Mon, Nov 23, 2009
My first visit to Red Rocks, NV had been more of an end run around the back side from the west to reach Bridge Mtn. During the traverse over connecting ridgelines I had gazed enviously down at the canyons on either side that cut deep into the mountains and made for an impressive sight. Matthew's suggestion for our adventure today was an ascent of one of these canyon, a traverse across a handful of summits, then the descent of another canyon to make a loop back for the return. It sounded like a fine adventure. I had done no research on the routes or summits myself and was relying on Matthew to come through with the homework on them. He did.
We were at the Red Rocks entrance gate only minutes after they opened at 6a, still half an hour before sunrise. Our Federal Lands Annual pass saved us the $5 entry fee at the kiosk and we were soon on our way around the 13-mile one-way loop road, the main access for the many canyons, rock climbing areas, and hiking trails. We drove to the Oak Creek TH parking where we found another car with a party of four preparing for a day of rock climbing. They eyed us suspiciously, wondering perhaps if we were there to steal their route. That we had only daypacks and little climbing gear helped relieve their concerns, I suppose. We were only a few minutes behind them in starting off on the wide trail towards the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon.
We passed the other party after about fifteen minutes. Getting by them was a bit like passing a relunctant motorist on a mountain road. Not sure why they might think we enjoyed hanging out behind them, but eventually I had to ask (and kindly received) permission to pass. The trail heads east towards the narrow canyon squeezed between the impressive rock features of Mt. Wilson on our left and Rainbow Mtn on the right. After a few trail junctions the Oak Creek Trail ends its maintained portion and breaks up into a number of braids found on the right side of the canyon. With various amounts of ducking, the braids intertwine, rejoining and breaking up again. Some go higher to the right where there are a number of rock climbing routes on the sunny southeast faces. We followed one thread that led down to the canyon bottom and from there we just headed up the canyon, taking the right forks wherever a major fork was encountered. The route was ducked almost excessively and we joked about the Nevada folks enjoying their ducks. It looked more like an HPS route in that respect than the sparsely ducked routes we were used to from the DPS peaks elsewhere in the desert.
The route was a highly enjoyable scramble up a dry creekbed with huge boulders, brush to evade, some tunnels to discover, and a host of challenging features that can make hiking up a canyon most enjoyable. Most of what we encountered for the first hour in the canyon was class 2 with some easy class 3. Higher up the canyon had some obstacles in the way of cascades and smooth sandstone walls. We were forced to follow the ducks high on the right side of the canyon to a class 3 friction traverse to get us back in the canyon bottom above this major obstacle. Not a fan of exposed friction climbing, Matthew balked at this crux section and began to look for a way around. I watched from the safety of the opposite side as he failingly looked for an alternative. After about ten minutes he announced he was going to head back and climb some other feature that he named. "What?" I asked in some disbelief, "Why don't we just use the rope to belay you?" Apparently he was worried about slowing me down and that there might be a good deal more of this. It was only 8:30a and we had no great number of miles to hike by our intended route, so I let him know he was being silly. We got out the rope and belayed him across, the only time we needed to use the rope all day.
We continued up the canyon, alternating from shade to sun as the canyon turned one direction then another. There were more smooth slabs of sandstone in fantastic displays of color and layered patterns that we surmounted on our way higher still. By 9a we had reached the small forest where our beta (and the ever-present ducks) suggested was time to leave the canyon and head for our summit. For half an hour we toiled up the light-colored talus that carpeted the slopes. The whitish rock gave way to more solid-featured orange rock that crowned the ridgeline we approached. It seemed at this point that we must be getting close to our summit, perhaps fifteen minutes away, but it was much further than that we came to find - more than an hour of scrambling yet to do.
We followed up a steep friction ramp over the orange rock to a small saddle on the summit ridgeline. The other side offered our first view of the canyon to the north that we hoped to descend. A large cairn marked this point as somehow being of great importance for no obvious reason - perhaps it was just built by someone bored and waiting for the rest of their party to catch up. From the saddle we turned east and started following the ridgline and ducks encountered along the way. Rather than follow Matthew and the ducks around the left side of one feature, I decided to climb an interesting crack system up about 80ft where I found myself atop a lower, flattish summit with no other exit. I called down to Matthew to see if he could see something from below that I couldn't, but he found nothing promising. Back down I went and it was another ten minutes or so before I could catch back up with him.
