Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Ash Canyon / Gateway Canyon - 10/27/20

Down Ash Canyon from an Intermediate High Point

Turtlehead Peak rises behind Ash Canyon

Eye Candy from inside Gateway Canyon

Sunrise on Dragon & Turtlehead Peaks
Meanwhile, back at Red Rock! Winter weather lowered its boom on us the day before! So, back on the coveted sandstone, we dressed in our winter best to brave the cold windchill temperatures. We started at the Red Spring Picnic Area parking lot early (7:30am) but there were still plenty of parking spaces; probably due to the cold temps. Nevertheless, we were "clothing prepared" and started up the base of the Calico Hills in the direction of Ash Canyon which was still about 1.3 miles away. As we hiked, we noticed that a lot of maintenance has been done on these trails, including a newly rock-lined trail below Angel Pass that they have named Girl Scout Trail. We left this trail in Ash Meadows but it appeared that the Girl Scout Trail leads over toward the 5 Stop Hill area.

Making our way over to Ash Canyon at base of Calico Hills

The sun was rising on the colorful sandstone but the northeast wind gusts were cold. It would still be a couple of hours before the sun's heat would cut through the wind and begin to warm us up.

Red Springs / Angel Pass at Left

After passing through Ash Meadows (with all the ash trees and small creek) we turned up into Ash Canyon on its right side. It wasn't long before we crossed the wash at the bottom of the canyon and climbed onto the sandstone on the left (southwest) side of the canyon.

Girl Scout Trail

Discussion at Entrance to Ash Canyon
There are, at least, three different ways to climb Ash Canyon. The right (northeast) side, the middle and the left (southwest) side. All routes require quite a bit of scrambling. Our chosen route was the left side. This route included a little bit more exposure but, also, provided more slab to use. (As opposed to the boulder hopping in the other two routes.) ... Pick your poison! ... There are a couple of cairns to get you started but as you climb, there are only one or two ways to get through or around the obstacles. Luckily, I knew a couple of the go-arounds while the others were happily risking life and limb! Okay, I know it's not that bad. Anyway, we worked our way up to an intermediate high point and took a rest. From there, we dropped down into the wash below.

Ash Canyon Awaits

Instead of crossing the wash and joining the easier trail on the right side of the canyon, we stayed on the left side trail. This trail is a little more difficult.

Lots of Dicey Spots
The most difficult spots were either a boulder hop near the wash or a slippery climb up and around a huge boulder obstacle. Rita and I took the climb up and over near the wall. From there, the trail was much easier as we followed the base of the wall.

A Particularly Dicey Spot

Looking at a Rock Climbing Route
Finally, we all converged near the overlook at the top of Ash Canyon where we proceeded to dismantle a fire ring and take our break. Here, there was some discussion on whether to turn left and climb Red Cap or to turn right and complete the loop through Gateway Canyon. We turned right and followed Rattlesnake Trail down through the wash that runs between Turtlehead and Dragon Peaks. The northeast wind was still in our faces all the way down to the Upper Gateway Canyon turn to the right. Rattlesnake Trail continues down much of the limestone portion of Gateway until the trail turns out of the canyon on the right side. There is usually a large cairn indicating this turn but not today. Why?

Following Mike

We turned right into Upper Gateway and dealt with the first few obstacles. The limestone gets very slick in this area and a lot of care must be taken.

Into the Wash after the First High Point

If you are careful, this section of Gateway Canyon is beautiful with a lot of different colors; especially as you hike into the sandstone from the limestone.

Following the Southwest Side Trail

Breaking at Overlook
We dropped down the sliding board and came to the new drop that was created a couple of years ago. (This canyon changes often.) In this new drop, there was evidence that, perhaps, a burro had become stuck. Hopefully, he turned around and headed back from whence he came before he was injured. Next, we passed Gray Fox Canyon and the Candy Cane Drop without even noticing. Then, we were enveloped by red and white sandstone. A photo at every turn! As was noticed in a previous hike this summer, the gravel level is relatively high this year. Therefore, several of the obstacles are easily negotiated whereas, in earlier years, the obstacles required a bit more effort. Down, we went, hiking through the obstacles by memory!

Joining Rattlesnake Trail with view of Gray Cap Peak

The obstacle that remains the same is the first big drop. Before you reach it, you are faced with a decision to right or left. Trust me. The left is a huge drop that is only viable when the gravel is really high at its bottom. Not today.

Rattlesnake Trail at Upper Gateway Junction

After taking a look, we all went to the right at the fork and did the drop as usual in three or four parts. No change here.

