Sun, Feb 18, 2018
Our second day in Red Rocks saw the weather worsening - clear skies but high winds with gusts over 50mph. We thought we might get blown off the mountain tops and though the summits were downright unpleasant, most of the day was pretty good despite the winds. Cleaver Crack is purported to be the best route to Mt. Wilson, one of the three monarchs of the Red Rocks area. Our large group of nine from the day before had dwindled to a more manageable six. This was a much easier route compared to the previous day, low class 5 with a single handline. We took a rope and some gear for contingencies, but never needed them. In fact, all of the climbing gear returned to the TH before us.
We got started from the Oak Creek TH just after 7a, repeating the first mile of trail work for the second time in as many days. This time we went past the SE Face of Rainbow Mtn and dropped into Oak Creek where the scrambling begins. We spent the better part of an hour making our way upstream, a bonanza of boulders, slabs, dry waterfalls and all manner of obstacles. We turned left to head up the south fork where we came to the creek's crux and the route's only handline. It wasn't quite 8:30a at this point, but Mason and Chris decided to turn back, a little unexpectedly. They had recently returned from a winter trip to the Kaweahs and combined with the long day yesterday, they were pretty knackered and not feeling up to another big day. Since they were the ones requesting and carrying the ropes, we let them carry them back to the TH as well - we were feeling pretty confident that we could do without.
Down to four, we continued upstream. I went up the handline first while Scott went left looking for what he'd read was a class 4 ropeless alternative. The others watched him for a few minutes before following up the rope. Ten minutes later, Scott had given up the quest, finding nothing less than class 5, and joined us at the top of the rope. The rope dangles down from a manky bolt, lying at an angle against the sloping slabs at the top of the dry waterfall (though a trickle was flowing today). There are cracks to help with footing to make it unnecessary to actually use the rope, but the exposure is such that we all appreciated the safety aspect of having it there in case of a slip. Above the crux we soon came to a 3-way fork where the ducks seemed to give out. I knew we had to avoid the far left fork that leads up to Cactus Flower Tower as I had gone that way and gotten lost the first time up here. I also knew that the correct fork was up the middle, slightly left, where the route can be seen going up the narrow gullies in that direction. The trouble was getting there, seemingly blocked by brush or cliff at several attempts. The key seems to be to continue up the right fork for a distance to reach a break in the cliffs that one can then traverse left at to get into the correct drainage. A few more ducks in here would probably have been quite helpful but we managed via various means - when the route becomes unclear, we tend to spread out like ants until the route is reestablished and we come together again. More ducks appeared as we went under a shady overhang, leading us to the start of the route by 9a.
The route begins by climbing lots of slabs lower down, soon coming to a fork where one can take a fingertip traverse to the left into the next gully, or continue up slabs and cut over to the left gully higher up - we opted for the fingertip traverse. More slabs lead to the start of the first crack, a shallow one about six feet wide with several chockstones that present the only real, although minor difficulties. After the top of this crack the route moves back to the right into the original gully where the very deep Cleaver Crack is found. The crack itself is an easy walkup, 4-5ft wide - no technical difficulties here, but the walls rise up to great heights on both sides which makes this an impressive feature. We exited the crack just after 10a where the views begin to open up to Rainbow and the surrounding Red Rocks area. Mt. Wilson's summit can be seen as one climbs the gully to its head at a notch. Here the route turns to the right to climb steep walls up well-featured sandstone that I thought was the best scrambling of the whole route. There are many options here as one climbs higher and we kept on a line mostly to the left towards the summit. We eventually found ourselves on one of several use trails that have developed over the years leading to the summit and by 11a we had reached the highpoint. The wind was quite forceful here so we sheltered on the leeward side of the summit to get a respite.
We perused through the very busy register contents housed in an ammo box, adding our own entries as we snacked and took in the views. Within about 30min the wind would drive the cold into my body, rousing me to action and getting the others to join me heading off the summit. With the wind not quite as bad as had been forecasted, we decided to extend our planned loop to take in a few bonus peaks along the limestone crest to the west of the Red Rocks' sandstone. The first of these is First Creek Overlook, a mile to the west, found at the junction of First and Oak Creeks along a connecting ridgeline with Mt. Wilson. Most of this is an easy stroll over to the saddle with some modest scrambling, then the terrain turns sharply to gray limestone as the route begins to climb up from the saddle. Most of this is pretty straightforward with some decent but not great scrambling found at the end where the slope increases and the talus gives way to more solid rock.
