Saturday, December 7, 2019

Yellow Peak, 3,061'; Black Top Mesa, 3,354', Superstition Mountains

Essence: The Superstition Wilderness within the Tonto National Forest was designated in 1939 and expanded to 160,200 acres in 1984. Approximately 180 miles of trails range from buff to rugged and obscure. The basic loop portion of this hike from First Water Trailhead is a Superstition classic. Yellow Peak is a straight-forward, off-trail climb complicated only by spiny vegetation and minor scrambling. A secondary trail ascends Black Top Mesa. The views from the suspended landform are superb of nearby Weavers Needle and the surrounding wilderness. Marvel at the convoluted topography and captivating features forged by volcanism. 
Travel: From the intersection of Lost Dutchman Boulevard and Apache Trail (AZ 88) drive north along the western front of the Superstition Mountains. Pass the Lost Dutchman State Park turnoff at 2.8 miles. A brown sign for First Water Trailhead precedes a right turn at 3.2 miles onto First Water Road, FSR 78. Reasonable clearance is needed on the lumpy dirt road. There are several wash crossings; do not attempt when flowing. Park at 5.8 miles. The large lot fills on weekends. Pit toilets, no water, no fees.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 13.6 miles with 2,750 feet of climbing for the hike as described. Mileage will vary depending on your route up Yellow Peak. The classic loop alone is 9.2 miles.
Total Time: 6:30 to 8:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation moderate; Class 2+ on Yellow Peak; no exposure; carry all the water you will need and wear long pants; avoid searing summer months.
Map: Superstition Wilderness, Tonto National Forest, US Department of Agriculture; Goldfield, AZ 7.5' USGS Quad
Latest Date Hiked: December 7, 2019
Personal Note: My first hike in the Sonoran desert was from the First Water Trailhead. In 2001, I made a big loop through Boulder Canyon and did the spur to Black Top Mesa. Sonoran flora and the polychrome volcanic mountains were bewildering and wondrous. To this day they leave me spellbound.
Quote: Omne ignotum pro magnifico est. (Everything unknown appears magnificent.)

From Yellow Peak colorful Black Top Mesa, Weavers Needle, and Palomino Mountain are muted beneath a brooding winter sky.

Route: From the First Water Trailhead walk east on Second Water Trail and then southeast on Black Mesa Trail. Yellow Peak is a northerly, off-trail climb from Black Mesa Trail. Return to the treadway and walk southeast. Upon reaching Dutchman's Trail head east and divert onto the Bull Pass Trail. From Bull Pass take a secondary path southeast to Black Top Mesa. Retrace your steps to Dutchman's Trail and return to the trailhead by hiking west over Parker Pass. Note: this topographical map has 20 foot contours.

The Classic Loop Clockwise
At the First Water Trailhead, elevation 2,280 feet, sign the register and then step into a chaotic, volcanic wonderland on the Second Water Trail. The Sonoran grassland ecosystem is lush and mesmerizing with signature saguaro; teddybear, chainfruit, and buckhorn cholla; barrel, hedgehog, and mammillaria cactus; ocotillo, and pricklypear. Rabbitbrush and sage, jojoba and mesquite, ironwood and palo verde, aromatic bursage, ubiquitous brittlebush, ancient creosote, symmetrical agave, all thrive in abundance. Just a smattering of plants were blooming in December.

The Superstition Mountains were constructed by volcanic activity 25 million years ago. The welded tuff formation seen north of the trail is volcanic ash cemented under extreme heat. The trail travels over weathered tuff for much of the hike. It is a welcome feature on the otherwise rocky, babyhead surface. The tuff is coated with brilliant lime, ocean blue, and orange lichen. This crusty, branching plant brushes the mountains with vibrant hues.   

At 0.3 mile reach the prominent junction with the Dutchman's Trail, our return route. Stay on Second Water Trail. Cross First Water Creek at 0.4 mile. On this day all the waterways were flushing recent rains from saturated soil. The path climbs softly and at the top of a rise turns southeast to track above another fork of First Water. What is going on here? Incised canyons appear almost illogical in their formation. I haven't spent a lot of time in the Superstitions and the landscape feels almost overwhelming in its complexity and extent. This is a good deal of its charm but also poses a challenge to off-trail navigation.

At 1.1 miles cross a fork of First Water and then start up a wash that hung a U-turn off Black Mesa. Watch for appropriately shinny black stones in the creek bed while proceeding north. Emerge in Garden Valley on a refreshing soft dirt treadway. Perhaps the haven was named for the exceedingly large chainfruit cholla and prickly pear. The Goldfield Mountains arise in the west.

