Sat, Mar 26, 2016
The previous day had been a tough one, encircling the First Creek drainage over seven summits including the highest in Red Rocks, Mt. Wilson. In order to keep the troops from open rebellion, it seemed wise to schedule an easier outing today. Both Tom and Patrick were eager to climb Bridge Mtn, a DPS summit that I had so far avoided on our previous visits because I'd already been to the top. It was the first peak I'd climbed in Red Rocks more than eight years prior when I was methodically ticking off the DPS list myself. The standard route from Red Rock Summit to the west is the easiest, but a fun and challenging class 3 scramble nonetheless. It's the sort of bone you don't mind throwing out once in a while because there's still some meat for you to chew on as well.
Compared to our usual short driving approaches on the front side of Red Rocks, the approach from the west is a long-ass drive, taking more than an hour to drive SR159 and SR160 to Lovell Canyon Rd and finally up the dirt Rocky Gap Rd. The latter has seen some washouts that make negotiating the entire road a job for more serious 4WD vehicles. With Tom's Element we were able to get within 1.5mi of Red Rock Summit, about half the road's length. It was cold and shady when we started out around 8a, hiking the rough road to the TH at the pass where we found the start of the North Peak/Bridge Mtn Trail. Unlike the road, the trail is in great shape and a breeze to hike, climbing about 700ft over the course of the first mile.
Our first stop was North Peak, found just left and NE of where the trail tops out on the crest. We thought it odd that the trail sign rated it as difficult though a trail goes to the summit, the same rating it gives for Bridge Mtn which is a significantly more difficult undertaking. This North Peak is NOT the same as that found in Courtney's Rambles & Scrambles which is located another mile to the NE. He calls this one Crest Peak, a name that seems to have more local use despite the BLM signage (fwiw, in Desert Summits, Zdon uses the BLM North Peak reference). We reached the rocky summit around 9a, only an hour after starting out. Patrick and I had climbed Crest from the west side a month earlier as part of a long outing doing the Graffiti Ledges route of North Peak. We'd come back to give Tom a chance to tag it and pad our own stats. The register is found in a plastic tool box looking a bit brittle after too much UV exposure. Tom signed us into the register while Patrick found some snacks to wolf down quickly. By now he knew that Tom and I would start making fun of his eating habits ("Hey, didn't we just leave the car?") so he tried to make it quick with an apology to boot. The summit offers a fine view of most of the Bridge Mtn route to the southeast and south, though without any specific recall I could only wave my hand in the general direction and say, "It goes along that connecting ridgeline...", not all that helpful, really.
We headed back to the trail junction and then south along the crest on the Bridge Mtn Trail. The trail traverses along the east side at first, then moves to the west side as it rounds a point only about 20ft lower than Crest Peak before starting down a ridgeline to the east. Coming into view on our right was Yoga Peak, a summit described in Courtney's book which I had yet to visit. A side visit to this would be a bone the others were tossing in the opposite direction. We weren't getting the most this sub-peak has to offer by doing it from the Bridge Mtn Trail as there are good sandstone scrambling routes from below. For now, this would have to do. The peak can be seen from the trail shortly before we were directly above it on the connecting ridgeline. Thinking it might be a bit steep there, we continued a short distance down before leaving the trail to head for it. This wasn't the best option it turns out, but it worked, weaving through juniper/pine forest, sometimes brushy, to get us to the sandstone portion below that comprises the summit. A better, less brushy route follows along the sandstone escarpment below where it merges with the limestone above. It was 10a when we reached the rocky outcrop marking Yoga's summit where the register was found. This one had been left relatively recently with only a handful of pages used before our arrival. Among the fine views available from this perch is the Gunsight Notch - Juniper Peak ridgeline with the 40' rappel notch quite evident, a route Tom and I had done earlier. We followed the better line along the sandstone for the return, getting back to the trail and then following it down to its conclusion where the red sandstone meets the lighter yellow sandstone that characterizes the remaining route to Bridge Mtn.
