Mystery of the Desert, 5.9, 6 Pitches

Mystery of the Desert, 5.9, 6 Pitches

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 31.87128°N / 109.99503°W
Additional Information Route Type: Trad Climbing
Seasons Season: Spring, Fall, Winter
Additional Information Time Required: Most of a day
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: 5.9 (YDS)
Additional Information Number of Pitches: 6
Sign the Climber's Log


Mystery of the Desert, 5.9
 1st Pitch

Mystery of the Desert, located on Muttonhead, was my second climb in the Cochise Stronghold, after Absinthe of Mallet (Sheepshead). Although Absinthe is perhaps the most popular trad climb in Cochise, in my opinion, Mystery of the Desert is the better trad route. I led all the pitches on both. A new pitch to the very summit of Muttonhead has been added to Mystery of the Desert. Including that pitch, my evaluation is that Mystery of the Desert is the more sustained climb. Scott Ayers and Mike Strassman established Mystery of the Desert.
Mystery of the Desert, 5.9
 2nd Pitch
This first pitch is not the obvious left facing corner. Rather it follows the next corner/crack to the left. The second pitch is much more challenging with a fun roof pull via a solid hand jam and finishes off through what they call the “wedge” for the more comfortable belay. The fourth through fifth pitches (broken down into three pitches on involve the most sustained climbing of the original route. What looks like a simple hand crack, shallows out and turns into a layback reach for the dike traverse above. After traversing left, a few thoughtful slab moves above lead to the top of the wall. Another pitch has been added to the summit of Muttonhead. It is directly behind where you top out and is considerably harder than any of the climbing below. It is a mix of bolts and gear following an arching steep crack. There is a fixed rappel on top to return to the summit gully and thus walkoff below.

From the parking area for Sheepshead, follow the established climbers trail past Absinthe of Mallet and continue past the base of the west face of Sheepshead for the west face of Muttonhead. A well-established trail crosses the shared gully. Continue to the north corner of the west face. A large left facing corner is followed by a much smaller one. The smaller one is the start of Mystery of the Desert. A bolt line follows up the face on the right side of the crack (2012).

Route Description

550’+/-, 6 Pitches, 5.9 (5.10 optional add on)

1st Pitch- 30m- 5.7/ This first pitch is not the obvious left facing corner. Rather it follows the next corner/crack to the left. They have completely bolted the right side of this crack, typical Cochise bolting ethics. The first few bolts help with the bouldery start to enter the corner. Then easy climbing, placing gear at will, runs up the solid crack until you hit an obvious dike heading out left. Traverse (clipping one bolt on a bolted route directly below this fixed belay if you want) out left to the fixed belay.

2nd Pitch- 40m- 5.8+/ Some sites/topos have this pitch broken down into two pitches, but it went well as one. There are some solid moves for the grade on the first half of this pitch. Continue up the cracks above, moving right, then back left, until below the roof protected by a bolt. Make a fun mantle with a hand jam to surmount the roof. Follow easy ground up to the “wedge”. Either squeeze through (150lbs or less) to the other side of the chasm or chimney and/or stem up the outside which is protected by bolts.

3rd Pitch- 20m- 5.7/ Run up the right facing corner to a bolted slab section left of the treed gully above. Follow it to the base of the hand crack with a tree belay.

4th-5th Pitches- 50m- 5.9/ By far the most sustained pitch except for the new last pitch. Follow the obvious hand crack up until it shallows out right below the dike above. Either layback or smear up to positive hands on the dike itself and/or one suspect horizontal hand jam up and right. The next gear for me (and important to protect the second) were micro cams in a horizontal slot, knee high, once I got my feet up on the dike. Extend all pieces well if you intend on combining these two pitches. Traverse the dike out left past one bolt to a fixed belay. Continue up through several bolts on 5.8 slab to the sub-summit of Muttonhead with a large tree belay.

6th Pitch- 30m- 5.10/ This last pitch is relatively new and not part of the original route, thus I am not allowing the grade to affect same. However, it is more challenging than other pitches on Mystery of the Desert. Cross the gully to the final headwall. Locate several bolts on this moss laden face. The bolts get you started following a small seam/finger crack that arcs to the left. At times the crack fades to crimps. The ground eases above to a rap station on the right side. Walk to the true summit.

Climbing Sequence


Rap from the summit back down to the gully. Head northeast to the back of the formation. Slide over a boulder and exit right to the shared gully (and good trail) with Sheepshead to return to the base of the route. I tried the opposite gully, on the north side of Muttonhead. Not advised. Zero trail established and the closest I have come to being bitten by a rattler, and I have had quite a few encounters over the years.

Essential Gear

60m rope. Single rack of C4 #.3 to 3, double to 2’s. There are a lot of pods and small cracks in Cochise, therefore I advise you double up on the smaller sizes with TCU’s vs C4’s. You will appreciate the small gear you have for that last optional pitch. I used a micro cam to protect my 2nd on the traverse of the 4th pitch. I placed no wires. Haul your approach shoes for the descent. The route is northwest facing. In November, if you start first thing in the morning, you will have shade the whole way. A dozen slings will help extend that 4th-5th pitch combination and avoid rope drag.

External Links

  • Topo
  • Cornonado National Forest
  • Wells Fargo RV Park Cochise is best enjoyed by camping along the dirt road anywhere from Sheepshead on to the north. However, if you want to do a night in Tombstone or day trip it every day, this is the best of the three available with clean showers and walking distance to downtown.
  • Big Nose Kate’s Saloon Best place for beers in Tombstone. Drop in for karaoke on Thursdays to meet the locals.
  • Best True Technical Clothing and Accessories in the Outdoor Industry, Hands Down....the Legit Climbers Gear at Real Prices
  • Scarpa, has surpassed La Sportiva in terms of quality, function, value and actually stand by their warranties
  • Osprey Backpacks, Not a Second Choice
  • Great Outdoors Depot