Friday, March 12, 2010

Gray Cap - 3/11/10

The hike this Thursday was a strenuous scrambling hike to Gray Cap Peak. It was a total of 5.6 miles with a net elevation climb of around 2000 feet. The weather was cool and crisp with chilly breezes throughout the hike, however, the sun was out and it was a beautiful day.

We began at the Sandstone Quarry parking area on the Red Rock Scenic Loop and hiked up the Calico Tanks trail until a turn to the left into a rocky wash. This rocky wash also serves the Red Cap and the Ash Canyon Overlook trails. We circled around the base of Red Cap and hiked down through the wash between Krafft Mountain and Turtlehead Peak. It was here that we saw our goal. In the picture to the left, Gray Cap is the prominent gray colored peak sitting on top of yellow and red sandstone in the distance.

We turned left again at Gateway Canyon. Upper Gateway Canyon is made exclusively of limestone which is opposite to Lower Gateway Canyon which is a colorful mix of sandstone. We warmed up our scrambling legs in the upper canyon as there are many rocks, boulders and dry waterfalls ... some of which were not dry! Due to the rains the Las Vegas area has received of late, there was plenty of water around.

At the top of the canyon, the terrain suddenly turned into red sandstone. On top of the red was yellow sandstone and on top of the yellow there was a particular pine tree. This tree was ... oh ... maybe 600 feet higher than we were with a steep slope of scrambling in front of us just waiting to happen. Chris said "go for it" and we did!

After a lot of heavy breathing, we met at the pine tree and moved on. Not far from this, a huge natural tank filled with icy water came into view surrounded by walls and steep slopes about 300 feet high. We passed by the tank on a narrow fin and circled around to the right. Behind us loomed Turtlehead Peak and to the left of us, there was a spacious view of Brownstone Canyon.

As we circled around, views of Red Cap and the trail down to Gateway Canyon were gorgeous. The Red Rock Escarpment peeked out from behind the Calico Hills and color was everywhere. The top photo was taken in this area. After reaching a flat area, we began the final long climb through the yellow sandstone.

Halfway up this final climb, we were looking directly across from Turtlehead. It wasn't long after hitting the limestone terrain that we were standing on Gray Cap Peak. The panorama below shows a 180 degree picture of where we sat to take our break, write in the log book, eat a snack and take a lot of pictures!

After our rest, we had to come to terms with the fact that we were only half finished with our morning excursion. Next on the agenda was the "down" part which included a bit of "up" as well. We started by climbing down the yellow sandstone.

We passed by the large tank again by tiptoeing across the narrow fin. Hiking in the desert involves high exposures of different kinds. A hiker learns which types of exposures to avoid and which to simply hike through taking as much caution as possible. This was not a bad exposure in desert hiking terms.

We scrambled carefully down the steep slope below the tree. Taking different routes and caring for different weaknesses, we descended at our own pace. There was not a wrong way and we enjoyed the brain workout as well.

We came down Upper Gateway Canyon negotiating two of the larger dry waterfalls by taking the trail around them. The picture to the right shows an impromptu gathering at the top of one of these dry waterfalls and a photo was required!

At the junction of the Krafft Mountain wash, we turned right and began the most difficult climb of the day! The picture to the right shows the view of Red Cap at this point in the hike. We needed to climb to base of the peak and our legs were tired.

As you can see, we made it and sat for a rest as others caught up. The last half mile was relatively flat and it was "coasting from here on out."

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