Mohawk Mountain • Range Highpoint: Mohawk Mountains
• Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range
• Eastern Yuma County

Date Climbed
December 10, 2011

Elevation
2,775 feet

Distance
4.2 miles

Time
6 hours, 20 minutes

Gain
2,300 feet

Conditions
Cold and dry

Prominence
2,140 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


Zoom image to the summit from the entrance gate, about 8 miles away
 

Barry Goldwater entrance sign
 

Mohawk Mountain, with our whole route visible: high saddle to its left, lower saddle below (in shade)
 

The lower canyon
 

Montage of the high saddle and the summit
 

Adam and Scott Peavy as we descend from the high saddle above us
 

The low saddle, as we descend from the high saddle
 

From the high saddle, looking up at the remaining rocky ridge to the top. We mainly kept to the right side
 

From the high saddle, the lower saddle is below, and miles of glorious desert
 

Amazing view south from the summit
 

West view, with the Mohawk sand dunes down below
 

I made it somehow
 

Everyone takes a break near the summit building. Inset: the benchmark
 

The ridge from the summit back down to the high saddle
 

John, as we descend back to the high saddle

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Mohawk Mountain is the unofficial name of the highpoint of the Mohawk Mountains, which are a jagged line of peaks in southern Yuma County, about 50 miles east of Yuma. Interstate-8 crosses over a low pass, with a spire-summit known as Mohawk Peak visible on the north side of the highway. The rest of the range runs south another 15-20 miles, mostly contained within the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range (BMGAFR). The highpoint, which is about seven miles south of the interstate, reaches to just 2,775 feet and is not obvious at all from a distance. The low elevation does not mean for an easy hike. This is a rugged and remote range, and for me, this would be my second attempt at the peak.

I knew a whole bunch of us were looking at these southwestern desert summits, so we were able to coordinate plans and formulate teams. Adam Helman drove in from San Diego and met up with John Klein, and they hiked Castle Dome and Pinta Benchmark in the two days prior to Scott Peavy and I meeting them for Mohawk. Scott and I left Scottsdale early this morning and made the easy drive through Maricopa and Gila Bend to the Tacna area along Interstate-8. We were treated to a near-total lunar eclipse, watching the full moon slowly disappear behind the Earth's shadow. It was foretelling in a way: full moons and partial eclipses of moons would be a theme for this weekend.

Scott and I exited off of the interstate at the gate just east of milepost-48 on Interstate-8, drove south a mile and met with John and Adam, both in their vehicles trying to fight off the freezing temperatures. We were slightly early, so we sat in my truck and I dozed for about 10 minutes. A shade after 7 a.m., with sunlight starting to appear, we started the drive south into the Goldwater Range to the "trailhead". Having been here a year earlier, I knew where to go. We went east along the Goldwater boundary about five miles, passing over some sand dunes, then turned south into the Range on road H-1. This little desert track weaved for about 7.5 miles through the barren desert, but the road was very solid and we made good time. Finally, the road meets up with the more "substantial" Papago Wells Road. We went south a half-mile, then went east on a lesser track for another 1.5 miles, eventually parking on a flat gravelly plain, not too far from the mouth of our ascent canyon. It was just after 8 a.m. when we started the hike, and it was quite cold, but clear and still.

The hike is short, just over two miles each way, but steep and rugged. The whole route is visible: we would hike up the initial gully to a "low" saddle at about 2,250 feet, then hike to a "high" saddle at about 2,570 feet just north of the summit, then from there, the top. From our cars we hiked along flattish alluvial plain into the canyon, staying high above the deep-cut wash, but then dropping in when convenient. The canyon closes up quickly and the walls can be quite high. The lower canyon/gully was very rocky and brushy, but the rocks were usually solid and the brush not too bad. We trudged upward, aiming toward a noticeably darker-colored rock seemingly set in the middle of our path. This is easily bypassed, but the first crux comes very soon afterward: another rock obstacle which forces one to go left (a cliffy waterfall) or right (a horribly loose scree slope). This is as far as I chose to go in March 2010, when I was here with Chris Gilsdorf. On that hike, he went on while I waited back. Although I was comfortable making the decision to not proceed on that hike, I was interested to see if I could bypass it on another attempt. To here from the cars was about 700 feet of gain, and took us less than an hour.

