Stepladder Mountains, Chemehuevi Peak, Spirit Mountain, Moapa Peak
By: Wynne Benti
Andy & Wynne Zdon/Dan Richter & Asher Waxman (Moapa) Andy Z & I took off a few days to nab these four in San Bernadino & Nevada. Spent the first night in the Kiva Motel, an old route 66 joint, in a state of arrested yesteryear decay. Our early morning road approach to Stepladder was from the powerline road, south of Needles. It was still open, having not yet fallen victim to desert bill closures. The hike to Stepladder's summit was via the northeast face, 1300 gain, 7 miles round-trip. Weather was clear, sunny, mid 60's. Beautiful desert flora: creosote, cholla, yucca and ocotillo. We ran into a Sierra Club group from San Francisco, and exchanged itineraries. After the climb, we camped out in the local desert-found an old W.W. II vintage camp with rusted food tins buried in a little wash. Followed a myriad of old Patton tank tracks into the desert for awhile, until dusk called us back to our camp.
Next morning, fogged in - visibility down to fifty feet; the onset of the first major winter storm. We drove over to Chemehuevi and to our surprise, were joined by two from the bay area group we had met the previous day - Debbie Bolger and her husband Richard. We hiked in the fog to the top of Chemehuevi, via south side, approximately 2,000' gain and 7 miles round trip. Ran into the elusive George Barnes coming down from the summit Returning to the car, we bee-lined to Bullhead City in search of a pair of hiking boots (Andy had left his at home & was hiking in a pair of tennis shoes), which we found at Kmart. Spent the night in Bullhead. Next morning, despite the ominous clouds and rain, we drove out to Christmas Tree Pass and the trailhead for Spirit.
Moments after hitting the trail to Spirit, it began to hail quite heavily. As we started up the summit ridge, snow began to fall. Soon, we were in near white out conditions and wondering whether or not to continue. Once again visibility diminished to about fifty feet or less. Just as we decided to head back, the snow quietly faded away, so we continued on through the clouds to the summit, which was enshrouded in clouds, providing no view.
After returning to the car, we drove through heavy, continuous rains to Mesquite, Nevada and spent the evening drying out at the Virgin River Inn & Casino. The following morning, we met Dan & Asher in Jack's Pockets country. Thankfully, they were undeterred by the heavy rain and snow of the first big storm system of winter, and were found sleeping comfortably just off of 1-15. We drove across the pocket's to the trailhead for Moapa, where we could see the snow-covered summit Had a cup of java, bid farewell to Andy and hiked up the craggy terraced cliffs of Moapa to the base of the third class ridge. There was at least a foot of snow at the base of the ridge and along its crest. We were unable to access the ridge from the backside (easttace) third class route, because of the heavy snow, so climbed up the west side (shown in the photo). Being the chicken of the group, I was belayed by Dan while he and Asher climbed free of rope, across the snow-covered ridge. Once in awhile I would hear Asher say "Doesn't look good," (just for dramatic effect). But, he kept on going, till he reached the summit, followed by Dan and yours truly. The views were spectacular. Snow on every visible mountain in the distance. Following a few Kodak poses on the summit, back down the ridge we went, but this time, three on a rope - "silmu-climbing." It was great fun, being roped up, anticipating the fateful slip of foot that would truly test the 3-climber belay theory. We reached the end of the ridge where we met Paul Horton, a Teton guide from Jackson Hole who knew folks from my days as art director at Patagonia- specifically Yvon & Melissa Chouinard, Jim Bridwell and Rick Ridgeway. He climbed the summit and caught up with us on the descent, where we had to time to gossip about various people, places & things. We returned to the cars, where Andy showed us the museum quality corals he had collected while waiting for us. Said good-bye to Paul who was going to camp at the trailhead there. Dan & Asher were off to lead a OPS trip in Death Valley and we went on to Bishop for a few days of r&r. Thanks to Dan & Asher for an unforgettable climb of Moapa.
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