Leave the Second Water Trail in the Garden at 1.8 miles and turn right on the Black Mesa Trail. The footpath bears southeast hugging the base of Black Mesa. Rising above the strong population of saguaros is the lengthy Superstition Mountain ridgecrest concluding abruptly at the Flatiron.

The pathway comes to its highpoint on a flat at 2,750 feet. At the end of the platform begin the descent into the Boulder Canyon watershed. From here you can see Black Top Mesa left of Weavers Needle.

Yellow Peak
For hikers who enjoy hiking off-trail Yellow Peak is a true pleasure. Somewhat atypical of mountains in the region it is not terribly distinctive and that is what makes it so approachable. The namesake cliffs are clustered on the south side. Avoid them and you're good to go.

At 3.9 miles the trail swings northeast and runs alongside a south fork of Boulder Canyon. From here you are looking right at the west slope of Yellow Peak, seen below. Pause and decide on your approach. The easiest route may well be my return route--stay on the trail as it straightens itself out, for another 0.1 mile, and then head up. I wanted to see more of the mountain so I went downstream to the north.

It was slow going in the boulder-filled streambed and I got all tangled up in catclaw so I gave up on my plan to climb the length of the north ridge. Instead, at 4.4 miles, 2,450 feet, I began the climb aiming for the first saddle north of the peak. I was able to utilize a thread of open grassy slopes, seen below. It was fairly steep but worked well enough.

I hit the ridgeline in 0.2 mile having climbed 430 feet. It was fun scrambling to the crest on dark and shiny boulders. Where did they come from? Geologists believe that during an eruptive period three million years ago, lava flowed from fissures depositing the black basalt.

The highpoint is at the south end of the ridge. I topped out on the summit platform at 4.8 miles after 1,230 feet of accumulated vertical. Fans of the Superstition Mountains will be incredulous at the vista. The east slopes drop headlong 1,000 feet into Boulder Canyon. Rising up to the northeast are Battleship Mountain and Geronimo Head. The Four Peaks are off in the distance.

Mighty Malapais Mountain composed of thick bands of welded tuff is nearby in the east.

To descend, you could drop immediately west but I liked the feel of the south ridge. My next quarry, Black Top Mesa, was in clear view as well as Weavers Needle, the uncontested landmark, and Palomino Mountain.

At 2,900 feet I cliffed out so I tracked west until I could descend unimpaired. If you'd like to try the south ridge approach, reference Hike Arizona. I had a great time walking down the more open (I could dodge the plants.) and relatively shallow west slope. The trail is visible in the image below.

I hit the trail at 5,2 miles, 2,550 feet. Again, reverse my descent track for the most efficient ascent route. 

Continue southeast on the Black Mesa Trail, crossing from Maricopa County into Pinal County as you do so. Upon entering Boulder Basin pay close attention to remain on the primary trail. Loose ends spin off, waterways cross and run down the path.

Black Top Mesa
I reached the junction with Dutchman's Trail at 6.1 miles. Your mileage will likely vary but you can reference mine to calculate distances between points. Black Top Mesa is nothing short of glorious and there is a fine trail all the way to the far end. However, if you'd like to return to the First Water Trailhead on the classic loop, hang a right on Dutchman's Trail. For those going on to the mesa, it is 3.2 miles out-and-back with 1,100 feet of vertical. Allow 1:15 to 2:00 roundtrip.

Turn left on Dutchman's Trail. It tracks beneath the formidable north face of Palomino Mountain seemingly all towers and blocks. Equally stunning is the armored escarpment of Black Top Mesa.

The Boulder Canyon Trail branches left. I don't know what shape that trail is in today but in 2001 it involved a three-plus mile boulder hop that required patience. At 6.4 miles, leave Dutchman's Trail and bear left on the Bull Pass Trail. Cross East Boulder Canyon and initiate the climb at 2,250 feet. In 2001, this treadway was "sketchy" and overgrown. In 2019, it was in great shape and highly picturesque passing by a tuff boulder garden, shown. The ramparts of the mesa pinch at the north apex. Look over your shoulder to see Aylor's Arch on the summit ridge of "mystical" Palomino Mountain.

The beautiful footpath is tucked beneath the east barrier wall.

