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Back in Red Rocks for my fourth trip this year, I had five days to roam around this sandstone playground. Patrick had come back to join me with Tom planning to join a few days later. I picked out a couple of 52PC summits in the Pine Creek area, tucked back behind Rainbow Wall. In his book, Rambles & Scrambles, Courtney rates the East Ridge of Pine Creek Peak and the NE Ridge of Terrace Canyon Peak as four stars (his highest rating) which motivated me to try to link these up. I found a map online showing a GPX track for both routes and did my best to recreate these in a route I loaded on my GPSr. A bit crude (would have been better to have the GPX track itself), but it would do. We met at what has become our usual meeting place off Moenkopi Rd shortly after 7a and together drove in my van on the Scenic Drive Rd to the Pine Creek TH. We had used this previously for a number of hikes, including an outing to Mescalito, much of whose approach up the South Fork of Pine Creek would be recreated today. It was not an early start, but with the recent change to Daylight Savings, we'd have more than enough daylight for what we had in mind.
Ours was only the second or third car at the parking lot when we started off around 7:45a, but it would be filled to overflowing before we got back. The first hour and a half were spent on trail and negotiating the boulder scramble up Pine Creek. A pair of ducks (the animate kind) were found floating in Pine Creek next to the trail, not particularly afraid of people. Other ducks (the inanimate kind) led upstream, forking twice. We followed the left fork both times, getting us to the South Fork of the South Fork of Pine Creek. Our exit point was not overly difficult to find since pretty much everything on the right side was near-vertical cliffs and decidedly non-scrambling territory. Just about where we expected to exit we found the terrain more promising, and almost on cue there was a large cairn indicating the exit with more ducks soon appearing above. We spent almost 2hrs climbing the route, as good as advertised and sufficiently challenging to keep us on our toes. One could provide a complicated description but it wouldn't be all that helpful - it suffices to say, just follow the ducks. We took about 40min to climb from the creek up to the ridge itself, then another 70min along the ridge to the summit. There are fine views to the north of Mescalito, Yoga and the higher summits around Bridge Mtn. To the east can be seen Ramp, Juniper and Gunsight Notch with the massive Rainbow Wall towering above. With the plentiful ducks there was no difficulties with route-finding and we both found it highly enjoyable.
We signed into the Branch Whitney register, one of the older ones in the area, dating back to 2009. Our half hour rest atop the summit gave Patrick plenty of time to refuel while we considered our exit strategy. Less than half a mile to the south at almost the same elevation lay Terrace Canyon Peak, our second objective. Between them is the deep canyon formed by the South Fork of the South Fork of Pine Creek which we needed to get across. Our plan was to follow the ridge west off the summit, angling south into Pine Creek, then descending to a fork before climbing back up to Terrace Canyon Peak from the west. It may also have been possible to traverse high around the entire drainage, but this seemed to involve significantly more mileage and a great deal of unpleasant-looking side-hilling. We followed ducks down into Pine Creek as planned, finding a use trail through what otherwise might be a brushy mess (this is probably the route used more often to reach Pine Creek Peak). After reaching the fork heading south and up to the backside of Terrace Canyon Peak, we saw no more ducks - this does not appear to be one of the regular routes used to reach that peak. Despite this, the route proved a good one, not too brushy, some challenging sections, and fun slabs over which ran a trickling creek. Near the head of the canyon, when almost due west of the summit, we turned left to climb out of the drainage, first over some broken slabs and talus, then onto steeper, but more solid sandstone slabs found west of the summit. We could have circled around to approach the summit more easily from the south, but I dragged Patrick up the steep west side (class 3-4) for the extra challenge it provided. Upon reaching a false summit, we found the true summit only a few minutes further east over easier terrain.
It was 1p when we reached Terrace Canyon Peak. Starting around 11a, a posse of three helicopters had been seen flying around the Red Rock area, swooping into and out of Pine Creek while we were navigating our way into and out of the drainage. At first we supposed there was a rescue operation underway, but soon concluded it was a training exercise. Now that we were atop Terrace Canyon with a good overview of the area, we watched them do practice landings atop Rainbow Wall and other landing sites. All very good to be prepared, but it left us feeling more like we were in a military training zone than a Wilderness area. After signing another Branch register, we started looking for a way off the east side. Not initially finding ducks where we were expecting them, we moved south along the ridge for a few hundred yards before calling for a re-look. I wanted to find the four star route off the NE Ridge and this definitely wasn't heading in that direction. Back near the summit, a more thorough search found what we were looking for and we headed off in that direction.
The NE Ridge route proved to be one of the best ones yet - a complicated bit of steep ridge-running that gave us a fine challenge. Ample ducks took the work out of the route-finding, but the scrambling in the class 3-4 range kept us alert and cautious. The route eventually drops right (south) off the ridge where it goes through a very steep and narrow gully with a fixed rope at the top. Just below the end of the rope, the route goes through an awkward tunneling move that had us laughing more than concerned. Another 15min down easier terrain led us to the bottom of Terrace Canyon where a small trickle of creek ran over some broad slabs leading lower to Pine Creek. Another hour would pass as we continued downstream before we ran into the first people we'd seen since morning - a trio of stream scramblers that had paused for a break to play in the cool water and take photos. Another fifteen minutes brought us to the same pair of mallard ducks that we'd seen on the approach, still milling about the same pool of water in Pine Creek. Below this, Patrick and I lost track of each other as we took slightly different routes in the lower portion of the creek. I was exploring a good trail on the south side of the creek that I hadn't used before, but soon found it wasn't rejoining the trail back to the TH as I had hoped. I began a somewhat rough cross-creek effort to rejoin the trail on the north side, hopeful when I spied another trio near where I hoped to find the trail. It turned out to be a mother with three young sons, somewhat lost and trying to find their own way back to the trail. The youngest, about 6yrs, had stabbed his hand on a cactus and was crying as young children are apt to do in such circumstances, even though the cactus no longer posed a threat. I offered to lead the group through the desert to the promised land (trail) I could see on the GPSr about 100yds further north. There was some non-trivial rock-hopping required in my choice of routes to avoid the heavier brush, so with his permission, I carried the youngest the remaining distance with the others trailing behind me. Some of this was tricky - jumping 2-3ft from one rock to another without dropping the lad nor overly worrying mom that I was going to drop him. Meanwhile, Patrick had spotted us and took up a position to watch us find our way across, wondering what I'd gotten myself into. I delivered the boy safely to the trail after about five minutes' effort, mom and the others grateful and happy to be safe once again. I don't think she was really worried about being all that lost, but was rather thankful that the crying episode didn't become an epic. I bade goodbye to the family and 20min later Patrick and I were back at the TH shortly before 5p. A good day's work!
This page last updated: Thu Jan 26 16:03:21 2017
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