Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Carbon Mountain, 7,844', Solar Slab, Purple Cliffs

Essence: Traverse the length of Carbon Mountain beginning from La Posta Road and ending at the Sawyer Drive gate of the Bodo State Wildlife Area. A short but rugged off-trail hike with unique features: incline friction slab, purple cliffs, playful sandstone escarpments, mountaintop vista of Lake Nighthorse, historic landslide, and even an old county landfill. All along are views of Durango, local topography, and the La Plata Mountains. Very steep and brushy in spots. You have to work for this point to point ridge hike; the descent route described here should be the preferred choice of summit seekers.
Travel: From US 160/550, turn west at the Sawyer Drive signal and go up the hill. The road ends in 0.4 mile at a green, steel gate. Drop a shuttle vehicle or a bicycle here. Parking is limited. Drive to the bottom of the hill and turn right on the frontage road which transitions to La Posta Road. Go past the scary stop sign at Turner Drive and turn right onto La Plata CR 213. Park in a small pullout below the Solar Slab, 0.7 mile down La Posta Road.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 5.0 miles and 2,200 feet of climbing for the traverse. Round trip for the standard summit climb from the Bodo SWA boundary is 3.0 miles with 1,250 feet of elevation gain.
Time: 3:00 to 5:00
Difficulty: Off-trail; navigation challenging; Class 2+; brushy, wear long pants
Map: Basin Mountain, Colorado 7.5 Quad
Latest Date Hiked: May 4, 2016
Bodo State Wildlife Area: Carbon Mountain is within the 2,923 acre Bodo SWA. The land was purchased by the state from Archie Bodo. It is closed to protect wildlife habitat from December 1 through April 15. Posted, dogs must be on leash.  
Quote: Only in nature do we have a being. In mere moments we have arrived. Joseph Wood Krutch

Carbon Mountain is one of Durango's neighborhood prominences but it is rarely visited.

Route: The black-line route is the standard and easiest approach to Carbon Mountain. It begins in Bodo Industrial Park and climbs the north ridge social trail. The steep and brushy blue-line traverse begins from La Posta Road with a friction climb up the Solar Slab. The out-and-back to the Purple Cliffs is optional. Scramble west along sandstone rimrock to Pt. 7,561'. Turn north, staying on the ridge to the site of the 1932 landslide and then go west to the summit.

From the turnout on La Posta Road, elevation 6,380 feet, walk up the road briefly and turn west into a minor drainage to access the Solar Slab.

Comprised of Farmington Sandstone, the Solar Slab is a pale olive color with abundant quartz, feldspar and mica. The Slab is a bedding plane that was tilted up at a high angle upon ramming into the San Juan Mountains. There are plenty of features in the rock to enhance your grip but you will want sticky soles and a modicum of courage for this friction pitch.

Look 250 feet down the incline to the Animas River and the ball fields at Escalante Middle School. Conversely, now that you know what to look for, the Solar Slab is clearly visible from south Durango locations. (Chris Blackshear, photo)

Clean sandstone transitions onto a equally steep dirt slope. Bearing northeast, pick a good line weaving around boulders, piñon and juniper. Just 0.4 mile from the road intersect the east ridge at about 6,860 feet. The high angled climb does not let up but it is ameliorated with a full spectrum valley-to-mountain vista.

Power west up the ridge passing a cliff band.

The Purple Cliffs rise directly above La Posta Road and stand out because of their eponymous color. You may skip this out-and-back if you wish; it adds 0.8 mile roundtrip and 300 feet of climbing. At about 7230 feet, 0.6 mile, leave the east ridge and descend south to the pleasant ridgeline that leads to the highpoint of the Purple Cliffs. A rocky outcrop projects from the prominence. Go right of an enormous boulder and up a little rocky chute. Take the next scramble on the ridgecrest. 

