Little Big Peak Peak
(The DPS's Little Picacho)

27 Feb 2009 - by Steve Eckert (view roster page)

There are several Picacho Peaks in several states! See this page for other peaks named Picacho.

"Picacho" means "big peak" in Spanish! Picacho Peak in California isn't the only place named Picacho, and it's not related to Picacho Peak State Park in Arizona. The DPS distinguishes Big Picacho (el Picacho del Diablo) from Little Picacho (Picacho Peak), both of which are based on mangled Spanglish.

See the trailhead page for driving directions and waypoints that match the maps below.

We camped at the almost-trailhead (waypoint PIC4W9), where there's a shade tree and nice flat sand, then hopped in John's FJ Cruiser and banged our way to the he-man trailhead (waypoint PICWTH) a half-mile away. There are more than one set of ducks and use trails. We hiked different lines on the way in and the way out, then decided the best route was to stay right in the bottom of the wash until it was a straight shot up to the saddle.

Picacho Peak looking SE from the road: photo by Daryn Dodge
NOTE: Our route was on the face left of the cleft, approached from behind the mass on the right.

Drive or walk to the short baserock waterfall (waypoint PICWTH) marking the start of the hiking route. Above the waterfall is a small slot canyon which gives way to easy gravel walking in the wash. Stay in the main wash, heading due south 0.4 miles as the crow flies, to waypoint PICWSH. Turn uphill (southeast) following a use trail on a rib to a large PVC pipe sticking out of the rocks (waypoint PICPIP). The trail vanishes in the rocks above this pipe, but go east from there toward the entrance of the obvious rubble chute leading to the cleft (huge notch) between the two major masses of the peak. The eastern approach use trail will join your route from the south (at waypoint PICCHU) and you can scramble up the class 2-3 chute northeast to the cleft.

At the cleft or notch (waypoint PICNOT) a red arrow painted on the rock points up to confirm that you're actually at the cleft and don't want to go down the other side. Duh. A pair of nesting raptors in the cliffs above this leg of the route serenaded our efforts. They didn't seem happy, but they had REALLY cool nests in the eroded holes and pockets of Picacho's west face. From here up there are periodic red painted arrows to guide you.

Climb 10-15' up (east) from the cleft, then traverse 20' right on a huge ledge and start zig-zagging up. Soon you'll come to a 7' ladder of 2x4 and 1x3 wood, about 50' vertically above the cleft, which is somewhat rickety and with HUGE rung spacing. It's tied to a sling so it won't blow away and new enough it had not faded to gray as of 2009. I banged my head standing up after the ladder, which did NOT improve my balance for the step-across. Be careful!

Immediately above 7' ladder is the so-called 3 foot step-across: It slopes down sharply to the gap (so you have to downclimb before stepping), the gap is narrower than 3' but where you launch from is more than 3', it has huge exposure, there's no way to anchor a reasonable belay, and the gap widens out toward the abyss (so you won't recover from a slip). John hopped across as I staggered up to look at it. Really, it's not bad. I'm using the head bang as my excuse for taking so long to try it. I was glad to swing my pack over to John on a sling and none of us had trouble jumping over it. I didn't think about pulling up the ladder until later, but you might be able to rig it across the gap.

John waiting patiently for Steve to step across: photo by Daryn Dodge

After the step-across, walk under an overhang to the next red painted arrow (50' away). At the end of that ledge is a curved red arrow directing you up and right to the best ledge of the route... It's somewhat steep with a low roof but great traction and no exposure. Keep following all the red painted arrows, zig-zagging up. These ledges are formed by erosion of soft sedimentary layers between harder volcanic flows. Fortunately the soft layers were thick enough you can stand up under most overhangs.

The second ladder is 12' long (not quite as tall as the face it leans against) and secured to a bolt at the top by a rather long, cut, and faded nylon strap. There's a second strap (in equally pathetic condition) tied to provide an artificial hold as you leave the top of the ladder. I tried not to use either strap. This ladder is even more rickety as the legs are closer together, but at least the steps are normal size and as with the other ladder it appeared fairly new in 2009.

We met the summit ridge above second ladder with some celebration. It's a cool ridge! Make a mental note of this spot, since there are no ducks or painted arrows here, and the features are so close together that a GPS isn't all that useful. There's a low cave just at the top of the route, which isn't obvious until you're there on the way down. Getting to the ridge is only half the fun. There are two notches on the ridge where we used the rope, close enough together to belay from the same two bolts between them. Summit ridge and high point: photo by Daryn Dodge

The first ridge notch is very easy to approach from the north, but climbing out the south side (toward the peak) involves 10' of class 3-4 with huge exposure before you get to the nice bolts on the other side. We used 20' of webbing to protect the first climber, since the rock is so rotten we had to sling an entire outcropping like a snow bollard. All but the first climber can be belayed from two bolts on the summit side of this first notch.

50' from the class 4 notch there's a more severe notch, which involves rapping on the way in and aid climbing on the way out. This one has bolts on the non-summit side, so you're well protected rapping into the notch. The 15' face here is slightly overhanging at the bottom, so your rap will end with several feet of no-contact rappeling. It's not hard. But I don't know if I could have re-climbed it on the way out in my vibram soled mountaineering boots. Be sure you have (and know how to use) ascenders to get back up this, or tie some loops in your rope to climb back up. On the way out, this face starts as an overhang without good holds. Standing on someone's shoulders might get you past the overhang, but just take a 50' rope and be done with it. Also, be sure you know how to get over the rounded top lip without getting your ascenders caught between the rock and the rope. We found it useful to fix TWO strands of rope here, one to jug up and one to tie a single artificial hold for the transition from ascending to climbing.

We took 2 hours to climb from the trailhead, close to an hour at the top, 1 hour back to the notch, another hour back to the truck. On the way down, after the summit ridge notches, it's tempting to drift left off the summit ridge directly toward the notch. Resist! Stay right, going over the miniature saddle and the shallow cave you memorized on the way up to find the arrow-marked ledges.

Map of the climb: See trailhead page for waypoints and driving maps/directions.

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