Christmas part 1: Little Picacho

Little Picacho

Little Picacho

With my winter work not starting until the new year, and Jen having two weeks’ vacation around Christmas, the obvious course of action was to take an extended road trip. So we loaded all kinds of gear into the back of my car and headed east on a big loop around the desert southwest and southern Rockies. In addition to much driving through empty country, the plan included a bit of everything from desert tourism to ice climbing.

To break up the first long drive, we climbed Little Picacho, a funky pile of garbage rock near Yuma. The climb involves two fixed ladders and a rappel on the way up, and either a short, steep 5th class climb or reascending the rope on the way down. Arriving sometime in the afternoon, we had a late lunch, then tossed harnesses and my 20m rope in our packs and set of across the desert. There are actually several petrified mud-piles around Little Picacho, so it took us a bit of wandering to find the right one, and to locate the gully for the standard route.

Once we found the start, the route was easy to follow, with ducks and even some painted arrows leading us up a slightly complicated series of connected ledges. I managed to stem my way around the first, shorter ladder, but was unable to find a climbable-by-me way up the overhang behind the second. After looking at a supposed 4th-class bypass on exposed, rotten rock, We made the rappel, then left the rope for the short walk to the summit. After checking out a mystery anchor on the other side of the peak, we pulled the register from its cemented-in cylinder, noted the familiar names, and hurried back out of the wind.

Having rigged the rope to toprope the rappel, we both managed to free-climb the short, overhanging step. Being tall enough to reach a large handhold, I found the climb to be maybe 5.6-5.7 on better-than-it-looks rock; being just a bit too short, Jen found the first moves off the deck somewhat more challenging.

Returning to the saddle between Little Picacho and its two unnamed subpeaks, we were tempted despite the late hour to try climbing one of them. While Little Picacho’s standard route is well-traveled enough for the rock to be relatively clean, we encountered much more loose or brittle rock on the seldom-climbed subpeak. After some interesting route-finding, 4th class climbing on dubious rock, and a bit of direct aid (a hand-boost, a foot stirrup in a fixed line, and a shoulder stand), we reached the summit at sunset, where we found and improved a small cairn.

We managed to get off the tricky stuff before full dark, then shared a headlamp on the way back until the moon rose. I was fortunately not by myself, since my sense of direction was off by 90 degrees or so. I would have hit a road eventually, but going straight back to the car was probably more fun, and even pleasant once we reached flatter and less cactus-infested ground.

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