The Virgin Moapa

16-18 Apr 2010 - by Steve Eckert (view roster page)

"Moapa" is a Paiute word meaning "muddy" according to Wikipedia. I didn't see any mud except along the Virgin River, which seems like very well kept farmland. Now that I think of it, Moapa didn't seem very pristine. So much for the title of this report. Moapa is by far the better of the two peaks, but you can see Lake Mead from Virgin.

Virgin Peak

This peak could be done as a tree-hugger dayhike (using a high mileage passenger car instead of a 4WD guzzler) but I needed 4WD for other peaks so I drove all the way to where the road is blocked (see the trailhead page for driving details and waypoints, including a map of the first part of the climb). Camping isn't great at the 4WD trailhead, so I stayed at the corral and wondered if all the broken clay shotgun targets contained much lead.

The next morning I drove to the blocked slot (waypoint VBLOCK) and walked up the 4WD road. Some reports describe the blockage as a boulder, leaving me with the expectation that a landslide had occurred, but the evidence suggests the roadbad simply eroded in the normal course of gravel moving down the slot. Take a mountain bike or a dirt bike and you can scoot right around the tight spot. The road is great for several miles beyond VBLOCK and you should be able to ride all the way to VIRG21. Of course you should check with the local rangers, but I saw no signs limiting use of the road.

If you want to get off the road and walk on the ridge, as suggested by Kathy Rich in 2008, leave the main wash at my waypoint VIRG15. Head north onto a side ridge, then head west to the main south ridge of Virgin (waypoints PT1775, PT2023) and follow it all the way to the summit (the blue line on my map). This ridge will join the DPS Guide route (the purple line) at waypoint VIRG19, 7k.

Above 5.5k on the ridge the brush has been burned off, making this route viable. It was probably NOT viable when the DPS Guide was written, and it may soon be covered in new brush. Even with the brush burned off, I think it was faster to walk on the road, bypassing this lower ridge and gully. (I did a loop.) There are other side ridges that can and have been used to reach the main ridge. Take your pick! One such grassy ramp joins the main south ridge at about 6.4k, just below where the burned section ends around 6.6k.

I reached the summit of Virgin (waypoint VIRGIP) at 1015am, all class 2. There had been no cell signal at the corral, but I was able to update my flight plan from the summit by shielding the phone from the Lake Mead side (not sure what's over there, but my Verizon phone didn't like it). I left top at 11am, continuing north over the summit (the red line) to the first shoulder, then dropped off the main north ridge on an east-facing rib (waypoint VIRG20). Some patches of snow worked for short glissades, otherwise it was somewhat loose and steep 2nd class.

I hit an overgrown 4WD road at waypoint VIRG21, 6.6k, after a short brushy section. This road led down to the main drainage (waypoint VIRG22, 6.3k) where it ended in a ditch that used to be another road. This bigger road is now just erosion ditch, up to 4' deep in places, with dirt bike tracks in it (meaning you can ride this far and reduce the peak climb to under 2 miles round trip). Continuing down the ditch/road, I reached the DPS Guide's 4WD trailhead (waypoint VIRGDG) at 5.9k, below which the ditch went away for a while. Perhaps the ditch existed when the Guide was last updated, and that's why they stopped here? See the purple line on my map.
Daryn Dodge adds I took much of the ridge route up Virgin, but took the DPS route down. The DPS route off the Virgin ridge was not as good...too much brush and loose rock. I would say the DPS route between the road and the summit is the worst of the choices.

VirginMap.jpg

There is a loop in road at a good place to have lunch (waypoint VIRG17) or park if you managed to drive over the blockage but can't beat the ditch. Here there are shade trees, plenty of parking, and no brush. Waypoint VIRG16 is another spot to park or camp, and is also another place you could leave the road to easily gain Virgin's south ridge.

I was back to my car before 2pm, swatting away large bees and wishing I had a cooler. It was a reasonable drive to the base of Moapa, where I spent the night.

Moapa Peak

They really aren't very fast.
DesertTortoise.jpg

John came roaring in just after dawn, having spent the night in some seedy Vegas flophouse. (OK, not really. He usually picks nice places.) While John did just fine without it, you may want to check the trailhead page for driving details and waypoints! Oh, and watch out for turtle crossings.

Climbing Moapa is more straightforward than it seems from many sets of directions. From the 4WD trailhead at 3.2k (waypoint MOAP4W) leave the road heading northwest. At first you should stay WEST of the drainage shown on the map, re-joining it between the C and K in "Jacks Pockets" on the USGS map (waypoint MOAP07, 3.3k). Continue northwest up the wash to 3.6k, where it turns north (waypoint MOAP08). The wash narrows, bends to the northwest, and turns into a slot with a waterfall, which you bypass on the west (left) side above 3.9k (waypoint MOAP09). Immediately above the waterfall, get back in the wash and follow it west to a 4.4k saddle (waypoint MOAP10).

THERE WERE LOTS OF TICKS BELOW THIS SADDLE IN 2010! We each picked off 10-20 of them, mostly lower on the mountain, but they were found crawling on our packs and clothes all the way to the summit. No bites, lots of "eew, ick".

From this low saddle (MOAP10), follow the easy rib northwest to about 4.8k (waypoint MOAP11). At the base of a cliff, jog slightly to the left for easier climbing (or power up some low class 4). About 100' left of the rib, climb 5-10' of almost vertical class 3 with great holds, then turn right (northeast) and climb easier terrain to a ducked ledge and cross back over the rib as it blends into the face. Follow this 2nd class ledge northwest and up toward the peak. It is about 100' below the saddle immediately east of Point 5246, reaching the southwest ridge of Moapa Peak west of that saddle at 5.2k (waypoint MOAP12). This is an important spot to remember on the way down, as there are many ducked routes which are harder to go down than the one you just came up!

MoapaMap.jpg

Find the use trail if you can, but climb to the 6k shoulder (waypoint MOAP13) where the traverse under the summit cliffs starts. There are two elevations where a traverse is possible, one above and one below 6k. You want the one below 6k, trust me! There will be minor ups and downs, but basically hold 5.9k for a quarter mile as you walk past the summit. There may be ducks or a use trail, just keep from climbing too much until you reach waypoint MOAP14. Then climb in an almost straight line to the summit saddle at almost 6.4k (waypoint MOAP15). Here it's worth finding the use trail: stay near the face, and climb steeply rather than traversing as the DPS Guide suggests. Go directly to the saddle, do not go east of it and come back.

We hit the summit ridge right at the east end of the "knife edge" section (waypoint MOAP15). We got on the knife by crossing the ridge (going to the north side) dropping about 20', going 50' toward the peak, then turning left (south) and scrambling (class 2-3) up to the end of the knife overlooking the summit saddle.

MoapaMapZoom.jpg

It's not as complicated as it seems, and there is the alternative of doing 10' of class 3-4 directly from the saddle up onto the knife edge. Follow the knife edge ridge 0.14 miles southwest to the 6471' summit of Moapa Pk (waypoint MOAPAP). There are certainly places here where a fall would not be survivable, but the holds are generally good and you have the option of balancing on the narrow ridge or holding onto the top and shuffling your feet in cracks on the side. We didn't want or use a rope, but in gusty winds this ridge would be treacherous. Those inclined to have some fun could do a free rappel from the summit blocks to the 2nd class north side of the summit ridge!

We reached the summit at 1115am, updated our flight plans on cell phones, and headed down just before noon for a casino dinner and the drive to Hayford. It's not a long day if you stay on route, only 2.5 miles each way from the trailhead.

See, it's not all THAT narrow. Right here, anyway.
MoapaSummit.jpg


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