Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Day 5 - November 28 (Tuesday)

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I got up before sunrise and cooked my breakfast before heading out to the scenic drive. I found a nice overlook and took some photos of the major peaks as the sun came up.

You cannot see the peak I'm going to do in this photo. Gunsight Notch Peak isn't as high as the surrounding peaks in the area. But the two major scrambling objectives in Red Rocks; Mount Wilson (left) and Bridge Mountain (right) are visible. 

White Rock Hills also looked spectacular in the sunrise. Once the nice light faded I went off to Pine Creek Trailhead which would lead me into Pine Creek Canyon.

At times on this hike I was sure I would die falling off the mountain, or in the canyon. The sign of a successfully challenging scramble. In hindsight it wasn't that bad, but having never been to a desert canyon before or done anything on sandstone I really wasn't used to the terrain. I cannot wait to go back and try something else in the years to come.

Totals: 10.2km / 656m / 7.5h. Indicating that travel was generally slow!

I started off down the trail with only rock climbers around me. 

They rapidly went off to their climbs as I left the official trail and headed down into the wash, and eventually the canyon. Which is just ahead here.

There was a lot of bouldering in the canyon. Cairns and arrows marked in white chalk (I think?) marked the way. So the route finding should have been easy. But at times I didn't know what the cairns wanted and/or didn't trust them. A lot of them were built more for descent than ascent I suspect.  So it took me a few minutes to solve some of the larger problems.

There were a lot of stemming moves, and trusting your feet on sandstone boulders which conveniently sloped the way you needed them to. 

More of Pine Creek Canyon.

After what felt forever, I passed some of the side canyons and finally was nearing the turn off. Which is not pictured here.

I had heard a group of at least three people behind me at times, and they were catching up at this point. However when I turned off for Gunsight Notch Peak, I heard them discussing which way to go and then never heard them again. I guess they were climbing a different peak. There are actually many scrambling peaks (as well as rock climbs) accessible from this canyon.

 I started up the main rock canyon for Gunsight Notch, that bends around to the left towards the peak.

The rock was very interesting and the  whole canyon was amazing scenery.

This rock formation in particular was neat.

However it got steeper and slightly slick were the moss was. I started to not trust I could stick to it and decided to try to a route more to the left. Following cairns for the first bit and coming back out onto an open area. From there I knew I probably should go right, but feared the terrain and kept left. I had to do a ~10 meter bushwack to get to the next open area. In the Rockies that would have been easy. Here the hardy desert trees and bushes didn't snap when I wacked them! Instead prickling me and forcing me to simply crawl through them. I made it to my open area which turned out to be a boulder field. I followed that up, nervous it wouldn't connect to the actual route. But it did, easily traversing to the right, back to the route starting next to a large dead tree. 

From there I followed a route along bits of broken slab, actual large slab sections of the mountain, and occasional rubble to the summit block. Finally making it out into the sun. A lot of cairns around here. Most leading you up steep slabs; which undoubtedly work, but you can find an easier route if you look around. I found mine back to the left again. The summit block was slabby, but I headed up with the confidence of summit fever knowing the end was near.

The summit was a welcome sight because half the route finding was done. I was a bit worried about my route down. First going back down the peak to the canyon (hopefully able to reverse everything including the bushwacking), and second finding the right detours around the drop offs in the canyon. This photo is looking east back out towards Las Vegas.

Looking north towards Bridge Mountain.

Looking west into the farthest regions of Pine Creek Canyon. Also the way I came up for the last little bit.

I headed down, and except for staying a bit too left to begin with, generally followed the exact route down I'd gone up. Which was more successful than yesterday. Much farther down; almost into the canyon I took another short break, then I went left on purpose to see what it was like. It was steep but manageable, though kind of slippery. I wasn't too disappointed I hadn't gone up that way. In the canyon I found the cairns were actually much easier to follow on the way down, therefore what they must have been built for. It went really fast. I'd feared on the way up that descent would be slow, but I was much faster than I thought I would be. Which is generally the case I find, at least with me.

At the edge of the canyon I saw some rock climbers far up a route. I also passed a lot of hikers. I could smell the soap on them from 10 yards away. Meaning that I must spell awfully good myself.

I headed into Vegas and went to Best Buy (despite swearing off of it, I know) to buy a cigarette lighter converter to charge my camera with. Then out to Lovell Canyon. It felt far away at the end of the day, but it really was only a half hour drive. There is a lot of space for dispersed camping, though not a lot of trees. I could hear the highway from where I parked, but you could easily go farther into the woods to get away from that.

Day 5 - November 29 (Wednsday)

I woke up after sunrise. A luxury I was trying to let myself have about every second day. Especially when I didn't need all the hours of light. I cleaned the covers off the windows, and got out of the car to find my lower back was aching quite badly. Maybe it was the thin sleeping mat, or maybe the angle I parked at. Which was downhill so I'd constantly been sliding into the trunk. Whichever, I didn't think I could safely scramble in my condition, and/or lacked motivation to do so. I'd planned on only the tiny Kraft Mountain, but I wasn't in good shape at all, and even the short 3.5h day was too unappealing. 

