Sat, Feb 27, 2016
Tom had joined Karl, Patrick and myself for the weekend in Red Rocks, a bit reluctantly due to the long drive and the typically horrible traffic encountered on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons. He had made it in decent time by leaving LA early and by the time we were done with the weekend he wasn't minding it at all. He had lived a number of years in Las Vegas while in the Air Force but had never done more than a few cursory tourist hikes. After scrambling around the area for three days, his only regret would be not having discovered it sooner. Today's agenda had Mescalito, a small peak separating the major forks of Pine Creek, as the warm up, followed by a beefier climb to Bridge Mtn and a few other summits on the Bridge massive. We underestimated just how much effort Mescalito by itself would be and the full-day adventure would carry us well past sunset, just shy of a more serious epic it could have become. Not wanting to get in over his head, Karl had chosen a tamer outing, hiking to Crest Peak and North Peak via the trail from Rocky Gap Rd to the west - a great outing, he reported later.
And so there were only three of us heading out from the Pine Creek TH at 7:30a on a sunny Saturday morning. There was only one other car at the TH at this time and we would hear (but not see) them rock climbing somewhere near the mouth of Pine Creek Canyon on the steep sandstone walls that form it. We hiked the maintained trail to the concrete foundation for the Wilson homestead that once stood next to the creek just outside the canyon. From here we followed less-used trails along the creek on one side or the other before landing in the rocky creek bed for the next hour. There was significant water in the creek lower down, but this would peter out to a trickle as we climbed higher up the south fork of the canyon. Purcell describes two routes to Mescalito in his book, Rambles & Scrambles, one from the south fork and another from the north. We planned to do both in our travels over the crest south to north. There were plenty of ducks on both routes as it turned out and route-finding was never much of an issue. It helped that we had a GPS with the general routes loaded so we knew pretty much where to leave the creek when it was time to start up. The class 3 started after the first hour, providing plenty of challenging scrambling in the south fork for almost 30min before we reached the climb out spot, marked by significant cairns to make it more obvious.
Even without the GPS it would not have been hard to find the starting point up from the south fork. Cliffs run down to the creek from the south side of Mescalito right up to this point - it's really the first place that could hold a practical scrambling route. We followed a steep series of slabs upwards, angling to the right or northeast, ducks continuing to mark the way. Lots and lots of friction climbing on this one where you get to work your calves by staying on the balls of your feet, or work flat-footed at odd angles that test other muscle groups. And generally you mix it up to keep from overworking one method. Ducks led off in different directions at a few points. I chose one of these to take the steeper more direct route while Tom and Patrick did a short traverse before their route also went up, though neither seemed advantageous over the other.
We reached a saddle on the ridge between Yoga to the west and Mescalito to the east. It was 9:15a, about the time we'd expected to be on the summit. Only we still had lots of scrambling east along the ridge to reach our first goal. This had plenty of fun parts, with route-finding we might not have figured out on our own save for the ever-present ducks. There are a few variations in the route as we came to find, some of these also ducked, some not. In all we spent almost 45min just on the traverse from the saddle, a distance of less than half a mile. Sandwiched between Bridge Mtn to the north and Rainbow Wall to the south, Mescalito doesn't offer the same sweeping views as its much higher neighbors. Further, it isn't obvious where the highpoint is and there was no register to be found anywhere, taking away some of the reassurance one normally gets that you've "arrived." We made due with what we found, taking a long, deserved break before starting out again - it was after 10a but our day was far, far from over.
We made our way back to the original saddle we had ascended to. I had noted ducks heading down the north side and it was these that we followed next. Courtney describes the north side route to Mescalito as the better climb than the south side and I can see the rational as it certainly has more varied terrain and stiffer scrambling. But collectively we didn't agree primarily because the route was wetter, looser and a little brushier. The well-ducked route took the guesswork out of the route's convolutions as it followed down slabs, traversed slopes and ledges and went across the southern branch of the North Fork of Pine Creek above a large waterfall before climbing out and descending to the northern branch of the North Fork. Tom and Patrick paused at the first water we'd seen in hours, taking the time to dip their faces and hats in the refreshing trickles of water. The crux section was a steep friction slab dropping down to the northern branch, one of those sections Patrick seems to dislike the most. Tom started down first, myself behind, while Patrick watched from above. As Tom was nearing the bottom of this 70-80ft section Patrick commented that he was going to head back. It seemed almost absurd considering how close we were to the northern branch, knowing a retreat meant going all the way back up to the Mescalito saddle and then back down. Tom thought he was joking but I suspected otherwise. After some discussion regarding the matter, Patrick decided to give it a try and joined us in a few minutes. Ten minutes after that we were down to the northern branch of the North Fork, Patrick happier that he hadn't turned around.
