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Routes in Elephant Head

Cable? What Cable? T 5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b R
Hiker's Route T 3rd 1- 1 I 1 M 1a
Rocktology T 5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b R
West Gully T 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b R
Type: Trad, 700 ft, 6 pitches, Grade III
FA: Mike Nelson, Jim Scott, 1997
Page Views: 1,417 total, 15/month
Shared By: Charles Vernon on Jan 31, 2010
Admins: Greg Opland, Luke Bertelsen, JJ Schlick

You & This Route

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Rocktology was the best day of adventure I've had so far in Southern Arizona. The two star rating is given for the fact that it is a steep and exciting route, with great movement, that takes a devious path up a beautiful wall. As the name implies, the loose rock, bird shit, mediocre protection, and copious amounts of lichen detract from the quality, but certainly add to the adventure.

A word about lichen: Kerry's guide says to bring a wire brush, but we didn't take this seriously. BRING A WIRE BRUSH!

The description & topo in Kerry were more than adequate--if you want the full adventure, stop reading now.

Reference p. 125 of the guide for Kerry's route description, which I've annotated below.…

The approach beta is perfect, except that simply starting by hiking on the bike trail makes more sense. It intersects the approach drainage. Instead of reversing the approach, we descended the gully between the Shark's Fin and the main wall. This was quick and offered great views of the whole wall, but had some bushwhacking, and a fixed rope rappel at one point.

The anchor bolts and occasional lead protection bolts all appeared to be in good shape, but protection is poor on several sections of 5.9 or 5.10 climbing. For that reason, plus mediocre rock in places, I think the route deserves an "R" rating.

P1: The left side of the pillar is the obvious way to go, but we climbed the right side which was far less vegetated.

P2: Very obvious. Don't get discouraged by the loose rock at the beginning, as the rock gets better (but the bird shit gets worse). Fun head-jam move (save # 1.5 or 2 friend) at the top to a crappy hanging belay.

P3: An intricate, exciting pitch. After clipping the lone bolt, do not move into the more obvious cracks 10 feet to the left. Step left from the bolt, but then work up and slightly right to the alcove mid-pitch. The pro is poor but the climbing never gets harder than 5.9. (At least one climber took a ~50 foot fall off this pitch, resulting in injury and retreat, when a hold broke and pro pulled.)

Above the alcove I deviated slightly from the topo, essentially climbing the right-leaning ramp shown on the topo(a fairly indistinct feature), to gain the left-leaning ramp. This worked out well. The 5.10 crack-to-face variation looks high quality.

P4: If I did this again I would belay from a crack at a good stance below the bolt protecting the (really cool) crux roof, and then combine the remainder of P4 w/P5. Among other things, this would eliminate rope drag on the slabby, "thought-provoking 10a moves" which were the mental crux of the route. I put in 4 pieces above the bolt but didn't like any, and here the route is buried in lichen rather than merely covered in it.

P5: short and chossy.

P6: due to time constraints, we unfortunately did not do P6. It looked pretty straightforward, at least to start.


The first two pitches are very obvious down to the right, once you come around the corner at the top of the Shark's Fin. The first pitch starts up the obvious, huge detached pillar, and the second pitch climbs a prominent right-facing, right-leaning corner above.

Descent: Kerry describes rapping the route (2 ropes) from the top of P6, though it is undoubtedly possible to continue to the summit. From the top of P3 we made it all the way to the top of P1 w/60 meter ropes. The anchor are good bolts, but the slings we found were ancient--we replaced the ones we rapped from with good slings.


Wire brush. Stoppers, rps, pink tricam, single set of small cams, doubles on 1.5-3 friends, one 3.5, optional 4 friend or camalot. Instead of the double hand-size friends, medium-large hexes and or tri-cams would actually work better in the holes and pockets that protect the wandering face climbing on pitches 3 & 4.


Charles Vernon
Tucson, AZ
Charles Vernon   Tucson, AZ
Mike, if you have any pics from the FA of this route, I would love to see 'em! Nov 7, 2016
Just found this page today as I was reminiscing over old slide film pics of my AZ climbing days. I can't imagine the route gets done much but it sure was an adventure putting it up. I remember hiking up to the climb to put up the third pitch and falling hand first onto a cholla that pinned my fingers together. After the pain, numbness ensued and I was able to climb. I recall the last pitch was pretty decent rock, a bit of a slabby affair. What an adventure with Jim! Agree with you Charles it is probably worthy of an R but we were a bit old school back then ;-) Nov 2, 2016
Charles Vernon
Tucson, AZ
Charles Vernon   Tucson, AZ
Your comment leads me to believe that winter is actually the best time to do this route. We did it in January on a 70 degree day and the bird shit, while noticeable, was not enough to detract from my enjoyment of the 2nd pitch.

I still need to get back and do that last pitch, and go to the summit. No one can convince me that this route isn't worth doing twice! Nov 18, 2011
We cleaned several inches of bird shit off every hold on the second pitch the day we led it. When we came back a week later to jug up to our high point every hold was covered with bird shit again.

The face to the right of the 2nd pitch corner is well featured with small holds and would be a better alternative to the shit covered stuff in the corner. It could be done at 5.11 or so, but would need lots of bolts to protect.

The last pitch actually has the hardest climbing of the route. However we drilled enough bolts to make the tenuous slab climbing less mentally challenging than the previous pitches. Nov 18, 2011
Charles Vernon
Tucson, AZ
Charles Vernon   Tucson, AZ
Ha! Thanks for putting this climb up, Jimbo. I had a great time. I recommend this climb to anyone looking for a good adventure, especially now that Mendoza may be closed (fingers crossed). In fact, this was a last minute substitute for us after learning about Mendoza on Friday night.

With a really good scrubbing and maybe a high pressure hose for the bird shit on P2, this would faintly resemble a classic. We cleaned a bit of loose stuff on rappel (mainly a huge loose pillar that you had to climb around, directly above the belay, in the middle of P3). Jan 31, 2010
You guys probably nabbed the much coveted 2nd ascent. Nice job Jan 31, 2010