Friday, April 27, 2018

North Peak (Sandstone) v Red Rock Wash - 4/26/18

Calico Hills from North Peak (Sandstone)

Black Girdle Lizard

Blooms in Red Rock Wash

Well-Built Cairn
Sweltering would be too strong a word. After all, it is still April. But the temperatures rose to the 90's in the valley and the 80's at Willow Springs. On North Peak (Sandstone), there was an occasional breeze with temps in the 70's ... perfect, if the whole hike was on the peak! Regardless, seventeen strong hikers started up from the Willow Springs Picnic Area to climb the Red Rock Wash up to the North Peak (Sandstone) trailhead. All agreed that the 2 miles in the wash was a great substitute for the 2.5 miles on sunny Rocky Gap Road. Besides being beautifully decorated with colorful sandstone boulders to scramble, there was intermittent shade that cooled us off from the hot morning sun. We set a strong pace up the wash as the whole group stayed close behind. A couple of times, the momentum was interrupted while we found the best way to climb up obstacles. The last obstacle was a large dry fall, easily climbed but different in appearance from the rest of the wash.

Red Rock Wash
About a quarter mile after this last obstacle, the official North Peak (Sandstone) trail crossed the wash and we turned to the left and started climbing.

A Warm Morning
The steepness of this trail that climbs a trailing ridge up to the peaks above hit us in the face. The strongest hikers were not fazed and proceeded climbing without stopping.

Enjoying Shade with another Well-Built Cairn

Steady Scramble Climb
There are two North Peaks in Red Rock Canyon NCA. One rises in the limestone of the Keystone Thrust. Then, along the same ridge (or bench), a sandstone peak holds court above the cliffs. On the south side of this bench, Bridge Mountain is clearly seen across the depths of Ice Box Canyon. On the north side of the bench is the craggy Rocky Gap Road and the Red Rock Wash. On the other side of the road, the La Madre Mountain Range and Wilderness lays out in its full limestone glory. Around half of the trailing ridge is in the limestone with several treacherous sections of slipperiness.

Scrambling in Red Rock Wash
Then the trail hits the sandstone. At first, after hitting the sandstone, there are sections of trail in the dirt among the rocks and it is easy enough to follow. After that, the trail starts climbing slab and it is necessary to follow cairns that are sometimes few and far between.

Last Wash Obstacle
The large cairn at the top of the ridge is obvious. Known as the gateway cairn, this one becomes very important to find on the way down!

Rocky Gap Road from Steep Ridge Trail

Climbing the Trail
Meanwhile, the front hikers have passed the gateway cairn, most likely visited Dragon Rock and were on their way over the half mile of scrambling on the ridge to the peak. The peak is reached by going east along the ridge and circling around a high outcropping to its left. This outcropping is technically higher than the "peak" but the "peak" is a better place to sit and take in the view. All of the west side of the Calico Hills, Turtlehead and Gray Cap Ridge can be seen from this vantage point and to the east is a great view of all of Las Vegas.

Taking a Break under a Tree
One by one, all but one hiker (moi) reached the sandstone perch. Considering that the day was a warm one, I was very impressed with the strength that the Around the Bend Friends showed today.

Onto the Sandstone
As I made my way up onto the sandstone slab, I observed two black girdle lizards doing a mating dance near my position. Fascinating! (Shout out to David Hardy!)

Boy and Girl Lizards

Beauty from the Sandstone
Ed was within shouting distance above me and I let him know my plans to go slowly back down the steep trail. I waited at Rocky Gap Road and the remaining sixteen hikers eventually descended in two groups (one on the trail and one in a nearby wash). From there, we were a ragtag bunch of hikers straggling down the dirt road in the sun! But, we all made it and everyone had a smile on their face. A great day outdoors soaking in the warmth ... and a lot of water and electrolytes!

7 miles; 2500 feet elevation gain; 4.75 hours

Dragon Rock

Sixteen Hikers on Top

Hiking down Rocky Gap Road

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