Top the Purple Cliffs at 7,080 feet. John Bregar, geologist, explained that the Purple Cliffs are Late Cretaceous McDermott Formation which is distinguished by its maroon to purple color. Some geologists attribute the color to manganese. Rock fragments, or clasts, ranging from pebbles to boulders are mostly igneous material, perhaps originating in volcanoes associated with the formation of the La Plata Mountain laccolith. The lowest massive portion of the McDermott Formation at the Purple Cliffs appears to be a volcanic debris flow that is now interposed between tilted sedimentary layers. 


Scramble down from the crest.

Rejoining the east ridge, climb another steep 250 feet to reach my favorite feature of this hike. Walk on top of sandstone rimrock. The cliffrock façade was once favored by Durango's bouldering community but there is no climber's trail and once evident chalk marks have faded away. However, we have them to thank for naming the Solar Slab in a climber's blog years ago.

There is just one tricky move on the escarpment.

At 1.7 miles, Pt. 7,561', the ridge makes an abrupt turn to the north. There are two, fun little scrambles between the prominence and saddle. The point is protected by a rocky outcrop. Find a way off to the west and curl back under the cliffrock. Stay on the ridgecrest while down-climbing through a second cluster of boulders.

Pass above the Durango Gun Club and then plow through a thick patch of oakbrush (long pants recommended).

At 2.2 miles, 7,500 feet, the ridge makes a 90 degree bend to the west. At this apex, you are standing on top of Moving Mountain! As detailed by geologist Paul Oldaker and articles published in the Durango Herald, one June night in 1932, Durango was shaken awake by a raucous and mysterious explosion. Six months later, a second blast deep underground rocked the town. Carbon Mountain, then three miles out in the country, was on the move and millions of tons of debris encroached on the Animas River. Boulders were hurled across the river, trees snapped. Fearful that the Animas would be dammed by the on-coming slide, Second and Third Avenue bootleggers moved their supply of hooch out of cellars while plans were made to tunnel the river.

The landslide was 100 feet deep, a quarter mile wide, and extended over a mile down the eastward slope. "Colorado's Runaway Mountain" became a tourist attraction. A hotdog stand near the base of the mountain was established for hungry visitors returning from a climb over the slide area. On-lookers stood spellbound as they watched a north Durango sightseer standing on the fractured rim lose his footing as the ground crumbled beneath him.  He was carried with the debris flow more than 1,000 feet, managing to keep abreast of racing boulders and surviving unscathed.

Leave the scarp and walk west on a sweet rock rib. Bash through oak scrub on a loose, precipitous slope before turning uphill on the north ridge social trail. As the path tops out and disappears you will come to an old road. Note this location carefully for your return trip. A cairn marks a path to the right leading to the summit. Mountain lion tracks were imprinted in the mud here on my recent hike.

A survey marker is located on the summit of Carbon at 7,844 feet, 3.2 miles. The relief from La Posta Road is 1,564 feet but given the undulations we have climbed 2,200 feet. Carbon Mountain is Pictured Cliffs Sandstone, a light-colored rock up to 70 meters thick. It is the same formation as the Pautsky Point ridge but the Animas River takes a big chunk out of this tilted uplift. The peak overlooks Basin Mountain, Lake Nighthorse, the La Plata range, Smelter Mountain, and Durango.

The peculiarly unnatural sight just north of CR 210 on the south skirts of Smelter Mountain is the 120-acre Bodo Canyon Disposal site. Managed by the U.S. Department of Energy, it contains former tailings generated in the 1940's through the 1960's from uranium ore milling for national defense programs. The disposal cell encapsulates and isolates 2.5 million cubic yards of uranium contaminated materials and is surrounded by a rock apron. The decommissioned processing site is now Durango Dog Park.

Walk west along the jutting edge where the daring have the most fun.

To return, the north ridge social trail is 0.15 mile east of the summit. Peg this path before heading down. This is the standard route up the mountain, steep and direct.

