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Routes in Whale Dome

Blood Brother T 5.10c 6b 20 VII 20 E2 5b
Call Me Ishmael T 5.11- 6c 22 VIII+ 22 E3 5c
Dem Bones T,S 5.10- 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a R
Harpoon Direct T 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a
Moby Dick T 5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c
South Face T 5.7+ 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b X
South Face Direct Finish // Mobius Strip T 5.7+ 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b
Trojan, The T 5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c
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Type: Trad, 700 ft, 6 pitches, Grade II
FA: Bob Kerry, Josh Tofield
Page Views: 30,973 total · 160/month
Shared By: James DeRoussel on Oct 11, 2002 with updates from CASA Climbing Assn. of So. AZ
Admins: Greg Opland, Luke Bertelsen, JJ Schlick

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From the main drainage below Whale Dome, take a steep side drainage west toward the south face of the dome. Some scrambling will get you to the base of the rock, under a giant flake and crack system. Moby Dick starts left of the flake at a double-crack. Five pitches of fun climbing. Pitch lengths are estimated.

Pitch 1: Climb right of two thin cracks until it splits. Follow left fork up to cruxy face moves past one bolt. Continue up easier face climbing to two-bolt belay. (120')

Pitch 2: Step left to exposed arete and climb up right past short, parallel crack system. Continue up and right over face and chickenheads, then arching left to belay on comfy ledge with small pine tree. Some parties belay about 20 feet past ledge on large chickenheads.(100')

Pitch 3: Continue up face left of large flake, past one bolt, for 160 feet to belay on obvious sea of chickenheads.

Pitch 4: Climb remaining chickenheads to bolted move over large flake/corner. Up and right past another bolt, pull over blocky lip to two bolt belay on a ledge. (60')

Pitch 5: Extremely fun climbing over sea of chickenheads. Climb past two bolts to large, toothy dike and belay here, or continue up 30 feet of slab to belay in obvious seam.(170')

Pitch 6: Fourth class/slabbing to summit for 100-200 feet.

Descent: Locate rap anchors on west side of summit. Scary free rappel to saddle (~170') and scramble down drainage back to base.


Set of nuts, cams, single/double-length runners for tying off chickenheads, quickdraws. Two ropes for rappel.

Bolts and top-anchors updated by CASA in 2017.


Fun climbing the whole way, although probably not the best for a leader who climbs 5.8 at best. Gear is crafty, and there are some areas that non-natives might consider run-out....especially if the wind is gusting 30-40 on the last pitch. Not being used to chicken head mentality, i quickly took the advice of kiwi who showed me the truckers hitch for tying them off. I also opted to run the 3rd pitch past the chicken head belaya nd use the bolt at the lip plus a chickenhead and a black alien as a belay. THen you can do the short slab traverse and the sea of chicken heads in one lead. the rap looks long but isnt, dont tie knots in your ropes there is a tree that they will get tangled in, and a crack down lower that could cause a potential nightmare by putting tension on your rope sideways nad not letting you get down, especially if its blowing. Apr 2, 2003
was wondering if someone has better beta on the approach? had trouble finding the route last year and was wondering what else might be around the area. Nov 2, 2003
The trick to the approach is to get on it right from the parking lot.....From the parking area head directly north (not on the main trail) there is a faint trail through the trees which drops into the wash after 300-400 feet (estimate) follow cairns north. The trail goes in and out of the wash a few times, but stays mostly in it. Follow it until you are directly beneath whale dome. Take the drainage up the south side of the dome. Look for the large overlap on the face that makes up the route.

Hope that clarifies it a little bit. It's actually a great approach with awesome views.

-Scott Drawz Jan 17, 2004
thanks for the info scott. it'll be helpful next time around. Feb 5, 2004
Luke Bertelsen
Tucson, AZ
Luke Bertelsen   Tucson, AZ  
It would be a considerable public service if someone would haul a drill up and replace some of the older buttonheads at the belay stations and replace the anchors for the rappell as they are quite manky. Maybe at Beanfest? Sep 30, 2005
jbak .
jbak .   tucson,az
I totally don't get the hype surrounding this climb. An unpleasant crux down low, a couple of hundred feet of roped hiking with 20 feet of decent climbing at the end. Then a problematic rappel. The views are nice, I'll give it that. Jul 18, 2006
Jim Thompson
Logan, UT
Jim Thompson   Logan, UT
I've climbed this route three times. First time I brought two ropes. But you really only need one for the rappel. One will take you to the top of a large block and it is easy scrambling to get to the ground.
Anyone else only use only rope on this?

