Veterans Peak
The Monument RS
Hidden Peak 52PC / RS
Mountain Spring Peak 2x P500 DS / RS
Black Velvet Peak 52PC / RS
Whisky Peak RS

Sun, Mar 27, 2016

With: Tom Becht

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


Patrick had gone home, leaving Tom and I to tackle an ambitious loop in the southern part of Red Rocks by ourselves. At our camp location off Moenkopi Rd, I was awaken at 2am by rumblings in my bowels that had me feeling I was a victim of food poisoning. Lying there in the back of the van, I couldn't decide if my body was going to vomit or crap out something nasty, or perhaps both at the same time. This was not a good scenario and I didn't want to make a mess of the van or the area where we were camped, so I drove to a more remote part of the road and parked while waiting in the front seat for the mix of food, water and gas to figure out which way they wanted to be expunged. Things eventually came out the bottom end in as messy a fashion as one might imagine, several times, in fact, before I was able to get back to sleep an hour later. In the morning Tom drove by on his way to the restroom at the campground, wondering why my van had moved. He reported the same problem as myself which we chalked up to salads we had consumed at BJs Restaurant the night before. I had thought I might have to cancel the outing we planned for the day but luckily we both felt better come sunrise.

The day's plan was modeled off one I pilfered from Harlan Stockman's website, allowing us to pick up six summits around the Monument/Black Velvet area of Red Rocks. Two of these were on the 52PC list, all of them (with the exception of Veterans) found in Courtney's Rambles & Scrambles that we'd been using over the past few months on our visits to the area. We drove to the Late Night TH off SR160 where we left my van, carpooling in Tom's Element. The TH appears to have been recently constructed, with ample parking, new restrooms and a gravel lot for equestrian parking. It appears to be popular with mountainbiking enthusiasts, a staging point for the network of bike trails found in this part of the park. The Black Velvet Rd is found at the eastern edge of the equestrian lot and can be followed for about 3mi to the Black Velvet TH. The forks are unsigned and we took one wrong turn before figuring things out. For the correct route, stay heading north when the road turns in that direction, ignoring side forks to the left until stopped by a gate. Then turn left and drive to the TH. Easy as pie.

It was 7:30a before we started out, not all that early, but we didn't expect it to take too long today. We started on the trail leading west into Black Velvet Canyon. Our route today would circle around this drainage without actually hiking in the canyon, much like our effort two days earlier circumnavigating First Creek. As we approached the mouth of BV Canyon we turned right off the trail at a creek fork found at the base of Burlap Buttress. Ducks led up this lesser canyon north of Burlap, plentiful enough to get us through several other forks and turns in the route as it climbs steeply up the narrowing gully. A fixed rope was found at an awkward mantling move. Just below the rope someone had installed a steel chain tied to two bolts perhaps 18" apart. Near as we could figure, this was to be used for a foot stand to go with the rope above. It seemed rather out of place and we noted in the register later that someone referred to it as "an embarassing botch job." Despite this, the route proved a good one, a four star, class 3-4 effort that took us most of two hours to reach our first stop atop Veterans Peak. This peaklet is really just an outcropping on the SE Ridge of The Monument, having little prominence. But it makes for a very nice view spot and some good pics as well. We signed the register dating to 2012 (probably the same time that Branch Whitney named it) before continuing up.

