Henry climbing up the steep section - note the angle of the wires, that's the slope of the ground
The very steep beginning of the route - my Xterra is parked on the next road to the right
The rock with the USGS summit marker
Henry descending from the summit
Moon rising between the summit and Peak 4701
The top part of the ridge down- the steepest section is on the far side of the last shaded hill on the right
Getting to the base took some time because we needed to drive almost to Barstow to catch the road going to the main gate which is on the south side of the base. We got a kick out of numerous tank crossing signs on the road. We needed to stop briefly at a visitor information area to pick up a pass to get us on the base. From there, we went to meet the man with whom I spoken, in a department called "Range Control". They oversee all access to the uninhabited areas of the base. When he could see the area in which we wanted to hike, he told us that the whole slope was likely littered with UXO - unexploded ordnance (i.e. live bombs). Fortunately, there is another peak with 2,000 feet of prominence on the base, Tiefort Mountain, and we could be allowed to hike there, in a narrow corridor around some transmission lines that went to a station on the summit.
But first we needed to complete a safety course that took about 90 minutes. The course reminded me of what I had heard about the drivers-ed film "red asphalt" - it used gore to promote fear. It showed everything from a variety of lethal weapons to training munitions (which could still cause serious injury) in both normal use, and accidental use.
With the course complete, we were issued a 2-way radio which we were told to leave on and monitor as they would check in on us from time to time. We were also given magnetic labels for my car to more clearly identify it. The hike itself was simple compared to all that had led up to it, but much of it was steep and on relatively loose ground so the descent took us about as long as the ascent. There was often a use-trail, and routefinding was easy given we were instructed to follow some (phone?) wires that went to the summit. Listening to chatter on the walkie-talkie was interesting, as numerous groups were out and about on training exercises, some with "live fire", this in-between major training sessions, which were scheduled to resume the following week.
When we finally got to the top, there were some contractors working on the communication equipment there- they had been dropped off via helicopter, and were waiting for it to return for their trip down. Another odd sighting was a rock with a USGS summit marker on it, free-floating in an open steel structure used to house much of the equipment.
Overall it was a fun trip, and very different from my usual climb.
Helicopter landing at summit to pick up workers
One of many "tank crossing" signs we saw, this one with Tiefort Mountain in the background
by Harlan Stockman
Jumbo is the dark peak in the center of the photo, in the distance
The first known ascent was in 1993, by the peripatetic Don Palmer and his son, via a true rock-climbing route. Later Ed Forkos and Jim Egan found a 5.1 route past scary, crumbling granite flakes. Then the likeable CP found two more routes, both requiring some rock skill and gear. Andy Martin, a well-known peakbagger, found a descent route that bypassed the upper rappel; it was part of our mission to find this route and use it for ascent.
The LVMC Trip
Our plan was to assemble by 8AM Saturday at the old Gold Butte townsite (no buildings). This is a stark area, whose only attractions are 1) it is accessible by passenger car (particularly a rental), and 2) it is relatively easy to find, yet is just 8 miles from Jumbo.
The others arrived from 2PM Friday to 7:30AM Saturday, when we distributed gear, and I showed photos of the intended route. Soon we headed out on decent 4x4 roads, testing our vehicle paint jobs against the assaults of catclaw bushes. We were able to drive to a point just 900’ lower than the top of Jumbo.
The hike up the east side of Jumbo
The lower 800’ of the climb is just a class 2 hike, but as one gets closer and closer to that last huge boulder, the peak looks like serious business.
View of the last 100’ of Jumbo, from the northeast side of the ridgeline
We got to the ridge in staggered fashion. Three folks opted to wait below (Ali was stopped by a knee injury). I pointed out the main features of the possible routes to Joel, Colin and Bart: the huge crack at the bottom; the 5.3 face (where I would belay folks if the tunnel were a problem); and the junction, where the fabled tunnel was supposed to reside. (As it turned out, Ali and Kay were able to get some great photos from below.) Down below, the wind was pretty strong, and I suddenly lost any desire to free-climb the face.
These are the main features on northwest route. The tunnel communicates between the cracks.
