- “Sheep Hole: A person who is being f**ked or manipulated unknowingly despite their sensing that something is wrong.”
Heather “Anish” Anderson
, Ultra-marathoner and unsupported record holder on the PCT and AT called her 2015 ascent of Sheep Hole Mountain, “the toughest 4 miles of my life”. That's coming from someone who has hiked and run between 15,000 and 20,000 miles. She was speaking about the difficulty of the terrain.
Summit View West
Unofficially named, “Sheep Hole Mountain” is the highest point of the Sheep Hole Mountains located inside the Sheep Hole Valley Wilderness which was designated by Congress in 1994 and contains 188,169 acres. So what exactly is a sheep hole? Don't ask...
The Sheephole Range much like the Coxcomb Range
to the east and the Pinto Range to the south are composed of jumbled formations of monzogranite boulders. The surface of these rocks feature large sharp granules of biotite and hornblende which is great for fiction except where erosion has loosened the top layer making it crumbly.
Yellow Cactus Flowers
Pink Cactus Flowers
To say the Sheephole, Coxcomb and Pinto ranges feature rugged terrain is a gross understatement. The rock formations are often large with serious vertical relief and this chaotic rock maze deters travel of human-sized animals. Furthermore certain plants prefer to grow in crevices, on ledges and in the spaces inbetween boulders where said animals might be forced to pass. Of these the Catclaw (Acacia greggii) and various thorny cacti species are somewhat plentiful. Dry waterways occasionally provide easier travel than rocky slopes or ridges, except for the presence of dryfalls. Bighorn sheep might be present, but the animal you are most likely to encounter is the western speckled rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus).
Western Speckled Rattlesnake
So why would anyone want to enter this hot desert landscape full of tricky boulders, thorny plants, and poisonous snakes? Good question! The short answer is for the fun of the challenge. Other motivations might include the fact that Sheep Hole Mountain is a range high-point with over 2000 feet of prominence, a wilderness high-point with awesome views, and it's #73 on the Desert Peaks Section list
. Are you up to the challenge? Any route to the summit is likely to involve class 3 scrambling. Driving access is easy and hiking mileage is short (4 miles round-trip), but don't underestimate the amount of time and energy this mountain will take.
There seem to be two two main access canyons / draws by which summiters access the upper peak (see map below). Guidebooks are fairly vague about Sheep Hole and this might be the reason that no single route has been well established and cairned. The route described and photographed on this page is the west draw while the DPS guide and Desert Summits book might describe the northwest canyon / draw. The summit block itself might be class 3 if approached from the northwest, but it is certainly class 4 if scrambled from the southeast side.
Sheep Hole Route Map
West Draw Route -
From the parking area, drop down 25 feet into a wash and cross to the far side to enter the mouth of the draw. There are some mining prospects on the slope above. Follow the bottom of the draw east by southeast for 1.3 miles scrambling around rocks and up a few dryfalls.
At 1000 meters / 3280 feet, a side canyon ties in from the north. Do not follow the cairns leading into this more appealing side canyon. Instead continue east by southeast up out of the draw to the start of a southwest ridge at 1080 meters / 3540 feet.
Scrambling The West Draw
Scramble northeast up the ridge passing around a giant prominent boulder at 1200 meters / 3940 feet. The summit area is now visible with obvious cliffs blocking a direct ascent of the south face. At 1250 meters / 4100 feet traverse to the east below the cliffs crossing a depression and then passing up and over a small spur ridge at 1340 meters / 4400 feet, just southwest of the summit. From here, aim for the saddle between the summit area and the next point on the ridge to the southeast. Getting there can be tricky.
Summit Now Visible
Scramble over medium sized boulders and under large ones
and friction walk up some slabs and ramps. When you get to the east side of the summit boulders you'll be asking yourself, "well now what?". The question is, how bad do you really want this peak?
Entering the Sheep Hole Summit Block Tunnels
Locate the entrance to some tunnels which go underneath and through the summit block. These entrances might be partially blocked by catclaw. Enter the “sheep hole” tunnels and turn left at a fork scrambling around a chockstone. The right tunnel which appears better is actually a dead-end. Scramble up to the base of a chimney
and use stemming techniques to climb the short chimney.
Sheep Hole Tunnels and Chockstone
Above the chimney is a large boulder with a steep class 4 slab. It's about 20 feet, but the upper half is covered with nice “jugs” and “chicken head” style holds. There was a summit register present
in April 2015.
Summit Block - Class 4 Section
Now if this route sounds confusing and difficult, it's because it is. You might prefer to try the northwest draw route alternative which could prove easier, or perhaps not. The scramble itself up the northwest side of the summit block via the other route is probably easier, however getting to it might be harder. Accomplished peakbagger Bob Burd
took “2hrs to reach the summit” travelling only “a few hundred yards” along the northwest ridge (trip report
). The choice is yours.
Getting There / Driving Directions
Sheep Hole Mountains As Viewed From The South
From Highway 62 in Twentynine Palms turn north on Godwin Road and continue for 2 miles. Turn right on Amboy Road and continue to 15.8 miles to Sheep Hole Pass. You will see a complex of microwave towers a half mile to the north. Turn right onto a diagonal dirt road and continue a queater mile to the parking area (34.234178, -115.717845). Be careful of sandy conditions on this road if you have 2-wheel drive.
Leave no trace! This is a wilderness area, so respect it.
October to April. Bring lots of water. It's a desert and likely to be hot.