This is the beginning of the more interesting part of the Bridge Mtn route, generously ducked and for the most part easy to follow. The first section follows east along the broad ridgeline separating the South Fork of Icebox Canyon to the north and the North Fork of Pine Creek to the south. The ridge drops 500ft down a series of class 2-3 scrambles, reaching a saddle before starting back up. Somewhere near the saddle we noticed ducks leading down the south side of the sandstone slabs, apparently another route coming up from Pine Creek that I hadn't heard about - that would have to wait for some future project (See comment below. This is the Fern Canyon route). From the saddle, the route starts up, soon becoming quite steep as it climbs a groove, the crux of the route. This groove can be climbed directly, perhaps a bit awkwardly, but I found the right side of the groove an easier climb with good holds. With Tom leading up this section I heard him shout at something and receive a reply from above. Seems we had come across another party descending the route that just happened to contain a few characters that we knew, including Tommey Joh and Bill Carpenter. Patrick knew at least one of the other two folks as well and we held a little "happy to see you" party right there on the steep face. They were out chasing DPS peaks and were heading out of the area after Bridge, so it would be the last we'd see of them on this trip. We continued up, moved left at a break in the groove, then continued climbing where a painted arrow indicated (there were several of these annoyances in this section). Above this is found the famous arch for which the mountain is named. One can pass through the arch and climb the slabs adjacent to the tenaja found inside, or alternately, climb up and over the arch. Since I had used the route through the arch on my previous visit I decided to go over the top while Tom went the other way. Patrick paused to take some photos of us before going over the top of the arch himself.
Above the arch one is suddenly presented with the hidden ponderosa forest that lies in a flat enclosure comprising several acres in a long oval shape. We stayed above the forest floor as we moved right around the west and south side of the forest to a wide slab bridging to the large massive of Bridge Mtn itself. Only ten minutes from the top at this point, there are numerous routes one might use to reach it, most generally angling left towards the north side before climbing easier slopes to the top. We found a summit register somewhere among the highest rocks but almost immediately Tom found his way down to the small sheltered alcove out of the chilly wind to take in a little naptime. We joined him in the sunny basin, Patrick taking the opportunity to make lunch from the varied and substantial supplies he'd brought. With Tom looking like he was there for the long haul, Patrick must have felt safe from being rushed though his meal. I don't think Tom actually fell asleep, but he seemed to enjoy what rest he got before we started back down about half an hour later.
Tom and I failed to follow the ducks back down the north side, dropping much too low before realizing our mistake when we saw Patrick traversing higher. Rather than climb back up, we continued down, finding a spicy alternate that dropped us into the ponderosa forest. While there, we decided to check out the basin's drainage to the northeast where we knew another route to exist, one leading to the east side of Bridge Mtn and from there to Bridge Vista and Bridge Point. We found the start of ducks leading down that way, satisfying our curiosity, then returned back to the top of the arch where we found Patrick not looking much surprised by our disappearance. This time I went down through the arch while the others went over it so I could get some pictures of that vantage point, then the three of us started down the crux steep section.
We came across another party of the three about halfway down the crux and paused to talk with them. One had been up the route before and was here a second time with two pals who were not at all comfortable with the exposure. We could tell this because the two spoke little and moved only haltingly, clearly reaching past their comfort zone. We suggested they might find the climbing easier outside the groove where we were moving downward, and though they gave it a try it did not seem to boost their confidence. They were still resting on the rock when we got to the bottom and took a look back at the route. By the time we had reached the trail another 30min later they had already decided to turn around and were nearing the bottom of the crux. It would take us another hour to negotiate the trail back to Rocky Gap Rd and another half hour to make our way down the road to where we'd left the Element. Our outing came in at just over 7.5hrs, a fairly relaxed pace, I thought.
We still had something like 5hrs of daylight and I was hoping to talk the others into a few bonus peaks on the drive back. Patrick announced he was done for the day but wouldn't mind waiting while we did something else. Tom was looking for something else, but on the easy side. He found it as we were driving past Shaft Peak off SR160 when he spied a dirt service road going about halfway up this minor summit to a telecom installation. It was a fairly new gravel road not described in Courtney's description for Shaft Peak (not that there was much to it - a single, nine-word sentence). Tom made a U-turn on the highway and headed up the steep road, a fairly impressive effort for the Element considering the looseness of the gravel. We parked at a gate just below the installation, taking all of 12min to climb and 10min for the descent, which included brief stops to explore various mine shafts we found up and down. Upon returning to Patrick and the Element, Tom dragged out the cooler of beer and snacks which we took to a sunny spot overlooking the highway and views west. There would be no more bonus peaks today.
Later that afternoon we headed to town for dinner at a local restaurant where we ate far more than was really necessary or good for us. Patrick bid us goodbye afterwards and headed back to Southern California while Tom and I headed to Moenkopi Rd back in Red Rocks to spend the night. We had one more day of scrambling and it would be a bigger effort than today's...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Crest Peak - Bridge Mountain
This page last updated: Wed Apr 27 14:49:08 2016
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