We donned our harnesses and helmets, and I took a smaller, “second-stage” pack with 120’ of 9mm rope, lots of webbing, some biners, rapides and a headlamp. I headed off for the first part of the climb—a stiff narrow crack, filled with some boulders that presented challenges to progress. The idea was that I would ascend the crack quickly, find the legendary tunnel, and communicate whether the route “went.”
Well. at least that was the plan. In reality, it’s pretty hard to shout—and be heard-- from the center of a mountain. I found the tunnel, which was amazingly tight. I had to take off my rope pack, flip over, and found myself in the open, with blue sky above me. I shouted back that the route “went.” Now the communication problem started to become more obvious. I heard shouts from below, but I really couldn’t tell what they were saying. No problem, I’d just rush to the top, and shout out directions.
And that’s when it got interesting. I thought the tunnel would take me to the other side of the peak; and it would have, if I could scale the 10-12’ smooth, very tight walls on the side of the “tunnel” – which was actually the crack on the right side of 5.3 face, unbeknownst to me. I looked around the other way, and was by now completely disoriented; I could hear people shouting below; how could that be, if they were on the other side of the mountain? In reality, I was now 180 degrees turned around. I climbed directly up to the sky, via a rather stiff route, and emerged below what would later be our rappel anchor. I could hear people shouting below, and an unseen voice asked me what route I’d taken. I replied that I’d taken the crack. I anchored and threw down a webbing handline in that very crack. At this point I thought everyone had followed my tunnel route. Indeed they were right behind me, but I wouldn’t understand why for a moment.
The others had followed, but when they got to the tunnel, hadn’t seen the “trick” about turning on your back and pushing through; I had been warned that it was a tight squeeze, but I hadn’t relayed how tight (in fact, I didn’t know). They had deemed the crack unsuitable, and had climbed out to the base of the 5.3 face.
It wasn’t till I’d clambered to the very top, that I realized what had happened. Chagrined, I took off my pack, went down to the anchor rock, and started to set up the webbing and 9mm rope for what I expected would be leisurely belays. At that moment I heard Bart’s calm voice state (paraphrased) “I could use some help.”
Bart starts up the 5.3 face; unfortunately, the handline was on the other side of the face!
I looked over the edge and saw Bart in the middle of the 5.3 face, on an area covered with lichen. He had rock shoes; but ironically on the lichen, the rock shoes were less grippy than regular boots. The webbing handline was a good 10-20’ away—I had placed the handline, thinking folks would be coming up the crack, but Bart was coming exactly up the 5.3 face that I had pointed out before! It took me about 20 seconds to redirect the handline, and get in a secure slot for a body belay, but that 20 seconds seemed like 5 minutes to me, and may have seemed like 5 hours to Bart. Bart did absolutely fine without the webbing, but logically wanted a belay, if it were available.
All’s well that ends well; but there were a few more interesting moments. Collin did try the crack; but now the handline was 20’ away, in the middle of the face. Bart redirected the handline back to Collin, to take his pack. For a moment, the handline stuck in the webbing that I was trying to set up for the rap anchor. Shortly after, Eric popped over the edge… having climbed the face unbelayed… wearing sneakers!
Collin climbs the crack on the right side of 5.3 face.
Meanwhile, I continued setting up the 9mm rope, both
for our rap down, and as a belay or handline for Joel, who was still below.
This all seemed to work so well in my head, in the days before the trip;
I would place a small amount of aesthetic, rock-colored webbing around
a pinch point on the summit boulder. The wind had other ideas, and ripped
the webbing out of my hands several times. I had no choice but to make
a ridiculously long sling around the entire boulder. We tied the sling
securely, and put a rapide over both rope and webbing. I threw down the
two rope ends in sequence, and Joel tied the ends together. I noticed
that with all the flapping in the wind, the webbing had
We managed to communicate to Joel to stop climbing. Frustrated, I jammed myself into a wonderful crevice for a really secure body anchor. Joel climbed the rope and we were all on top! THEN I finished the anchor!
We’re all on top!
