Most of the routes on Sheepshead are bolted lines that feature more slab and face climbing than trad. Phony Pony is definitely an exception, offering one of the finer 5.10 trad pitches in the park via its (what should be classic) 2nd pitch. The crux of the entire route however is several meters of bolted face climbing on the 4th pitch which is sandbagged for a few meters even by Cochise standards. The 1st, 3rd and 5th pitches are all at a lessor grade. The 5th pitch does offer another stellar trad pitch, but at 5.8 vs 5.10. It features a beautiful wide flaring corner to the summit at this end of Sheepshead which is not near the main summit top out re: most of the other routes on the massive. Phony Pony sports its own ascent and descent in a quiet, much more remote section (southeast) of the massive as opposed to where the popular routes are located out on the west face. This route is full on at the grade in comparison to Too Tough to Die for example. Phony Pony is a definite step or two or three up in difficulty despite both routes being called 5.10- in the new guide (2017).
The first pitch of Phony Pony is best combined with the beautiful corner/flake that makes up the 2nd pitch for a combined 200’ of climbing split between bolts and gear. If you are going to combine these two as I recommend, extending your placements and clips would be mandatory to avoid rope drag on moves at the grade near the top of pitch 2. The 3rd pitch is steep and has one solid move near the end. It is easy to bypass the fixed belay atop pitch 3 if you are not paying attention. This 3rd pitch pulls off the face you have been climbing onto a sloping fixed belay stance out left before tackling the crux of the climb on the 4th pitch which is kind of back in line with the route. This 4th pitch has a stout 5.10 move after a clip or two. Posts on MP.com and I both agree, whether a hold broke (rock is of a lessor quality on this section) or not, there is a tough sequence for the grade to get through early on in the 4th pitch. Once you get through the well protected crux, the climbing is still steep, but with positive features. The next belay is on a tree shaded comfortable ledge. To reach the 5th pitch, you traverse past a bolt up and right to enter a hidden wide flaring corner that is climbed and eventually vacated up and left onto the face through a bolt or two to the small summit at this end of Sheepshead.
From the main staging/camping area for Sheepshead, hike up the trail as though you are heading for the west face where the more popular climbs on Sheepshead are located. Before you reach the actual west wall, look for a drainage coming down from between Sheepshead’s south face and a feature to the south named Crisis Center. Hitting the west face and trying to hug it along the south face all the way back to the start of Phony Pony does not work. Therefore, once in the wash/gully/drainage well below the south face, continue up the drainage with little to no evidence of human traffic (2017). You start to scramble up steeper ground through trees and boulders to the very east end of the south face. You are looking for a large dead tree (2017) on the left side of the gully. Near its base is a short wall with two bolts, this is the start of Phony Pony.
3rd Pitch- 100’- 5.9/ Short run out on easy ground gets you to the bolt line (I placed no gear on this pitch). Some intricate face moves at the grade lead you up to easier ground and then one last move at the grade via a slab mantle up and right. It is easy to miss the fixed station up and left on a sloping ledge as the bolts keep going straight ahead after this mantle.
DescentRap down pitch 5. Rap straight down (climbers right of the route) to another fixed rap at about 80’. Rap 100’ down to climbers left at the lower treed ledge and swing out left to a fixed rap on a small ledge. Rap 100’ down to the gully proper. Cross the gully and rap off slings on a large tree another 100’ down the gully which lands you just meters from your packs.
Essential GearSingle gear to C4#2 and I might not have used the #2. The guide states (overkill) from doubles to #2 and single #3-#5. If you are exclusively a sport climber, that might be appropriate, however the two dihedrals you climb are both below the grade and take smaller gear in the appropriate places. 60m single gets you down the raps. SE facing, the lower gully (first two pitches) get good am shade from the opposing wall. From there you are basked in sun.