Picach Peak, By Fair Means


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El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
Topic Author's Original Post - Jan 31, 2012 - 10:07am PT
Picacho Peak

I woke up at 5am, 45 minutes earlier than usual, on a Saturday. A recent tendon booboo left me with no climbing plans for the weekend but i felt the urge to get out anyway. It was early and mild, with some whispy clouds in the pre dawn sky. I should watch the sunrise in the desert!

Picacho Peak rises 1500 feet from the desert floor and if you've driven I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson you've certainly seen it. It is a true navigational beacon used for centuries, millenia even, by indians, the Anza Expedition, Father Kino, and modern aviators. Arizona's only Civil War battle was fought here too. Maybe you've stopped at the Dairy Queen.

I had camped and hiked there as a boy. In fact, I saw a ghost, a solitary man standing in a cave at the base, and the image has stayed with me for 35+ years.

When I would leave Tucson after a holiday visit with my late grandmother, Picacho, 40 miles out, was right about where I'd start to get emotional, wondering if I'd ever see her again, if I'd hugged her goodbye for the last time. This continued, years later, thinking about my mother, until I moved back to Tucson three years ago.
Here's a poem I wrote for my Mom years ago.

Too dark now
for even a silhouette of Picacho
the place I usually cry is different
Perhaps I know I'll return
and she'll be there.

I have driven by it literally hundreds of times, always on my way somewhere else, or excited to get home. Never willing to stop, I had never climbed it.
So today was my day, I thought, time to scratch it off the list.

I packed light provisions, loaded my little buddy into the "Toaster", and split. It was 6:15, still plenty dark and still plenty of time to catch the sunrise over the beautiful Sonoran desert.

As I neared 40 miles out, I could see a faint silhouette and was once again overcome by emotion. Lost love, fears, and something else, something I couldn't pinpoint.
Torre? Llamas don't have tail lights.

Some loud music, a cigarette, and my dog's nose in my ear helped quell those feelings, as did my arrival at the trailhead and my excitement for the climb.
The trail climbs quickly, aimed directly at the cave where I'd seen the ghost as a child. It soon became apparent that this peak sees much traffic and has been made accesible to those less fit and lacking basic route finding skills.
I bypassed the cables, choosing the slabs and relying on my way honed quads.
I ignored the signs and called on my years of bitchin navigational skills.
I even wore some patchouli to ward off the ghost that was surely waiting for me in the cave. Trust me, it works.
see, no ghost!

I soon gained the saddle and marveled at the new day arriving over the desert.

From here the route drops steeply around the backside, losing much of the elevation I'd gained. Hate that. There were more cables, what a travesty!

Rosebud led this block, brilliantly passing all the fixed steel. Sorry, butt shot.

This is a truly magestic and formidable mountain, protected on all sides by steep cliffs. After many recent climbs together, our partnership was strong and we were crushing! No cables for us!

We took a quick rest at the Tobac Col, beneath the first real crux, a 25ft near vertical section of polished facing-the-wrong-way holds. Kinda like Rifle. This face was festooned with steel and would be the first real test of our commitment to send by fair means.

Rosebud's been on fire recently and continued leading. She fired the first boulder problem and while milking a rest commented how others had been tempted by the cables, and thus cheated out of a pure ascent.

She continued past a dicey traverse to an exposed ledge, The Perch of Patience, and waited for me.
Brand recognition!

More vertical steps, and cables brought us to a bowl and an ease in difficulty.

Up ahead I saw what may well be the crux and the gateway to the summit- a 40ft steep gully with a crappy crack and, yep, more cables.

It was here I thought about my safety and the safety of my partner. The crack was awkward and the adjacent face, exposed. We decided to use the cables, as there were NO other options. I carried Rosie under my arm(aid). Beyond this, another exposed traverse with a catwalk. We used that too, and soon were switchbacking up rubble fields to the summit.

The windless summit was everything we had imagined, with views for miles and miles.
I rolled a smoke and took some photos.
Product placement!

It was 8:15 am. We had taken exactly one hour to complete what was likely the FCA (First Chihuahua Ascent) of Picacho Peak by fair means, with only one point of aid.
We were jazzed, but our thoughts soon turned to what we should do about the atrocities against desert mountaineering we had seen on our ascent.

We had made outstanding time and the weather was perfect. Should we chop the Civilian Conservation Corps' hideous via ferrata and return the mountain to its natural state? Should we gift future generations with a pristine route to test their skills?

We thought long and hard over that cigarette and kibble, believe me.

Then I peered over the dizzying 1500ft void and saw the parking area filled with cars.
Who were they? How far had they come to test themselves? Did they have grandmothers, ghosts, lost loves? What were their skill levels? Would our chopping of this historic route crush their summit bids and label us as egotistical elitists with no consideration for others, for history?

As the swifts swirled 'round, and with the shadows of saguaros growing shorter with the rising sun, we made a decision we wouldn't regret.
We would let the route remain, as a testament to history, no matter how misguided that history seems today.
Boyscout troops, chubby flatlanders- everybody who's willing to huff it and pull on cables with leather gloves deserves to feel the magic and sense of accomplishment that this summit can offer.

Here's the catwalk on the way down. Thank goD we didn't chop it!

We began our descent confident with our choice, and were validated when we encountered the first party coming up. The look in their eyes, after pulling cable over the cruxy steps, was priceless. They were genuinely stoked. They were also bewildered by my partner.
We passed multiple parties, some confident, some timid, all shapes, sizes, ages. All excited, all surprised to see a bearded man and Chihuahua descending so early.
We took pride knowing they would summit because of our selfless act of restraint!