Top out on unsigned Bull Pass at 6.9 miles, 2,750 feet. (Continuing on, the trail drops down the other side and rejoins the Dutchman's Trail which swings around the south end of Black Top Mesa.) A cairn marks the secondary trail up the mesa. In 2001, the trail was very faint and hard to track in the grass. It was well-defined in 2019 up to the backslope where you must pay a little more attention. The track bears southeast below the broad ridge and gains the crest 100 vertical feet off the summit. From this vantage point swing around to see Yellow Peak, Boulder Canyon, and Battleship Mountain.

The trail weaves around eponymous basalt boulders and great stands of pricklypear to reach the highpoint at 7.7 miles. After 18 years away, I am astonished at the panorama the mesa affords of much higher peaks. Bluff Spring Mountain to the southeast is especially enthralling.

Petroglyphs are carved into boulders on the southeast rim. The sunburst image seen below depicts rays beaming from concentric circles.

Carefully step around to the cliff side of the boulder cluster to see another purposeful symbol. Small wonder the chosen location, so gorgeous and suspended over the greater landscape. Please, do not touch the rock art and do not deface the stones with marks of any kind. This rock art is the equivalent of finding the elusive gold in the Superstitions.

Dutchman's Trail Back to First Water Trailhead
Retrace your steps to the Dutchman's Trail and Black Mesa Trail junction, 9.3 miles. The hike on this highly popular trail continues to astonish as it meanders through seriously wild country. There is something new everywhere you look. Most impressive is the west face of Weavers Needle. Mountain Project, the technical climbing website, notes that the Needle is named for Army scout and mountain man Pauline Weaver. "The peak is the remnant of a huge stack of fused volcanic ash that eroded to form the pinnacle."

Pass by a bubbly tuff wall. Then notice how ash-flow tuff crosses the trail. Mount unsigned Parker Pass after minimal effort at 11.1 miles, 2,630 feet. Now back in the First Water drainage the path fords creeks several times. The fantastical jutting towers are rhyolite, extrusive igneous rocks associated with volcanism.

Water-smoothed walls speak to the carving power of First Water Creek.

Close the loop at 13.3 miles. Approaching the trailhead I noticed a bobcat slither silently across the path. Earlier I'd seen a javelina and signs of them rooting around. I look forward to further exploration in the Superstition Mountains. Some day familiarity may dull astonishment but will surely sharpen the appeal of this magnificent landscape.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Lathrop Canyon Trail to White Rim Road: Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky

Essence: Island in the Sky is a colossal, elevated mesa with deeply-incised canyons shredding west to the Green River and east to the Colorado River. The White Rim terrace rests at mid-point between the mesa top and the West's signature rivers. The Lathrop Canyon Trail, a dedicated footpath, descends from the erosional remnant to the White Rim Road. A 4X4 track continues downcanyon to the Colorado River. This is a hike of contrasts, transitioning from flat and smooth to steep and rugged. The improbable trail must penetrate three impermeable members of the Glen Canyon Group: Navajo, Kayenta, and Wingate Sandstone formations. It makes a lengthy and convoluted traverse on a narrow shelf to access a rubble field choking the smooth throat of a side canyon. The historic trail incorporates admirably crafted stone stairways and tight switchbacks.
Travel: Measure from Center Street and Main Street in Moab and drive north on U.S. Route 191 for 10.8 miles. Turn left/west on Utah State Route 313 South. At 25.1 miles, 313 South goes left to Dead Horse Point State Park. Stay straight. Pass the Canyonlands National Park entrance station (closed) at 30.8 miles. Show your pass or pay fees at the Visitor Center, 31.9 miles. Continue south on Grand View Point Road, driving across The Neck. Pass the Shafer Trail Viewpoint. Park on the left at 33.8 miles, 1.9 miles from the Visitor Center. No facilities.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 12.2 miles; 2,100 feet of climbing
Total Time: 5:00 to 7:00
Difficulty: Trail; navigation moderate; mild exposure; avoid on hot days (very little shade) and be wary of seasonal afternoon thunderstorms; carry more water than you think you will need.
Fees: Please check this link for current fee information. The Visitor Center is closed seasonally. For a snow report during that time, call Park Headquarters, (435) 719-2313. No pets, no bicycles.
Map: Musselman Arch, Utah 7.5' USGS Quad
Reference: I consulted David Day's website,, for information on the trail's origin, sheep herders, and mining operations.
Date Hiked: October 22, 2019
Remote for detachment,
narrow for chosen company,
winding for leisure,
lonely for contemplation,
the Trail leads not merely north and south
but upward to the body, mind and soul of man.

