Old Smokey, Kofa Pinnacle

16-Mar-96

By: Richard J. Hughes


Our March 1995 trip to the KOFA National Wildlife Refuge was a mixed success. Although we climbed 10 Ewe Mountain, we were defeated on KOFA Pinnacle, aka Squaw Peak. The blame for this lack of success lay squarely on my shoulders. Lulled by a false sense of indomitabilityl I blindly charged up the wrong route, foolishly leading off into no man's land. Fully cogniscent now that KOFA Pinnacle was no longer to be taken lightly, I revised my plan of attack. A revision that ensured our success this time around. Christine Bohmann, a visiting student from Germany, Patsy and I picked up Carl Van Herreweghe on Friday night and we all headed off east. The Bronco, as usual, was packed full. We stopped in Yuma to fill up gas before turning north on Highway 95, towards Quartzite. The clock ticked inexorably on. Kept awake by "The Beatles", I sped past two signs for the KOFA National Wildlife Refuge before we reached the Palm Canyon turnoff. We headed east down the dirt road. after a few miles, taking the side road signed to KOFA Queen mine. We reached the campsite ,just before the entrance to the canyon, shortly after midnight, and picked out our sleeping spots in the raked outground. Next morning we were up at 6.30 am, ate breakfast and were just about ready to begin bouncing down the dirt road when we were surprised by a jogger. He said he was camped at the end of the dirt road and was out for his morning run. Uh oh, it's getting crowded here! Turns out, though, that the jogger visits KOFA every other weekend during the winter. He was even more surprised to see us than we were to see him ... and he didn't start going to KOFA because he read about it on the Los Alpinistas Web pages! We soon overtook the jogger and an hour later arrived at the end of the road. A short section of the road is closed to prevent through vehicular traffic across the range, thereby eliminating the disturbance ensuing from more "recreational" 4WD traffic. We packed in an average of 5 quarts water each. An adequate amount, as we each carried out almost a quart on Sunday. We backpacked in 4 miles, this taking us two hours; a far cry from Paul Freiman's "death march" across the Santa Rosa range two weekends before. Ahead of the others, I surprised two ewes in the wash and they clattered up to the safety of the ridge above where they stood watching me for a good minute or so before heading off. This is an infundibuli-form landscape; almost nowhere is it flat. We located a passable campsite on the crest of a ridge, almost directly between KOFA Pinnacle and Old Smokey Mountain. We ate a leisurely lunch of bread, cheese and onion soup before setting off for in the early afternoon for Old Smokey Mountain.

Hiking alone a ridge. Patsy spotted two ewes on the crest of 3 nearby ridge, silhouetted against the sky line. We passed the binoculars around and, a moment later, the two ewes were joined by a magnificent ram. We faced off, the four of us watching the three of them watching us, watching them. The ram shepherded his two ewes up the slope ahead of us and we waited to give them some personal "space". They were headed up Old Smokey Mountain in front of us! Old Smokey Mountain is a castelated peak. The true summit is not obvious until you are standing on it. In two groups, we each climbed a false summit before congregating on the true summit. The final ascent to the summit block is third class up an airy ridge which sported a thousand foot drop off its south side. Christine had never climbed before, so we had brought along the rope "just in case". She had no trouble climbing to the summit and the rope wasn't necessary. But because the descent is always more intimidating than the climb up, we used a rope on the way down. Better safe than sorry! Sorry, in this context, would be to plumb the depths of despair, as a fall oft` the south side would result in certain death.

We arrived hack at camp at 3 in the afternoon. I had been scoping out KOFA Pinnacle through my binoculars as we descended Old Smokey Mountain and was confident that I had located the correct route. We made hot drinks and I sat staring at KOFA Pinnacle through the binoculars. I was ready to set off and circumnavigate the mountain in order to optimize our chances for success the next day but then I saw it! A red sling at the top of a gully high up the mountain. This was the sling that Fatsy and I had rappeled off three years ago. aborting our first attempt to climb KOFA Pinnacle. There was no longer any question in my mind that I had located the correct route. I happily sipped on my coffee, chattering gleefully about what a great climb this was going to be.

We lazed around camp for an hour or two before deciding that we ought to eat dinner. The wind was a bit of a problem. It just never let up. We carted all of our gear up behind a wall of rock and prepared dinner in the lee of the wind. The view was spectacular. We were facing south, looking across the King Valley to Castle Dome, which we had climbed on two occasions, the first of which was a trip led by Wes Shelbere and which was our introduction to the KOFA.

While we ate dinner, we watched the sun set over the Colorado River and Christine taught us a German expression, we were "living like Gods in France". Cucumber salad, soup and crusty bread, spaghetti then wine cake and hot chocolate. What a life!

With barely enough light to see without flashlights, we hauled our baggage back to the preferred campsite and laid out our gear. Mercifully, after the sun had gone down, the wind had abruptly ceased. We lay in out sleeping bags watching the satellites passing overhead, the occasional shooting star and a sky filled with a million points of light. I don't think we have ever seen so many stars before. There was no moon and no light pollution. Sleep must finally have overtaken us around 9 pm.

Christine woke us at 5.30 am. The wind had aroused us all when it began again at about 5 am but I just snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag and closer to Patsy. We ate breakfast and set off at 7 am.

