Tuesday, April 16, 2024

North Peak (Sandstone) v Red Rock Wash - 4/15/24

Rick enjoys the North Peak (Sandstone)

Spring Mountains ridge from North Peak (Sandstone)

Red Rock Wash Ascent

Through the rocks of Red Rock Wash
There is a mountain ridge in Red Rock Canyon NCA,  lining an old road named Rocky Gap, that juts out from the Keystone Thrust escarpment. At the top end of this ridge is a small gray peak we call North Peak (Limestone). At the lower terminus of the bench is another small but yellow peak we call North Peak (Sandstone). Some people refer to the latter peak as THE North Peak since the limestone peak is not visited as often. Today, eight hikers, ready for a serious workout, started up to North Peak (Sandstone) from Willow Springs by taking the Red Rock Wash, a colorful wash with medium sized boulders that flows between Rocky Gap Road and the North Peak ridge.

Hill between the wash and Rocky Gap Road

Chilly Morning

Finding our way up through the spring Area

Stephan climbs the "Big Finale"
We labored up through the beautiful wash where the redbud trees were beginning to bloom. Some of the boulders are laced with designs and there are many scrambles that are all easily conquered. The pace was steady and careful. All the way from the Willow Springs petroglyphs, through the mountain island area and on up the "Big Finale" scramble of white rock. We stopped at the junction of the North Peak ridge Trail for a small break. The next section is the North Peak Trail that begins and ends on a steep ridge to the left that climbs all the way up to the top of the bench ridge above. Keeping the pace slow and steady, most of us stayed together without much stopping. The other whipper-snappers jogged on up and waited every so often.

Gaining elevation fast on the ridge North Peak Trail

Mini snow patches on and near the North Peak Trail

The sandstone Climb

Leading from Behind
About half of mile up from the wash, we hit the sandstone. There are big and small slabs all over the mountain. It becomes steeper before it becomes less. When the terrain flattens out, we took note of the landmarks since we wanted to find our "door" out on the way back. Continuing straight up, we visited Dragon Rock to get our bearings on the top of the ridge. From there, the route turns left and stays close to the left of the ridge top. There is some scrambling as you climb to the end of the bench where North Peak suddenly happens! In other words, you can't go any further along the bench without a rope! We sat for our break and took photos as Mike entered our names in the log. The views kept us occupied and entertained.

Climbing up to Dragon Rock

Dragon Rock 2024 without lower Jaw

Bridge Mountain bench from North Peak Bench

Hiking along the North Peak Ridge
After the break, our first order of business was finding our way back along the ridge to the exit door. There are so many cairns that it was difficult to decide which was the truest route. Everyone seems to have their favorite route. We tenaciously followed our nose until we found the door and started down along the sandstone. It is very important here that hikers do not get drawn down the wrong ridge. There is a ridge to the right that seems much more pleasant! Nope. It is the next one to the left ... a steeper ridge. We did pretty well except for misinterpreting one of the large cairns. We zigged when we should have zagged but the mistake was easily corrected.

Eight on North Peak

Calico Hills from North Peak

Starting the long Descent

Down the sandstone Section
Finally down the sandstone section, we started down the limestone section of the ridge trail. Famous for hiker falls, this trail is steep and slippery.  We logged 2.5 falls all together! No one spoke much during this descent as the concentration pierced the silence of the wilderness. We gathered at the bottom where the road junctioned. A right turn on the road led us on the 2.5 mile achy descent to the trailhead. Yes, achy but also invigorated for the workout we enjoyed. Strong and fun group!

Stats: 7.3 miles; 2500' gain; 6 hours

Reaching the wash and Road

Starting down Rocky Gap Road

Nearing Willow Springs on Rocky Gap Road

Friday, April 12, 2024

Black Velvet Canyon - 4/11/24

Black Velvet Canyon Entrance

Black Velvet Canyon and Epinephrine climbing wall on Left 

Mike's Rock

Starting into Cottonwood Valley
from Late Night TH
I enjoy the months of March and April every year for a lot of reasons. One of those is that there are so many spring break rock climbers on the walls that it is almost constant entertainment! Some of the best walls for observation are in Black Velvet Canyon. World class stuff, people! Five of us parked at Late Night Trailhead and started out to the east around the hill behind the parking lot. Continuing straight on the Mustang Trail, we could see Black Velvet Canyon to the left just beyond the small hills in the distance in front of us. Staying on this trail, we junctioned with the Black Velvet dirt road in 2.2 miles. Turning left on the road, we hiked through the small car campground that is used by rock climbers from all over.