The whole circus had taken no more than 10 minutes. I had planned to tie 120’ of 7mm tagline to the 9mm rope, with a biner (and backup stopper knot) blocking the rapide; but by now my nerves were a little frayed. We opted to rap a mere 50’ over the 5.3 face, back down to the ledge, pull the rope, and then downclimb the lower, big crack.
Collin downclimbs the upper crack; I prepare for a fireman’s belay as Bart clips in.
The rest of the Jumbo trip went as clockwork; we got back down to the cars, and went on to the next peak of the day.
Epilogue: Lessons Learned
In all, the climb worked out well; no one made the 5
o’clock news. Yet it was a learning experience, and I came away
with these notes “to myself.”
2) Communicate! You must communicate before the climb, before the iffy sections, and while folks are tackling anything that requires exposure. I thought I had done this, but as I replayed the climb in my head, I realized that I sent mixed messages. The wind was a confounding factor; while it was windy enough on top to mess with voice communication, it was actually quiet on the ledge below the 5.3 face. To make matters worse, I have a form of brain damage that makes it hard for me to talk in tense situations. Above all, if you anticipate there will be a time when no one can talk to you—even for a few minutes—you must prepare people for that contingency.
3) Be flexible. I had this mental picture of the order events would take; we would use the tunnel shortcut, and I would use a webbing handline if needed. Then I would take the time to finish the really secure rap anchor. That’s not how it played out. Once it was clear that it was hard to shout to the folks below, I might have settled into the secure meat anchor position, and got people up as fast as possible, THEN done the rap anchor.
by Joel Brewster
From my point of view, the climb went a lot smoother than Harlan's account. I agree that maybe the communication wasn't ideal, but I think Harlan might be a bit too self-critical. Fortunately, those of us that summitted Jumbo were all experienced hikers and were quite comfortable with class 4 scrambling. Although the last section was more class 5 than 4, we were all experienced enough to assess the options and choose a route we were comfortable with or request help from above (from Harlan, not divine help). Collin went up the crack on the right side of the face; Eric just scrambled up the face; Bart followed Eric, but used the handline. I tried to follow Collin up the crack, but found it uncomfortable as the rocks were scraping the skin off my legs, so I retreated and followed Bart's route using the handline as well.
We were all excited and giddy to have made this difficult summit, but Harlan was a bit stressed about the ascent and coming rappel descent. Since some of us had limited rappelling experience (including me), we took it nice and slow, and double-checked all systems. The rappel went quite smoothly and we all made it back to the ledge no worse for wear. From there we all descended the narrow class 3 crack down to where the others were waiting. The only close call was when a rock came loose and tumbled down the crack, luckily missing all of us.
The climb was exhilarating, but we were all glad to be down and take off our harnesses, helmets, etc. I thought Harlan did a great job getting us up and down safely and also organizing the entire trip.
After our descent to the vehicles, we also summitted nearby Mica Peak that day, and I, instead of riding back to our campsite, chose to hike up Gold Butte then descend directly to our camp. It was an enjoyable side trip and I found it significantly easier than did Collin and Bart, who had done it at about midnight the previous night!
The next day, Kay and I climbed Bonelli Peak, a great peak with tremendous views of Lake Mead, the surrounding peaks, and even Las Vegas! On the drive home, I decided to tag Little Virgin Peak as well. All in all, it was a memorable weekend, all made possible by Harlan's experience and planning!
MONTHLY BIO FEATURE
Please send any address, phone number and e-mail changes to Eric Kassan, membership director. LVMC currently has approximately 130 paid members or families.
If you wish
to send a check instead of using PayPal online, please make your check
payable to the Las Vegas Mountaineers Club and mail to: P.O. Box 36026,
Las Vegas, NV 89133-6026.
Single membership is $30 per year, $85 for three years. Family annual membership is $40, $110 for three years.
To the following members, please note that your membership will expire this month, unless you have recently renewed it:
Terry & Ron Kassof
Chris, Kristi, & Kenny Meyer
James Schmidt & Mariso Musso
Karen Schneider, Marie Gabriel, & Kelly Gabriel
The Las Vegas Mountaineers meet on the 4th WEDNESDAY of the month at 7 pm at REI in Summerlin.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
in the Grand Canyon
5 hikers...4 days...1 canyon.... A grand experience.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012