Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dos Cabezas Peaks, 8,354' and 8,357', Via Cooper Peak, 7,950'

Essence: High point of the Dos Cabezas Mountains. Distinctive, twin stone monoliths protrude mightily from the small, wooded range. A long climb requiring almost continuous effort culminates in an ecstatic, classic scramble, one of the best in the whole state. This no-red-tape route does not cross private land. Bonus! Approach from the east, summiting Cooper Peak in both directions.
Travel: From Tucson, travel east on I-10 to Bowie, AZ. Take Exit 362. The road loops over the freeway and heads east. Zero-out your trip meter at Apache Pass Road and turn right/south at a sign for Fort Bowie Historic Site. The two lane goes back under the freeway. At 4.5 miles, turn right on Happy Camp Canyon Road. The dirt road is smooth and wide, suitable for 2WD. Pass Indian Bread Picnic Area at 7.5 miles. (Camping allowed: shade cover, picnic tables, outhouse, friction climbing on spheroidal boulders, but no water.) Continue straight for a 4WD, high clearance, beefy tire adventure. At 8.8 miles, take the right fork. The road gets rowdy with boulders in the track. Pass a water tank with a windmill. At 9.5 miles take the right fork down into the wash for 100 yards. The road is tilted in places. Brush will scrape the sides of the vehicle. Park at a rusted water tank at the end of the road at 10.1 miles. 
Distance and Elevation Gain: 14 miles; 5,750 feet of climbing
Time: 9:30 to 11:00
Difficulty: Mostly off-trail with one short 4WD road stretch; navigation considerable and crucial; Class 4 scrambling with significant exposure; carry all the water you will need. We each had four liters and wished for six on a humid day in the 70's.
Map: Dos Cabezas, AZ 7.5 Quad
Date Hiked: February 19, 2015
Quote: If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves. Thomas Edison

The long, grinding approach is soon forgotten. The enjoyment of climbing this stone coupling, indelibly etched.

Route: This route avoids the hassle of obtaining permission to cross private land and it throws in Cooper Peak. Head southwest and then west up a delightful ridge to Cooper before giving up elevation to meet the standard route southeast of Dos Cabezas. Scale North Head and then South Head to avoid downclimbing Class 4 pitches. Return as you came, back over Cooper, avoiding the annoying ridge we used as our descent route, noted below.

Climb Cooper Peak: At TH 4,640', there is abundant evidence of cattle grazing, past and present. Fences are in need of mending all the way to the base of Dos Cabezas. Barbed wire is scattered on the ground; be watchful. Walk through an opening in the fence and onto a horse/cattle trail that runs along the valley bottom. Rummage around and find the faint track for it is a great assist all the way to Cooper's east ridge. Enter the Dos Cabezas Mountains Wilderness.

Walking west up-valley, avoid the first ridge that heads west-northwest, shown image right below. At 1.5 miles, pass a crumbling adobe home with a ripped up tin roof sheltering a kitchen table, and refrigerator. Soon after, reach the base of Cooper's east ridge, just left of center below. Cooper Peak is the highpoint at the culmination of this ridge, visible in this image.

These climbers have just left the cattle trail and are starting up the ridge.

We wondered whether bush-whacking up this ridge would foil our plan to reach Dos Cabezas at a reasonable hour. Luckily, the ridge afforded exceptionally easy passage. Mostly clean underfoot, we passed prize-winning alligator junipers, including a massive and stunning double. Overall, the ascent is gradual. The final 300 feet to Pt 6,681' is rather steep. From here at 2.6 miles, we got our first good look at Cooper. The ridge pitches up near the crest. We reached the summit at 3.73 miles, 3,310 feet of relief from the trailhead. The mountain doesn't enjoy many visitors. The summit register was placed in 1991, the most recent entry, a year ago. If this is as far as you get, it is nice enough with good sitting rocks and an expansive vista. Twirling around, see the Chiricahuas, Cochise Head (shown), Dragoons, Rincon Peak, Winchesters, Galiuros, Mount Graham, and, of course, the high point of this little range, Dos Cabezas Peaks.

From Cooper to Dos Cabezas: From the summit drop steeply down the west ridge. It is rocky and brushy but quickly improves. The ridge swings northwest and encounters an abandoned road at 4.0 miles. From here it is a quick descent to the saddle southeast of Pt 7,780'. Walk down the old track and join the established 4WD road (shown) for an easy descent to 7,240'. Leave the road and go straight over the top of the 120 feet rise. (Contouring around took longer.) Reach Saddle 7,200' where another track joins from the north at 5.7 miles.

Leave the road, going through a break in the fence and find the Fence Line Trail. This steep, rocky, social trail is a great assist. Follow it to the radio facility noted on the topo and seen in the image below.

The trail tops out at the radio facility, 7,880'. Walk across the beautiful and peaceful park where Dos Cabezas presides in its compelling manner. From here, there are no trail remnants and no cairns. Mount the two rises seen in the image below. Although there are large boulders, the mountain mahogany scramble is the biggest obstacle.

