Friday, August 18, 2017

South Sister - 8/17/17

South Sister from Big Tree Saddle

McFarland Peak from Scree Climb

Midst of Scree Climb

Hiking past the Old Mill Picnic Area
 The Sisters Ridge rises to the west of Lee Canyon Road with Black Sister being the northern most. Next is the diminutive White Sister then the bold North Sister. Finally, on the southern end of the ridge rises the twin peaks of South Sister. South Sister is the most accessible of the sisters and is a classic hike in the Spring Mountains NRA. The hike is sometimes very steep while gaining 2000 elevation feet in only 2.75 miles. And, to complete the hike to the peak ridge, a 3rd class scramble must be accomplished above a precipitous cliff. Nine hikers arrived for the challenge.

The Old Mill Trail
 In the recent past, due to the construction of the Old Mill Picnic Area, we have begun this hike from the Lower Bristlecone Trailhead. This requires an annoying climb at the end of a strenuous hike.

Spring Sign on South Sister Trail
 Today, we began the hike from Lee Canyon Road across from the Old Mill Picnic Area entrance. We circled around the traffic circle, then parked on the right side of the road where there is a wide area to get off the pavement.

Into the Steep Stuff

Waiting for Kay at South Sister Saddle
 We crossed Lee Canyon Road and hiked up past the pay phone where we used to park for this hike years ago. The pavement leads up into the hills past the picnic area. Don't try to use the restrooms. They are locked. (Dirty hikers keep out!) The picnic area is privately managed and demands a large sum to reserve a spot. Thus, locked restrooms. As the pavement climbs the hill, there is a gravel trail that junctions off to the right. This is the Old Mill Trail. We turned onto this trail and followed it until the terrain opened out into a pine glade to the right.

Looking Back toward Charleston Peak
 Here, a wooded trail forks to the right and we started our climb up South Sister Trail passing the old home foundation, the spring sign and the concrete spring structure.

Contorted Old Bristlecone on Ridge Climb
 The trail gets steeper and steeper but the canyon wash is beautiful and calm. The trail is fairly easy to follow except for one area where the trail forks into another wash to the right. There are a lot of fallen trees in this area that you might need to step over.


Waiting for Kay near Big Tree Saddle
 Finally, after a steep finale, we reached the South Sister Saddle and sat for a small rest. We could see the back of Charleston Peak from the remaining route. Next, we turned to the right and began a balanced climb up a rounded ridge. There is no trail here since everyone has their own way of dealing with the ascent. At the top of this ridge and to the right, there is a saddle with a large leafless tree. Behind the tree, South Sister rises. See the first photo of the entry. All around this area, the rock scree is colored a sort of white/red/orange.

Phase 3 Circling Ridge
 After another small rest, we turned to the right and continued following the ridge which was now circling around to meet the final peak ascent.

Circling around to Scree Climb
 The circling ridge has a few ups and downs but is definitely the easiest section of the hike. It is also very pretty with wide views of Lee Canyon and decorations of limestone and bristlecones.

Starting up Scree

Near top of Scree
 The final ascent to the twin peaks is "in your face" scree. The beauty of the climb offsets the struggle. Old krummholtz bristlecones protrude through the scree throughout. The view to the right passes limestone outcroppings and cliffs. (See third photo of entry.) The view to the left is also a cliff with McFarland Peak rising in the distance. (See second photo of this entry.) Over the years, a clear choice of trails has emerged. This has, at least, given the newbies a fighting chance! At some points, use of hands might be required to keep balance.

A View Back Down
 The view back down the slope is very impressive! Be sure to bring one or two hiking sticks for the descent.

Waiting for Kay below Scramble
 Yep. The strong group was waiting for the writer for a third time when we gathered at the top ridge between the twin peaks.

South Sister (L), North Sister (R), Black Sister (Beyond R)

Somewhat Scary Scramble
 The actual high point of South Sister is to the right, at this point. However, the left peak is definitely the more fun peak to climb and it holds the log book. So, we turned to our left and climbed the classic 3rd class scramble up to the peak ridge above the cliffs. It is somewhat scary but, if you work past this point, the reward is a walk along a narrow limestone ridge with 360 degree views. North Sister is clearly seen below to the north and Black Sister can be seen beyond that. Charleston, Lee, McFarland, Macks, and Mummy's head anatomy are also peaks that can be seen from here.

Peak Ridge
 At the end of the peak ridge, we sat for our snack break, wrote in the log book and took a few photos. It was a beautiful clear cool day.

Hiking to End of Ridge
 When it was time to start the descent, we made the decision to not visit the other of the two peaks like we do sometimes.

Enjoying the Summit

Charleston Peak from End of Peak Ridge
 The scree descent was very slow and careful then we made our way around the circling ridge. When we reached the Big Tree Saddle, we turned to the left and warned everyone to stay balanced on the ridge. This is the most difficult section to navigate on the return. Today, we did just fine. At the South Sister Saddle, we paused then started down the trail. No stops were made from here until we reached the cars. It was really nice not to have to climb that hill back to the Lower Bristlecone Trail! Great classic hike!