Harold Allen

Episodic runoff through lower Lathrop Canyon perforated White Rim Sandstone and joined forces with the Colorado River.

Route: Hike on-trail bearing generally southeast. Drop through a weakness in the Navajo Sandstone and then begin a circular double-back to a rubble field located in the north arm of Lathrop Canyon. Descend steeply to intersect the main canyon. The runout to the White Rim Road is gradual. It is an additional 9.4 miles roundtrip to the Colorado River.

The sign at the trailhead, elevation 6,000 feet, claims it is five miles to the White Rim Road. And yet the posted mileage at the White Rim Road is 6.8 for the return. My GPS unit clocked 6.1 miles each way. My calculations confirm that it is 2.5 miles to Canyon Rim and 10.8 miles to the Colorado River.

The trail launches out across Gray's Pasture, an open prairie. Peering into never-ending distances is a distinguishing paragon of the American West. Far away and way up high are the La Sal Mountains, the Abajo Mountains, and Cathedral Butte in the Needles District. At ground level a soft, thin footpath, sometimes dirt, sometimes sand, is bordered by ephedra, snakeweed, rabbitbrush, sage, blackbrush, and a variety of grasses. I was glad to see Indian ricegrass but distraught that invasive cheatgrass was overwhelming native plants.

The land swells almost imperceptibly to a shallow rise at 1.1 miles, 6,120 feet. Look north and locate a tin-sided line shack, image-left. While hiking, I was consumed with questions about the trail's origin story. Who would engineer this unlikely treadway and why? According to David Day, Howard Lathrop, a domestic sheep herder, grazed his flock on the White Rim platform during the winter in the 1940s. He constructed the trail to move supplies between the mesa and the river. The trail was used by ranchers until the 1960s when Canyonlands became a national park. Today, the footpath is maintained by the Park Service.

Transition onto Navajo Sandstone and follow cairns across the slabs while wandering through moderately sized globular formations.

Venerable piƱon and Utah juniper live in a sandy basin sheltered by low sandstone domes.

After passing by the trees walk a few feet off-trail to overlook the Lathrop Canyon amphitheater. The trail can be seen 100 feet below on a sloping Kayenta Sandstone shelf.

The trail takes a circuitous route to get underneath the overlook on its way to the north arm of Lathrop Canyon. This image shows the wind scoured Navajo Sandstone wall and the path working its way down the block field.

The trail begins its descent through the Navajo in a series of weaknesses beginning at 2.1 miles, elevation 5,960 feet. It burrows into a slope and curves down into a sandstone-floored bowl.

Then it rounds a thin, stone corner (how fortuitous) with a sensational view of the White Rim terrace and the Colorado River making a lazy meander.

Arrive on Canyon Rim at 2.5 miles. From here, the trail drops down one final break in the Navajo to rest on ledge-forming Kayenta Formation overlying the Wingate Sandstone, shown. The shelf is generous (ten feet at its narrowest) but the drop is significant and hikers with a fear of heights may wish to turn around at Canyon Rim. The route utilizes the bench for the better part of a mile as it travels south and then west back into the Lathrop amphitheater. Long, pleasurable traverses to access passageways are common in canyon country. Grand prize is awarded to the 95-mile-long Tonto Trail in the Grand Canyon.

Across Lathrop Canyon are Airport Tower, the standing spires of Point 5,601', and the column cluster on the south wall. All three are typical of cliff-forming, vertically fractured, gleaming Wingate Sandstone.

The image below looks back on the pathway, a thin thread suspended above an 800 foot wall.

Reach the back wall of the north arm of the canyon at 3.2 miles, 5,700 feet. The ensuing plunge (drop 900 feet in 0.7 mile) reminds me of weaving down the rubble field on the Murphy Hogback Trail, my favorite Island in the Sky hike. To begin, step down a series of boulder strewn Kayenta ledges.

Enter the stone throat and descend the Wingate chute on engineered and reinforced switchbacks. Be patient; the steepness is complicated by loose debris.

The admirable path is actually a series of winding staircases made from scavenged stone. One thousand steps is a conservative estimate. The footing felt more powerful and secure on the upclimb.

The grade lessens significantly at 4,800 feet in the hardscrabble runout zone.

Swing back into the canyon's interior and cross the primary and typically dry watercourse at 4.5 miles, 4,640 feet. This image looks back at the access route.

