Our fourth and final summit of the trip was a DPS peak, Old Dad Mountain. In the past I have stumbled across random photos and trip reports from Old Dad, and it always looked interesting to me. Equally parts challenging and scenic – my favorite combination!
The drive into Old Dad was a bit more challenging than the descriptions I found led us to believe. Although much of the dirt track was fine and passable, there were several sandy stretches and we were glad to be in capable 4WD vehicles. We had to run the sandy sections pretty fast to get through, especially on the way out (which was uphill). Additionally, the waypoints I had dropped on the road junctions on the topo map did not correspond well to reality in a few spots (once we started into Jackass Canyon). We pretty much made a best guess and ended up parking in the correct wash to start the hike. To see the route on a topo map check out my GPS track of our drive over here on hillmap. This is the track I recorded when off pavement, from where we turned off of the paved Kelbaker Road.
After the rough drive in we got out of the trucks to find the wind gusting and the temperatures hovering around freezing. None of us seemed very motivated to climb another peak, but after some hemming and hawing we finally got our stuff together and started walking north up the wash, keeping to the left of the hill in the middle, for a little over a mile.
Our beta told us to climb up the obvious gully or its north ridge until gaining the summit ridge, and from there head to the summit. Trip reports I had read described both class 2 and class 3 terrain, but with good rock. I was looking forward to a good scramble.
So we hiked up the wash, waiting for the obvious gully to be visible. We could see where it was, but couldn’t see the bottom of it due to a ridge blocking the view. Finally, by following the main wash we reached the bottom of the gully and got a good look. The main path zigzagged up the mountainside and there were sections out of view, but from what we could see it certainly looked okay. We continued up the wash as it steepened into the gully.
The gully was a really enjoyable rock scramble. Solid rock that provided good hand and foot holds made the ascent quicker than expected. We paused occasionally to look out for sheep (we saw three towards the bottom half of the gully), visually pick out our route, or strategize moves around more challenging rock formations.
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A quick note on gear
Often, this type of hiking/climbing requires what I call ‘human four-wheel-drive’, i.e. using hands and feet to scramble through terrain. Since the rock can be so rough, gloves are absolutely necessary on many peaks. I’ve blown through several pairs of regular gloves on terrain like this, so a while ago I finally invested in some Petzl belay gloves and they have been worth every penny times ten. If you expect to spend time on terrain like this, I highly recommend these gloves, or at least a durable leather glove that can stick to rock without being torn apart by it.
As we got higher, I took a look at my GPS and realized we were on track to gain the summit ridge to the north of the peak. The main gully should have led us up to the ridge to the south of the summit. However, we were high enough that we could see the top of the gully we were in, and the topo map showed much gentler terrain once we would get to the top, so we were never concerned. And we had no reason to – our gully worked perfectly.
The final few hundred feet of our gully were loose but nothing as bad as what we had encountered on Cowhole. Considering the great terrain we’d been hopping through, a little bit of loose stuff was bearable for the short distance it existed.
I knew we might have trouble visually picking out the same gully on our descent so I dropped a waypoint on my GPS, David set up a cairn to mark it, and I took a mental (and physical camera) snapshot of the obvious leaning rock wall at the top. From the top of the gully it was a short climb on less steep terrain to the summit. We followed some use trails and random cairns and were soon on the summit, enjoying the views and suddenly remembering how cold it was!
Despite the cold we lingered for a while, enjoying the views, snapping summit shots, and browsing the summit register. Eventually the brisk air and breeze won, however, and we moved our frozen butts down the peak. As they so often do, the descent off the summit pile looked very different going down so I was glad we had marked the gully.
The scrambly descent took about as long as the ascent, but by this time the sun had moved to the point where we were mostly in the shade and it was pretty cold. As much as I enjoy that kind of terrain, I was happy to be back to the truck and its heater by the time we were done! At one point I turned around and snapped a shot that captured the gully we actually ascended, which I realized once I compared my GPS track on Google Earth.
After this unexpectedly fun hike we returned to our awesome campsite to celebrate the New Year and a successful three days of desert summits. Old Dad definitely goes down as one of my favorite desert scrambles. Cheers and happy New Year!