Mike, Theresa, Susan, John and Me (behind the camera)

Black Velvet Canyon left of center Hill

Starting up from the rock climbers' Campground

The trail up through the Chollas
Staying straight, the road turns into a trail complete with informational signs. As we climbed up through a buckhorn cholla forest, we made sure to stay on the hiking trail and not get sidetracked up to a climbing wall. We stayed on the embankment but right at the edge of the big drop to the wash below. This is the old trail. Over the years, it has become more difficult to navigate but up and around trails to the uphill side do the trick. We reached the red dirt drop into the mouth of Black Velvet Canyon and saw that there was a lot of water pooled and trickling in this colorful section. The first scramble has always been the most difficult for me but with everyone helping everyone else, we made it up and continued to meet the obstacles head on.

Hiking down from Embankment

Reaching the mouth of the canyon Wash

Water pooling at the mouth of the Canyon

Helping each other up the first
and most difficult Scramble
Many of the boulders in this canyon are the size of small cars! Some are bigger! The sandstone scrambles are best taken with a good pair of "sticky" shoe soles ... and a nice set of leg muscles! The scrambles haven't changed much since the first time I tackled them many years ago. One particular recent change is the absence of a long tree limb that used to lie along the top of rocks in the wash at a certain climb. It has been washed away. Thus, so have the hand holds washed away that we counted on for a few years. I expected more evidence of the big rains we had in the last year but I really didn't see much. Therefore, when we reached the waterfall at the end of the hiking route, I was very surprised that it appeared exactly the same!

Huge overhanging boulder in Wash

Boulder Scrambling

Climbers on Black Velvet Wall

Taking a break at the Waterfall
As we sat for our break, we watched the rock climbers up on the challenging walls called Epinephrine, Prince of Darkness, Cutting Edge and several others. It's a completely different world up there on the walls! We had our fill of the suspense and started down the canyon. It is much easier to descend the wash than to climb it! Duh. Climbing out at the mouth of the canyon with all the trickling and pooled water, we climbed back up to the edge of the embankment and followed the now familiar trail back through the chollas and down to the informational signs. Here, we turned to the right onto the official Black Velvet Trail. This section is the most beautiful of the trailed part of the hike.

Hikers' end point Waterfall

Rock climbers with an early start on Epinephrine 

Descent in wash is easier than Ascent!

Mike and John
The cholla ground cover began to peter out but joshua trees joined in along with yuccas and a slightly undulating terrain. Each time we crossed an arroyo, we checked to see if wild burros were lingering downstream. We never saw them but we heard them a few times. They enjoy the springs over on this side of Cottonwood Valley. There were many burro trails crisscrossing our trail as we hiked toward Mike's Rock. Mike's Rock is a big pyramid shaped rock that rises straight out of the desert. Although Mike eyed the rock questioningly this time, he still climbed up the side of the steep slant all the way to the top. Well, he swears, that's the easy part. It is the coming down part that is daunting and difficult. We all kept our eyes turned for most of it until he reached terra firma again! Nerves of steel! Next, our hike continued along the trail until we crossed a wash filled with limestone gravel and climbed up the other side. Here, we turned to the right. About 0.2 mile along this trail, there is a narrow fork that leads off to the left. We veered here and crossed diagonally up toward the hill to the left of us. The next junction was a right turn followed by crossing the next intersection straight. This trail allowed us to curve around to the left where we found our trail veering right and left at a road.

A little waterfall under big Boulders

Trail along wash Below

Approach trail through the Chollas

Black Velvet Trail
Finally, we started downhill and found a left turn in a finely graveled wash. This is a relatively new shortcut route back to the trailhead. It keeps you away from the road fumes of SR 160. (Not a bad thing.) We had had a quick paced 7.6 miles with a slower workout in the canyon. We were done! Great group. Great hike.

Stats: 7.6 miles;1040' gain; 5 hours

Mike's Rock in Situ

He did it again!

Trail back to Trailhead