As with the climb up, we only used one point of aid.
Rosebud continued to blow my mind, too, with her judgement, agility, and manners.
We descended without incident and were back at the car at 9am, with a round trip time of 1:40.

By not chopping the route we avoided being detained by state park rangers, or a public lynching at Dairy Queen.

Epilogue/ funnin' aside

Back at the Toaster I plugged in my phone and checked my messages.
From Farmer, an old Prescott friend:
"Good morning friends, sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Todd was admitted to the hospital last night and passed away this morning..."


I had wondered why I had woken early and decided to climb Picacho TODAY.
I wondered about the emotions I felt 40 miles out.
Now I knew.
A brother and his beautiful soul were free, visiting all of us, encouraging us to enjoy this life.

Todd was a good 'ol boy with a heart of gold. He loved the desert. He loved his friends. And he loved climbing.
May he rest in peace.

Hug, and tell people you care about that you love them and are grateful they are part of your life.
You never know when it will be your last hug, last kiss, your last handshake.

Picacho will forever continue to elicit emotions from me.

Thanks for reading.
Hang loose Supertopo. (!!!/

In loving memory of Todd Skaggs 1971-2012

San Francisco, CA
Jan 31, 2012 - 10:44am PT
Great Trip Report! Thanks for sharing and sorry to hear about the loss of your friend.

P.S. Thanks for your act of restraint in not chopping the route. Who knows?...It may end up being the biggest adventure/achievement in someone's year/life/whatever...you da' man

Trad climber
Jan 31, 2012 - 10:45am PT
Hey drljefe,

That's some very well written prose you got there. Meaningful, emotional and touching, but also the right kind of funny.

Sorry for your (and Farmer's etc.) loss. Seems like memories like to linger at Picacho Peak.


A long way from where I started
Jan 31, 2012 - 10:49am PT
Sounds like your heart's compass will always point to Picach Pk.

Jan 31, 2012 - 10:50am PT
Nice Jefe. Good on you for that one. I got the call the other night from Gma's house. They are all very low. Many times around Prescott involved "Scagglioni." You know, with Todd's passing I have had a very big feeling of relief in one way. Only one. A few years back we had a verbal exchange over the phone about what someone else said he said about me. Total bullshit I know. To make a long story short we both felt shitty and luckily for us made amends around the fire at Grandma's house one night a few weeks after the incident. We shed tears and talked and gave hugs and I know that we both felt much better. Relieved as if a weight had been lifted.
I guess all I'm trying to say as I get worked up here is that I am SO grateful that he and I took care of that. It would be a heavy load to have unresolved with him gone and I honestly think he would feel the same way if the roles were reversed.
There are other situations in my life where I could patch some holes that don't feel very good. Life is short and the passing of Todd is yet another look at how important for me it is to not have ugly things hanging in the air between people who care about each other if I can help it.

Rest in Peace there Todd.

Bob Jensen

Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Jan 31, 2012 - 11:33am PT
Nice trip Jefe, and a first class sendoff for your comrade as he moves on to the next pitches.
All these years of driving past it, I've never stopped either. One day.

Heal well.

Boulder climber
Jan 31, 2012 - 12:41pm PT
Great TR Jefe. Thanks for the desert inspiration this morning. Beautiful photos and a proud ascent for man and dog. Sorry to hear about the loss of another brother from Prescott. Best,
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Jan 31, 2012 - 01:22pm PT
why didn't you chop the cables on descent?

Trad climber
30 mins. from suicide USA
Jan 31, 2012 - 01:27pm PT
Very cool....

Jan 31, 2012 - 01:41pm PT
A TR that has it all and plenty of it too.

He didn't chop because he's an old guy living the past rather than just reading about it.

Trad climber
San Francisco, Ca
Jan 31, 2012 - 02:07pm PT
Nice TR. I've driven by that thing about a billion times and never have been to the top. Maybe next time I'm in AZ, it looks like a fun outing. I've always wondered about the east face...probably

Mountain climber
Range of Light
Jan 31, 2012 - 02:08pm PT
Anyone hear of any Car2Car records for Picacho?

El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 31, 2012 - 02:28pm PT
No Italians were butthurt by this ascent.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jan 31, 2012 - 03:58pm PT
I knew we could rely on you and Rosebud, I just knew. Thanks and v. fun!

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Jan 31, 2012 - 04:06pm PT
Another Gnarly adventure!

Thanks for sharing. Damn! Now I want to hike/climb it. Bet I could come near the record time too.

Car to car: 12 hrs.
scuffy b

heading slowly NNW
Jan 31, 2012 - 04:08pm PT
Way cool, thx
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
The shaggy fringe of Los Angeles
Jan 31, 2012 - 04:13pm PT
Sweet! Another American Via Ferrata. Didn't know. Now to do it. At least two in AZ.

excellent TR

Trad climber
Jan 31, 2012 - 04:57pm PT
Nice and yeah I have to add as others have ROSEBUD kiks ass!!

What kind of pooch is she?!

Mountain climber
100% Canadian
Jan 31, 2012 - 05:10pm PT
nice, but I'm surprised you didn't chop everything on the way down ? Whats the problem ?

Social climber
Joshua Tree
Jan 31, 2012 - 05:10pm PT
I even wore some patchouli to ward off the ghost that was surely waiting for me in the cave. Trust me, it works.

Drl Hippie, that stuff will ward off evrything with olfactory senses, humans included...except the other hippies I guess. Rosebud looks like a seasoned vet, strong work from el perrita negro.
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