Thursday, March 10, 2011

Gray Cap - 3/10/11

Fifteen hikers took on a challenging climb up to Gray Cap Peak today. The quick pace and the routes chosen by the coordinator made this particular hike to the spot of limestone on top of yellow sandstone a great workout for every muscle in the body. The hike began from Sandstone Quarry and headed up the Calico Tanks Trail.

The hikers circled around the base of Red Cap and dropped down the wash which leads to Gateway Canyon. The weather was gorgeous with a very slight cool wind to ward off the warmth of the sun that occasionally peeked through the layer of wispy clouds above. At Gateway Canyon, we paid our respects to the baby bighorn skeleton that resides there and began our climb up through the recently washed out limestone canyon.

The climb up through Upper Gateway Canyon is always a fun scramble up many dry waterfalls. Hikers often change the hike by choosing a different route up the limestone obstacles than what they had done recently. Care must be taken on some of the rocks lying in the middle of the canyon path. Because of the rains this winter, some of the larger rocks have been dislodged and are dubbed "rocky rocks."

Two or three of the dry waterfalls offer routes that require a bit more concentra- tion. Footholds and handholds are scarce on these routes. Nevertheless, the routes are doable and rewarding. A few of our hikers enjoyed the more difficult challenges, today, over the 5.5 miles that we hiked in just under 5 hours with a net elevation gain of just under 1500 feet.

At the top of Gateway Canyon, the trail takes a decidedly upward turn as the rock underfoot changes to red then yellow sandstone. A truly heart and lung working route takes the hiker up a steep wall of sandstone full of crevices and some loose rock. We headed toward a landmark tree at the top of the wall then waited for everyone to achieve the scramble.

From here, we passed two tenajas. One is a very large tank filled with water placed deep into the sandstone below. As we crossed the "fin" above this tank, we found a smaller tank to our left. Turtlehead Peak rose dauntingly above us. We climbed up to our right and hugging the wall on our left, we circled around to the other side of this sandstone peak.

The final climb begins as sandstone and ends in the limestone cap. It is a steep ascent with a lot of loose rock and very little trail. The direction heads up a crevice to the left, then around to the right on an upward angle. Then, if you are lucky, you will connect with a small trail in the limestone which leads to the peak. Today, we missed the trail until we were almost to the top. Our trusty leader was waiting on the slower hikers while we were sent to the peak! (So, it's our fault!)

Finally, we were able to relax for a while and take in some nurishment. We read the sign-in book and laughed when we realized that last year we did this hike only one day later.

After our break, we began the 2.75 mile return. Making the hike a little more interesting for the return, the coordinator led us up and over a steep sandstone peak instead of retracing our steps by the large tank. From the top of this peak, the downhill scramble lasted several minutes requiring total concentration lest someone would break an ankle on the rocky rocks covering the hillside.

Surviving the downhill scramble and the descent through Upper Gateway Canyon, we were rewarded with an uphill climb to the base of Red Cap. This is no easy task at this stage of the hike. As we waited for the last hiker to arrive to this point, another hiker realized that he lost his pants ... the lower part of his zip-off pants, that is. So ... be on the lookout for lower pant legs that are pretty much the same color as the trail. They belong to Mike O'C.

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