Atop First Creek Overlook around 12:30p, we would spend the next hour hiking less than a mile along the crest to Oak Creek Overlook, another limestone summit. Our party seemed to struggle along the ridge as it took a good deal more than one might think for less than a mile of easy walking. We paused at one point about 1/3 of the way along when I noticed that Matt was nowhere to be seen. Seems he had taken his time getting off First Creek Overlook. While waiting, Tom said he was going to go over to the edge of the crest to take a leak. Matt then joined us, but immediately took off his pack and went over to join Tom who had his phone out, taking a selfie. I turned to Scott who gave me a shrug and the two of us continued on the ridge without further waiting. A few minutes later I hear a racket and look back to see Scott with a yucca stalk in hand, bashing the bulbous part againt the rocks as he walked along. At this point I judged we had simply lost our focus and asked Scott, "Did you guys all take acid back there and not tell me about it?" Scott looked at me, looked at the yucca stalk (he was trying to craft it into a walking stick) and then a grin. No illicit drugs. Perhaps just the wind and the hours catching up with us. Tom caught up with us as we found a neat window in the rock where we paused for a few pics. Matt hadn't quite caught up and I hurried to leave the hole, fearing a longer video session would delay us further yet.
We found no register at Oak Creek Overlook to some surprise. Tom noted later there is a second Oak Creek Overlook, the 52Peak Club version, found on the north side of Cactus Flower Tower. Our limestone version was from Purcell and seems less popular. Unlike First Creek Overlook, getting off Oak Creek Overlook and back to the sandstone is not an obvious endeavor. I recall having to make a circuitous ascent with Patrick on my first visit two years earlier and hoped to find a more direct route this time around. It started off promisingly with a neat bit of class 4 downclimbing just south of the summit to get onto the East Ridge, but we soon found the difficulties increasing with cliffs and sketchy slopes around us. There was much back and forth and searching around for ways off, but eventually we had to skirt towards the south to avoid the cliffs and then make our way back to the East Ridge over several crappy, steep and loose talus gullies. Ugh, ugh. A full hour was burned up in the effort and we didn't reach the saddle with Oak Peak until after 2:30p. Oak Peak's summit is less than 10min from the saddle fortunately, and we were soon atop our fourth and last peak, Tom happy to tick off another 52Peaks Club summit, a bonus he hadn't planned on.
All we had to do was get ourselves off the summit, back down into Oak Creek and out to the car. The easiest way would have been to head southwest off the summit into the South Fork of Oak Creek and follow that down, which is what Scott ended up doing. Another good route goes off the north side into the North Fork, used by Patrick and I two years ago on ascending Oak Peak. I got distracted by a series of ducks that led down the south side, then over and around to the East Ridge, a very exciting class 4 route that I had no idea existed. Tom and Matt both followed me on this venture (and Scott probably would have too, had he known it was a good one) which turned out to have the best scrambling of the day by far, with wildly exposed downclimbs, a handline traverse along a narrow ledge and lots of good, solid rock. We had nearly gotten to the bottom when the ducks we were following suddenly seemed to give out, almost as if the route had never been properly finished. As it was after 4p and we were already steeped in shadow, it made for some concern. I suspect that the route traversed north into the North Fork drainage, but we never fully explored that option. Instead, we sort of made up our route, dropping to the south into the South Fork drainage. Some outward sloping slabs that we had to traverse were the trickiest, but eventually we found a way down with minimal brush and exposure. It was after 4:30p by the time we were safely down in the creek bottom at a point we had passed by earlier in the day. From there it was a matter of scrambling back down the creek and then walking the trail back to the Oak Creek TH, another hour's effort. Scott was waiting for us at the TH when we reached it at 5:30p, the official closing time of Scenic Loop. We had seen Scott jogging down the creek hours earlier and knew he would be back well ahead of us. He was bundled up in extra layers to ward off the cold that had come quickly with the setting sun. As we were getting ready to drive back out, we spied a headlamp coming behind us down the trail and decided to wait to give them a ride since ours was the only car left in the lot. It turned out to be a couple guided by the light of their cellphone, elated that we'd save them the extra mile+ of walking back to their car just outside the Scenic Loop. We were a bit cozy with six of us in four seats, but it worked and made for a nice finish of another well-spent day in Red Rocks...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Wilson
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