Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fortification Hill - 12/24/09

Hiking Fortification Hill on Christmas Eve for thirteen members of the Around the Bend Friends seemed like a gift from Santa. We just wished that he hadn't brought the strong cold winds from the North Pole! But, it was a crystal clear day and the views from the top of the hill were breath-taking.

The trailhead is located 5.5 miles out a dirt road which turns off to the north just after the location of the re- situated check point on the Arizona side of Hoover Dam. The road was in very good condition today with a few tough bumps only after turning right at the pit toilets. The top photo of the hill is what you see when you get out of the car to begin the hike.

We began hiking up a small canyon then climbed up to the right to reach a ridge leading from the hill. At this point, the wind became a huge factor. The trail was very steep with loose rock and the wind was hitting us in the face causing us to work twice as hard to climb up and keep our balance. What is so striking about Fortification Hill and its immediate surroundings are the colors in the rock and sand that frame the hill which rises upward largely decorated with dark lava rock.

Finally, we reached the foot of the hill's surrounding cliff wall. Here, we rounded a corner and escaped the worst of the wind. Soon, we were scrambling up the side of the cliff at a place where there were easy footholds. After two scrambling sections, we were on the top of the cliff and began hiking around the edge to get to the highest point of the hill.

On the way around the edge, we saw that the famous "flat" hill is actually not flat at all. In the middle of the "top" there is an ancient volcanic crater and a couple of hills that cannot be seen from the distance. To the right is a photo of the landscape at the top.

The highest point of the hill is marked by an American flag. It is here that views of Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, the Las Vegas Strip, a snow-covered Mt. Charleston, Lava Butte and Boulder City simply blow you away. (Figuratively speaking, of course. The wind was much more gentle here!)The views combined with the clear air made the very tough climb and the even tougher descent worth it.

We ate our snacks and took a break here. There is a log book which we all wrote our name in. There was a survey plaque placed there in the year 1935, the year the dam was completed. Perhaps when there was a way to easily get to the other side of the canyon, some of these hikes we explore every year were established.

After our break, we began the return. Although coming off of the high point of the hill was a piece of cake and scrambling down the side of the cliff also didn't seem too bad, the remainder of the descent was a bear. The steep slippery hill required ultimate concentration. Knees and calves felt the "burn." Most of the group decided to take the ridge all the way down to the cars instead of dropping into the small canyon.

As a side note, someone has placed a rock inscripted with the name of a hiker who died in that spot last year. It was located between the two scramble sections near the top. He had fallen off the cliff wall while attempting to blaze a new trail up a nearby crevice. May he rest in peace.

The hike is just under 4 miles with a net elevation gain of 1600 feet.

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