Boot Boulder RS
Fork Peak RS
Sandstone Peak RS
Cottonwood Peak P300 RS
Cottonwood Peak North RS

Wed, Feb 22, 2017

With: Tom Becht

Sandstone Peak
Cottonwood Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3


The main event for the day was a hike to Fork/Sandstone Peaks in Red Rock NCA, supposedly one of the most difficult of the sandstone peaks to reach by scrambling via the easiest route. In his guidebook, Rambles & Scrambles, Courtney suggests that to avoid private property, one should start from the Spring Mtn Ranch State Park. The problem with that, we found the previous day, is that the ranch doesn't open until 8a - not exactly conducive to a sunrise start. To avoid sitting around for an hour or more, we hit upon climbing Boot Boulder first, an easy exercise from the Scenic Loop Rd (which opens at 6a) that would take us an hour and a half or so. Later in the afternoon, after finishing with the first three, we gave Tom's Jeep some exercise in the Bird Spring Range south of SR160. All in all, a very satisfying day.

Boot Boulder

This minor summit can be most easily reached from Rocky Gap Rd off the Scenic Loop, parking at one of several lots around the Willow Spring Picnic Area. Boot Boulder is less than half a mile from the road to the northwest. We found our way across the creek, a minimal amount of water flowing here despite recent rains, and after pushing through some brush on the opposite bank we climbed onto the SE Ridge. An enjoyable 35min were spent scrambling along the ridge under sunny skies (but still that pesky, cold wind). There was no trail or ducks, none needed, thank you. Boot Boulder's summit is a large, prominent block of sandstone rock along the ridge with no easy way to the top. Courtney describes the class 3 northwest corner as "spooky" due to exposure, but neither of us found it particularly so as the holds were large and plentiful. The views take in the northern parts of Red Rock NRA, with a fine look at the much higher limestone formations behind us to the west and north. We had spotted ducks as we had neared the summit block and decided to follow these down as an alternate return. They led down to the creek on the south side of Boot Boulder which then had to be negotiated back to the road. With lots of water in the creek, there was also some brush to deal with and overall it seemed our ascent route was both more direct and more enjoyable than this one.


We drove back out to SR159 and then to the state park for the start suggested by our guidebook. The "private property hassles" aren't really private property at all, but portions of the state park that are marked as No Trespassing for some sort of reserve. The No Trespassing areas block access to the canyon on the north side of the summits from the adjacent BLM lands, but the state park has a nice system of trails that go right from the parking lot to the mouth of the canyon, avoiding the closed areas. Aside from the late 8a opening, the only other downside is the $9 fee required to access the park. The trail system takes one southwest past a pictureque reservoir in an elongated loop. At the far end, one can pick up one of several use trails that thread their way further southwest into the mouth of the canyon, eventually ending in the creekbed. Time for the scrambling part.

Our route was roughly modeled on a map grabbed from Harlan Stockman's site a day earlier. The scrambling up the creek is an enjoyable mix of boulder hopping and scrambling, the creek delightfully bubbling along all the while, high enough to keep the route-finding challenging without being annoying. We kept left at several forks until we were somewhere on the west side of Fork Peak after about 2/3mi of creek navigating. We noted that Harlan's map showed he took somewhat different routes going up and down at the base of the West Face. Without knowing which was preferred, we started up early to match one of his options, only to find this probably wasn't the better route. We guessed Harlan had done likewise to use this (or similar) for the ascent, but found a better way down later. Our guidebook was only marginally helpful on this one - Good luck; I failed on my first attempt too, the only real help coming by mentioning the West Face. We could have read other reports but we didn't want things to be too easy - just enough to make sure we don't fail. Our start was a little stiff at class 3+ and at one point moved to class 4 on an exposed, 15-foot wall. After surmounting this difficulty I provided Tom with a sketchy-looking cheater foot, basically jamming an arm in a crack and lowering my foot for him to use as a handhold. The foot grab became a knee grap which became a leg grap, Tom not liking the wavering motion of the holds while struggling up this section. Pretty certain we weren't on the usual route, we traversed south along the face until we came to something that looked more reasonable.

We'd found what turned out to be the key slabs which rise to a notch on the north side of Fork Peak, providing what appears to be the only reasonable scrambling route from this side, with big cliffs to the right of these slabs. The slabs were steep sandstone with decent grip that make for a pretty direct ascent. One can favor a modestly brushy groove to the right down which a small trickle of water was flowing. We moved from one to the other as seemed best, eventually finding the first duck of the route at the notch around the 5,400-foot level. Upon reaching the notch, things get quite a bit easier as the slopes become less severe. One can continue upwards on an easterly traverse to the saddle between the two summits, probably the easiest route. We chose to start upwards to the south immediately after the notch in order to reach Fork more directly. This involves more steep slabs, but it worked nicely and got us there in quick fashion, just before 11:15a. The Fork register attests to the low popularity (for a Red Rock summit), placed in 2004 but having only 8 pages of entries.

Traversing to Sandstone is a fairly non-technical endeavor from Fork, taking about 20min over mostly class 2 terrain. Sandstone Peak affords better views overlooking Las Vegas and the desert plains to the east. Sandstone's register, also found in the usual green ammo box, had entries almost identical to those on Fork - not surprising considering the 2-for-1 nature of this outing. After a brief snack break, we headed back down through the notch and down the slabs, this time following them most of the way down to the creek. There were more ducks encountered lower, below the slabs, but not in sufficient numbers to actually help with the descent. We found things pretty brushy near the bank of the creek, eventually emerging onto easier sections of creek that led back down to where we joined our ascent route from a few hours earlier. It would be just after 1:45p by the time we returned to the parking lot at the state park, making for a 4hr45min effort.

Cottonwood/North Cottonwood

We initially made a hurried effort to do a late afternoon scramble to Windy and Global Peaks a few miles south of the previous two, but decided to abort that attempt while we were driving the rough dirt road in from the south via SR160. Further reflection told us it would be better to save those for the next day when we wouldn't be rushed for time and perhaps this afternoon would be better served with some easier summits to round out the day. Back at SR160, we struck off south on the dirt Cottonwood Valley Rd which leads south for 12mi up Cottonwood Valley, over Cottonwood Pass and down Goodspring Valley to the small community of Goodspring. The road starts off quite nice but soon grows a bit rough, though nothing really for the Jeep. Tom's Element might have negotiated the road with a little coaxing but my van stood no chance. We drove up to Cottonwood Pass and down the other side for about half a mile until we were roughly between the two peaks to the east that I had identified from the GPSr. We unexpectedly found a spur road heading up to the high saddle between the two peaks which would transform a modest hike into a leisurely one. Our hike would cover about 2mi roundtrip, with only about 600ft of gain. The wind was again howling over the crest of the Bird Spring Range we hiked along, the only thing that kept it from being a walk in the park. The east side of the crest is a steep escarpment that drops dramatically on that side to the desert floor below. We found registers at both summits, recently placed as geocaches in 2015. Richard Carey had visited the southern summit that same year and donated one of his signature red cans to protect the glass jar. Both summits had most recently been visited by Harlan Stockman on a long traverse of the northern part of the range back in November. He'd signed in with one of his nome de plumes, Hugh de Q. Returning to the Jeep a little after 4p, we decided our little afternoon outing had been enough to call it a day and reward ourselves with beer. Either we were really thirsty or the drive was a long one back to the highway, making it a 2-beer drive back over the pass and down Cottonwood Valley. Another tough day was in the books...


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