The Whipple Mountains are located in extreme eastern California, in the Mojave Desert very near the Colorado River and the Arizona cities of Parker and Lake Havasu City. The summit, which also goes by the name Whipple Mountain, rises to 4,130 feet above sea level, a rise of roughly 2,500 feet above the surrounding desert terrain. The Whipple Mountains are the centerpiece of the Whipple Mountains Wilderness
, which covers nearly 80,000 acres. A few old mines circle the range, but today, there is no industry nor ranching in the immediate area. Only foot travel is allowed inside the Wilderness, with the summit being a popular destination.
According to the Whipple Mountains Wilderness website, there is considerable wildlife to be found within the wilderness, including raptors, the desert tortoise, bighorn sheep (we saw evidence of them) and even wild burros (we heard their braying during the evening). The flora consists of the usual Mojave Desert assortment of cactus, agave and other succulents, ocotillo and other thorny plants, and grasses.
The lower terrain is gentle hills and broad washes, while higher up the mountain features considerable cliff bands, steep-walled canyons and interesting eroded formations. The eastern half of the range is much more severe, with numerous cliffs and spires.
The de-facto hiking route to the summit features a nice blend of desert trekking, canyons, high broad saddles, some steep gullies, but nothing more challenging than Class-2 brush and loose rock. Compared to nearby desert peaks (all of which seem to require some canyon and gully travel), the Whipples may have the nicest canyons of them all. The round trip covers about 9 miles and 2,700 feet of gain.
A dry-fall to clamber up within the canyon
Despite being so close to Parker and Lake Havasu City, there is no easy access to the trailhead from Arizona - the only way requires a west-side approach.
These directions are mainly from the Desert Peaks Section guide. Our mileages were a little long, and I have added some details where appropriate:
Get on US-95 between Blythe and Needles. From Needles it's about 21 miles south to the Havasu Lake Road junction (this junction is 28.7 miles north of Vidal Junction and about 70 miles north of Blythe). Turn onto Havasu Lake Road, going generally southeast then east, with the Whipples visible to the south. Drive about 9.7 miles to a dirt power line access road. Drive this road another 6.8 miles to another road, going south about 3.9 miles to another junction signed for the War Eagle #1 Mine. Go left here, and make a right after about 1.3 miles at a junction marked by two plastic BLM road markers, now going south another half-mile to a clearing near the War Eagle Mine. Old parts and some old vehicles are scattered about.
You will be about 5 air miles from Lake Havasu City, but there is no vehicle access from that side. Havasu Lake Road leads to an Indian-run casino on the California side of Lake Havasu.
Pinnacle near the summit
Needles, Parker and Blythe have full services, while Vidal Junction has gas and a mini-mart. The town of Vidal (about 10 miles south on US-95) is nearly deserted. Wyatt Earp lived out here in his later years - the community of Earp is named for him. Earp is a tiny town just across the river from Parker.
The usual Wilderness rules apply. Try to re-use old campsites if possible. Beware around the mine shaft itself (located south of the little hill from the end of the road).
You will likely bush-camp at the War Eagle #1 Mine. There is no fee. Developed camping is available up and down the river.
The roads to the mine are pretty good, but high clearance is required (we scraped our undercarriage once or twice). You may want 4wd for some parts but it does not seem to be mandatory, unless it has recently rained. The power line road is in very good shape but runs in and out of Chemehuevi Creek, and can be steep in places. The last few miles to the mine have some rough spots, some sand and occasional big rocks.
The canyon portion
Yeah, it gets steep...
Still to come...