Monday, March 14, 2011
Bridge Mountain - 3/13/11
Sunday's excursion up to the peak of Bridge Mountain was led by George. It is his favorite Red Rock hike and it's clear that he really has a passion for this wonderful scramble up the sandstone behind Bridgepoint Peak of the Red Rock Escarpment. The hike begins with an exciting, spine- tingling ride up Rocky Gap Road in George's well- equipped pick-up truck that has been known to carry up to ten people in the cab area. On this day, it only had to carry seven of us. We counted at least four areas of the five mile drive up between the La Madre and Rainbow Wilderness Areas that were immediately deemed the "worst part" of the ride. On one of the "worst parts" we bottomed out, but only slightly. At another point, we charged up through scrub brush to get around someone's truck parked in the middle of the road where they were camping. Later, we decided the headlines for Rocky Gap Road should read, "Where HIGH CLEARANCE is NOT ENOUGH!"
Seven of us piled out of the truck at the trailhead located at Red Rock Summit and began our hike up the hill to the left. For the first mile, we were huffing and puffing due to the fact that most of us had not been that high in elevation for a few months. We were around six to seven thousand feet up from sea level. The mountains around us were scattered with snow that had still not melted even after the high valley temperatures that we have had lately.
We finally passed the trail junction sign that indicated where the turn off was for North Peak Limestone and began a small descent. One thing we learned about this hike was that it was a series of ups and downs throughout. On this stretch of the trail, we got our first glimpse of Bridge Mountain and the sandstone approach we would make. (The morning view of the approach is seen in the third photo.) Above, is a photo of the terrain as we reached the end of the limestone trail and soon began the sandstone portion.
Coming out of the limestone (which is in the "eons" process of engulfing the younger sandstone terrain), we were presented with amazing colorful views of the Calico Hills and Bridge Mountain.
After hiking down through a red sandstone layer, we approached the EDGE! We found ourselves at the precipice of a canyon within the escarpment called Fern Canyon, the north fork of Pine Creek Canyon. We saw Mescalito Peak and, far below, the perch on which the Fern Canyon hike finished. The view to the left attempts to show what we saw as we skipped over a crack above the canyon. (There is a way around this crack for the more sensible types.)
Here, we began a tremendous scramble down to the base of Bridge Peak. Included was this climb down a crack seen above. There were a couple of places like this. The fun was only beginning.
In the photo above, the writer tries to show the route as best as she can remember that we took from the base of the peak. There were attempts to "scare" the writer by other members of the party by saying, "That's the crack that we will be climbing up." They weren't lying. But, the writer felt it was best to reserve her opinion on whether to be scared until she got to the bottom of the crack. Views from a distance can be deceiving.
We got to the base of the crack and decided to take a break. After all, this was the first day of daylight savings time and we had begun the hike even earlier than the usual time so we were in need of a little pick-me-up Gu or granola. (Yeah, we really eat stuff like that!) Looking back, we saw a single hiker (seen in the photo above) following along the same route we had taken. He got to the base where we were sitting then turned around after watching us begin our ascent. We guessed he didn't plan on scaling a sandstone peak that day. To the left is a photo of our view to our right of Pine Creek Canyon. To our left, we had a view of Ice Box Canyon. Ice Box was pretty much straight down below us. So up we went in our little crack.
We only stayed in the crack for a short distance then we climbed out of the crack to scale the wall to the right. It sounds worse than it really was. There was a slope to the "wall." The "wall" was shaped with those bumpy sandstone ripples that lend themselves so well to foot holds and hand holds. Two rules, however, the writer had to follow: 1) Don't look down and 2) Keep both hands and both feet and sometimes both hips on the ground. Yep, she's brave but not crazy ... Mom! Above is a photo of the crack from the top showing Ice Box Canyon below.
At the top of the crack, we scaled over to a small ledge about five feet wide. Above, is a photo of George taking a look at the second "crux" of the hike. There is a large step up to the next level of climbing.
We made that second climb while holding on tight. Again, hand holds and foot holds were abundant. When we got to the top here, we were presented with the bridge of Bridge Mountain fame. It is a solid bridge of about twenty to forty feet in diameter. We circled around to the right of it, climbed up and hiked across the top of the bridge.
One more difficult step up, as seen in the photo above, put us on a level where we could hike around the sandstone to start our final ascent. Circling around, we saw a deep tenaja to our left.
Also on this level of the climb, we saw the hidden forest situated between the peak and the level of sandstone we were on. Once upon a time, it was probably a large tenaja. However, now it is filled in with dirt and very tall pine growth. The photo above shows the end of the forest that we passed around.
The final ascent involves a steep diagonal climb up beside another ledge of sandstone. We hung onto the ledge and made our way up feeling more or less secure with the forest below us. The photos above, to the left and below show views of the peak. It was, by far, one of the three best views this writer has seen from a mountain top at Red Rock. Four of the original seven hikers made it this far to sign their name in the book.
The photo above shows the White Rock Hills, Keystone Thrust, and the La Madre Mountain Range from the peak of Bridge Mountain.
The climb back down was, as promised, easier than the climb up. Above, shows two hikers finishing the descent down the crack.
Following our extremely capable leader, we hiked back to the scramble. We made our way back up the two cracks in the scramble which proved to be as much fun as climbing to the peak. Then we took a small side trip over to the large tenaja we saw from the limestone trail above. Here, the writer was able to get the lead photo of the entry. It was a beautiful and large tank even though plant growth inside the tank is beginning to take over.
Returning to the Fern Canyon ledge, we noticed that the sun was in a better place for photos and the colors of the rock were becoming more apparent.
When we returned to the limestone, we picked up one of our hikers that had decided to rest and enjoy the day. (The remaining two hikers had decided to hike back and walk down Rocky Gap Road. Previous injury prevented one of them from continuing to the peak.) So, the five of us enjoyed the colors below us.
This photo of Bridge Mountain provides an eagle eye view of our hike as best remembered by this writer.
We hiked down the limestone trail and got back to the truck six hours and six miles later.
Bridge Mountain Hike - Part Two ...
The truck wouldn't start. After a series of lucky events, and educated guesses, our extremely capable leader figured out that a fuse had gone bad. This took around an hour or so and we had already begun walking down the road hoping to catch a ride at the bottom back to the Visitor Center where our cars were located. As we were talking to a roving mechanic we found about a mile down the road, here came the truck and we all hopped in. Then ... we came upon another couple of Sunday fun-seekers who had gotten stuck in one of those "worst parts." We watched and helped as they extricated themselves from the various holes and boulders and, eventually, we were on our way inside the truck driven by the "best bad road driver" this writer has ever ridden with! It had been a long day but fun, fun, fun.