Stay on the north ridge until it curves around to the east, dropping into the valley just before the gate. If you are tempted by short-cuts no matter how annoying you can dive off the north ridge heading east as soon as the terrain levels out.

This image looks back at the standard route up Carbon on the north ridge.

Pictured Cliffs Sandstone overlies Lewis Shale. This dark grey to black formation is up to 600 meters thick in the Durango area and is also found in Horse Gulch.

Why is the appealing-looking valley so weirdly lumpy? It was once the county landfill, a free and open dumpsite where you could toss anything you wanted. It was operational from the end of World War II until the mid-1970's when Bodo Industrial Park was approved and constructed. 

Squeeze through the metal gate that posts the official rules for Bodo State Wildlife Area. The refuge is patrolled by wildlife officers so be in compliance.

Naturalist John Bregar, the guidebook you don't have to carry, identified these flowering plants in May, 2016: double bladder pod, mountain mahogany, bitterbrush, squaw apple, serviceberry, cliff Fendlerbush, skyrocket gilia, Easter daisy, primrose, lupine, rock cress, phlox longifolia, fleabane daisy, and orange globe mallow.

A serious amateur ornithologist, John identified the following birds: orange oreol, violet-green swallow, turkey vulture, white-throated swift, rock wren, raven, Cooper's hawk, plumbeous vireo, yellow-rumped warbler, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, pinon jay, spotted towhee, house finch, scrub-jay, Bewick's wren, vesper sparrow, western kingbird, and sagebrush sparrow.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Cathedral Rock, 7,957', and Window Peak, 7468'

Essence: A two-day backpack utilizing two major corridor canyons. Climb Cathedral Rock and Window Peak, and stand beneath Window Rock. Almost every peak on Pusch Ridge is a difficult proposition. Most require over 4,000 feet of elevation gain. Even primary trails are beaten routes through a stony landscape. Cathedral Rock is the highpoint of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness and the Santa Catalina Mountain front range. Given its remoteness and the correct proportions of excitement, difficulty, effort, unobstructed vista, and pure pleasure, it is the grand prize for Pusch Ridge devotees. Expect an extraordinarily high degree of solitude adjacent to a significant city. Anticipate an unprecedented thrill and transcendent adventure in this mythic rock wilderness.
Travel: This trip requires a short shuttle. First, drop a vehicle at the Ventana Canyon Trailhead. From Sunrise Drive and Kolb Road in Tucson, drive 1.3 miles north on Kolb Road to a brown Ventana Canyon Trailhead sign. Turn right and in one block, go left and drive through the overflow lot of Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. Park on the other side of a chain link fence. No water, no facilities. Drive back down Kolb Road and at Sunrise Drive, turn left and go 1.2 miles to Sabino Canyon Road. Turn left and in 0.1 mile, turn right into the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. Park in the paved lot, placing your Coronado Recreational Pass or National Parks Pass on your dash. Absent one of these, pay $5.00 for a day pass at the entrance booth or at the self-pay station. Water and bathrooms at the trailhead.
Distance and Elevation Gain: The two-day backpack is 22.2 miles and 8,100 feet of climbing; Cathedral Rock out-and-back via Esperero Canyon is 18.2 miles, 6,100 feet of elevation gain; Window Peak out-and-back via Ventana Canyon is 15 miles, 4,600 feet of climbing
Time: Two day backpack
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation challenging; Cathedral Rock has a 30-foot, very steep Class 5.0-5.2 crack with a fixed rope, and a Class 2+ move with considerable exposure; an arduous hike for skilled climbers; Window Rock, protected Class 3
Maps: Sabino Canyon; Mt. Lemmon, AZ 7.5 Quads, or Pusch Ridge Wilderness, Coronado National Forest, USDA Forest Service, 1:24,000
Dates Hiked: May 1-2, 2016
Pusch Ridge Wilderness Bighorn Sheep Closure: It is prohibited to travel more than 400 feet off designated Forest Service trails from January 1 through April 30, bighorn sheep lambing season. Cathedral Rock and Window Peak are off-limits during that time period. No dogs, ever.
Quote: You are what your deep driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is,
so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.
The Upanishads