5.5 miles; 2000 feet elevation gain; 3.75 hours

Descending the Somewhat Scary Scramble

Returning to the Big Tree Saddle (Macks Peak to Right)

Cooling down at the Old Mill Picnic Area

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Avalanche Canyon & Caves - 8/10/17

Long Cave view of Kyle Canyon

Mary Jane Falls

Avalanche Canyon Below Descent

Hiking the One Mile Approach Trail
 Avalanche Canyon lies between Big Falls Canyon and Mary Jane Falls Canyon and rises all the way up to the North Loop Trail on its approach to Charleston Peak in the Spring Mountains NRA. So called because of frequent winter avalanches, the canyon is filled with fallen trees. There are more and more trees as the canyon rises between the limestone cliffs, therefore, a hike in the canyon, itself, is short and to the point. However, a loop route with very difficult terrain can be made between it and the Mary Jane Falls Canyon. This route passes by four interesting caves that are tucked into the bottom of the cliffs above the steep slope.

Mary Jane Falls Switchbacks

Target Caves from Switchbacks

Last Switchback Approach

Arriving at Mary Jane Falls
 Seven tough hikers parked at the Mary Jane Falls Trailhead in Kyle Canyon and, making the decision to do the loop route in a counter-clockwise direction, hiked up the Mary Jane Falls switchbacked trail. The group was strong and we didn't stop until we were feeling the spray from the waterfall high above. We had passed several recreational hikers on the approach trail but there were a few early birds enjoying the cliffs and waterfall area. After a few photos, we continued out the trail that leads around the base of the cliffs beyond the falls. Our first cave was the familiar Mary Jane Cave. Most of us had spent time there in the past and we didn't stop.

Enjoying the Spray

Mary Jane Falls Cave (First Cave)

Starting Down from MJ Cave

Unnecessary Climb along Use Trail
 We dropped down on a use trail below the cave and tried to follow it by not dropping any of our well earned elevation. This required us to climb steeply up on the scree filled slope. When we got to the top, well, we realized that we should have gone down instead where there was another trail. In front of us, we came to a limestone fin that blocked our progress. Climbing over the fin wouldn't work since the other side was a high drop. So, down the steep awkward slope, we went. Jerry found a crossover just before reaching the bottom of the fin marked by a pinnacle. He found that it is scramble-able at that point.

Road Block Fin

Descending to go around Fin

Bruce and View Back to MJ Falls

More Steep Descent
 Next, we had to climb again. At the top, there was our second cave. A couple of hikers tried to climb into the hole of the cave but couldn't without gear. We continued with another climb around the next ridge corner. Here, we found the best cave. It is a large long cave with one inch stalactites hanging from the ceiling. Another interesting thing that we came across in this tough area was the abundance of sea bed fossils in the large limestone rocks. We continued by climbing up and staying as close to the wall as possible. Through a little bit of brush and we were looking at the fourth cave which Paul modeled for us.

Pinnacle at end of Road Block Fin

Second Cave with Difficult Entrance

August Snow Patch above Big Falls - Our Steep Terrain in Foreground

Long Cave (Third Cave)
The plan was to descend here where there seemed to be a gentler ridge down. This ridge is covered with rock outcroppings so that was a no go. Right after that ridge, we saw that the slope wasn't as bad so we started down. This slope was covered with scree. First, the scree was small and the only way down was on our rump. But after about forty feet, the scree got bigger and more stabilized. The seven of us took on this descent on a long traverse so that any dislodged rocks would not injure a hiker below. This strategy worked and we slowly made our way down until we hit pine straw. Here, the going got easier and we dropped straight down into Avalanche Canyon. We took a well deserved break in the wash.

Climbing Up to Fourth Cave

Paul stands in Fourth Cave

Steep Scree Descent

Nearing Avalanche Canyon
 Looking back, the writer decided that the loop isn't any easier going counter-clockwise than it is going clockwise. The terrain is tough either way. We took our break then hiked up Avalanche Canyon a little further. The turnaround point for today was the "Log Jam." We reached this area quickly. Advisedly, there is a nice large dry fall on up the canyon in the right fork. We didn't get that far. So, we turned around and started down. Avalanche Canyon has great views of Kyle Canyon below and the wash, itself, is very nice having its own character. The next thing we had to look for was the old road junction that leads right out of the wash just before the Big Falls Canyon wash enters from the right.

All Present and Accounted for in Avalanche Canyon

Climbing Avalanche Canyon

Nearing Log Jam

Avalanche Canyon Descent
 We tried a couple of different exits to the left but neither one panned out as being the old road. Finally, a more obvious exit took us out of the wash and soon connected with the old road. This trail led us to the old Mary Jane Falls Road/Trail where we turned down and walked into the approach trail. We enjoyed the one mile back to the cars while talking and laughing. Sometimes, a little craziness is a good thing.

4.5 miles; 1400 feet elevation gain; 3.5 hours

Trying to Find the Old Road

Last View of Canyon before Old Road Junction to Left

Hikers having Fun!