Saturday, December 7, 2019

Ice Box Canyon via SMYC Trail - 12/6/19

Ice Box Canyon Waterfall

Heading into Ice Box Canyon

SMYC Trail (View toward Willow Springs)

Starting out SMYC Trail
Ice Box Canyon is a very popular trail/ scramble hike in Red Rock Canyon NCA. It is so popular, in fact, that the trailhead parking is quite often full to capacity. Plus, the canyon has been plagued with graffiti off and on for many years. For these reasons, our club doesn't delve into its beautiful rock walls very often. But, a month ago, Rita and I did a pre-hike into the canyon to see what it looked like after several years of abstinence. We found a couple of rocks with bright blue graffiti scribbled on them about halfway through the canyon wash, but the waterfall area at the end of the hike was cleaned up and ready for prime time. On another note of interest: On that pre-hike, we saw a female bighorn on a large ledge about 30 feet up the north wall about halfway up the canyon wash. She seemed content laying there until we noticed her but she stayed in the area of the ledge until we were gone.

Damp SMYC Trail
The out and back hike into Ice Box Canyon from its trailhead on the Scenic Loop is only around 3 miles. So, sometimes our club will avoid the possible traffic jam at the trailhead and lengthen our hike by starting at the Lost Creek Trailhead on the Willow Springs spur road.

SMYC Puddles - North Blue Diamond Hill in Distance
By using the SMYC Trail to access Ice Box Canyon, the hike is lengthened to 4.5 miles and parking is usually available in the morning hours.

Ice Box Canyon / SMYC Trail Junction

Hiking into Ice Box Canyon
Rain had poured down in various parts of Las Vegas and the surrounding mountains twice in the last two weeks. As is usual in the desert, the rain had nowhere to go except down through the canyons and into the urban basins. As hikers, we try to judge when is the best time to go into the canyons after a good rain. There will be water in the washes that impede efforts to hike through but this changes many of our hikes into adventures. Today, sixteen hikers gathered at the Lost Creek Trailhead looking for some fun! We truly had no idea what to expect when we reached Ice Box Canyon. Water? No water? Rushing water? A trickle? At least it can be said that we were all pretty excited about the prospects!

Beginning the Wet Wash
We started out the SMYC (Spring Mountain Youth Camp) Trail. This beautiful trail runs along the base of the escarpment between Willow Springs and Ice Box Canyon. There are two or three short hills to climb along the trail as it crosses deep wash gulleys.

Wet & Slippery Rocks
The earth was damp and sometimes held puddles. We saw several large deer prints in the mud. No deer sightings today but the masters of camouflage may have been hiding among the brush.

Creek Monster Rock and Waterfall with Pool

Finding our way through the Rocks and Water
After a little over a mile, we junctioned with the Ice Box Canyon Trail and turned right. This trail is either well-marked in some places or offers several options that all go to the same place. As we made our way into the canyon walls, the trail zigzagged down and up past a side wash and we started hearing water rushing in the nearby main wash. We followed the trail all the way to the end where it dropped down the hill to the left and into the wash. (There is an optional drop down about thirty yards before this.) Once we got to the bottom of the embankment, we saw the water level that we would be dealing with in the next couple of hours. There was a good flow of water but it was not "rushing." In fact, the water just skimmed over some of the rocks.

Ice Box Creek
Perfect! With waterproof shoes, getting up past some of the obstacles would be possible without taking a swim! And, there would be beautiful little waterfalls all along the way.

Climbing the Tree & Rocks to the End Game
The first obstacle area, which came immediately, may have been one of the most difficult. (See the ninth photo.) We queued up to start taking in the wheres and how tos of the scramble in the water.

The End Game all to Ourselves!

Breaking at the Waterfall (10 of 16 Hikers)
Each of us had our own techniques on getting up the wet wash. Some of us plowed through the brush on the sides and some of us didn't mind getting our shoes a little wet. Some of us tried our skills at bouldering and some of us relied on past knowledge of side trails up the embankments. Needless to say, we ended up divided into small groups; each group according to their techniques. The participants today were all skilled hikers and needed very little encouragement to tackle the job. The two most amazing things about the whole hike were the beauty of the "water meets canyon" scenario and the beauty of a great group of hikers following the lead of whoever they could see in front of them and calling out suggestions or questions when confronted with a decision.

Yep! Awesome!
Most of us knew where the tree/rock climb was near the end of the canyon so when I got there, more than half of the group was already up there. I made sure that whoever was behind me saw the odd junction and I scampered up.

The Lower Waterfall
Now at the waterfall, we took our break. Lots of photos of the beautiful display. I had seen it before but not in a long while. Worth the scramble and we were the only ones there!!