The Monument is only 15min above Veterans with good scrambling up what at first seems an improbable face, ducks again doing the route-finding for us. The summit is far broader than Veterans and frankly not all that great, though the views are quite nice. We could see another party to the west making their way to Hidden Peak which was only about 1/6mi further to the west. It seemed like we ought to be able to easily beat the other party to the top, taking only 5-10min. In fact, it was much tougher than that, taking more like 30min. There were no ducks leading west that we could find so we went without. Our first guess, the direct route, led us to cliffs dropping to a notch with Hidden Peak that we could see no way down. We bactracked some and explored other options to the north, but these also led to cliffs. Eventually we circled around to the first guess that had stymied us. We briefly considered a sketchy downclimb that we thought might work but neither of us were excited about, before Tom spotted a set of rappel chains. Ah! This had caught us by surprise, not thinking there'd be a need for a rope. Luckily we had one with us, two in fact, though only one 30m was necessary. As we were setting up, a shout came over from Hidden Peak, "Is that Bob?" catching us by complete surprise. Harlan Stockman himself was at the summit with two female companions. Here we were using his route and he just happens to be in the area at the same time. I went down first, the rope just making the length of the drop, then watched Tom come down in turn. After coiling the rope and stuffing it back in my pack with the harness, we started up to Hidden Peak, separating about halfway up to find two different ways. My route circled behind the three at the summit who were looking east, wondering where we were. I tried unsuccessfully to sneak up on them unaware. I got a picture from a distance but did not get very close before one of them turned to spy me. We spent about 30min visiting with the three, getting some pointers on the remaining route from Harlan (only thing I remembered was to "look for a tunnel" on the way to Black Velvet to avoid difficulties). We took some group photos before parting ways, Tom and I leaving a few minutes ahead of the other three who were still gathering up their gear.

The next hour involved much less scrambling and more hiking as we moved from the sandstone bluffs to the limestone crest found behind it, first climbing to Pt. 6,616ft before turning south to the day's highpoint at Mountain Spring Peak. The 3/4mi hike was made even easier by a good trail that plies the limestone talus along the crest. It was noon when we reached the top where we found a benchmark but no register. We next turned ESE and headed down the ridge connecting Mountain Spring with Black Velvet. Halfway down the ridge we came across another party (from Colorado, judging from their tshirts), this one comprising a couple on their first foray in Red Rocks. They had climbed Windy Peak earlier in the day and were just retreating from an unsuccessful attempt on Black Velvet. They reported finding no way through cliffs found shortly above the connecting saddle. We asked if they found the tunnel, but they had neither found one nor had known to look for one. "Did you see any ducks?" I asked near the end of our brief encounter. "No," the woman replied before we bid each other well and parted.

We continued down the ridge, moving back from the limestone to sandstone and almost immediately picked up the well-ducked route leading down to the saddle and then up the other side. They led right to the key, non-obvious tunnel. "How could they miss this?" we wondered, finding it only 10min after our parting. It then occurred to me that being from Colorado, they may have had no idea what I was referring to when I had asked if they'd seen any ducks. In fact, they probably thought that the oddest question to be asking while we were discussing the route, which made us both laugh. We crawled through the tunnel and followed more ducks the rest of the way to Black Velvet's highpoint another 20min further east. A small register found here in a plastic tub comments what we already knew, that most folks consider the lower point to the north to be the "true" Black Velvet. Epinephrine, an incredibly popular rock climbing route, climbs the NE wall that tops out on the lower summit. So we made the 10min trek to the lower point, found a second register which we signed, then returned to the East Ridge of the higher point. This is the well-ducked decent route used by those climbing Epinephrine, a good use trail developing over the years. The route is fairly tame with none of the good scrambling we'd had earlier, but it's scenic and easy to follow. A number of large ducks mark the point where one drops northeast off the ridge. With one last bonus peak before we were done, we were careful to look for (and find) the point where ducks split the route. We traversed left, or north towards Whisky Peak, dropping to a saddle before climbing to the summit. A pair of rock climbers had recently finished a route on the north side of Whisky and were descending back down as we were passing them on the way up. Now 2p, we paused a while to take in the views offered by Black Velvet's impressive NE Face. We spotted three parties about half way up Epinephrine making slow progress towards the summit. Would they reach the top before dark? They still had more than 7hrs of daylight, so there didn't seem to be any reason for concern. After we bored of that, we returned to the saddle and continued down the East Gully, eventually making our way back to the trail and then the TH not long before 3p. We thought the route better than the First Creek loop two days earlier, not just because it was shorter but more because it had none of the tediousness that other loop had entailed.

We drove back to the parking lot where we'd left the van and said our good-byes, Tom heading back immediately for home in Los Angeles. I showered first before heading out, stopping in town for a few hours until the sun went down to avoid the heavy traffic returning to LA. I didn't get as far as I'd hoped - traffic began to slow as I went through Baker and was down to a crawl well before reaching Barstow. So I simply pulled over at the next exit and found a quiet dirt road away from the highway to sleep. Makes things a lot easier when you have a traveling bed...


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