Cathedral Rock from Window Peak. (THW, photo)

Route: Beginning in Sabino Canyon, take the Esperero Trail northward to the backpacker's camp at Bridalveil Falls. Leave the big packs in camp and do an out-and-back day hike to Cathedral Rock via the Cathedral Rock Trail and an off-trail route. The second day, from Bridalveil Falls, climb the Esperero Trail to a saddle southeast of Window Peak and make a short climb to the summit. Visit Window Rock on the way to Ventana Canyon, the exit corridor.

 This map is a closeup of the off-trail routes to the two peaks.

Esperero Canyon Trail To Bridalveil Falls Camp
From Sabino Canyon Trailhead 2,725', walk up the paved road. Cathedral Rock dominates other far-away prominences image-center. Go left onto Esperero Trail #25 at 0.7 mile.

Climb on perfectly angled rock runners and stone stairs enveloped in Sonoran splendor. At 1.4 miles Rattlesnake Trail heads off to the right. We are not getting to Esperero, the trail's eponymous canyon, any time soon. So many undulations! Drop to the floor of Bird Canyon at 2.2 miles. On another day, head up this canyon, plowing through the fountain grass and arrive at a  perfect shower fall in a couple of miles.

Next, the trail wanders back and forth across the floor of a canyon east of Mt. Miguel. It's darn steep for a canyon without a name. Another drainage comes in on the right at 3.1 miles. Our trail goes left at this juncture. However, if you want to climb Mt. Miguel another day, get on its east ridge here. It's just a blip on its own spine but a pleasant climb from the interior of this canyon.

Reach Cardiac Gap, Esperero Canyon's premiere viewpoint at 3.7 miles, 4,440 feet. Pause for a sobering view of today's quest and finally, see down into Esperero Canyon. The track stays on the east side of the canyon, achieving the floor in Geronimo Meadow at 4.7 miles, 4,640 feet. Altogether, the path loses 400 feet in elevation going in and out of canyons on its wandering way into Esperero. If you are climbing Cathedral in one day, the elevation stated above includes that figure. Crisscross the dry wash in the shade of alligator juniper and sycamore. The pale granitic bedrock is smoothed and softened by water. Tower cairns mark the crossings, mimicking the standing rocks that foretell the hike's future.

Reach Bridalveil Falls and the backpacker's camp at 6.2 miles, 5,320 feet. Beware! This moist region was thick with poison ivy in 2016. We are relieved to find streamlets of plentiful, clear water which we treat. The falls are not always running so be prepared with a fall-back plan. Either you hauled sufficient water, or it's game over. Stash the backpacks and exchange them for daypacks. The out-and-back to Cathedral Rock is 5.8 miles and will take four to five-plus hours.

Bridalveil Falls to Cathedral Rock:
The Esperero Trail steepens to gain an interior ridge. Turn right on Cathedral Rock Trail #26, 0.9 mile from camp, at 7.1 miles, 6,120 feet. It climbs right out of the gait into piñon-juniper country. Wrap around a corner for a vista all the way over to Rincon Peak, then follow the contour for a pleasant break. The thin track doesn't enjoy much use.

At 8.2 miles, gain Saddle 6,900' west of Pt. 7006'.  The summit of Cathedral Rock is clearly visible to the northwest. In this image there are two towers. The high point is on the right, the northernmost spire. The preferred route gains the summit ridge left of the south tower and right of the shaded cliff wall.

Leave the Cathedral Rock Trail and ascend a climber's path up the ridge to a flat spot at 7,100 feet with several small campsites. Here, the route turns northwest and holds that bearing to the summit ridge. Cairns in 2016 were dependable only to 7,440 feet, pictured below. The summit block itself is visible on the right.

