Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Valley of Fire North / South Traverse - 2/3/16

Valley of Fire State Park

View from Valley of Fire to Gold Butte

Descent to Movie Set from White Domes Trailhead

Starting with a Laugh
 Today, the Around the Bend Friends combined with the Lone Mountain Hiking Club for two routes that traversed Valley of Fire State Park from the north to the south ends. We all arrived at the Visitor Center in the park and shuttled up to the White Domes Trailhead for the point to point hike. The group that was expected to go faster with the more difficult route descended down to the movie set first. The group that was expected to go slower with an easier route came afterwards with the advantage of the first group already finding that the tall slot was flooded with water and a detour would have to be made.

Flooded Tall Slot forcing Detour
 The detour was a lucky break for us wildlife lovers. We saw two bighorn sheep who were very happy to pose for us on the sandstone.

View Back to Second Group at Movie Set
 We soon reconnected with the intended route at the Eye of the Iguana landmark. How many hikers were there? Well, let's let Brian tell it the way it was!

Posing Bighorns

Reconnecting with Intended Route
 35 total hikers.
One car load (Bill S. et al) missed the turn at the Smoke Shop, then there were 31! (17 low/14 high)  They emailed me to start without them…which I’ve just seen.  I assumed they had changed their mind and gone with the lower group.  It seems they had eventually turned around and went on to white domes and did a hike ‘wandering around’ there.
17 lower route hikers…two out of their depth, turned back at the chocolate wall…and got lost…they arrived at the VC about the time I got back there the 3rd time…then there were 15 lower hikers.  One fell 10’ (apparently uninjured…perhaps), but he and five others aborted at that point (half way) and hiked out down the wall to the road.  No reception to call a helicopter.  Then there were 9 lower hikers.  These were the ones led by John N whom we met up with near the notch.  The six took a long time getting to the road and arrived about the time we were shuttling cars back.  Laszlo and Paul picked them up.  I drove right by them.
Our 14 (remaining) high hikers had it pretty boring on the whole.  Just a whole bunch slower than I had planned…however, Paul said he was glad since he couldn’t have gone much faster anyway!
Never again will I attempt two hikes, two clubs, point to point!

Starting Up Canyon
 Hilarious, huh? Nevertheless, with the possible exception of the guy that fell, we all had a fantastic day!

View Out from Canyon
 To continue, we turned right at the Fat Monolith and climbed the canyon. The Top of the World Arch was calling Laszlo but he resisted. Within the canyon, there were many piles of still frozen hail balls approximately 3/8 inch in size. Must have had quite a storm here Sunday night.

Hiking Away from Top of Canyon

 There was a ton of scrambling throughout the hike. Even though the elevation graph seems to have a few relatively flat sections, we were usually climbing over the sandstone rocks either up or down. The views to our left were Valley of Fire beautiful! So colorful. The next landmark was the Bowl. Here, we came upon two frozen tinajas before we began our ascent up the slab. At the top of the slab, there is another slab. But, eventually, we came to one of the few places where the "step up" was quite a big step, indeed.

The Bowl
 We all got up the step without much help. Then we continued our steep climb on more slab.

Continued Ascent from Bowl
 We were approaching the first plateau ... Plateau #2. (The plateaus are named from west to east.)

Distant Snow Dusted Mountains

Plateau #2 View
 There is a short cut up to the plateau and there is the easier route. The short cut involves an even bigger "step up." The easier route involves going around to the left. We all met again on top of this first plateau where we had our official snack break. The rock on top of the plateau was sharp edged limestone / dolomite conglomerate of some type. It was a big switch from the constant red sandstone. After the break, we headed to the west to perch on the second plateau ... Plateau #1.

Plateau #1 View of Plateau #2
 We hiked along the top of this plateau to the other end then dropped off of the sharp rock through a crack.

Ready to Descend from Plateau #1
 Half of the group decided to follow the large fin straight out just to see if there was a good place to get down. The other half of the group followed Brian to a long steep crack.

View from Top of Descent Crack

Typical Valley of Fire Landscape
 The crack descent turned out to be a lot of fun. It was challenging but not too dicey. We all enjoyed slowly making our way down to the valley floor. From there, we headed straight out to find the other half of the group who were already down and waiting for us near the end of their long fat fin. Next came another long section of scrambles up and down until we arrived where we looked up to see the Valley of Fire High Point Peak looming above us.

Passing a Tinaja
 This particular place is also seen on the West / East Traverse.

Another Descent
 So, we hiked over to the base of another large steep sandstone slab via another not-so-fat fin.

Approaching Base of Valley of Fire High Point

Climbing the Steep Slab
 A few hikers tackled the slab from the bottom. Others used the wash to the right of the slab to climb up to a certain point where the slab appeared more palatable. Eventually, we all had to tackle the slab and reach today's high point of the hike at the top where we got our first view of Lake Mead. We had to wait here for a few minutes since the last two hikers had taken a wrong turn somewhere at the bottom of the slab. While we waited, we wondered what direction we would go next. Well, one thing was clear. We would go DOWN!

Lake Mead in Distance
 When everyone had arrived and taken their rest, we followed Brian down in the nearby shallow canyon. This canyon soon became, clearly, the BIG DESCENT!

The Big Descent
Most of us zigzagged our way down over the steep sandstone dotted with loose rock everywhere. We took time out to ask Laszlo to pose as a surfer on the surf board rock.

Reaching for that Pile of Rocks

 Finally, everyone was down and we continued. One last obstacle presented itself as a water hole as seen in the photo to the left. Brian demonstrated the proper technique. Airplane. As we approached the Notch Descent, we looked back and saw the other group of hikers led by John N. arriving not too far behind us. We completed the drop off of the main plateau of red rock and found our way back to the Visitor Center. What a great day! And, best wishes to the guy that fell.

6.5 miles; 1700 feet elevation gain; 4.5 hours

The Lower Route Group arrives behind Us

The Notch Descent

Hiking Over to the Visitor Center

Main Difference in Previous N/S Traverse

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