Sunday, March 29, 2015

Champion Ridge Loop - 3/29/15

Lee Canyon from Champion Ridge

Starting Down into Lee Canyon from Trailhead

Large Cairn on Lee Canyon Trail
 It feels like summer is here! Looking for a cool place to hike, three hikers ventured into the Spring Mountains for an exploratory hike. When we got out of the car at the Lee Canyon trailhead (the solar panels), we felt a bit over-dressed in our pants and long-sleeved shirts! Yes, it was that warm! Luckily, there was a cool refreshing breeze throughout the hike and lots of shade to make the day very comfortable. We dropped down into Lee Canyon and followed the nice new trail over to the trail junction where we turned to our right heading up canyon. The trail was only completed last summer, but it has become a favorite of hikers and horse riders already.

Wash Junction for Lee Canyon Fork
 At around 0.65 miles, we crossed a small wash as seen in the photo above. In a few more short steps, we realized that this was the turn we were looking for. This gravel wash leads up to the left into a fork canyon off of the main Lee Canyon. Thus, our exploration began!

Gravel Wash in Lee Canyon Fork

Upper Reaches of Lee Canyon Fork
 Surprisingly, the gravel in the wash was somewhat deep causing our trudge up the gentle slope to be slow. The wash was free from brush for the most part and there was evidence that we were not the first hikers (or horse riders) that have explored this area. Keeping our eye on the slopes up to our right, we passed a few different "ramps" or "troughs" up to the ridge above. We were looking for a particular "ramp" that would take us up to Champion Ridge, a rimrocked ridge that hangs above the Champion Road primitive camping area below.

Red Survey Marker Landmark
 The wash becomes very wide at 2.2 miles into the hike. This is the ramp area. We, again, passed our queue by a few steps and found a very good landmark for the climb up. There was a red survey marker, as seen in the photo above, placed about 30 feet up from the wash on the right side.

Halfway Up the Ascent Ridge Looking Down Lee Canyon Fork
 Not yet realizing that we were so close to our "ramp," we decided to climb up to the ridge here since there was not too much brush in our way. When we reached the ridge, we saw the ramp on the other side and found that our "mistake" was probably a lucky break.

Conglomerate Cliff on Champion Ridge

Large Shelter
 The ramp wash was filled with brush and sometimes impassable. Our best bet was to follow the ascent ridge up to our left. A couple of times, we tried dropping down into the ramp wash when we leveled off with it, but each time, we had to return to the ridge due to brush. Finally, we reached the top ... the northeast end of Champion Ridge. From here, we weaved in and out of the trees and walked along the rimrock that overlooked Lee Canyon. We could see the Sisters and Mummy's Nose from the cliffs.

Taking a Break at the Large Shelter Area
 Near the southwest end of the half mile of Champion Ridge, we came to a large shelter built not far from Deer Creek Road. Here, we sat on the cliff and took our break.

Deer Creek Road Where the Ridge Comes Out
 After the break, we dropped down to the paved highway right at the 8000 foot elevation sign. This is where we saw our first patches of icy snow up close. Only patches.

Finding the Tiny Wash Trail to Champion Road

Champion Road
 We had been constantly looking for a trail down to Champion Road but the terrain is so steep that we were obliged to walk down the road for around a third of a mile. A tiny wash appeared and we followed it down to the dirt road. Turning right, we followed the dirt road all the way down to where it crossed the Lee Canyon wash. We had only seen one camper on the way ... and she wasn't talking .... We turned right to go down the wide wash and wound our way through the conglomerate sculptures.

Winding Through the Lee Canyon Wash
 At the antique car relics, we crossed over to the trail on the left side of the wash. This trail is the other end of the trail we began on three hours earlier.

Hudson Relic

Old Sign Below Narrows
 The trail led us up and around the Lee Canyon Narrows and we decided not to visit the interesting alcove since we had all seen it a few times. At the other end of the Narrows, we crossed the wash where the old sign still stands. Then, we followed the new trail easily. About half way down, we found the blue and orange trail signs as seen in the photo below. When we reached the wash junction where we turned earlier, we placed a very small cairn on a rock. Since large cairns are used for the Lee Canyon Trail, please don't confuse this small cairn for the main trail. If the cairn remains there, it is for the fork canyon only! From here, we made quick time back to the cars. Good hike. This was the first dry run of this area. With a few tweaks, the hike will be ready for prime time! (Possibly go down the ridge and fork canyon so that the deep gravel of the fork wash can be a descent. ... or not.)

8 miles; 1700 feet elevation gain; 4.25 hours

Lee Canyon Trail Marked as Blue and Orange

Down Lee Canyon from Trailhead Climb

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