The canyon continues descending while the track holds the contour on an abandoned road through the slope-forming Chinle and Moenkopi Formations, shown.  David Day writes about the uranium boom that took place in Canyonlands during the 1950s. The prospectors used the Lathrop Canyon Trail as access to several mines very near the road on both sides of the canyon. Stay on-trail. Radioactive material is present in the mines, on tailing piles, and in contaminated springs.

The path narrows to a single track and descends southeast into a tributary wash at 5.5 miles. Stay in the drainageway until it meets the White Rim Road at 6.1 miles, elevation 4,400 feet. The pretty pouroff is our turn-around location but one could wander endlessly on the soft-edged, cracked slabs of White Rim Sandstone.

The Lathrop Canyon Trail once extended downcanyon to the Colorado River. After the White Rim Road was constructed in the early 1950s, the trail was widened into a 4X4 double-track, shown. The signed junction is 0.1 mile south. It is 10.2 miles roundtrip to the river. The climb out adds 500 feet of vertical.

In this image, the Lathrop Trail sign is directly below the Lathrop amphitheater. The lengthy Kayenta ledge traverse is image-right, overlying the beautiful Wingate wall. This is the halfway point of the hike. There are so many astounding features I was glad for the opportunity (and necessity) to retrace my steps.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Portal Overlook, Poison Spider Trail to Little Arch

Essence: Hike to favored sandstone features seen from Moab. Start out on the Portal Overlook Trail, a Moab classic. The rim route affords astounding views of town, the Colorado River, Arches National Park, and the La Sal Mountains. Walk over boundless rolling sheets of Navajo Sandstone on Poison Spider Mesa. Little Arch is a round sky window on a wall constraining the Colorado River. Visit Barney's Overlook and then walk on top of the rim back to the trail. Expect to share the trail with mountain bikers and off-highway vehicles. Traffic is lightest mid-week during the off-season.
Travel: From Moab travel north on US 191. Turn left on Potash Road, Utah 279, 1.5 miles north of the junction with Utah 128. Travel south beside the Colorado River for 3.9 miles. Turn right into the Jaycee Park Recreation Site. There is no fee for parking. Pit toilet, no water. The Jaycee Park Campground (fee) has seven shaded, walk-in tent sites.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 9.3 miles; 1,700 feet of climbing
Total Time: 4:00 to 5:30
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation moderate; mild exposure between Portal Overlook and Poison Spider Trail; carry all the water you will need and avoid on hot summer days.
Map: Moab, Utah 7.5' USGS Quad
Latest Date Hiked: October 21, 2019
Quote: I can only tell where I feel most at home, which is in the erosional landscape of the red rock desert of southern Utah, where the Colorado River cuts through sandstone and the geologic history of the Earth is exposed. Terry Tempest Williams

A Moab old-timer bikes out Kane Creek and looks up at Little Arch every day. "How big is the opening? Is it this big?" He stretched out long arms. "Oh much bigger than that! Why, it's got to be 20, maybe even 30 feet across," I replied. The Portal Overlook Trail is 700 feet below the arch rising with the tilted bedding planes of Kayenta Formation. This photo was shot from the Moab Rim Trailhead.

Route: Hike northeast on the Portal Overlook Trail, gaining elevation quickly to the Overlook. Stay on the single-track walking northwest to the junction with Poison Spider Trail. Walk southwest and then southeast across Poison Spider Mesa to Little Arch. There are multiple tracks and considerable leeway for creating your own hike once you are on the mesa. Retrace your steps on Poison Spider to the 4X4 track heading northeast to Barney's Overlook. From there, walk off-trail northwest on or near the rim and intersect the Portal Overlook Trail.

Portal Overlook Trail
From the trailhead, elevation 3,960 feet, walk briefly through a riparian woodland of cottonwood, tamarisk, oak, and juniper. Confined between the cliff and river road, the path barges through impressive piles of water-polished cobbles.

The trail register is at 0.5 mile where a shortcut comes up from the road. Throughout the Colorado Plateau ancient footpaths are found on the ledge forming Kayenta Formation. Watch for historic chiseling. On this most recent hike, I saw a lot of mountain bike tracks but had the trail to myself.

The trail makes a sharp switchback at 1.3 miles. I have seen a number people miss the turn and wander out on an appealing looking bench below the trail.

The Overlook is located where the rim pivots northwest at 1.5 miles, elevation 4,860 feet, after 900 feet of climbing. Stand comfortably on a solid slab while taking in the imponderable view. In the image below, the opposite wall of the Colorado River portal is in the shade. The highest peak in the La Sal Mountains is Mount Peale, 12,721', in the south block (image-right).

