Oak Peak 52PC / RS
Oak Creek Overlook P500 52PC / RS
First Creek Overlook RS

Thu, Mar 24, 2016

With: Patrick O'Neill

Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

Continued...

On the second day of our Red Rocks visit, I had picked a few more 52PC peaks in Oak Peak and Oak Creek Overlook, though they weren't expected to be as exciting as the previous days. In his book Rambles & Scrambles, Courtney give Oak Peak's NE Ridge two stars and the North Ridge a single one, not exactly strong recommendations. Starting at the Oak Creek TH, we would tackle this peak first, then make our way to Oak Creek Overlook, another 1,200ft higher on the limestone crest that acts as a backdrop for the sandstone bluffs of Red Rocks.

I was up by 6:30a, in time for a sunrise/moonset combo over Red Rocks from my overnight spot along Moenkopi Rd. Patrick would arrive sometime after 7a (he was staying at the Red Rock Casino on the edge of Las Vegas, not all that enamoured with the sleeping-in-the-car gig. Together we drove the Scenic Drive Loop to the TH, starting out from there just after 8a. We hiked the trail SW to Oak Creek, turning west as we dropped into the creek to start the long scramble upstream. Voices heard above the trees turned out to be climbers on the north side of Oak Creek already several pitches up the wall on that side. They had clearly gotten a much earlier start than us and would be the last folks we'd see until returning later in the afternoon.

An hour and half after starting out we began looking for a way up to the NE gully as described by Courtney, failing entirely. We hiked upstream past the gully as instructed, even finding a couple of ducks leading up and left along sloping slabs to the start of the gully. But from there the ducks ended abruptly and all routes up we tried grew heavy with brush. We spent 15-20min wandering about the slabs, talus and brush looking for ways up before finally giving up. Either this route is little-used or we had failed to find the right way. Not expecting to have trouble on this one, we hastily worked out a backup plan to continue up Oak Creek and seek out the easier class 2-3 North Gully route. This proved easier, helped by generous ducks, as we followed a left (eastward) and upwards traverse over sloping slickrock, going under a small overhang before starting up the North Gully proper (the direct ascent from below is blocked by cliffs along the creek). This is a fairly tame route climbing acres of dry slabs before reaching trees, talus and easier terrain. In the lead, I was favoring the left side of the gully away from the ducked route which led to an interesting discovery. We reached a broad, flat ledge on the ridge between the North and Northeast gullies from which we could easily traverse into the upper portion of the NE Gully. Patrick was in favor of continuing up the North Gully over more certain terrain, but I assured him it would be more direct (since the summit was just above the top of the NE Gully) and an easy traverse (this was a bit of a guess). Reluctantly he agreed, and to both of our satisfaction, the traverse turned out to be an easy walk along convenient slabs - no brush, nothing more than class 2. In the NE Gully we picked up the regularly ducked route which we followed upwards over class 3 terrain. We could probably have followed the ducks downward to figure out where we'd gone wrong earlier, but we had other plans after reaching the summit.

Tucked back behind and between the imposing Mt. Wilson and Rainbow Mtn, Oak Peak nonetheless offers fine views of the Red Rock area. In particular, there is a very fine view of Mt. Wilson's Cleaver Crack route which I had failed to find on a foray several weeks earlier. Directly behind us to the west rose Oak Creek Overlook, the second peak on the day's agenda, some 1,200ft higher. It was just before 11a when we reached Oak Peak where we spent almost half an hour on a well-deserved break, allowing Patrick his requisite refueling stop. We signed the register found in the ubiquitious Red Rocks ammo box before packing up to head out on the second leg of the day's quest.

