In the Dragoon Mountains lies Cochise Stronghold, a natural fortress for the Apache chief, and an appropriate locale for a Ride+Climb weekend.
Jess tells me she misses multi-pitch, since we’ve only gone cragging since leaving the Northeast. My research lands on The Wasteland as a suitable outing, because it’s a 6 pitch 5.8 with an approach of only 40 minutes.
After a cold night sleeping in the horse trailer we go to Sandy’s Restaurant for a big breakfast. From there we drive on Ironwood Rd and enter the West side of the park, pulling over at the information board. We leave Betty at 10am: a late start.
The approach beta said to hike North and then West, following the wash. The recent rain and snow-melt are flowing, forcing us to scamper between wet boulders and dance our way upstream. We keep a modest pace, taking pictures, and trying to confirm that we are heading the right way (the only concrete information I have is a screenshot from Google Earth which is at a skew angle). It takes us almost 2 hours to reach the base.
I gear up with a full trad rack and plenty of slings, and start up the first pitch. There is no clear line, and very little protection, but I eventually see the thread-through rappel anchor and know I’m going the right way. I continue up and right to a good ledge, build a belay, and bring Jess up. It’s almost 1pm, and I’m already planning how we can bail in a couple pitches. The second pitch follows a long right-leaning crack to the base of a chimney, and we finish it much faster. Halfway through the next pitch it seems possible to bail by traversing left to a neighboring route. However, that would mean missing out on the best parts of the climb.
The third pitch is the money. I climb into the chimney and place a small cam in a crack on the right face. I stem up about 6 feet and then lean out to scout my next placement. I grab a small red nut, pre-clip a draw and the rope, and blindly slot it into a narrow constriction. Up another 10 feet and the only option I see is a big knob. I lasso it with a sling which I hope doesn’t get pulled off. A few more moves get me atop the large formation that creates the chimney. From here I step left and across the void to get a good piece of protection. The climb then goes up and right to large plate features. These are steep and exposed, but climbable at 5.7, and are a highlight of the route. I reach a slab with a couple more chicken heads (knobs pointing skyward) which I sling, and then build a hanging belay in a good crack.
The fourth pitch traverses right until it becomes possible to pull through the narrowing roof. The fifth pitch traverses way left until you can pull onto a steep face. Both of these pitches protect well without relying on slung chicken heads. The sixth and final pitch heads straight up a blank slab (Jess’ least favorite style of climbing), which has a few bolts. We top out at 5pm and still have some daylight to enjoy the view before we start the descent.
Here’s where our story takes a turn. The first rappel goes reasonably well, as our 80 meter rope delivers us directly at the second rappel, with no need for scrambling. The second rappel brings us down a gully to a good ledge to the climber’s right. We find a third rappel about 25 feet straight down from this ledge. Our fourth rappel is a small tree (or large bush) that involves a little scrambling, and crawling under its low branches. The fifth rappel is a smaller tree/bush that may actually be dead, and the single sling is weather-worn with a single locking carabiner that is fused shut. Now is when I start to be concerned; this doesn’t seem like a popular anchor. I add my own sling and locking carabiner to the tree, and rappel. The sixth rappel is a couple slings around the horn of a large block with a single non-locking carabiner. This is obviously an ad hoc bail anchor; we are definitely not following the correct descent, and I reason that we must have gone wrong at the third or fourth rappel. We can’t go back up, and it is also now twilight. I backup the anchor and rappel carefully down a long slab to a ledge. By checking my GPS against the track I recorded of our approach, I see that we are about 25 feet lower in elevation than the base of the climb, and we are about 150 feet to the Southwest. Jess and I carefully walk on the leaf litter toward our destination and reach a sheer drop. Jess scouts one direction and I, the other. She finds a shrub with a few faded slings and a quick link. Operating by the light of a quarter moon and my phone’s flashlight I rig our seventh rappel. We are now in the pitch-black shadow of the cliff, but we manage to pick up our approach trail and hike back up the 75 feet of elevation to our packs. It is 8:30pm and we still have to hike out.
We enjoy a sense of relief, being back on familiar ground, as we change shoes and pack our gear. We drink water, and I eat an apple as we start to hike down. Just before we reach the wash that we used for the approach, we investigate a worn trail to our left. It seems to run parallel to the wash, so we take it for a while. The trail is sandy and has periodic cairns marking the way. We travel this trail by flashlight for 75% of the distance we had hiked the wash, avoiding the most difficult scrambling. This trail forks; one side goes to the dispersed camping area, and the other joins the wash for the remaining 1,000 feet to the road. There is a landmark to show visitors where to pick up the trail: a rock nestled between the main branches of a small tree. We arrive at the car by 10pm.
Our concern now shifts from our own well-being to that of our horses who expected to receive dinner hours ago. We feed them, and crawl into our sleeping bags. There will be time tomorrow to analyze whether summit fever played a role, why my headlamp was not in my pack, and how the approach and descent instructions can be improved for future climbers. For now we are just happy to have survived our first unplanned epic adventure.