Hualapai Peak is an 8,417-foot (2,566-meter) peak located in the Hualapai Mountains of northwest Arizona. It is the tallest peak in the range, towering more than 5,000 vertical feet above the small city of Kingman. The mountain complex is an isolated “island in the sky” consisting of cool conifer forests, perennial snowfields, and sizable granite outcrops. The granite outcrops range in size from globular boulders to incredible 600-foot cliffs, offering a myriad of opportunities for the adventurous mountaineer. Not much is known about routes in these mountains, although the range has been climbed intermittently over the past few decades. Armed with intuitive creativity and a rack of trad gear, it would seem as though one could wander these mountains for quite some time.
The tallest point in the range is approached by a 4-mile trail through the Potato Patch, a conspicuous cluster of spheroidal granite formations protruding from the dense brush of the most elevated basin. The trail continues to the base of the summit block, from which point there are several class-3, class-4, and class-5 routes to the top. There exists one class-3 route, but it is a loose gully overgrown by relentless thorn bushes. On the south face of the formation, there is a 25-foot class-4 dihedral of superb quality that leads to easier class-3 scrambling to the top block. The summit itself is guarded by a 5-foot vertical wall, meaning that peakbaggers must make a risky mantle maneuver to claim the 8,417-foot prize.
SUMMARY: I climbed Hualapai Peak by myself in late November of the year 2015. I was driving back home from a climbing trip to Las Vegas with a free Sunday still ahead of me, and decided to spend it exploring the Hualapai Mountains that so dominate over northwest Arizona. I rambled around the Potato Patch for almost six hours, ultimately climbing the south face of Hualapai Peak before rambling back to the trailhead at Hualapai Mountain Park.
29 November 2015
It takes me a while to rouse myself from my warm vehicle and step out onto the frosty ground after enduring a night of sub-freezing temperatures. Nonetheless, by 10:00am the sun is shining and the high country beckons me.
I mistakenly park at the wrong trailhead, a blunder that amounts to me hiking an extra mile in each direction. En route to the proper trailhead, I pass a little neighbourhood of rented cabins decorated for Christmas.
I’ve heard rumours about massive granite formations in these mountains, but until now have only glimpsed them from the Interstate-40. My first close-up view reveals a cluster of silver peaks protruding from the forest in a style that would give any climber a jolt of intrigue.
I continue along the Aspen trail for a couple miles, occasionally catching sideways glances to the vast Mojave Desert stretching away to the south.
Soon I come to the heart of the Potato Patch, which is a large forested area accented by shapely granite boulders that offer fun breaks from the monotony of hiking the beaten trail.
After two miles, the Aspen Trail merges with the Potato Patch Trail, which promptly ascends above 7,000 feet across snow-covered mountainsides. The granite walls continue to excite my mountaineering spirit, but I remember to save my energy for the tallest of them all.
A small saddle above the Potato Patch grants me my first view of Hualapai Peak, the tallest point in the range and my objective for the day.
The trail drops into the small basin before beginning a long gradual ascent towards the summit. Deep snow becomes an obstacle, but falls short in giving me cause to abandon mission.
Soon, the summit block of Hualapai Peak swings into view, jutting more than 100 vertical feet out of the pine forest.
The trail disintegrates near the base of the summit block, so I’m left to bushwhack my way through nasty thorn bushes to the wall. At first, the east face appears the most inviting, but I soon learn that it is not a viable option due to the exfoliated nature of the stone on that side.
Wrapping around to the south side of the peak (high-stepping through the thorns) I discover a heavenly dihedral leading 25 feet up to easier terrain above. My initial excitement is soon replaced by fear as I realize the danger in solo-climbing so far from civilization – I literally have not seen another soul since leaving my vehicle at the trailhead. But, as so often happens in mountain exploits, my fear is then replaced by adrenaline-juiced excitement as I jam my way up to the top.
With great happiness I mantle the five-foot summit block of Hualapai Peak and take in the panoramic view from the 8,417-foot summit. Laid out at my feet to the north and east is the eclectic Potato Patch; my eyes dance across the granite outcrops, imagining one fantastic climbing route after another.
But alas, spending an entire day in cold shadow begins to take its toll on me, so I bundle myself up and begin heading back for the trailhead. Along the way I swivel my neck constantly to take in the amazing granite formations in all directions.
One final head swivel comes at the Potato Patch saddle, whereupon I bid farewell to the Hualapai Mountain high country until next time.
By the time I get back to my vehicle and drive down the hill to Kingman, the sun is casting a magical glow on the mountain range. Now every single time that I drive west from Flagstaff on the Interstate-40, I can look up at those massive peaks and think fondly of my time spent rambling.