Also really easy to setup a single line rappel for newer climbers using a nice horizontal crack feature above the chains. That way they don't have to do the awkward rappel from the chains. Aug 28, 2006
jbak. Climbs can be good even if they're not steep. Moby dick is a classic just like What's My Line. Ya gotta go back to yer early days man. Back when 5.7 was hard and multi pitch routes were a new, exciting challenge. Back then Moby Dick was a classic and it still is. Sep 26, 2006
jbak .
jbak .   tucson,az
Jim it's not the steepness per se...I can appreciate an easy classic that has actual good climbing...I did The Wasteland recently and thought it was pretty good. Sep 27, 2006
Mike Diesen
Sierra Vista, AZ
Mike Diesen   Sierra Vista, AZ
This is a great easy multi-pitch climb. Good gear placements. Can be climbed in 3 pitches with a 70 meter rope. Good choice because you won't have to pack in an extra rope. The repel is about 33 meters so 70 meters will reach the ground with a few feet to spare. Consider having the first one to repel carry the rope with them. If the wind is blowing it will get caught around the corner. Oct 25, 2006
Grand Rapids, MI
ttriche   Grand Rapids, MI
WAY overrated as a 'classic' route. It's no better than the hike up Magician Dome in the Needles, and without the ass-kicking views of that route. Compared to What's My Line, Endgame, or the other area classics, it is really not that special. Don't believe the hype -- if you only have time for a few routes at the Stronghold, don't hesitate to drop this off your list.

It's not a bad route by any standard, but for me, even the rappel was a bit of a let-down. Still, the worst day at the Stronghold is better than the best day at most crags, let alone work. Dec 26, 2006
Braxtron   ...
Me thinks this is overrated. The bolt/pro spacing are about all that can keep this thing interesting (if you sling but a few chickenheads), but I wouldn't call the climbing fun. I think the first pitch was the most exciting, but only because I got off-route and had to pull a 5.10 move to clip the bolt and blowing it meant ending up below my belayer. IMO: Wasteland, Peacemaker, and Absinthe of Mallet are all better climbs. Feb 25, 2007
Mike McL
South Lake Tahoe, CA
Mike McL   South Lake Tahoe, CA
I really enjoyed this climb. Not dangerous but runout enough to keep it interesting. I placed pro whenever I could and still didn't manage to need more than 1 set of nuts and a set of cams from fingers-hands. Bring lots of slings for all the heads. I brought a #3 and #4 camalot and managed to use them both at least once. I was happy to have them, especially pitch 2 when the #4 camalot ended a fairly long runout when I placed it in a narrower portion of the big overlap. The views of the West Stronghold from the top were spectacular.

As far as the approach, make a hard left into a drainage at the end of the road where the Cochise Stronghold trail starts. Cairns on the left after a couple of hundred yards in the drainage leads to a trail. The route winds in and out of the drainage on various trails. Follow the cairns. Head up the gully on the south side of Whale Dome. The double cracks at the start are pretty obvious. You can leave your packs at the base as you return to them after descending the gully after the rap. Dec 16, 2007
Jon Ruland
Tucson, AZ
Jon Ruland   Tucson, AZ
holy christ, talk about a climb that gets mixed reviews. i guess some people get it and some people don't. personally, i get it. granted the roped hiking is a little annoying but i think the rappel adds to the fun. i wish there were more climbs like this. the fact that it looks like a whale's mount rushmore is almost worth a star by itself. Apr 13, 2008
Tucson, AZ
  5.8 R
Geir   Tucson, AZ
  5.8 R
HAHAHA John you kill me. I agree - it's a great climb! Fun climbing, great views, mostly traditional. A fantastic climb for a relatively new climber.

The only bad part of this climb is the rap ... would anyone object if I move it to a better spot? Dec 3, 2008
Jon Ruland
Tucson, AZ
Jon Ruland   Tucson, AZ
oooo new rap anchors, eh? sounds cool. that way people can choose between the exciting rappel or the one that doesn't require them to buy new pants afterward. Dec 28, 2008
I'm curious, what's wrong with the rap as it is now??
It's a big part of the climb. Just like down climbing the tree on Lizard Marmalade Direct. Dec 28, 2008
John Farrell
Phoenix, AZ
John Farrell   Phoenix, AZ
The rappel is fine, it's just a free over hang. I guess some people might not be comfortable with the start because you have to swing around into the rappel position or lower yourself into it.

