Friday, May 5, 2017

Little Zion Loop - 5/4/17

Little Zion

Rim View

Arriving at Little Zion

Rainbow Springs
Lying between Sandstone Peak and Monument Peak in the Red Rock Canyon NCA escarpment is a large area of white/cream slab sandstone. It sits high on the cliffs above Spring Mountain Ranch SP and Bonnie Springs. On a beautiful blue sky day, it is a great place to just go and explore with a camera or pitch a tent in the over 5000 feet elevations. There are several points of interest and scrambling opportunities. Thirteen hikers arrived in 4 high clearance vehicles at the Rainbow Springs Road trailhead. We took Lovell Canyon Road from Highway 160 and turned right after one mile. The small gravel road is very narrow but rides easy. Expect Nevada pin-striping on the wider vehicles! High clearance is most useful at the trailhead where turning around is sometimes a big deal!

Work being done at Rainbow Springs
We exited the cars and started up the road passing through a gate meant to stop vehicles from going any further.

Starting up the Ascent Wash
Our usual route passed next to Rainbow Springs and into the ascent wash. But, wilderness volunteers have reclaimed the spring area and access to the wash must be done via the agave roasting pit and Mountain Springs Trail.

Ascent Wash

Ascent Wash
This route bypasses the first fun dry fall. We dropped into the wash and started our gentle climb. Today's hike was listed as strenuous so we started out at a fairly good pace of around 2.5 mph. When we reached the familiar wash turn to the right (still marked by the log blocking progress in the first wash), the climb became a little steeper and we slowed down a bit. In short time, we arrived at the rim of the Red Rock escarpment above Sandstone Canyon which lies behind Spring Mountain Ranch SP.

Arriving at the Escarpment Rim
The arrival at the rim is always breath-taking even for the veterans. But, today, we had a few newbies and they were duly impressed!

Thirteen Happy Hikers
The ever present rim breeze was very welcome since today would be a warm one. We turned to our right and began hiking around the rim trail.

Climbing around the Rim

Sandstone / Limestone Line (Indecision Point at Center)
Views of the canyon beneath the rim are colorful and so geologic! To our left, we had a good view of Indecision Peak (sandstone) and Indecision Point (limestone) behind it. Sandstone Peak was hidden behind the ridge we were headed toward. The rim trail led steeply up, then down, then steeply up again, then down. We almost mistakenly followed a trail that led way too close to the rim. Whoa Sally! We retreated and found the safer trail above. Didn't even know that scary one existed! (Maybe a game trail.)

View down into Sandstone Canyon
Soon, we were climbing up to the edge of the rim where "The Cairn" resides. Well, The Cairn had a baby. The Cairn Junior.

The Cairn (and The Cairn Junior)
Another short break and we were on our way down the trail that leads into Little Zion. We could see the expanse of sandstone from our descent.

Descending Trail into Little Zion

Scrub Holly Oak in Bloom
The descent trail is steep but the traverse way that it lies helps. At a low point, there is a small wash that the route turns left into. Follow the wash (and a few cairns) down to a wide dry fall area and drop down a use trail on the right side. This is the grand entrance to Little Zion! The immense sandstone slab lies out before you, inviting you to come and play. We started our exploration by paying a visit over to the right side wash. This wash lies between Monument Peak and Little Zion.

Grand Entrance to Little Zion
Although there was one pool of water, it was stagnant and did not provide a photogenic reflection today.

Arriving on the Slab Sandstone
We dreamed of climbing Monument Peak from here but left that idea for another day.

Taking in the View

Wash to South of Slab
After our little excursion to the south, we returned and dropped down into the flat area (campsite area) between the slab and the arch. It was time for a snack break so the entire group headed down and up to the overlook at the end of the flat area. The overlook is at the top of cliffs above Bonnie Springs. Great picnic place with a slight breeze. After the break, the copacetic group of thirteen made a decision to put some scrambling into our exit of the area.

Returning from Wash Excursion
We headed toward the arch and began climbing up over the top of it. There were a couple of different routes depending on your comfort with exposure.

Some Points of Interest we Found
We joined up again then again separated. One group chose to climb the first chute and one group chose to climb the third chute.

Bonnie Springs from Overlook

The Arch
All of the chutes contained third class scrambling so we all had a great time getting back up to the limestone. Once on the limestone, we had to hike the lower ridge back to The Cairn ... and The Cairn Junior. This was still a lot of climbing and the first group was way ahead of the second group. No worries. We caught our breath at the gathering and proceeded back down the rim trail that we had come up. The advertised "loop" route was still to come.

Scrambling up from Arch Area
We enjoyed the trail back over to the first steep dip that ended at the top of a wash.

View of Slab from above Arch
This section of wash was very brushy but it was pretty clear that we were not the first hikers to use it as a route.

Our Exit (3rd Class Climb)

Little Zion from our climb Out
We worked our way around the brush up, down and over. Then, we came to a wash junction decorated with several cairns. Turning left, the wash became a lot more navigable. Not too easy. But, not terribly messy. Messy enough to be interesting and keep your attention. There were cairns all along the way. Eventually, we junctioned with the large wash that flows down from the rim below the area of the Mountain Springs Peak Loop.

The Cairn & Other Group from our Traverse
This wash was wide but pretty messy as well. Finally, the wash widened more and we tried to follow the main flow.

The Brushy Descent Wash
Thankful for the GPS, we located the Mountain Springs Trail that crosses this wash and turned to our right.

Enjoying the Obstacles

Junctioning with the Large Wash
This was our last leg of the hike. The Mountain Springs Trail took us all the way back to Rainbow Springs Road just above the trailhead. There were a lot of undulations on the trail and we were pretty tuckered out when we slipped through the trail fence, passed the agave roasting pit and hiked through the trailhead gate. Still happy, everyone had a great morning. A new way to enjoy Little Zion in 6.5 miles.

6.5 miles; 1500 feet elevation gain; 4 hours

Trail Junction (Still Happy)

Mountain Springs Trail

Reaching the Finish Line

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