Fri, Feb 18, 2022
Tom and I had been to Arizona Hot Spring two months earlier with my pal Eric. It is found along the Colorado River about 5mi south of Hoover Dam, and one of the better hot springs I've been to. We did a couple of peaks in the area, naturally, but did not attempt White Rock Canyon Peak because we'd heard it was technical and required a rope, which we didn't have. Since then, we'd heard varying stories, but they seem to coalesce around a bit of class 4 scrambling that may or may not call for a rope. We would bring one with us today to ensure success on a more determined visit.
We started from the AZ Hot Spring TH along US93 around 7:30a. We hiked the trail going under the highway, then took the left fork where the trail splits about ten minutes later. This would take us more directly towards the hot spring, in the opposite direction we'd used on the first visit. We reached a saddle in another 12min, separating White Rock Canyon to the north from the next one to the south where the hot spring is located. We left the trail here to make our way west along the connecting ridgeline to White Rock Canyon Peak, about 2/3mi in that direction. The cross-country travel starts off easily enough, but upon reaching an intermediate highpoint it was evident that our peak was still some distance off and the route to reach it not trivial. We dead-ended atop a cliff facing west, having to backtrack a few hundred feet before finding a way down through the cliff band to the north. Easier terrain then led us to the east and south side of our peak where the going turns class 3, passing our way through one obstacle or another as we made our way along the west side of the upper part of the peak to the crux section on the northwest side. Enroute, we passed by an alternate class 4 way up the west side that would likely have worked as well, though at the time we didn't know if it would lead to the highpoint. The northwest side has a crumbly slot with a large chockstone at the crux. One needs to climb crappy rock on the right side for about 15ft, then across a thin edge for 6-8ft to easier ground. I went up first, before the others had gathered below, followed by Iris, then Patrick. Patrick paused at the thin edge and asked for the rope that I was carrying in my pack. It took only a few minutes to set up a belay to allow Patrick to continue more confidently. Tom came up last, and an hour and a half after starting out, we had our group at the summit.
Almost all the names in the register were from the usual suspects - Harlan Stockman, Stav Basis, Paula Raimondi, Adam Walker. Paula enjoyed it so much that she made 4 visits over the course of two years. Views stetch out over the rugged volcanic Black Canyon area through which the Colorado River flows, though the river couldn't be seen from our vantage. After an appropriate summit stay, we reversed our way back down the crux much as we'd ascended, then headed off the south side of the peak to return more directly to the canyon below on that side. It was easier than our approach from the saddle, but it still took some time with a mix of class 2-3, eventually getting us to the sandy wash about 50min after leaving the summit.
We had simply to follow the easy wash/trail for about a mile to the hot spring. As the canyon narrowed, our arrival was preceded by a seep of water from the canyon walls that would grow to a small streamlet whose steaming waters would feed the pools below. The pools are artificially formed by sandbags across the narrow canyon in 3-4 places, forming decent-sized pools behind them. The highest pool is almost scalding hot, but each one gets progressively cooler. The 2nd and 3rd pools are the most popular. There were around 12-15 folks when we arrived, not really crowded. When I took off my daypack to change into my bathing suit, Patrick seemed to become suddenly alarmed. He had not been thoroughly informed as to how the hot spring here works and expressed some displeasure for being kept in the dark. There seemed to be a host of concerns, none of which I, or anyone, could relieve. He decided to skip the soak, initially planning to wait for us. When we said we guessed about 2hrs, and afterwards planned to continue downstream (one has to walk through the pools to do so), he gave up and decided to head back on his own. And quite abruptly, that was the end of Patrick for the day. The rest of us had an enjoyable soak, lasting almost two hours, with a host of others that had come for the same experience. Someone had brought their dog and cat along, the latter not looking to enjoy things nearly as much as the former. Afterwards, we packed up our gear, walked our way down through the pools and the tall ladder at the bottom, then found some quick privacy to change back into hiking clothes.
We wandered down the remainder of the canyon, the water from the pools having disappeared into the sandy wash before we reached the beach. The confluence with the Colorado River was busy with tents, kayaks, paddleboards and people who had brought all this gear for a longer stay. After a short tour along the river, we continued on the trail heading north to White Rock Canyon where we turned northeast to follow the canyon upstream. There is no water in the sand/gravel wash of this canyon, but clearly there can be torrents during high rainfall events. Our next goal was to revisit Liberty Bell Arch since Iris had not been there on our first visit, and Tom and I agreed it was worth the extra effort. We had spent some time on that first visit finding a class 2-3 route down to the canyon bottom in the reverse direction. This time, we used elements of that route with improvements that worked much better. We added some class 3 fun near the top of the canyon's rim on our way to the Black Canyon Overlook southwest of Liberty Bell Arch. This could have been avoided by continuing northwest to meet the trail instead.
Once at the overlook, we snapped some pictures of the river looking south and west, visited the nearby highpoint, then returned on the trail for about a quarter mile. Once due south of Liberty Bell Arch Peak, we left the trail to climb the class 2-3 slopes to the summit, only slightly higher than Black Canyon Overlook. From there, we got our first good view of Liberty Bell Arch to the north. After signing the register, we decided to continue north from the peak to pay a closer visit to the arch. Most of this is class 2-3, with a short cruxy section nearer the arch that is class 3-4. We found scrambling routes to both the top of the arch and inside the arch itself. The easier scrambling is along the top of the arch, class 3. It's not all that exciting from above because there's no way to see the arch from there. The inside of the arch can be reached from either the south or north side. The north side is more circuitous but easy class 3, the south side is more direct but airy class 4 via one of two possible routes (I used a chimney/crack on the far left side pointed out by Tom). After we had thoroughly explored the feature, we returned to the trail and made our way back to White Rock Canyon and the trailhead over the last hour. It was after 4p by the time we got back.
Patrick had departed upon his arrival hours earlier and headed to his hotel in Henderson. We would meet up with him again the next morning. I drove the three of us back to the Starbucks in Boulder City where we'd left Tom's truck, then parted ways. They would return to the campsite on the south side of town where Tom Becht planned to join us on his return from the Grand Canyon. I headed to Las Vegas where I was due to meet my wife. She'd flown in for a volleyball tournament she would be reffing at, the two of us sharing a room at the Travelodge for the next three evenings...
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