However, as it's mentioned, if there is wind, either rap with the rope (use a backpack as a stuff bag, or a cloth grocery shopping bag because it's flat and light to carry), lower someone, or lower your gear in a backpack. You just want to keep the rope end weighted so it doesn't whip up and get stuck, which really sucked... Feb 9, 2009
Joshua Tree, CA
jtbouknight   Joshua Tree, CA
First off, I think this route was fun. The gear placements aren't immediately obvious, and it's a blast wrapping those chickenheads for an anchor. I agree with a few previous posters who said a few larger cams 3 and 4 camalots could be useful. I used 2 #3s and a #2 for my final anchor and there were opportunities to use a #4 or even a #5 in places if you wanted some extra security. Seriously agree that the bolts on this climb and the anchor in particular could be replaced! I took a 40ft. pendulum swing on the rap anchor after retrieving my rope which the 40 mph winds took to the nasty rope eating crack on rappeler's left. Can't imagine I'm the first one to do this. I've run into a few NOLS groups out at the stronghold. Perhaps some enterprising leader would like to do us all a favor? Mar 31, 2009
Ryan Anderson
Ryan Anderson   Bozeman
Good route - each pitch is a bit different. I give the 5th pitch a 5.6R rating(the two guidebooks we had called it 5.7+ and 5.8). It is easier than it looks, but very runout on steeper terrain than the earlier pitches. For the approach, do not go down the main trail at all(not even to the sign). Look for a small cairn on the north side of the parking area and follow the cairned trail. The anchor bolts at the top of pitch one looked a bit suspect(old buttonhead), but it is possible to back them up with cams. The pitch 2 anchor only has 1 very small tree(book mentions 2), but you can sling good chickenheads just above the ledge. Apr 9, 2009
Chuck S.
Tempe, AZ
Chuck S.   Tempe, AZ
Did this over Labor Day Weekend '09 and it's a fun climb with gorgeous views and a great rap down. I just wanted to backup a few of the other comments.
1) One 70-meter rope will just get you to the ground. We brought with a pullcord but we didn't find it necessary.
2) The wind on that rappel is a thrill. About halfway down it sent me sailing a good 15 feet off the rope line. We weighted the rope ends and lowered them between gusts no problem.
3) There is a very nice trail that parallels the wash and allows you to avoid 75% of the rock hopping to the base of the climb. We missed it on the way up but it's clear as day on the way down. To take it do not start in the wash, instead start north directly across and a couple feet past the brown Forest Trail 279 sign. A couple dozen yards into the woods you'll run into a campsite and a cairned trail that goes up from there. Saves a lot of time. Sep 8, 2009
Oakland Park, Florida
Floridaputz   Oakland Park, Florida
Climb this on Dec 26th. I think the comment's have been a little harsh. I found this a good climb with a great summit. Maybe a little run out but pretty damn good. Now if you want to bitch about the decent gully I can see your point. Jan 2, 2010
Tucson, AZ
  5.8 R
Geir   Tucson, AZ
  5.8 R
This climb is a truly great Cochise climb, one of my favorites for sure. Excellent rock, fun climbing, beautiful summit.

If you want a topo for this climb simply PM me.

Mar 8, 2010
jbak .
jbak .   tucson,az
haha....Geir, did we do the same route ? Mar 9, 2010
ryan dillon
Tucson, AZ.
ryan dillon   Tucson, AZ.
Glad I was not the only one thinking that. Ok line but the payoff on this on is the rappel. I wouldn't go much farther than that. If your going to climb this grade there are way better routes to be done. Mar 9, 2010
Tucson, AZ
  5.8 R
Geir   Tucson, AZ
  5.8 R
john / ryan - yeah, i know there's a lot of mixed opinions about this route. some people give it four stars, some hate it. personally, i like it as it has very nice rock, fun climbing (for the grade), fantastic views, and minimal use of bolts.