Looks Slick!

Upper Gateway Slick Limestone
After this drop, the scrambling went back to an easy flow with Pickle Rock being the most difficult ... not. The last drop that was considered the "other big drop," has been filled with gravel and the drop is only, perhaps, three feet in height. If you want a thrill, the rabbit hole in this location remains the same. From here, there are a few more easy scrambles before you finally reach the Kraft Mountain Loop Trail that leaves the wash on the right side. This part of the loop follows a trail that circles around the south end of Kraft Mountain. It passes several boulders that are used for rock climbing practice, or in some cases, rock climbing afternoon parties! The loop is marked in the sand leading back around and over to the Kraft Mountain Trailhead parking found at the end of Sandstone Drive in Calico Basin.

Heading into Colorful Sandstone

We didn't park here, so we bypassed this trailhead and hiked a short distance down the same gravel road and turned left onto a trail just past the Ash Creek wash.

Following Gateway's Gravel Wash

Since we have been using the Kraft Mountain Trailhead a lot more lately, we have not used the creek trail much since Chris used to take us this way.

Big Drop

Colorful Scramble
Between Mike and I, we found our way easily on this surprisingly straight forward trail that runs along the creek wash, past a house, across another gravel road and up a hill that rises behind the Red Springs parking lot. Not many hikers use this trail but it is still there. Finally, the trail brings you down into the parking lot where we had started. There are a couple of small corrections that I made on the maps below from our hike today but they are inconsequential ... just better choices. By the time we returned to the cars, we were very warm in our winter clothes! 

Woohoo! Back at Red Rock!

Stats: 6.5 miles; 1200' gain; 4 hours

Joining the Kraft Mountain Loop Trail

Circling the South end of Kraft Mountain

Last Leg back to the Cars


Friday, October 23, 2020

North / Black Loop - 10/22/20

North Sister from Bridge Area

Arch & Black Sister

Black Sister (Black Rock)

Mike sees Avalanche Road from Galium Road
Ah! North Sister. The dreaded North Sister. There are so many stories out there about this difficult summit. So, today, I was thoroughly committed to hiking to the base and going no further! Hmm. Didn't happen. With a little encouragement from my friends, I got all the way to the top. And, what a climb it was!

The three of us left from the chain-up turnout on Lee Canyon Road located just after the 8000 elev mark on the right side. I have a handful of tracks in my records that show different routes up to the peak but, today, a little tweaking to the old routes had us hiking up Galium Road. This is the old road that leaves the turnout on the top end. The road quickly turns into a trail and it is clear that hikers have been using this route for a while.

Fall Color on Galium Road

The trail follows the wash and passes an area where a spring comes flowing down the hill from the right. This area appears to be mined above so keep to yourselves and don't get into trouble lest we all lose this route.

Spring Water

The trail continues up the wash taking a left fork at one point into a smaller wash. Immediately after the fork, the trail begins climbing the gentle ridge to the right. (The right fork wash is not a good choice since it becomes a deep ravine.)

North Sister Framed

South Sister (L), North Sister (R)
The climb is steady and gets somewhat steeper until you reach the main approach ridge above. We hiked slow and enjoyed the developing scenery. North and South Sisters began appearing to the southwest above us. You can set your compass by these two peaks! The terrain on the ridge proceeded to become more and more interesting. There is a fairly good trail marked by either footsteps or cairns but, basically, you balance the ridge all the way up. When we got to the top of the trailing ridge, we were faced with a narrow bridge that gives passage to the remaining half of the climb to the Sisters Ridge above. At this point, the views open out all around and the North Sister Peak rises unabashedly above everything else in our upward climb trajectory.

Approach Ridge View of the Sisters

Still moving slow and steady, we began the second half of the steepening ridge. The trail weaved in and out of small brushy groves of pines and mahogany.

Climbing the Ridge Trail

The scree on the slope was well seated causing no difficulties in footwork. Moving in and out of the trees, we began seeing a few limestone / dolomite pinnacle-shaped rock outcroppings.

Passing Pinnacles

Old Growth on Approach Ridge
Just at the point where another ridge comes in from the right, we looked up to be surprised with a large arch! This is the elusive arch that I had heard about for many years! We were all thrilled! I had always wondered if Black Sister could be framed inside the arch but, no can do. We took our photos and walked over to the base of the arch. The opening of the limestone arch is somewhere around 10-15 feet in height. A wonderful find! Back on the ridge trail, we were getting very close to the top. Finally, we arrived on the Sisters Ridge that turned out to be more narrow than I had expected. There is a trail along the top of the ridge and we turned to our left to follow it over a few outcroppings to the base of North Sister.