We stayed in the creek only long enough to freshen up again, as the route to Bridge Vista and Bridge Point starts directly up the north side of where we descended to. Convenient, yes, but it was going to be a very long haul up, some 1,500ft all told. The scrambling here was much like that going up to Mescalito's saddle - lots and lots of sandstone slabs, all well-marked by ducks. Someone had left a pair of Spongebob underwear on the route for reasons one could only guess at, but is was far harder to miss than the ducks which blended much better with their surroundings. It would take us an hour and a half at no speedy pace to get up the south face of this mountain. Tom and I paused under the shade of a tree at one point where the route forked to two different gullies and we wanted to make sure Patrick followed the same one. He came up a few minutes later, the previous day's effort now catching up with him and causing his energy to flag some. Still, he persevered with a smile as always and not long after 1p we finally reached the high saddle between Bridge Vista and Bridge Point.
A quick calculation told us we might not be able to do all three summits we had planned, particularly to the highest Bridge Mtn whose route takes a roundabout path going counterclockwise around the east and north sides. This was a little frustrating because Bridge Mtn could be seen looming massively only 1/3mi away. The problem was the steep face it presents on this side which doesn't look to be a scrambling route. A pow-wow ensued in which we decided to ditch Bridge Mtn and do the other two. More ducks led from our saddle down the north side before heading west and back up to Bridge Vista Peak. The route wasn't as obvious as we might have hoped and there was some backtracking and searching before finding the right route. The advantage of having three sets of eyes instead of only one made this easier than had we been solo. The final 20-30ft up the large summit block presents another challenge with no easy way up. I spied an interesting route up from a tree on the northeast side that I took to immediately, a short bit of class 4 scrambling that worked nicely, with care. The others watched me walk over to the register at the highpoint before taking my pack off. They didn't seem convinced. I got up to look around for an easier way, finding a fixed rope dropping down the south side to a tree on a large ledge. Tom went around the north and west side of the block, found nothing and returned back to climb the same route I had. Patrick remained unconvinced. I told him about the fixed rope route, dropped down myself on the ledge and waited for him. I went around the east side where the ledge gives way to chickenheaded face climbing and found Patrick at the tree eyeing the original route I'd gone up. He didn't like the look of the face climbing and had also gone around to the west side like Tom, finding nothing. Courtney's description says to go counter-clockwise around the summit block to the south side which meant there had to be a way around the west side. I went over to check, finding a short downclimb that led to the wide ledge on the south side and then went back up the fixed rope route to the summit block. I was tired and out of breath now after running around so. The day was catching up with me, it seemed. I relayed what I found to Patrick back down on the north side and within a few minutes he had found the wide ledge and joined us at the summit.
It was 2p. Another hour gone, but we still had almost 4hrs of daylight. No problem. I went down first and then wandered over to the saddle with Bridge Mtn to take a look at the huge wall that face presents. The surface was rough and had good friction and it seemed one could almost scramble up - but it was too rich for my blood. Maybe with a rope and some gear including climbing shoes, but not today. I rejoined the others as we then headed east for the higher Bridge Point. It seemed like it would be easier than Bridge Vista and technically it was, but the summit was higher and somehow we didn't get there until almost 3p. This was the nicest summit for views on the day as it sits out on the edge of the bluffs overlooking the valley below to the east. I brought up Holiday Peak as a bonus that was less than 1/3mi to the northeast, even if it probably wasn't appropriate at this late point. It's a weakness of mine. Tom asked if I'd do it if I was solo, trying to judge the difficulty involved. "In a heartbeat," I replied. Patrick had had enough of this and decided a return back down the south side from the saddle was the better choice. Tom waffled. We had the written description for getting up to Holiday from the east side and I confidently felt we'd get back well before Patrick. Tom looked over the northeast side and I pointed out what surely looked like ducks. What could go wrong? We had a rope, right?