Following David back via the Trail Route

Back into the Water
It wasn't until we were out of the wash that we saw any other hikers. Then there was a steady stream of "thrill seekers." David Hardy had led us out by using mostly trails along the sides so the trip down didn't take nearly as long as the trip up. We junctioned with the SMYC Trail and hiked on out and back to the cars. It was a beautiful day! And, oh so fun! As a last thought, a few of us took the short hike up to the Lower Lost Creek Waterfall to see what kind of water flow was there. See the last photo. Ice Box Waterfall was definitely the winner!

4.5 miles; ~600 feet elevation gain; 3.5 hours

Starting back on the SMYC Trail


Side Trip to Lower Lost Creek Waterfall

Monday, December 2, 2019

Echo Canyon / SARS Trail / Skull Canyon - 12/2/19

Griffith Peak rising behind La Madre Mountain Range

Escarpment Peaks from Skull Canyon

Starting Echo Canyon

Climbing into Echo Canyon
 Twelve hikers arrived at the Cowboy Trails Trailhead parking lot for a 7 mile hike that started by hiking up Echo Canyon, continued across the top of the hill on the SARS Trail and descended Skull Canyon for the big finale. Just to make the hike a little more interesting, we were all prepared to lay it all out on the trail with a fast pace and very few stops. I think, in the end, we averaged around 2.5 mph for our moving speed. Not too shabby! However, a hike at this speed does not lend itself to great photos and pointing out great stuff along the way. The hikers that joined me today didn't mind. They came for the workout!

3rd Class Scramble in Echo Canyon
 We left the parking lot and headed straight up to the entrance of Echo Canyon. Without stopping, we climbed into the canyon. Our first lull came at the first 3rd class climb.

Steady Climb
 There may have been one or two pauses within the canyon for water and wardrobe adjustments, but our first real break came at the top of the canyon at the junction of the SARS Trail.

3rd Class Step Up

Nearing the SARS Trail Junction
 We turned onto the old mining road and climbed on up to the trail that turned to the left. This is when we began seeing snow patches on the sides of the hills. We passed through the right fork of Cave Canyon and on over through the left fork. At the Boneshaker sign, we stopped for another small break. The SARS Trail overlaps the Boneshaker Trail for around a quarter mile so we headed down the trail to find the junction. The junction that was previously very difficult to spot now has a large cairn to point it out. We turned to our right and hiked down to cross Mystery Woman Canyon and climb a steep hill. This hill was the most difficult part of the hike since it came during the fourth mile of the fast paced hike.

Snow Patches on the SARS Trail
 Just as we began dropping down to the top of Skull Canyon, we stopped among the rocks to take our snack break. It was nice to rest but we didn't want to get too chilled.

Climbing over the Cave Canyon Fork
 We got up and started down to Skull Canyon where the views of the escarpment peaks are really nice within the V of the canyon.

Starting down Skull Canyon

Skull Canyon Trail
 The pace of the descent probably didn't match the ascent since there is always the roll-y rocks to contend with. But, we did a good job trying to keep up the pace ... carefully. It helped that the ground was quite damp. Finally, we reached the bottom of the canyon and we hiked on over past the corrals without stopping. What a fun hike on a beautiful day! Fantastic group! Let's do this again sometime!

7 miles; 1300 feet elevation gain; 3 hours; average moving speed 2.5 mph

Passing the Mystery Woman Canyon Fork

Exiting Skull Canyon

Back into Civilization!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

River Mountain via Inner Caldera Loop - 11/30/19

River Mountain from Inner Caldera Trail

Red Rock Canyon and Spring Mountains behind Las Vegas

Lake Mead's Boulder Basin

Starting around the Inner Caldera Loop
The moderately strenuous hikers were chomping at their bits this morning after sitting around over the Thanksgiving holidays through the wind, rain and snow. Our drive over to the Fiesta Henderson was almost unchallenged through the Las Vegas Spaghetti Bowl on this Saturday morning. I guess everyone was readying for a second round of shopping or heading over to Red Rock Canyon. The visitors were not making their great escape from Sin City, as yet, and the HOV lane was totally unnecessary! From there, eleven hikers made their way over to the Bootleg Canyon Bike Park in Boulder City, NV. We made a quick stop at the restrooms located at the base of the zip line then traveled on up the dirt road to the intermediary trailhead parking at a large trail junction. The road was worse for wear after recent rains but was still drivable with a small amount of clearance.

Down and Up
There are a few ways to conquer River Mountain, the highest peak in the River Mountain Range west of Boulder City. Years ago, Chuck Hawkins introduced us to the peak by way of the River Mountains Trailhead off of Hwy 93 near St. Jude.

