Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Black Velvet Canyon - 10/29/18

Black Velvet Canyon

Water at Black Velvet Canyon Entrance

Dry Fall Stopping Point

Red Rock Canyon Sandstone Bluffs
One of the longest (600') and best Red Rocks climbing routes and one of the best 5.9 routes in the world is the Epinephrine route of Black Velvet Canyon. Climbed first in 1978, this route attracts some of the best climbers for its challenges and views. Once or twice a year, the club hikes into the canyon to watch the climbers high on the dark walls from the great scrambles in the deep wash. Today, eight hikers made the 8 mile trek starting from the Late Night Trailhead on SR 160 east of the escarpment bluffs. We started out at a moderately strenuous pace on the easy down-sloping bike trail called Mustang. This trail leaves the parking lot to the right of the kiosk.

Today's Team of Eight
Mustang circles around the hill behind the parking lot and heads straight for Black Velvet Canyon. It crosses a desert wash and zigzags in red dirt before reaching the Black Velvet Road, a dirt gravel road that rock climbers use to make their approach to the canyon.

Heading toward Canyon Entrance - Several Rock Climber Cars Parked
Until recently, rock climbers were allowed to car camp overnight at the end of this road. Now, the sign says that they cannot as per the rules of no camping under 5000' in elevation.

Information Signs for Rock Climbers

Climbing the Entrance Trail
Regardless, there were around 7 or 8 cars parked there and only one car appeared to have camped overnight. No one was milling about so we assumed that they were all at the wall. Our pace slowed as we hit the first rocky terrain of the morning. The main trail wiggled its way up the hill between the base of the wall on the left and the deep brushy wash on the right. A couple of off-shoots led up to the left. These paths are not as well worn as the main trail so we knew these to be climbers' routes. Our trail reached the canyon rim and climbed along the steep drop. There are the remnants of an older trail that we used to use but now, a trail that leads higher on the hill is the only safe one since the older trail has been eroded.

The Most Challenging Scramble
There was a fair amount of water at the entrance to the canyon scramble. Most of it was just sitting and collecting leaves and straw in a couple of small pools.

Under the Overhanging Rock
The second scramble of the wash is probably the most difficult but everyone, including the newbies, handled it like pros. After that, we began taking on each scramble one by one.

Fun on a Steep Rock

Dry Fall Snack Spot
The boulders are huge and after doing this scramble for several years, I kind of remember the route from year to year. If all else fails, follow the footprints or look for the most obvious place to climb! At one steep sloping rock (see photo above), we climbed it just because it looked fun. (There was another possible scramble to the left of it that we used on the descent.) The scramble fun stops when you reach a dry fall with a chock rock and an old rotting rope hanging from beneath. Others who really want to go further up canyon can climb the sloped wall to the south of this area. Here, we ate our snack and watched the climbers some more while marveling at their choice of sport!

Six Rock Climbers on the Wall in this Pic
Close-up photos of the climbers showed calm but tense slow decisions being made. It seems that this sport is very cerebral. Arm and hand strength appears to be a must. And, a desire for some pretty crazy views!

Close-ups of Climbers
After the break, we started down. Going down the way you come up isn't as easy as it sounds since everything looks different from the top side!

Gathered for the Break

Canyon Descent
We weaved our way down the wash with modest pinache. Just enough scrambling to make a seldom scrambler sore the next day! At the exit of the canyon, we collected our stashed hiking sticks and found the trail we came in on to retrace our steps back out into the cholla / rock garden on the hill. The rocky trail  finally subsided when we passed the rock climbers' wag bag station. The next right turn put us on the Black Velvet Trail that started us back toward the Late Night Trailhead. The stretch of trail from here to the Outer Loop junction is beautiful with escarpment views, rocks, chollas, layering and Mike's Rock (a large pyramid shaped rock that Mike has climbed many times!). Just before the junction, we crossed a large wash where the Muddy Springs and Grapevine Canyon washes come together.

Down the Wash
On the Outer Loop, we turned right then took a less clear trail at the next left fork. This trail led us across to join the Mustang Trail again on the west side of its loop.

Canyon Photo from In viewing Out
We only saw one biker and one runner this morning. Both were met on the return to the cars.

Climbing back on the Entrance / Exit Trail

Garden of Chollas
There is a bit of winding at the end of the hike, all in an effort to stay away from the highway as long as possible. It was a warm day and the pace I set was from moderate to moderately strenuous. It's a long trip back to the cars and not very interesting from the Black Velvet Trail to the trailhead. But the heat and the pace forced us to slow down near the end. Nevertheless, it was a fun hike and really good for putting us back into shape after a few of us had been out of town. Not sure why but this has always been one of my favorite "go to" hikes. (Maybe its the rock climbing entertainment!)

8 miles; 1070 feet elevation gain; 4.5 hours

Desert Gardens along the Return Trail

Ready for the Trip Back

Mike's Rock

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