The terrain flattens and butts up against the wall of South Head. Study the map below. If you want to climb both peaks, begin with North Head. As explained in detail below, scramble around the east side of South Head and up a gully with a Class 4 move. Climb the west side of North Head, return to the notch, and scale the northface of the South Head with two Class 4 challenges. Descend south. This route attacks the most difficult and exposed pitches while upclimbing.

For those who want to avoid Class 4 scrambling altogether, you can climb South Head, the highpoint, by going up and back via the south wall. There is one Class 3 pitch. The image below shows the proper route, the only reasonable approach. Thank you, John Bregar, for this photograph with your hand-drawn route lines, and for guiding me up Dos Cabezas. The route is out of view where dashed. (John Bregar, photo)

North Head of Dos Cabezas: Descend east about 100 feet and begin a Class 3 traverse to the north. There is some exposure and slick spots. You will love this rock. It is intrusive igneous, solid and reliable. The way is not obvious; essentially hang on to the contour until you reach the gully between the two heads on their east side, shown below. (THW, photo)

Climb the approach gully, holding to its left side. It is steep, rocky, and brushy with some deadfall. The Class 4 pitch is vertical but not exposed. Go straight up the rock as this woman is doing, or slightly left. It is Class 4 either way. It is easy to spot, holds are good, and the stone is accommodating and dependable. Gain the notch between the two heads.

Walk to west side of the notch where an ample tree secures the base of the south wall. Climb small ledges on wonderful rock. The tree provides helpful hand holds.

Scramble up the west side of North Head. The rock is so good for this segment of Class 3 scrambling the exposure is hardly noticed.

The way is intuitive. The image below of North Head was taken from the northface of South Head. As you approach the final summit mass, enter the rift on the left that rises vertically to the horizon. Squeeze between a wall and staunch shrub. Emerging, scramble to the right and soon the head rounds off. (THW, photo)

After a super delightful scramble, the exhilarating summit is surprisingly roomy with big sitting blocks. Reach it at 6.94 miles. The summit register is in a large, well-sealed canister. The vista is expansive but South Head is the attention grabber. The ascent route is almost vertical. It begins at a weakness in the the center of the northface and then mounts the angled crack on the right. The descent route, peels off the crest into the notch on the east/left. My gratitude, and that of climbers who follow, to John Bregar for this image and the hand-drawn the route line. Descend North Head as you came. (John Bregar, photo)

South Head: The northface climb is more dangerous than anything else on the mountain. Back in the notch, facing South Head, move to the left to find the starting point. Climb the central weakness. The first low Class 4 move has some exposure. Use a spotter. Then scramble 50 to 60 feet up a steeply rising traverse to the right, shown below.
(THW, photo)

Locate a crack on the right that cuts left across a slab. This is the Class 4 crux. The holds are good at first but they become meager. It is not a place to hurry; exposure is grave. Below, the author is on the crux. (THW, photo)

This image looks down on a climber scaling the crux.

The scramble up South Head is the most enthralling part of the day. Past the crux, continue steeply, mostly straight up. It is challenging all the way on solid rock. This climb would be dangerous in the presence of ice or snow. Top out at 7.32 miles and relish your crowning achievement. The summit is covered in fractured boulders. Below, my climbing companion is trying to cypher which head is taller.

Historic inscriptions, one dating to 1908, are etched into a slanted rock. It has been definitively established that South Head stands three feet taller than North Head. Find the peak register in a rock jumble.

To retreat from the crest, drop east about 40 feet into a notch. Then turn south to begin the final Class 3 scramble at a chockstone. Corkscrew down through the tunnel underneath the wedged boulder. (THW, photo)

Then, make a descending traverse west across the south face of the head. An off-camber staircase with good holds and giant steps leads to the bottom of the wall. So fun! Very shortly, close the loop. Note: for people doing only the South Head, you must locate this stepped passage for a successful ascent.

Back To The Trailhead: Return as you came, re-climbing Cooper Peak and descending the east ridge to the valley floor. As indicated on the route map above, we decided to explore the northeast ridge beginning at the saddle southeast of Pt 7,780' at 9.8 miles. It looked appealing but decidedly, it was not. We thrashed through thick scraggly brush and tripping vines to a drainage and continued on an easterly traverse to reach the ridge at 10.7 miles. We climbed over rollers to Pt 6,806' at 11.4 miles. Here, we turned sharply east and steeply down. Tall grasses obscured broken and rolling rock. We intersected our incoming cattle trail on the valley floor at 13.1 miles and reached the trailhead at 13.9 miles. There is nothing to recommend this ridge. The image below shows Cooper from the saddle. Cowboy up and re-climb the peak.

Birds: John Bregar identified the following birds: Gambel's quail, white-winged dove, dark-eyed junco, house finch, rock wren, red-tailed hawk, golden eagle, common raven, ruby-crowned kinglet, spotted towhee, canyon towhee, canyon wren, pygmy owl, and prairie falcon. 

The day before the Dos Cabezas climb we hiked Chiricahua Peak. Driving back that evening, I snapped this image through the windshield while rolling. It's fuzzy but it does show Dos Cabezas and Cooper Peak from the west side of things. The excitement I felt then was well justified. I'm quite happy to walk all day for a couple hours of intense pleasure on two obelisks sculpted from perfect stone.

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