Fri, Mar 25, 2016
Mt. Wilson is the highest summit in Red Rock Canyon NCA. I had visited the summit earlier in the year on an unsuccessful attempt of the Cleaver Crack route which I had no luck in finding. I eventually found another way to the summit after which I traversed to South Wilson, but had more route-finding issues and never made it to the final two summits along the ridge, White Rock Pinnacle and Dead Horse Point. Today was going to make up for part of this, starting with an ascent of these two minor summits described in Courtney Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles. We would then continue north to Mt. Wilson before circling around to the south side of First Creek to tackle three additional summits. It was an ambitious outing, one I was looking forward to - after two days with hours spent scrambling up creekbeds, I was happy to get an outing that involved almost no creek work at all.
It was 7:30a when the three of us started from the First Creek TH along SR159. We had brought two cars because Patrick wasn't sure he was going to be up for the whole show and this would keep him from having to wait hours in the warm sun for us to return. Our approach did not go so smoothly after the first mile which simply followed the trail as it headed west on the south side of First Creek. We crossed First Creek a little too early and with Tom in the lead aiming for the wrong gully, we got off track. I wasn't paying attention as much as I should have been and by the time I recognize we were heading off-course we were much further east than we should have been. Correcting course didn't cost all that much, mostly just the extra effort to traverse in and out of several minor drainages to get us lined up for the East Gully as described in our guidebook. The East Gully is the first prominent one found north of First Creek, rising steeply to the notch between White Rock Pinnacle and Dead Horse Point. A long band of red cliffs is found immediately right and at the top of the slopes we climbed to reach the start of the gully. Ducks appeared at the top of this slope around 4,500ft, leading above the right side of the gully before entering the gully itself where the route begins to constrict significantly. Though not exactly plentiful, the ducks were sufficient to get us up most of the route. At a difficultly lower down, I found myself in a somewhat sketchy low class 5 chimney, grunting my way past it, before Tom found the easier route to the left, leaving me feeling a little foolish. The route proved to be an enjoyable one, clipped nicely through brushy sections and highly challenging. About halfway up the gully we could hear faint voices from below - another party soon to catch up with us? We would hear the same voices again but they never seemed to catch up and eventually we lost track of them. A first fixed rope was found helping us through a steep groove with poor holds, a second one at the crux where one must tunnel under a chockstone. Tom struggled some on the first one, hampered by a large pack and bloodied his leg some. Patrick began to express his hesitations about the route at the second fixed rope, worried that he was slowing us down and that he didn't have reserves for a long day after the previous two outings. Tom talked and shamed him through this difficulty, but it would prove a temporary victory - Patrick just didn't seem to have his head in the game today.
Above this crux, Tom led the way up some fun class 3 scrambling to the notch another 10-15min further. From the notch, a short, easy class 3 knife-edge leads out to the summit of White Rock Pinnacle, sporting only about 20ft of prominence. I went over to the summit while Tom waited for Patrick to arrive from below. I found Courtney's initials from 2014 in a busy register found in the usual ammo box, most of the other entries from 52PC parties. I rejoined the other two at the notch, finding Patrick more determined to turn back, Tom trying to work his magic once again. I climbed the short wall above the notch, wanting to get higher on the wall behind White Rock Pinnacle in order to get the classic picture of the others at the summit (as featured on the cover of Courtney's first edition). I didn't get it quite right, being a little too high (no, not that kind of high...), but it came out nicely. Only missing part was Patrick who decided the notch was as far as he would go. We reconvened back at the notch to try and gang up on Patrick, but he was pretty admanant. Without any knowledge of whether the route gets harder above, we could offer no reassurances and had to relent. Patrick would go back down, saying he'd look for something easier to climb afterwards.
Tom and I continued upwards, following ducks to Dead Horse Point less than 20min further. Circling around to the north side we found the "airy traverse over an abyss" to be rather tame and the final scramble up the summit block via vertical ledges easy to manage with generous holds. Though not as photogenic as White Rock Pinnacle, the higher Dead Horse Point has a better vantage from which to take in the surrounding views. Oh, and look - another ammo box with a Branch Whitney register inside - who'd have guessed? We signed the register and after a brief stay, reversed the downclimb off the summit block and started on the next leg, leading to South Wilson. This was a much longer stretch, taking over an hour along the impressive sandstone ridge, gaining another 1,000ft in the process. Once again, ducks took the guesswork out of the route-finding as we made our way along, scrambling the crest over fine rock, along ledges ( some easier, some harder) and other obstacles. A hidden gully led up through what at first looked like a show-stopping wall, eventually bringing us to the south side of the notch between the east and west summits of South Wilson. We climbed the west summit first (more difficult, but slightly lower), before regrouping atop the east summit that featured the summit register. The west summit is climbed starting just below the notch on the north side while the east summit can be climbed from the south, east (both are fun) or the easier north side. Though our day was hardly over and there was more fun to be had, this marked the end of the most challenging scrambling sections.
