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!

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