Though no easy effort, getting from Oak Peak to Oak Creek Overlook took us just over an hour, following the connecting ridgeline to the southwest. Most of this was a straightforward class 2 hike up the broken limestone ridge, but the upper section was fraught with short cliffs that required some manuevering to get around, and a short section of class 3 scrambling just below the crest. Above this, the summit was a short walk to the north along the open crest, found among some short pines and junipers that inhabit the higher elevations. We found no register here among the 2-3 small bumps vying to be the highest. As a 52PC summit we certainly expected to find one - perhaps it had been removed? Having gotten to the summit more quickly than we'd imagined, I was already wondering if we couldn't stretch the day out for a third objective, First Creek Overlook, about 3/4 mile to the southeast. I had planned to include this one the next day when Tom would join us for an ambitious outing around the First Creek area, but was beginning to think we could have more options the next day if we took this one off the agenda. The traverse from Oak Creek Overlook appeared to be fairly easy which helped get Patrick on board. He didn't really care about the next day's agenda nor the specifics of my reasons, but rather wanted to know more of the Here and Now. "How are we going to get down from there?" I had to fudge this a bit but didn't think it was a real issue. I had been up the canyon north of First Creek Overlook on my visit to Mt. Wilson and knew that the canyon was negotiable. Exactly which fork of the canyon I'd gone up wasn't really clear to me as we looked at it from Oak Creek Overlook, but how big of a problem could that be? I sort of waved my hands in the general direction and said something like, "Oh, there's plenty of options that will work down there," which had the desired effect - off to First Creek Overlook we went.

The traverse along the limestone crest took about 45min, covering perhaps a mile in that time. There were no particular difficulties though we had a few ups and downs along the way - none of the sandstone excitement one gets below. Though not on the 52PC list, we found a register notebook in an ammo box at the summit. Our position had us almost due west of Mt. Wilson now and it would have been straightforward to drop down the ridgeline connecting the two. This had no particular draw for either of us at the moment however, but it wouldn't be hard to add Mt. Wilson to a bolder version of our outing. Now that it was 1:30p, we were more interested in getting back down, Patrick more so once he had topped off his gas tank a third time. Once again I sort of waved my hand in the general direction heading north, "Down there somewhere," I offered in response to a question of where we were heading. More immediately, I thought it wisest to head back along the ridge a short ways where I had seen several ducks starting from the saddle in that direction. I thought it might lead down a ducked route coming up from below but this proved out to be a false hope. From the saddle northwest of the summit we started down steep talus slopes comprised of broken limestone pieces that would have made for a tedious ascent but gave us some hope for a quick descent. This lasted only a short while, eventually running into heavier brush that made us chose a descent path more cautiously. The gully did not go as smooth as I had hoped, but by judiciously choosing when to move out of one minor gully into an adjacent one, we avoided a few dry waterfalls and continue our downward descent. The gullies merged into larger ones and eventually we were off the limestone and back in slickrock sandstone. Though later I found much of this was the same gully I had ascended weeks earlier, it did not look at all familiar for the first 1/3mi or so that we traveled down it. Eventually we came to a fixed rope going over a dry waterfall that I again had no recollection of but must have ascended on that first visit. It seemed the rope did not quite reach the bottom of the waterfall cliff so in the interest of safety (and because I'd been carrying it around all day), we used the 30m rope from my pack to rappel on our own gear.

Below this dry waterfall, ducks once more began to appear. These had been set up for the approach to Oak Peak from the south, a route I knew existed but not described by our guidebook. From the looks of it below, this might be an even more interesting route than the North Gully we took and might be the "standard" route used by the 52PC folks. Dropping lower, the route became more familiar, eventually merging with the North Fork of Oak Creek which we had ascended in the morning. We still had almost two miles to return to the trailhead from the main fork, an effort that would occupy us for more than an hour. It wasn't until after 4:30p before we had returned to the gravel lot of the Oak Creek TH. Though we still had almost three hours of daylight, we were both glad to be done by this point - heading to Mt. Wilson would have been a bit much.

Tom was due to join us shortly, having texted earlier that he expected to reach us around 5-6pm. After returning to Moenkopi Rd to pick up his car, Patrick headed back to his hotel while I took a shower at the TH off Moenkopi before heading to Starbucks. Tom would join me there shortly after which we grabbed dinner with Patrick. Tom expressed some concern that we were cleaning out the Red Rock peaks a little too fast and leaving him with the dregs. I assured him we had good things in store for the next three days and he wouldn't be disappointed. And he wasn't...

Continued...


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