We all went up the right side, up the scree slopes. This section just sucks: the slopes are very loose, and even the "solid" rock crumbles in your hand, so nothing is bomber or even trusty for this section. We just moved carefully, then got above it all, back onto firmer terrain, much like the initial segment of the gully. From here to the low saddle was about another 600 feet, but the rocks were solid, except for just the few dozen feet below the saddle where things loosened up again. By now, our primary concern was not the scree but the cholla, which was everywhere. We convened at the low saddle and took a break. The summit was just across the way from us to the south, and we studied how we would get over to it from our position. As usual, everything looked vertical, but after what we had just come up, we knew we would be fine.

From the low saddle we angled left slightly and crossed another scree slope, now with more cholla, and sure enough I slipped, fell and grabbed a handful of cholla. Damn they hurt! Adam was kind enough to scrape the cholla ball off my gloves with a rock. Before the day was out I would return the favor for him, and all of us would get at least one good cholla encounter during the hike.

We dropped about 50 vertical feet to place us at the base of the gully that would lead us up to the high saddle, about 300 feet above us. As steep as it looked from where we sat over at the low saddle, it wasn't bad at all once in it. The rocks were solid, and we moved carefully to avoid the prickly plants. Shortly, we had all convened again at the high saddle, the summit just 230 feet higher.

The final ridge is very rocky, with large pinnacles and barriers the whole way, so we dipped right and crossed below the worst of the obstacles. The going was slick with loose rock and plenty of cactus. But there was nothing that was impossible, and finally, we were to the last crux, the famous palo verde move just below the summit. This was the one part I had worried about from down low, but in reality, it's absolutely bomber. The palo verde grows out of a crack on the rock, and yes, there's a few hundred feet of air below it, but it is easy to scamper past the palo verde and onto a lovely ramp that leads right to the top. John and Scott P. were up first, followed by Adam and me a couple minutes later. Success! It had taken us nearly exactly 3 hours to make the top from our cars.

At the summit, we relaxed, signed our names into the log, and gazed at all the scenery. The views were amazing, especially to the south looking at the remarkably jagged peaks of the southern Mohawks. Out west was the Mohawk Valley and the sand dunes. East was more desert and north, the rest of the range. The top is fairly broad with a helo-pad for the workers who fly in to fiddle with the building up there. The log showed just a few names, about one ascent-team per year, and the occasional helo-pilot who signs in. We spent about 20 minutes up top, relaxing, having some food and trying to stay warm in the cool breeze.

For the descent, we stayed close to one another down to the high saddle. Admittedly, one part really spooked me on the way up, but going down, I butt-scooted it and it went fine. Back at the saddle, we spread out slightly as we descended the gully. John was back to the lower saddle, followed by Adam, me, then Scott Peavy, who was coping with his cholla encounter about this time. The hike down the main gully went well, too, until we got back to that loose section. Scott P. and John went a little lower than Adam and me and I'm not sure what they did, but Adam and I followed the same line down as we did coming up. It was messy but quick, and the four of us took a longer break, now below all the loose crappy stuff.

The hike out to the cars was simple. Again, Scott P. and John were a few minutes ahead while Adam graciously stayed back with slowpoke me. I was feeling good, but I always move slow through this kind of terrain. We were back to our vehicles at about 2:30 p.m., a 6-hour, 20-minute round trip hike. We took time to change and relax back at the cars, and I was very happy to have successfully climbed Mohawk after last year's turn-around.

We convoyed back out of the Goldwater Range and into Wellton, where we got gas and supplies. We drove west a few miles toward Sheep Mountain, where we were to meet up with Scott Kelley and his wife, Tanya. They had climbed Copper Mountain today, another big peak down in the Goldwater. We rolled into camp about 6 p.m., where we were treated to a beautiful yellow harvest moonrise, and full moon-light during the evening. We stood around and talked, but some of us, e.g. me, were pretty tired and I crashed by 8 p.m. in the bed of my truck. The weather was not as cold as this morning. Tomorrow, we would test our luck with Sheep Mountain.

Images by Scott Peavy:

On the northeast end of the summit.

John Klein and me on the descent.

Adam and I scoot down.

Adam and I, with John out ahead.

(c) 2011 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.