Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gray Cap - 2/25/12

               View of Turtlehead Peak from the summit of Gray Cap Peak.

               Turtlehead Peak as we rounded the north end of the Calico Hills.

Count 'em! Twenty- nine members of the Around the Bend Friends hiked Gray Cap Peak today; the first time such a strenuous hike has been attempted on our normally tame Saturday outing. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and all were in excellent spirits as we hiked at a palatable pace through the whole six miles of 2000 feet of elevation gain. The hike began at the Sandstone Quarry parking lot off the scenic loop of the Red Rock Canyon NCA.

                  We gathered at the northern corner of Red Cap Peak.

 We hiked out the Calico Tanks Trail a little ways then turned to the left through a wash, past the turn off for Red Cap Peak, through the small picturesque slot canyon, around the base of Red Cap, past Ash Canyon Overlook, down the wash at the base of Turtlehead Peak and finally junctioned with Gateway Canyon. We stopped a few times on the way so everyone should have felt pretty fresh when we divided into two groups, turned to our left and began the scramble up Upper Gateway Canyon. The first group made fairly quick work of the several dry falls. It was exciting that there were so many hikers, today, that had never before experienced this adventure.

              See that tree at the top of this climb? That was our target.

 At the top of Upper Gateway Canyon, we waited as requested by Chris, the coordinator du jour. Before us, awaited the sandstone "wall" layered with red and yellow sandstone that we would climb when the second group arrived at this point. At the top of the wall, grows a tree to the left of a large pointy rock outcropping. As is customary, on the word "go," we were instructed to begin climbing straight up toward this tree and rock. There is no trail and, no, there is no "best" way! Taking one last look at the small square window behind us, we began our scramble as the second group came up from the last waterfall of the canyon.

                               Beginning the climb up the sandstone wall.

 For several minutes, the sandstone wall was covered from top to bottom with hikers as seen in the photo above. The first people to reach the top, watched from the tree. Finally, when all the members of the first group had crested the wall, we continued over to the sandstone fin that lines the side of a very deep, bone dry, tenaja. We crossed the fin, climbed up to the base of the wall to our right, and circled around the wall. After a small drop down, we waited once again for our group to gather.

                                Approaching the beginning of the last climb.

 The last climb to the peak begins with a bang! The steep loose sandstone offered paths of solidity as we passed the "picnic table," and the screwy tree. Up, up, up the sandstone. At last, we reached the trail etched faintly in the sandstone. This trail led us to the limestone mantel atop the last layer of yellow sandstone. Eventually, twenty- seven of the twenty- nine hikers summitted the peak and the photo below was snapped.

                               AtBF is represented on Gray Cap Peak!

 We all wrote our names in the summit log book and took a well- deserved break. After some discussion, we decided to, once again, divide into two groups. The first group would take a different route down to the top of Upper Gateway and the second group would return as they came; down the sandstone wall.  The first group descended the last portion of the climb at a fair but steady pace.

                                Tiny bush and Turtlehead Peak.

 At the bottom, we separated from the route we had taken up and began an excitingly steep descent to a saddle and on down through a scary loose rock wash. The going was slow but we still reached the top of Upper Gateway several minutes before the second group arrived at the top of the sandstone wall. Upon seeing the second group, most of the first group (we'll call them jack rabbits!) decided to go ahead and begin their descent through Upper Gateway Canyon.

              View from saddle above Upper Gateway Canyon to the south.

 The jack rabbits enjoyed the challenges of Gateway and arrived at the junction point where we waited, as instructed, for the second group. We were in contact with each other by radio and were given the okay to continue up through the wash to Red Cap and on to Sandstone Quarry. We kept the pace steady but needed only two rests. This got us back to the cars after being out on the trail for 5 hours. Yep. A long day but very enjoyable. The second group would likely be knocking on the six hour mark.

          Returning to Red Rock Canyon NCA from the La Madre Wilderness.

                                Peering through the calico rock.

                          Back to Sandstone Quarry and hordes of visitors.

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