and a bit unnerving. Stav went up first to see how he would do, and once up, asked to come down before the rest of us ascended, in case he found he might prefer to use the rope. A bit nervous on the descent, but he made it down safely. The rest of us went up and down over the next five minutes. No register on the north summit.

We then reversed the route back down the crux section, Stav taking a belay for this on the way down, the others feeling comfortable enough without. On the lower half of the mountain, Matthew and I took an alternate route that had some fun class 3 scrambling, a nice alternative to the class 2 ascent route. A little under three hours for this one.

Black Dome

With another five miles driving south on the somewhat rough road, it wasn't until 2:15p before we were ready to head out to Black Dome. Not all of this was spent driving. When we arrived at the starting point, Stav noted he could hear air escaping from one of Chris's tires. Not a good place to get a flat, but is there really a good one? Chris had a can of tire goop that he injected into the tire, then drove it a bit to get it to spread around the inside of the tire. We could no longer hear the air escaping, so we decided to leave it be and check the tire pressure on our return.

This would be the longest of the three outings at a bit over 3mi roundtrip, but also the easiest - no harder than easy class 3 and no need to bring the rope and other gear. Our route from the southwest was fairly direct, following to the side of a wash for the first mile, then climbing out on increasingly steepening terrain. There was some very enjoyable scrambling in the lower half, up slabby rock pockmarked with plentiful holds. The upper half was more of a chore, looser volcanic rock covered in cholla that made for slow, considered route choices. It took just over an hour to reach the summit. Barbara and Gordon had left a register here in 1987 with half a dozen pages of entries until our arrival. We reversed our route back off the mountain after a short break, returning to the Jeeps by 4:30p.

Chris found that he'd lost 5lbs of pressure on our 2hr+ outing, not great. He added more air and then we drove back to our campsite near Kofa Butte. There he discovered the small hole was on the sidewall, not something we could repair with my tire repair kit. Through a series of misadventures, it would take him several hours to eventually get the oversized tire changed to the spare - what a pain. But more fun planned for the following day...


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