Getting from South Wilson to Mt. Wilson would occupy us for another 45min, mostly easy scrambling on the west side of the crest, with almost none of the exposure we'd had earlier. Tom paused to get a picture of what he thought was me reaching the summit, but turned out to be the false summit I recognized from my first visit. The true summit is another five minutes further north, reached after dropping a short distance to a saddle between the two. Just shy of 12:30p, we were beat to the summit earlier in the day by another party we saw neither coming nor going. The register was chock full of names over just a few short years, a testament to one of the most popular peaks in the area. Following another short break, our attention turned west. The original plan had been to follow the connecting ridgeline in that direction to First Creek Overlook, but Patrick and I had nabbed that as a bonus peak the day prior. Rather than repeat the comparatively uninteresting limestone summit, we looked to First Creek Peak, a minor sandstone summit poking out from the limestone escarpment to the southwest. In addition to also being a 52PC summit, it has an interesting looking summit block that was quite visible during our traverse to South Wilson. We followed ducks to the southwest down to the headwaters of First Creek, the easier class 2-3 way to reach Mt. Wilson. I had expected we'd drop well down in First Creek to around 5,400ft to a fork before starting up to the peak, but Tom had other ideas, hoping to traverse around the drainage to avoid much of the elevation loss. Whether intentional or not, he teased me out of First Creek by following what he claimed was an alternate set of ducks that somehow disappeared when I joined him. By now we were high on the SW bank of the creek and near the ridge separating the two forks of First Creek, so I suggested we go over to have a look into the second drainage. Where I expected to find cliffs and great difficulties turned out to be much more promising and we went with Tom's plan. This proved a very pleasant route as sheep/deer trails made the traversing across the slopes most tolerable and certainly easier/faster than had we stayed in the creek channels. The cube-ish summit block proved no impediment, with easy scrambling on the NE side, and by 1:40p we were atop First Creek Peak. Five peaks down, two to go, and it was looking like we were making great time while having a great time, too. Peak #6, Decision Peak, lay only 1/3mi to the south - this was going to be a piece of cake, right? We signed the First Creek Peak register before packing off to find out we couldn't have been more wrong.
Our guidebook had warned about the "super-loose, steep and unpleasant sandstone traverse between the two" but it seemed perhaps overstated, or so we hoped. The animal trails that had helped us reach First Creek Peak did not materialize for this next stretch and it proved annoying and awful. We had to traverse in and around several minor drainages with crappy, loose material everywhere, both of the sandstone and limestone varieties. Halfway along this 45min effort Tom and I got separated as he worked the low road while I tried a higher version, neither proving of much worth. Finally reaching a narrow saddle I turned northeast and made my way out to the "summit", really just a small bump at the end of the ridge before it drops into the sandstone bluffs below. I had last seen Tom just minutes before I reached the saddle and expected him to join me quickly, but after five minutes I began to suspect otherwise. I walked back up towards the saddle shouting several times before getting his attention. As I feared, he'd continued over the saddle and was making his way towards Indecision Peak. He wasn't helped by the fact that I was carrying the GPSr and he had only a vague notion of where the peak was. Unhappy with the direction things had turned since leaving Decision Peak, I thought he might just blow off Decision Peak and continue heading towards our exit, but he didn't. Muttering curses, he turned back towards the saddle and Decision Peak while I continued on, letting him know I'd wait atop Indecision Peak for him.
More crappy traversing ensued as I made my way southeast and upwards over loose limestone talus, through moderate brush and finally onto the main crest. The highpoint turned out to be not Indecision Peak (that was another half mile still to the SW), but unnamed Pt. 6,704ft. I moved to the leeward side of the peak to get out of the cold breeze blowing across it and settled in to wait for Tom. He was not long in coming, about ten minutes behind me. Unhappy to find this was not Indecision Peak, he later dubbed it No Decision Peak (which you can now find on Peakbagger.com). By now Tom was wishing to be done with the outing and expressed his opinion that the last hour had wiped out the positive attributes of the route earlier in the day. I took this as simple whining and called him on it, much to his displeasure. "What? I can't offer an honest opinion? Guess I better not say anything anymore since you'll just say I'm whining..." I was regretting that Patrick wasn't there to back me up on this one, but in the end it might have been better since they've been known to gang up on me from time to time. Better to Divide and Conquer - a well-worn battle strategy through the ages.
Things actually improved, at least for a while, once we started down from No Decision. Most of our efforts from this point would be downhill and the traverse along the crest to Indecision Peak proved easy at first and mildly challenging once we got back on sandstone. It was almost 4p by the time we reached our 7th and last summit atop Indecision Peak. Tom spotted a large cairn to the south showing the start of the descent route off the east side and we figured it was all gold from here. I had been promising a "good use trail" down from Indecision that I had recalled from the guidebook. As we followed cairns down a first gully, then on a traverse out onto the sunlit ridgeline to the south and further down, I imagined the "trail" getting better when in fact it was little different than any other duck-led scramble we'd been on. At least we were going downhill and the route was decent. Eventually we came upon the end of the ducked route more than 1,000ft above the desert floor and found ourselves descending a most disagreeable boulder/scree gully that was just awful. Later we learned that my memory had confused the descent option for Black Velvet with that for Indecision and that there was no good trail of any sort here. This one was on me and I felt bad about it, giving some justification to Tom's whining. The crud gully went on seemingly forever but probably only about 30min, eventually getting us to easier terrain below and thence to the First Creek Trail. It would be almost 6p by the time we had returned to the TH, tired and spent. The sun had just disappeared behind Indecision Peak behind us, a good time to call it a day.
Despite the unpleasant parts, I thought the day a great success, while Tom held a more guarded opinion that even a few beers weren't going to loosen. Time would be required to allow the better sections of the day's adventure to bubble to the surface of the memory recall efforts. Time often works so much better than alcohol...
On his descent, Patrick came across the other party, a couple who had reached the crux at the second fixed rope. Just as the guy was telling his companion that this was as far as they could go without gear, Patrick appeared from above and dropped down through the hole. Patrick's appearance seemed to contradict what the woman had just been told and things looked awkward at that point. Patrick continued down without knowing whether they would continue up or retreat. We were hoping Patrick would report a nice afternoon hike in the Calico Hills or similar, but it seems he did not. Despite being armed with a copy of Courtney's guidebook and two full loops around the Scenic Drive, he never got back out the rest of the day. At dinner that night he tried to explain this to us but it came out as "Blah, blah, blah my heart wasn't in it blah blah blah."
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Wilson
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