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Mt. Wilson later climbed Fri, Mar 25, 2016|
South Wilson later climbed Fri, Mar 25, 2016
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a world-reknowned climbing destination that has drawn boulderers, climbers, peakbaggers and casual hikers alike for decades. The colorful sandstone bluffs have superb rock quality, the routes are challenging and the scenery unmatched in the Mojave Desert. I had been to the area on two previous, single-day adventures. One was to the DPS-listed Bridge Mtn, a half-day solo affair in 2008, the other to Rainbow Wall/Mtn with Matthew in 2009. I had been recently taken by Courtney Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles and with a trip to Las Vegas planned to give me three days to play around in Red Rocks, I was very much looking forward to it. Today's outing was originally planned to take in Mt. Wilson, South Wilson, Dead Horse Pt and White Rock Pinnacle, starting with the classic Cleaver Crack route up the north side of Mt. Wilson. I never managed to find Cleaver Crack and the adventure ended up being something quite different than what I had imagined, but it was still a great time - almost any scrambling on the sandstone features in this area is likely to lead to a good time.
I started from one of the Oak Canyon THs found along SR159 around 7a, hiking west across the valley floor on a good trail that leads into Oak Creek Canyon. A network of trails, official and unofficial, are found all over the area. It isn't necessary to get the exact trail right, simply make sure you're heading to the right canyon for the route of choice. In this case it was directly up Oak Creek Canyon, aptly named for the trees (along with pines and junipers) that line the creekbed. Eventually one is hiking directly up the mostly dry creekbed, following a series of ducks up class 2-3 boulders, dry waterfalls and other mild obstacles. A group of perhaps 10 korean climbers was making its way up ahead of me not long after the scrambling sections begin. Though going somewhat slower than myself, they seemed to be having no less an enjoyable time of it. I spent two hours getting to the start of the route, or what I though was the start above an amphitheater with a fixed line at the top to help out on a class 3-4 section. I dutifully followed ducks as they led up the left-forking branches of the canyon, past sections of ice, more mostly-dry waterfalls and such, but finding nothing that resembled the description of an "incredible and improbable pair of slots angling east up Mt. Wilson's imposing north face." Days later I found my mistake in missing the route when I better examined a GPX file that had been posted online. Party it was the description of Wilson's "north face," which really is a north face of a wall well west of Mt. Wilson's summit. In any case, I found that I was following ducks that matched the description for Cactus Flower Tower and decided to simply continue up. The route up the West Ridge is described as class 5.3 though I didn't think there was anything fifth class on my way up. That can easily be explained by my inability to differentiate between class 4 and anything up to about class 5.4, but in any event I didn't find anything particularly exposed or scary. There were two sections that I recall feeling like class 4, both off-width cracks that had good hold but nearly vertical for 15-20ft, each with a rappel sling found above them. Overall the route is a fine one and a good time all but guaranteed.
It was 10:30a by the time I finally reached the summit of Cactus Flower Tower. The sunny perch at the top is greatly overshadowed by the far higher Mt. Wilson immediately to the south and I spent some time studying its north side (in vain) for anything resembling the Cleaver Crack route. A summit register dating to 2012 had already 13 pages of entries, attesting to the popularity of even the more obscure summits in the area. Interestingly, the author whose large book took up a substantial fraction of my pack's weight had been the last one to sign in a few months earlier. After spending an usually lengthy ten minutes or so at the summit I started down, still intent on finding Cleaver Crack. I dropped south off the West Ridge into the main gully with Mt. Wilson thinking I might find it somewhere in there. This consumed something like an hour and a half as I wandered through brush, up and down slabs searching for a route that I couldn't imagine had simply vanished. There were no ducks at all in the upper part of the canyon which eventually led me to conclude I was on the wrong track altogether. Down I went. I found another set of ducks leading into what I later concluded was probably the correct fork but these, too, petered out, leaving me without the obvious ducks I was led to expect. Further down I went.