The next goal is the summit ridge. Ideally, you will gain it just south of the south tower. Cairns in 2016 were intermittent and at times we were left stranded at impassible cliffs or other over-steep friction pitches. Work your way northwest up the slope. It is a bouldering experience with occasionally steep and moderately exposed friction climbing. There are multiple ways, some safer than others. If you get on a pitch that is too steep and exposed, find an alternative. For example, we didn't like the looks of this segment.

This alternative was better.

I pause to look at Mount Lemmon while climbing the pitch. (THW, photo)

At 7,800 feet gain the summit ridge. You will be somewhere in the region shown below. The next objective is the base of the northernmost spire on the ridge. The south tower is the prominence, image-right. Aim for the left side of it.
(THW, photo)

Pass west of the south tower while going down a dirt slope.

This leads directly to the base of the summit tower at a 30-foot crack (approximately) at 7,860 feet. In 2016 there was a fixed rope in excellent condition anchored to a piñon. However, be very careful using any rope you have not fixed yourself. We tested the rope with our full weight, but there is still some unavoidable risk in this. Some refer to this as a chimney but it really is a wide crack. Without the line, I would be out of luck. Given the rope, good arm strength, and powerful desire, the climb was quickly over. There is a small resting platform part way up. (THW, photo)

This image was shot from the ground as I near a chockstone that must be negotiated. I am not a technical climber. On the ascent I had one hand on the rope and was able to find holds for the other. The descent was more difficult and I "walked down the rope" with two hands. (THW, photo)

Once up the wall, go north and you will shortly arrive at the unmistakable summit block. Literally. It is one big chunk of solid granite. Here it is as seen from a companion boulder. So beautiful! (THW, photo)

Go around to the east side and make your last move. It is Class 2+ with solid holds on excellent rock with no-nonsense exposure.

I have dreamed of this moment for 15 years and I am ecstatic. (THW, photo)

Cathedral Rock is an arduous 9.1 miles from the Sabino Canyon Trailhead and we have climbed over 5,600 feet to this point. The crest is airy with room for about five people. It is on a slight slant and ferocious wind gusts keep us seated. The peak register is a useless wad of wet paper in a white pipe. We are most definitely higher than anything around us, 5,200-plus feet above Tucson. Look into the West Fork of Sabino Canyon and over to Romero Pass; only Mount Lemmon has this bastion on height, but not might. The see-forever view includes all the ranges of Southern Arizona. Looking at the image below, see the Pusch Ridge lineup from Window Peak to Table Mountain. Close by, the south tower stands out image-left, but there are clusters of standing rocks, rock stacks, rock spires all over looking so cool. I adore it when a mountain exceeds my wildest imaginings. (THW, photo)

Once off the actual summit it is fun to scamper around on companion boulders. (THW, photo)

Return to the Bridalveil Falls camp as you came and you will have hiked 12.0 miles and climbed 5,700 feet.

Day Two: Window Peak, Window Rock, Ventana Canyon Trail
The trek out of camp feels extra steep with the big packs. Upon reaching the junction with the Cathedral Rock Trail at 0.9 mile, stay left. Climb over toppled trees while following the contour on the underutilized track into the main drainage of Esperero Canyon. Boulders are massive, trees gigantic, towers look like castles, and clouds screech across the sky skimming the ridge. Once on the west side of the canyon, the trail climbs to the obvious saddle at 6,700 feet.

The views on both sides of this short-lived saddle are ultra dramatic. Bearing southwest, the path hugs stone to climb a cliff formation, winding between clusters of standing rocks--a perfect trail. Top out on a little bridge with a view of Window Peak.

Continue south on the trail to a saddle southeast of the peak at 7,300 feet, 2.4 miles from camp. It sits between Window Peak and Pt. 7,395'. From here, the summit is twelve minutes and 0.2 mile away. Leave the trail and walk northwest, staying on the ridge as best you can. It should feel protected. Go between two giant boulder stacks and up a rock ramp into trees. This is the only non-technical route to the summit.

