Thursday, November 6, 2014

Gray Cap Peak (Traditional Route O&B) - 11/6/14

Gray Cap Peak from Rattlesnake Trail

Red Cap and Escarpment from Climb to Gray Cap

Hiking Out to the Rattlesnake Trail

 Gray Cap is so called because it consists of limestone rock that sits atop a mountain of yellow sandstone. The Around the Bend Friends does several different routes to its summit but today's route is, perhaps, the easiest. Still, the climb is anything but "easy." Seventeen hikers arrived at Sandstone Quarry parking lot off of the scenic loop of Red Rock Canyon NCA and were up to the scrambling challenge. We started out the wash next to the Calico Tanks Trail and turned left to make our way over to the Rattlesnake Trail.

Hiking the Rattlesnake Trail
 Waking up our lungs and legs, we scrambled up the hill and found the trail. That was just a little warm-up!

Nearing the Gateway Canyon Junction
 We followed the trail around the northern base of Red Cap Peak, headed down toward the top of Ash Canyon, then dropped down between the mountains in the wash. The Rattlesnake Trail continues down and junctions with Gateway Canyon.

Upper Gateway Canyon beneath Turtlehead Peak

 At the canyon, we stopped for a small water break and to put on our gloves. Here's where the official scramble begins. We turned left into the limestone canyon and soon started climbing dry falls. The canyon was not in exactly the same shape as the writer's previous trip through but the changes were barely noticeable. A few of the dry falls seemed a couple of feet taller. We took on each dry fall with care. Limestone becomes very slippery from water flow. Therefore, each foot hold had to be chosen.

Scrambling Up Dry Falls in Upper Gateway Canyon
 We helped four newbies with the climb as we tried to point out the easier ways to get up.

Climbing the Sandstone Wall
 After another rest at the top of the limestone, we tackled the red and yellow sandstone wall that rose from the top of the canyon. The slope of the wall is steep and footing had to be chosen. There is no trail and hikers were covering the wall like a military invasion!

View Down the Sandstone Wall Climb to Upper Gateway Canyon

 Gathering again at the top, we took another small break while we waited for the last hikers. From there, we circled around a large tank (tinaja) on its left side. We crossed a narrow fin high above the empty tank. (The small tank on the fin did have water.) Next, we climbed up to the wall ahead of us and turned to our right. Up and over the crest brought us to a gorgeous view as seen in the photo below. (Sue posed for the photo and we all wish Ben a fast recovery. Bicycles can be dangerous! Keep hiking!)

What a View!
 The route circles around the wall to our left and drops down to a flat area before it begins the final climb up through the yellow sandstone.

Starting Up the Final Climb to Gray Cap
 By this time, the hikers that were out front continued ahead while a slower group led the newbies up through the maze.

Final Climb Mid-Point at the "Picnic Table"

 Half way up the climb, we gathered at the large flat rock affectionately named the "picnic table." From there, the route heads up the sandstone and then to the right while continuing to gain elevation. Near the top, the hiker should junction with a trail that can be deciphered among the rocks. This trail leads up to the limestone layer and on up to Gray Cap Peak. All seventeen hikers reached the summit and enjoyed a deserved break.

The Last Hiker Reaches the Limestone
 The views from this hike are outstanding and they continue from beginning to end.

Some of the Seventeen Hikers on Gray Cap Peak
 The weather has returned to cool mornings and warm days. We were mostly overdressed and most of us drank all our water by the time we had gotten back to our cars.

Las Vegas Strip View from Gray Cap Peak

 The descent went as expected and, for the most part, we returned the exact way we came up. Looking at the GPS track, it appeared that even through the maze of sandstone, we stayed on the same path. Likely, this path was the best path for staying on sandstone slab for the initial part of the descent. Then, when we reached the sandstone wall, all bets were off! There isn't a set trail that is better or worse for this section. The best advice we have is to stay on slab as much as possible.

Brownstone Canyon over the Ridge
 Brownstone Canyon lies just over the ridge that supports Gray Cap Peak.

Returning to the Large Deep Tank
 Turtlehead Peak rises staunchly above a large portion of the hike.

Top of Upper Gateway Canyon - Sandstone Wall in Background

 When we finished the descent of the wall, we had to contend with the descent of the limestone dry falls. For many of the larger falls, most of us used the up and around trails. Of course, these trails presented their own problems with loose rock. When, at last, we gathered again at the Rattlesnake Trail junction, we knew that the climb up to the base of Red Cap would be the final difficulty of the day. It is quite a climb and lies at the end of a tiring day. We all made it up while faster hikers sunned themselves on the rocks. From there, we took the route through the small slot canyon back to the Calico Tanks Trail and Sandstone Quarry. Great day! Four newbies on Gray Cap!! Yea!!

6 miles; 2000 feet elevation gain; 4.5 hours

"Keep your pants on the rock!"

The Last and Exhausting Climb up Rattlesnake Trail

Lounging at the Base of Red Cap

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