ryan - i think the rappel is terrible. ha! oh well, i guess people's tastes vary. :) Mar 9, 2010
Cody Ferguson
Durango, CO
Cody Ferguson   Durango, CO
So good, we did it twice! Jan 13, 2011
Phoenix & Prescott, AZ
  5.8+ R
arjunmh   Phoenix & Prescott, AZ
  5.8+ R
I call this classic for a 5.8 trad multi pitch climb. Stellar rock, gorgeous route, and the whirligig rap in gale-force wind with two ropes in my backpack was probably one of the craziest feeling things I've done while climbing. It worked, thanks to Canada Eric for the good beta on that trick and Geir for the terrific topo, as always. Mar 22, 2011
Johnny Ice
Tucson, AZ
Johnny Ice   Tucson, AZ
bring nylon runners for chicken head tying. bring a topo with you. You'd think it would be straightforward but we got off route traversing right too early and had about a 60 foot run out with zero protection available. That was an adventure. We had a 70m rope and it worked out nice for us. Bring a head lamp because walking back in the dark isn't cool...uh , I wouldn't be stupid enough to forget a headlamp but I've heard about it from people...yeah. Mar 30, 2011
Toast with Butter
Tempe, AZ
  5.9 R
Toast with Butter   Tempe, AZ
  5.9 R
its a great climb for beginners, although i would suggest you be confident with at least 5.10- sport before you attempt this. If you don't enjoy this climb you should really just quit climbing and join the boulderers. Jul 13, 2011
Adam-phx-trad Saieed
Phoenix, AZ
Adam-phx-trad Saieed   Phoenix, AZ
First 5.8 trad lead of my climbing career, it was a great experience to say the least. overall a great climb. I've only been climbing for 3 months but i feel like i grew as a climber after this experience. i must say heed the advise to be comfortable with chicken head tying for belay stations before doing this climb, it was quite the experience to have my first hanging belay also be my first chicken head belay! Dec 29, 2011
Tim Hadfield
Steamboat Springs, Co
Tim Hadfield   Steamboat Springs, Co
We did this route the last day of a nearly two week Cochise trip. I couldn't think of a better way to finish a climbing adventure. Super fun, casual day of climbing. And the rap in the wind WAS exciting. Jan 12, 2012
Daryl Allan
Sierra Vista, AZ
Daryl Allan   Sierra Vista, AZ
I took a pretty wild video of a couple of guys rapping off the top of Whale Dome from the top of Ghost Dome last weekend with some wicked wind. If you were rapping off around noon on Feb 12th and would be interested in a copy of it, let me know and I'll send it to you somehow. Feb 15, 2012
brian benedon
brian benedon   tucson
MD is definitely a So. AZ backcountry classic. Great rock and a little something to get your attention on every pitch. I really liked the 1st and last pitch and the scenery.

We were able to make it to the top from the bolted belay @ pitch 4 with a 70 meter rope, but I was about 20' short of the anchor.

We were able to rap from the new anchor with the 70. but we had to down climb an easy 10'.
There is a tree with a sling on it about 40' off the ground.

The walk in was easy for the dogs, we left them and our packs in the creek before starting up the steep drainage to the route.

Anyone done the var. out right on the 3rd pitch? Feb 23, 2014
Tucson, AZ
JMo   Tucson, AZ
Moby dick is special. If you are so badass you find this climb boring, why did you get on an 8? What did you expect, the sound of one hand thrashing? Please. This climb gets all the stars. Jun 22, 2015
Gilbert AZ
walmongr   Gilbert AZ
Fun route. A note if doing take a single 70m rope run a few pitches together. And it will just reach the ground on the rap. Good luck with the rap anchors don't bounce much they are pretty much junk! Jan 18, 2016
Don Stump
Sierra Vista, AZ
Don Stump   Sierra Vista, AZ
Did this on Sunday for the 4th time! Someone might have been using the wrong rap anchors. The new ones are great and much easier to get to than the old set. Pulling rope can be a problem in high winds. Next time I go up, I'm going to bring a set of chains with me. Added a half foot of chain might really help the rope pull. Mar 29, 2016
Don Stump
Sierra Vista, AZ
Don Stump   Sierra Vista, AZ
Saturday, August 26 2017
ROAD CONDITIONS: The road to the trail head is washed out in many places. In some spots the road is 3 feet lower and un-drive-able; you have to leave where the road used to be and drive up on the bank (essentially a new road). I haven't see it this bad, so until they re-grade the road I recommend only driving a high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle to the trail head. I'm thinking that a Subaru outback wouldn't make it because the bumper in the front is too low. FJ cruiser, no problem.

Route was great! Aug 26, 2017
Daniel Evans
Phoenix, AZ
  5.9- PG13
Daniel Evans   Phoenix, AZ
  5.9- PG13
Only led the first pitch due to our party getting a late start, but found it to be pretty stiff for 5.8. Maybe I was tired from the day before or caught off guard mentally, but we climbed Wasteland the day before and the consensus among our group was that P1 was at minimum a grade harder. I don't think I would recommend leading P1 to a new or timid 5.8 trad leader as there are some committing moves with potential for injury. Fortunately each committing section is followed by a good stance to rest and collect yourself for the next sequence. Great pitch nonetheless. Nov 26, 2017
David Ellis
David Ellis   Tucson
FOUND A BACKPACK WITH CLIMBING GEAR: At the end of the road on 3/10/18, we found a pack with a bunch of climbing gear. Message me if you think it is yours. Mar 11, 2018
The fixed anchors on this route were updated by CASA in 2017. See the full list of updated climbs at…

Hardware and tools are paid for by your donations, a grant from Access Fund & American Alpine Club, and support from Rocks & Ropes and The BLOC. Jul 10, 2018

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