Back at the main dry waterfall I gave up on Cleaver Crack but was still determined to make it to Mt. Wilson. While much higher earlier, I had noted that another fork of the canyon heading southwest and south looked to lead up to easier ground on the backside of Mt. Wilson. This canyon also had sporadic ducks and even another fixed line, though these were eventually lost as I angled more eastward. I think the ducks probably led to Oak Creek Peak, found between the north and south (the one I was in) forks of Oak Creek. It was only after another hour and a better perusal of my GPS that I noted I had traveled much further west than I intended and was more in line to climb the yet higher Oak Creek Overlook than Mt. Wilson. Thus began an ascending traverse southeast and east across a number of minor ridges to get myself closer to Mt. Wilson. Eventually I stumbled upon a use trail and more ducks that lead to the summit via a route from the southwest, undoubtedly part of the easier route up from the south via First Creek. It was well after 2p before I finally topped out on the highest summit in the RRCNRA. The register dated back less than two years and was filled with entries to mirroring its popularity. The previous two parties had been here only five days earlier.
I turned my attention and efforts to the south, intending to complete the traverse along the ridge to White Rock Pinnacle. It was an enjoyable scramble along the ridgeline whose eastern aspect drops dramatically in steep cliffs to the desert floor. For most of the route I was following ducks on the west side of the ridge where the terrain is easier class 2-3. I wasn't exactly sure where South Wilson was until I was nearly upon it and its twin summits became obvious. I scaled first the slightly higher east summit, then the west summit, finding them roughly the same class 3 effort, no register on either point.
The last two points on the ridge, Dead Horse Point and White Rock Pinnacle could not be seen from South Wilson. The ridgeline I had been following begins to drop dramatically south of South Wilson, the two other points more than 1,000ft lower. Courtney's book has little to say about this traverse other than to say it takes the Cleaver Crack route to the "next level" with "tricky terrain" and "sticky route-finding." I followed the ridge down, doing my best to keep it to class 3. Perhaps 10min after starting down, I noted a ducked route on the west side of the ridge. Thinking I was in luck, I followed this for a ways before realizing it was descending to First Creek rather than along the ridge. As it was past 3:30p by now, hours later than I had planned to be at this point, I decided to forgo the last two summits and take the easy way back along the ducked route. It was a good route heading west down the steep SW Face, deftly skirting through cliffs and difficulties to keep the route to class 3. Shortly before the route joins First Creek, there was a class 4 section dropping neatly through the only break I could see in a cliff area above the creek.
Once in First Creek, the route comes to resemble other creek scrambles in the area, including Oak Creek and Pine Creek. Not long after 4:30p, about 20min from the bottom of the creek, I suddenly spied two cameras set on tripods below some boulders I was standing atop. All was quiet. My first thought was that someone had been filming themselves climbing below and had met with some sort of terrible accident. Was I going to find a dead body down below? This thought was allowed to roll around in my head for less than a minute before I spotted a lone figure in a puffy orange jacket standing a short distance downstream on another rock. It seems he was taking a break from videoing himself bouldering on the large rock upon which I stood. He must have hiked an hour from the TH to set up in this lonely spot within the canyon. He was nearly as surprised to see me as I was him. Our meeting was brief as I continued downcanyon, intent to get back before dark.
It was after 5:30p before I reached the First Creek Trail and then the TH along SR159. I was a mile and a half south of the TH I had started out from, but figured it should be pretty easy thumb a ride back along this fairly busy stretch of road. I was wrong. Despite more than several dozen cars that drove by while I hiked the road with my thumb out, nobody felt sufficiently sorry for me to stop and offer a ride. Oh well, at least it wasn't that far, allowing me to get back around 6p before things got really dark. I drove back to Moenkopi Rd where I'd spent the previous night, showering before settling in for a second night. It had been a long, all-day affair and I hadn't exactly managed to accomplish what I'd set out to do, but I had no regrets. Even a day getting lost in Red Rocks turns out to be pretty darn fun...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Wilson
This page last updated: Fri Mar 4 17:39:51 2016
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