And thus began the end-of-the-day odyssey. We bade goodbye to Patrick after assuring us he was fine to return alone while Tom and I went off in search of further adventure. It was not long in coming. A few ducks immediately below the summit had us confident a ducked route would lead us quickly to Holiday Peak but others did not materialize as hoped. We were left to our own devices to find a way and that didn't work so good, at least initially. We tried following the ridgeline only to run into cliffs. This forced us west to where slopes could be followed down to a wide ledge area where we found a few reassuring ducks, including the ones we had spied from the summit. But this, too, lead to some dead ends as the ducks seemed to disappear and more cliffs materialized. We tried a few scary looking cracks to downclimb before giving up when they got to be more than class 4. Eventually we discovered the key (marked by a duck, of course), further west that took us on a small adventure on the west side of the ridgeline before finding our way up to Holiday Peak, or what we thought was Holiday Peak. Two closely-spaced points marked the highest points on the ridge before dropping more dramatically down. Small cairns were located on both, but no register. We weren't exactly at the summit according the GPS, but that point seemed to be out in space over a cliff somewhere so we chalked it up to an error of some sort. Little did we know that the actual Holiday Peak is a squat little bump below the cliffs we were perched on, some 100-150ft lower and out of sight. We wandered north along the ridge we stood on and found the much better-looking north ridge to the east, and could even see a couple of ducks along its length, but a huge cliff below us blocked us from getting to it. A first effort to get down the cliffs met with failure. We got perhaps halfway down by scrambling, then along a ledge to a tree with a rap sling on it. We got out our 25m rope and tossed it down, but it reached only perhaps 1/2 the distance. This did not fit the description we kept re-reading to make sure we didn't miss anything. Tom surmised that we missed a descent directly east off the highpoint so we went back to investigate that, time slowly being chewed up with our distinct lack of progress. It was 4:30p by the time we had climbed back up to the highpoint and found that, yes, there was a way down that we'd overlooked - sort of. Our relief at finding a way down was momentary as we came up against another tree with a rap sling about halfway down, far more difficult terrain immediately below. But this one held more promise. There were two other trees down a steep class 4-5 section that could be used for successive raps, though the last tree might not allow a rap to the bottom. Providing a back-up plan was a set of 9 shiny bolts that someone had installed next to the crack system to make a sport route of this wall. It seemed excessive but we weren't going to complain (too loudly). I bypassed the first tree and downclimbed to the second where I put a sling around it to begin a series of rappels. I went first, slinging the second tree while Tom rapped down to me. After pulling the rope and rethreading it for rap #2, I let Tom continue down on this most uncertain of rappels. The rope might reach the bottom (probably would have with a 30m rope) but there was a ledge about 15ft off the ground he could reach. There was no tree down there. "What do we do if the rope doesn't reach?" Tom enquired. "Jump!" I wanted to say, but instead said, "Maybe we can use one of the bolts?" And that's exactly what we ended up doing. While the two of us stood a few minutes later on the small ledge, I cut another length of webbing to tie around the hanger's eye and we made the final rap off that. We laughed, wondering what someone coming up here might think of the bright yellow webbing tied to the hanger 20ft up. We also wondered if anyone had ever bothered making a second ascent of this odd bolt ladder.
Unbeknownst to us, Holiday Peak was 20ft above the notch we had rappeled to, and we wandered right by it on our way north along the north ridge, now amply marked by ducks. It was 5p when we reached a fixed rope along this ridgeline and about 10min later we turned east to follow ducks down off the ridge on what Purcell describes as the southern route to Holiday Peak. Evas and Mikes Towers were somewhere around here but this was no time to search out more bonus peaks - we really needed to get down and there was a sense of urgency to avoid a mini-epic. There was another hour of downhill scrambling to follow and we kept our harnesses on "just in case" for most of this. With the light starting to fade, we continued following ducks, losing them more than once only to find them again lower down. The Scenic Loop officially closes at 5p before March 1 and we knew we'd be well past that time before getting back. Would we get a hefty fine? We were encouraged by the steady number of cars that could be seen still plying the road, headlamps ablaze. Eventually, near the bottom as the wash was growing brushier and darker, I moved left out of the wash and started a duckless cross-country jaunt towards the Scenic Loop's closest approach to our position about half a mile to the northeast, several miles north of where we had parked. The hope was that we could get back to the road before the last car went by and hitch a ride back to our own. Now guided by our headlamps, we took up jogging as the number of cars remaining on the loop looked to grow increasingly thim. I got back to the road about 6:15p, more than an hour after closing. Fortunately cars were still coming by. The first two I flagged down were already filled to capacity, but the third, a large, extended-cab pickup had only an hispanic gentleman and his son. I explained our predicament as Tom was just arriving and they kindly allowed us to invade their space for the ride back to our cars.
We thanked them as they dropped us off at the Pine Creek TH, finding Patrick sitting on the curb by the van. Figuring we'd easily beat him back, I hadn't given him the keys and was feeling bad about the length of time he must have been sitting there. That guilt was assuaged when he said he'd only been back 13min, to be replaced by other guilt when he told us of his difficulties in finding his way back down the route. Tired eyes aren't as good at following ducks, it seemed. The three of us drove back to the campground. Karl had texted us that he'd gotten back hours earlier and was enjoying himself at Starbucks in town. Tom and I had no interest in taking additional time to head into town, content to make dinner of soup at the campground. Patrick was fairly beat and had little appetite for camp food. We realized he was leaning heavily towards going home a day early and did our best to offer solutions to his multiple reasons for doing so, but in the end he'd simply had enough and would rather sleep in his own bed that night (easier for LA folks when the drive is only 4.5hrs). Off he went, leaving Tom and I to ourselves (plus Karl who arrived about an hour later). Today had been rather full - tomorrow the troops would be looking for something on the easier side...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mescalito - Bridge Point
This page last updated: Mon Mar 7 18:34:01 2016
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