I finished up my breakfast (pictured here), and headed back off to Calico Basin in Red Rocks anyway. Standing in the parking lot looking up at the scrambling I just couldn't do it. Thinking of what else was available to me to do on the drive there, I'd remembered the Valley of Fire State Park which was just on the other side of Las Vegas, and basically on my way over to Zion. Once that thought was lodged in my mind; of a new place to explore and easy hiking on tourist trails, I couldn't get it out. So off I went. 

I certainly felt like I was leaving Red Rocks without truly experiencing it, except for my one peak yesterday. I have a lot of unfinished business there. Unlike in the Mount Charleston area; where I completed all my goals and saw the majority of the landscape, I'd barely scratched at the surface of the Red Rocks Canyon area. I will certainly be back. To spend my very first day of a trip here, when ambition and body are still fresh and sharp. Climbing Mount Wilson and/or Bridge first.

In the Valley of Fire State Park I started out on the Scenic Loop road at the western side. This was actually my favorite part of the park and I wished afterwards that I'd spent more time here. There road was half gravel so you could actually park on the side and get out and look at things here, unlike along the main White Domes Road. The rock formations were mainly red, but they were extremely varied in shape and wonderful to look at and play around on. An elderly couple were walking along the road and stopped to talk to me. They told me they were from Turner Valley in Alberta when I said I was from Calgary! 

However I thought I had to move on to do the main hike of the park that photographers do: Fire Wave (1.4 mile out and back). The hike took me to the Fire Wave rock formation which looks nothing like its photographs, which all seem to be taken at sunset (seriously, go look them up). In the height of the day it was rather unimpressive. I had thought it wouldn't be as nice in the middle of the day, but I didn't think the difference would be so great! Plus the top photos of it seem to be over-saturated for even better effect. I'm not kidding, this isn't a matter of photographic skill/camera used (for once), this formation wasn't particularly impressive in person at this time of day. Or maybe the sunset photos had just ruined it for me... that could very well be it.

So I continued to hike farther out from the formation; clearly off trail, looking for something else interesting. There wasn't anything, so eventually I returned. I hiked around to this side of the Fire Wave formation. However I didn't manage to remember the most famous angle, and didn't get that photo. I think you have to stand in the middle of the wave to get it.

Here is another photo of its northern lines. I like this angle best for the time of day that I hiked. The formation is quite pretty, but I wasn't about to stay for sunset. I wanted to be at my campground by that time. Which was more than two hours away from the park. So that I could be well rested for Zion the next day. 

I took another detour on a trail marked "one way", and got this nice view / photo opportunity. The sign though, was actually completely nonfactual and seemed to be an outright lie. The trail to the fire wave was not a loop, but an in/out trip. This trail marked "one way" was actually either an old relic of people wandering around, or a climbers trail. And should have been marked as such, rather than misleading people on purpose to make them avoid it by tricking them. Or maybe I'm misinterpreting the intention here.... perhaps in the future they plan on making a loop at the start of this trail? If someone knows better, please do correct me.

Afterwards I drove of to the end of the road to do another hike: White Domes (1.1 mile loop). This was an actual loop which takes you around some rock formations, past an old movie set, through a short narrow canyon, and then past some more rock formations. It was quite nice, and as I'd never seen photos of it previously, definitely not disappointing. I also changed from my approach shoes and soaks; which were just getting sand ground into them anyway, to sandals. Despite that the fact that obviously the sand go onto my feet even more through the sandals, I felt that for the short hike it was actually more comfortable in an odd sort of way. Here is a photo of the start of the short canyon.

After the short canyon showing the typical surface of great portion of most of these hikes: sand. Which definitely ends up forcing you to get more exercise as you hike the trails. If you've never hiked on sand its quite strenuous compared to a nice packed trail.

A pink and yellow rock I quite liked. As it did look just as good up in person.

Along the road was this amazing looking rock, which I found far more appealing that the Fire Waves one. It has red, white, pink, and yellow strips! However they had no parking areas anywhere near it, and several signs for no stopping right beside it. There was no shoulder on the road, so I simply stopped the car and took this photo out the window (checking behind me several times during the whole thing). I could have hiked cross country to it (and would have), if I'd had more time. It would have been maybe a ~4 mile return trip from either the north or south. But Zion was more important to me (or rather beating the crowds was), so I didn't. But its a shame they don't have an actual official trail leading here, no matter how long they chose to make it (to avoid graffiti or whatever other reason they wouldn't want you to be able to park right beside it, which is completely understandable).

I headed out of the park, and continued my drive north to where I would camp for the night. I stopped in St. George for gas and food, then continued onto the Dixie National Forest. Which I accessed through the town of Leeds.

Photo of sunset over St. George from the edge of the Dixie National Forest. This forest was a bit odd though. Unlike the other ones I'd been to, you were only allowed to "dispersed camp" in designated areas. Which isn't really my definition of the term, but as long as I got a spot not too far out I didn't mind. I had to drive only about 10 minutes down the road. The first 7 spots were occupied by RV's, some of which looked to be abandoned as no vehicle counterpart to pull them was in sight (and they were the towing type of RV). The site I took was farther off the main road, still free, and with plenty of trees/shrubbery so I was happy. I went off to bed, setting my alarm crazy early so I could guarantee myself a parking spot for hiking in Zion the next morning. About an hour's drive away. 

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