North Face Variations

Page Type
California, United States, North America
Route Type:
Time Required:
Half a day
mainly class 2, 1100' gain
Rock Difficulty:
Class 3

Route Quality: 0 Votes

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North Face Variations
Created On: Dec 26, 2006
Last Edited On: Dec 27, 2006


This is a very fast way up Cowhole. I believe our car-to-car time, with route-finding and some lazing on top, was less than 3 hours. The round trip is about 5 miles, but most of the route is over a flattish, fairly level desert with benign brush. You can make this route as hard as you want, especially in the central hidden gully.

Since so few people climb this mountain -- and usually do so by the NW ridge -- the loose rock has not been pruned. Typically, there is one party signing in every two years, and the majority take other routes.

Andy Smatko probably took either the leftmost or rightmost route (photo above) in his 1968 DPS trip. Neither is the easier NW ridge route described by Andy Zdon in “Desert Summits”.

Getting There

See the instructions on the main Cowhole page.

Route Description

From the parking spot, head almost directly south across the desert toward the prominent drainage on the north side of Cowhole.

Heading S toward Cowhole

You will pass a rocky outcrop on the right (W), and the route will steepen; you can follow the left bank of the drainage into the rocks, for easier travel. At this point, look south and identify the features in this photograph:
North Face -- Options

The right (western) route goes mainly class 2, with a few class 3 climbs over dryfalls, and marginally class 3, frictional limestone near the top. The left (eastern) route is mostly class 2, over scree in the upper portions. Both routes end on very frictional limestone for the last push to the summit. The middle route, up a steep hidden gully, initially looks promising; however, there are some class 3+ approaches, which end at a chimney blocked by a chockstone (the red x in the photo above). The chimney is quite climbable, though a bit wide; however, there is no simple non-technical exit at the smooth chockstone.

Essential Gear

Bring the usual 10 essentials, with the emphasis on water if you are doing this hike anywhere near late spring or early fall. Remember, though, that the desert can be quite cool in the winter. Sticky rubber boots are useful. If you attempt the central chimney, bring a few cams and/or chocks, and at least 50’ of rope or ¾” tubular webbing.

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