Pausing at a Bare Spot

 Here, I must interject that the North Sister Peak, itself, is ugly! Just looking at it from the base, I wondered how in the world anyone was supposed to climb it. But, there was a trail. 

The Elusive Arch

As much noise as I made about stopping here or there to wait for Rita and Mike to return, the North Sister Peak sucked me in! The approach trail seemed harmless enough so, up I went.

North Sister from Sisters Ridge

North Sister Approach Trail
Ignoring the trail that led to the right, we had chosen the trail that heads straight up to the rock wall in front of us. When we turned the corner at the end of the rock wall, a very ugly chute appeared in front of us. Steep. Rocky. And, very few perches for the feet except for the far left and right sides of the chute. After our one hour long adventure up and down this chute, I decided to name it Disaster Gully, because, it is a disaster waiting to happen! It already has several stories attached to it. Luckily, they were all "close calls." The rocks are loose (akin to the "ramp" on Macks Peak.) Its ascent and descent must be coordinated among the group so that hikers are not in the fall line of another. And, yes, we had a close call of our own today.

Disaster Gully

I reached the peak along with Rita and Mike but I only stayed long enough to get a few photos. For me, this is a one and done! I got the heebie-jeebies up there!

North Sister Summit to South Sister

When we finally descended back down to the approach trail, we were all breathing a lot easier. Also, each of us had some kind of souvenir bruise to take home with us. Fun! 😅

Rita & Mike on North Sister Summit

View of Mummy's Nose from Disaster Gully
We returned to a point on the approach trail that provided log seating and sat for our break. The views had been and were still amazing. The Sisters Ridge can be seen from almost anywhere in Lee Canyon. It was fantastic to be sitting atop. After the break, we continued following the trail along the ridge. We passed a grove of trees that had been attacked by the parasitic branches of dwarf mistletoe. No doubt, it is why this small grove had died long ago. The trail led up and over a few small rock outcroppings and balanced along a very narrow portion of the ridge. It wasn't long before we were climbing up to the familiar small rock peak of White Sister. From there, we circled around below the base of Black Sister where we had been only a week ago.

View of Sisters Ridge from Disaster Gully

We took our group photo with North Sister in the background then walked down the trailing ridge. The old GPS track I had, showed a descent on the furthest ridge to the left. We checked it out and decided, for sure, the familiar steep trail we always use was the best to get to Deadwood Wash.

Mummy Mountain from Approach Trail

At the bottom of the trail, we arrived on the saddle and turned to the right on a trail that led to Deadwood Wash. This would be the third time this summer that we have used this wash for a descent so we changed it up a little and took the game trail on the right side.


Balancing the Sisters Ridge
The game trail seemed to start out as a great alternative to the wash that has a lot of dead wood and fallen trees in it. But, eventually, the game trail presented a lot of brush, too. Our goal was to descend the bowl parallel to the wash on our left to a certain junction trail on the right about 2/3 of the way down. We were ducking and zigzagging so much that I totally forgot I had a camera. Well, not much to take photos of but brush. There were several trails that turned off to the right but, we were patient. Our trail, according to the GPS, was one that was most worn. We set a small cairn there but, there really isn't much else to set it apart from the others. Happy to follow the worn trail out of the wash, we were soon flummoxed to find the game trail switch back and forth among the trees, hillside and two deep washes.

Narrow Sisters Ridge

Each time the trail "disappeared," we jumped to the left to find another trail. Eventually, we were hiking not too far above Lee Canyon Road on the hillside.

Reaching White & Black Sisters

Next, we dropped down through a pine glade and on down to the lower end of the chain-up turnout. There were so many game trails during this last section that you may be able to find a slightly more direct route. Nevertheless, our route worked quite well. 

We conquered North Sister!

Down the Steep Trail from Black Sister
Back at the cars, the pine beetles had once again covered all the white cars and were immediately attracted to my yellow fleece! Oh, bother. Anyway, we learned a lot about this area, today. And, this route will do very nicely for strenuous club hikes in the future, with or without the spur up to North Sister Peak. Note: We saw what we think was mountain lion scat up on the Sisters Ridge! Sorry. No photo. Another great Thursday!

Stats: 4.5 miles; 2100' gain; 5.5 hours (due to lolly-gagging and a whole hour in Disaster Gulley!)

Saddle Junction below Black Sister

Crossover Trail from Deadwood Wash

Trail to Lower End of Chain-Up Turnout