Within half an hour we were at the base of the gully which I remembered from our first attempt. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember our approach route to this at all. In fact. I had found a much better approach this time, ascending by means of a slope on the NW side of the mountain until we reached a knife edge ridge. Patsy recalled that we had originally approached this knife edge by climbing up the SW side, a much more intimidating approach "hike".

We got ready to start the technical ascent. Christine decided that she would wait for us at the bottom. We were lucky both in Christine's decision and in the fact that we were climbing on the side of the mountain that was sheltered from the wind. I remembered this chimney all right. Sling a chockstone for protection, then stand on this chockstone and climb up onto the second (loose) chockstone. This time my rack got pinned between my right hip and the upper chock-stone. I had to fight to free myself and stand on the second chockstone. I placed a friend under an easy overhang. Once above the overhang I was on easy ground. I clipped into my old sling, the sling that I could see from camp through the binoculars, draped around the bent old Yucca.

I placed a new sling on the Yucca, a small hex into a nearby crack, tied off to both and belayed Carl and then Fatsy up. We scrambled up an easy slope and across a small saddle. The way up was a steep gully on the other side of the saddle. I changed into my rock shoes, clipped into a fixed pin, a Lost Arrow, at the base of the gully and set off: Without too much difficulty, I reached the high point of our first attempt. Sheesh, it didn't look any easier than it had before!

I clipped into a second fixed pin, a Bugaboo, and looked around. The obvious option was to continue straight up but this was a dry waterchute and it was overhanging above me. This didn't look at all easy; easy, however, to see why we had turned back before! A second possibility was to traverse onto the face on the left and go up on dubious holds. At least the slope on the left face was less than vertical. although the exposure was quite impressive. A fall on either route could have serious consequences, especially here, in the middle of nowhere. I belayed Carl up to my stance. We agreed that the wall on the left, while clearly less strenuous, was potentially more dangerous. I opted for the direct route. Carl offered me a shoulder to stand on but I thought I could make it unaided, especially now, with the promise of a soft body to fall onto. Just so lone as that one piton held!

I chalked up, began stemming my feet up the right and left walls of the gully until I could reach a small hold with my right hand. Another footstep higher on the left and I could reach a lieback hold with my right hand. I was really committed now: I had to make it. Carl certainly wouldn't appreciate my falling on him from this height. And though Carl might forgive me, the pin might not. I cranked up on my right hand, reached over the top with my left and mantled up onto the shelf. Phew! Just above me were two more fixed pins, another Lost Arrow and a ring piton, tied together with tattered old slings and two old Eiger 'biners, on one of which the gate pin was so rusted I could barely force it open. I replaced all the accessory hardware and tied into both the pins.

I belayed Carl up. He was sloked. Then Patsy. Patsy said, "You're crazy, man." But we were all sloked now. We agreed on a rating of 5.8 for this move, which did, in fact, turn out to be the technical crux of the climb. Sounds easy enough from a comfortable chair, but when you're a hundred feet up, with one manky pin between you and eternity, and have no idea what lies beyond. it was an exciting lead. We thought we had Pone past the crux and it would be an easy scramble to the summit. Uh uh.

We stayed on belay and I scrambled up the fourth class rock until I reached a traverse. Hmm. this isn't fourth class, is it? I placed a Camalot and began the delicate traverse toward another shallow pully on the right. An old wired #3 Chouinard stopped was wedged into a crack with a sling draped around the wire. Some fool must have down-climbed off this setup. The wire on a #3 is very thin and under any significant load would cut the sling like a hot knife would cut butter. Iplaced my smallest Tricam above the nut- tied off, and belayed Carl and Patsy up.

An easy-looking gully headed off to the right and up. I set off, on this, the fourth pitch of roped climbing. I soon reached an impasse, a drop-oft` on the right and a corner on the left that led to an exposed, windy face with bad rock that looked unprotectable. I draped a sling around a horn, started up a little way and soon decided that this was suicidal. I down-climbed and reassessed the situation on the right. On the other side of the dropoff was another gully that looked easy enough, and it was out of the wind. If there was a better way, then this had to be it.

I called to Carl to pay attention and began the traverse out to the right, across the void. I reached the base of the gully and bolted up it like a startled rabbit. Above another small overhang I placed two sinker here into a crack and belayed the others up. Carl continued up past me and reported that we were, al last, on the summit.

It was noon. There was no register can, just a small rock cairn signifying that others had been there before us. Not many others though. The summit is approximately 10 feet wide and 60 feet long, split one third of the way by the head of two gullies. We took the customary summit photos and looked around. What a magnificent view, all the more magnificent for having worked so hard finally to stand here! We could see Christine back at camp, lying down, taking a nap.

We carefully retraced our steps, down-climbing as much as we could. At the top of the first pitch, I backed up the Yucca with my smallest wired hex, left a Petzl 'biner which I had rescued from some climb, two slings and two rap rings. We reached the ground, our second quart of water and all of our food at 3 pm. We drank, scarfed and changed shoes before hurrying back to camp.

We reached the cars at 6 pm and headed out in the fading light of day. We arrived in Yuma at 9 pm (8 pm CA time, 9 pm AZ time) and stopped for dinner. After dropping Carl off, we arrived at our house just after midnight. What a great trip. Too bad you couldn't join us!


DPS Archives Index | Desert Peaks Section