The most interesting scrambling was about halfway along the ridgeline where we had to downclimb to a saddle before climbing up to Rainbow Mtn. The downclimb was improbable class 3, exposed, and had non-trivial route-finding where the ducks for once proved helpful. Once down this section, it was an easy 15 minute hike up to the summit. We had a fine view south to Mt. Wilson and northwest to Rainbow Wall and the lower grounds of Red Rocks and Las Vegas before us to the east. We took a short break here to eat some food and bask in the sun and views.
We spent the next 45 minutes retracing our steps and then climbing over to the higher Rainbow Wall. The views were somewhat better, taking in Bridge Mtn to the north and Pine Creek Canyon off to the same side. At this point our route began to vary from the intended route as we searched the north side of Rainbow Wall for a descent route in that direction to our next objective. Here the ducks seemed to fail us when we needed them most. Having received our beta from Courtney via email some time ago, Matthew revealed that Courtney hadn't actually done this next section of the traverse which may have accounted for the directions becoming somewhat vague here. Somewhat unexpectedly we found ourselves back at the saddle with the oversized duck. We continued down, keeping an eye to Pine Creek Canyon, but could not determine if a route down to it was cliff-free or not. At the lower saddle between the two major canyons we gave one last look in the unknown direction before deciding on the safer course of action to return via Oak Creek Canyon. We could always come back another day and try the route from the Pine Creek side, we reasoned.
The descent into the canyon was better than the talus route we had taken out of it, as we found mostly talus-free slabs along this route we took down from the saddle. Once in the creek below, we followed the same route we had taken on the ascent, reversing the high traverse without the need for the rope this time. Matthew made wry note of my lack of photo-taking when he soloed it this time, unlike my papparazi efforts when the rope was used earlier. I just smiled.
Before exiting the canyon we began hearing voices which we soon discovered were coming from up on the south walls of Rainbow Mtn where at least two groups of rock climbers were plying their hobby in the last hours of daylight. We watched them for a few minutes, then continued our hike out of the canyon, returning to our car by 2:15p.
I would have been happy to call it a day, but Matthew wanted to salvage our miscarraige of the day's original plan with an additional peak. Thumbing through Zdon's book, the nearest peak that could be reasonably tackled with the remaining daylight was Mountain Springs Peak. This unofficially named summit is located at the south end of Red Rocks, not far from the small town of Mountain Springs (Zdon drops the second "s" in "Springs" as is done for the benchmark name on the 7.5' topo, but "Mountain Springs" seems more appropriate). We drove back out to Blue Diamond Hwy and then west past Mountain Springs Summit as directed. The trailhead seems to have deteriorated some over the years and it wasn't until 3p that we managed to find the location referred to in the guide.
The hike is not very long and of no great difficulty. We followed an old road to its end at a saddle, then started cross-country up the ridgeline to the main north-south crest of the Spring Mountains. At the crest we picked up a use trail and ducks leading towards the summit (the use trail also continued south towards Mountains Springs Summit, making us wonder if there wasn't another trailhead in that direction). We had views of Potosi to the south and Las Vegas over the crest to the east. It was 3:50p when we reached the summit and the battery on my camera ran out as I took the last picture of the benchmark we found at the top. It was growing windy and increasingly cold as we put on gloves and jackets and balaclavas as well. We did not stay long, wanting to get back down before dark. We managed this fairly easily with some downhill jogging, getting back to the car right at sundown around 4:30p.
We went back to Las Vegas to shower and eat, then drove north out of town on US95. We planned to climb Hayford the next day and found a suitable place off the highway a few hundred yards along the dirt road to Corn Creek Springs. The wind blew cold and constantly that night but we slept soundly and warm in our vehicles. Car camping at its best...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Rainbow Mountain - Rainbow Wall - Mountain Spring Peak
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