River Mountain peeks Over
This route varied in length of at least 8 miles and used sandy washes for part of the trip. It was always a fun hard hike. Sometimes, hikers ran out of steam at the Power Pole Saddle and never made it up to the peak.

Another Down & Up

Passing an Outer Caldera Junction
So, when I started leading hikers up to the River Mountain Peak, I devised the shortest route I could find that also used trails. (I have this ridiculous love of following trails!) Anyway, so my route uses what the bike park calls the Inner Caldera Loop as a balloon and an out and back route up to the peak as the string. We started onto the Inner Caldera Loop on the left side of the parking area (as you come in to the lot). The trail hangs on the side of the hill with views of the Las Vegas and Sheep Mountain Ranges. Both were covered with snow today. Then, we came to our first obstacle; a very steep hill covered in bedrock. (See the fourth photo.)

Wide View of Las Vegas and surrounding Mountains
As the trail hugged the curves of the hillside, Las Vegas and the Spring Mountains came into view. Lots of snow there, too.

Following a Service Road between Inner and Outer Caldera Junctions
Our pace had already revved up. Personally, I needed the momentum when tackling the steep ups that came regularly after steep downs. These are characteristics of bike trails in this park.

Crossing over on the Outer Caldera

Can't get enough of the view!
At the apex of the loop on the northwest end, the Inner Caldera Loop junctioned with the Outer Caldera Loop then we turned to the right. Soon, our loop junctioned with an old dirt road that travels down through a small canyon and heads out toward River Mountain. We turned left on the road to start the "string" portion of the route. You can either stay on the road that will take you all the way up to the Power Pole Saddle or you can take a portion of the Outer Caldera Trail that cuts the corner. Either way is about the same distance. We took the trail then turned left on another road before we reached the road on which we had begun. One good reason to take the trail is that, sometimes, the road is re-graveled and the slog is taxing.

Climbing the Service Road to the Power Pole Saddle
At this point, the service road travels up through the power line canyon on a decent slope. At the Power Pole Saddle, there is always a short rest!

Nearing the Saddle
It is here that we get the first look at Lake Mead! And, oh what a beautiful view, it is! You can see all of Boulder Basin from the red rocks of the North & South Bowls of Fire to Kingman Wash lagoon and the Marina.

Steepness Ensues

Lake Mead from Ascent to Peak
The power lines flow from this saddle down toward Hoover Dam. Or, should I say, they emanate from the dam, up and over the saddle and out to Las Vegas and beyond. These are very powerful lines! How can you look at them and see anything but strength and life! We turned to our left and began the hardest part of our climb today. There is somewhat of a trail up through the scree along the ridge. Then, before you reach that first outcropping peak, the trail turns left for a traverse diagonally up to the ridge. We saw many signs of bighorn along this part of the trail. Next, you hit the black igneous rock on the peak. A little bit of scramble sets you atop where the survey markers are along with a grounding wire. We signed into the sad little log book!

Hikers on the Summit and on Traverse Trail
This peak has an incredible panoramic view - 360 degrees. There was snow on almost every mountain range to the west, north and northeast. Great day for this!!

Mt. Potosi from Ridge
We didn't stay long. I never do since I am always apprehensive about the steep slippery descent. So, after suggesting that everyone take their time going down, about six of us started off the peak.

Summit Photo

Survey Marker
Over the years, this descent has gotten less daunting for me and our descent went smoothly. Another three hikers were close behind making pretty good time. Then ... there were two hikers that had underestimated the descent and we waited for several minutes for them to get to the saddle. From there, we continued to re-trace our route back to the Inner Caldera Loop at the same place we left it. It was a strong group of hikers so I made the decision to take on the wiggly remaining half of the loop at a fun fast pace. We encountered one biker during this last part of the hike. Since it is a bike park first, the bikers prefer that you move out of their way as quickly as possible!

360 degrees of Views from River Mountain Peak
We did. Then the faster hikers took the lead. They were tearing up those curves! Hiking around the bend and another bend!

Starting down the Steep Descent
The back group had their own good pace when we came around the corner and saw that the front group was stopped short by a junction decision.

Nearing the Power Pole Saddle on the Descent

Gathering at a Junction
The Inner Caldera drops down a last steep hill then crosses a dirt road that seems to offer a way back to the trailhead. As I approached, I indicated to stay on the trail and off they went! Oh, what a fun day! We all needed to blow out our engines a little! Felt good. Needed that. ... I was still last so no one was left behind. The traffic was a little heavier going back through town but no stoppage.

6 miles; 1200 feet elevation gain; 3.25 hours; average moving speed 1.8 mph

Large Arch above the Inner Caldera Loop

Hiking the Inner Caldera Loop

Nearing the Trailhead on the Return