The rock ramp will funnel you to the first Class 3 move. It is easy for tall climbers but a considerable reach for short people who may need an assist.

 The second challenge is immediate and even more fun climbing a stout, multi-trunk oak.

As you emerge from the tree, watch the exposure while taking the last steps to the crest. (THW, photo)

Window Peak is my favorite summit along Pusch Ridge. It is unusual for a peak comprised of multiple towers to be so accessible. Sitting rocks are flat and friendly and you can scamper all over the top. It is pure delight. I come every year to stand among mythical towers and to feel as if I am living inside a legend. Today, clouds give the castles a 3D effect. (THW, photo)

Back on the trail, bear west and then, tucked right up against the peak, go around the base of the summit towers to the northwest. The Circle of Towers region holds ice and snow late in the spring. Large ponderosa give way to a view of the Window Rock structure and the creature we call the Paladin of Ventana. (THW, photo)

From this south vantage point, on a preceding day we climbed the broad fin that holds the arch in an unsuccessful attempt to stand on top of the sky hole. However, we got a dazzling view of the Paladin.

Reach Window Rock at 3.21 miles 7,000 feet. The window is a glorious, solid granite gneiss opening with a 200 foot drop on the west side. Today, a venturi effect is ripping wind through the opening. (THW, photo)

Descend northwest down stone steps and onto a ridge wonderland. Look over to the west side of Cathedral. The Esperero Trail drops well into Ventana Canyon before its terminus 4.5 miles from camp at 6,200 feet.  Finger Rock Trail #42 initiates here and goes west toward Mount Kimball. This is one of my very favorite sections of the Pusch Ridge trail system and it sees infrequent use.

Turn left on Ventana Trail #98. The upper portion of Ventana Canyon is graced with many Gothic rock spires. Come to a spring at 5.1 miles, 5,600 feet. A trickle of water flows over fluted rock. Gathering water would be a chore and there is no campsite. At 5,480 feet, there is a brief moment when you can see the sky through Window Rock.

Ventana is a rough and rugged drainage with humongous boulders. Our trail stays on the west side of the creek, at times well above. Then it dives back down into the depths on a ultra steep trail with more boulders than dirt. The track is engineered to avoid cliff structures while suspending itself above narrows with pools. Typical of Pusch Ridge canyons, the Ventana floor is impassible.

At 4400 feet, return to the grassland zone with gnarled Arizona oaks, sotol, and beargrass. Then comes sweet smelling bursage, massive prickly pear, and mesquite.

At 7.3 miles, 4,200 feet, turn off to the Maiden Pools carved into Santa Catalina Gneiss. A series of pools step down icy grey, white, and dappled rock before the water launches over a 40 foot cliff.

Back on the trail, just beyond the pools is Ventana Vista at 7.7 miles. This premiere viewpoint is a turn-around landmark for day hikers.

The treadway takes an abrupt dive down a switchback series made of natural stone stairs. It is somewhat laborious with the big packs. Upon reaching the canyon floor at 8.2 miles, 3,780 feet, the path is bounded by a tower-forming formation common in the lower elevations of Pusch Ridge canyons. The metamorphic granitic gneiss is molted dark brown, black, and orange with streaks of horizontal veins. Its ledges house an impossibly large number of saguaros that provide a soothing and vertical linearity in a chaotic landscape.

Zigzag through a fence at the boundary of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness at 9.2 miles. In the runout, walking is practically flat. Approaching the Ventana Canyon trailhead, there's a bit of a disconnect as the trail takes the middle path between the resplendent wilderness and a condo complex.

Reach the Ventana Canyon Trailhead, elevation 3,000 feet, at 10.2 miles and a climbing accumulation of 2,400 feet for the day.

Cathedral Rock from Sutherland Ridge, March, 2017.