See skylight streaming through Turret Arch in the Windows Section of Arches National Park.

The trail continues northwest for one mile where it gains the top of the rim and links with the Poison Spider Trail. For the next half mile the platform is good but the cliff exposure is huge with a 1,000 foot drop. At the upper end, the BLM has posted a sign for mountain bikers that reads, "Dismount now, narrow, dangerous trail ahead. Riders have died here." That same sign was posted on my first hike here in 2002 and they mean it. In short, the Overlook should be the turn-around for hikers who are uncomfortable on ledge trails. The image below looks back at the Overlook from the narrow shelf.

The treadway comes very close to the rim crest and then continues north. Note: this is where our off-trail trek on the rim from Barney's Overlook meets back up with the Portal Overlook Trail.

The trail expands to a two-track and at 2.5 miles, 5,060 feet, ends at the junction with Poison Spider Trail, shown, and Gold Bar Rim. The technical Gold Bar 4X4 and mountain bike route continues north to Gemini Bridges.

Poison Spider Trail
Turn left onto the 4X4 track. There are intermittent intervals of deep sand and bedrock.

There is a major junction at 3.1 miles; take the left fork. Five roads intersect at 3.7 miles. Stay on Poison Spider. Now the journey crosses expansive sheets of desert pavement, the hallmark and bliss of Poison Spider Mesa. Follow the white hash marks to stay on route. Peak 5,245', shown, is a prominent feature seen from all over Moab. I searched all over for a non-technical route but it was too steeply pitched to friction climb. Barney's Overlook is located right at the base of the north ridge, image-center. For now, pass the signed junction for Barney's, staying on Poison Spider.

Periodic signs will help keep you on route. Cylindrical weathering pits are characteristic of Navajo Sandstone and the track swings by a moderately sized one. They are carved by aeolian (wind-abraded) activity. Be wary of pothole suck. The pits typically have a rounded lip and then a vertical fall.

Little Arch, 4720'
Descend softly to Little Arch. I had a lot of company at first but soon I was alone with the perfect structure that isn't so little after all.

The arch is 4.8 miles into the hike. Once in a flash flood event, I saw it function as a natural bridge with water gushing through the hole and free-falling onto Potash Road. From one angle you can look through the window to the Moab Rim Trailhead.

I have gone to considerable effort and risk to stand on arches. This is among the easiest with a manageable friction descent to the top of the span. However, it is not trivial. Do not attempt when it is windy or the rock is wet. Wear sticky soled shoes.

Look down on the Portal Overlook Trail, Colorado River, Moab Rim Trail making the most of Kayenta shelving, and the whimsical shapes in "Finlandia," Behind The Rocks (off-image).

In 2002, I did a much bigger loop that long distance enthusiasts may wish to replicate. I took the Portal Overlook Trail to the rim and then kept going north on Gold Bar Rim. I transitioned to Golden Spike, did an out-and-back to the arch on Poison Spider, and then went southwest to the Poison Spider Trailhead on Potash Road. I walked back to Jaycee Park on the road with its mind-bending juxtaposition of rock art and Wall Street climbers.

Barney's Overlook
Still hoping to climb Peak 5,245', I launched off-trail from the arch attempting to stay near the rim but I was foiled by prickly vegetation. So, from the arch, retrace your steps on Poison Spider to the junction with Barney's Overlook Trail at 5.8 miles and turn right. Knowing nothing in advance about Barney's, I noticed was that the track was bearing northeast, right where I wanted to go. The 4X4 climbs a steep slickrock ramp aiming for the sky.

I am dumbfounded that the vehicle track rises up and up and then terminates in thin air at the cliff edge. There is no warning for drivers. Barney's is located right on the rim just north of Peak 5,245' at 6.5 miles. It is clearly visible from Moab now that you know where to look. The Portal Overlook Trail is only 100 feet below but there is no safe way down from here.

Rim to Portal Overlook Trail
When I headed north from Barney's I had no idea whether it would work but, in fact, it is simple to stay on or near the rim for the half mile back to the trail. Looking at the image above, there is a short wall north of Barney's so back up west about 100 feet to a social trail heading north. It disappears when you get on the rock and there are no cairns.

From Point 5,048' the trail system can be seen off in the distance. Reconnect with the Portal Overlook Trail where it first contacts the rim at 7.0 miles, 4,980 feet. This alternate route is not only quick, it is  quiet.