Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hike 2013.053B -- Icebox Canyon Waterfalls, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, NV

Hiked Saturday, November 23.

When I left the L.A. area on Friday morning, a fresh, pretty coat of snow blanketed the high peaks near Mt. Baldy. When I left Las Vegas on Sunday morning, an even thicker blanket covered the Spring Mountains and on over to Mountain Pass. In between, at the altitude of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, rain fell. Lots of it.

On Saturday afternoon, I hiked briefly around the Calico Hills. Wrote that up here. On Saturday morning, I arrived at Red Rock Canyon around 9am, which is not early, but before most folks get to Red Rock. Got on the 13-mile loop, and drove past the Calico Hills as I began my drive.

While water ran down the hills like yesterday, the flows were not nearly as impressive as the day before. The rain seemed comparable, but I guess lacked a heavy downpour that must have hit the area before I got there on Friday.

I drove on, to the Ice Box Canyon trailhead. The rain continued, and, in fact, fell until I was nearly back to the car at the end of the hike.

Because of the larger drainage area for Ice Box Canyon versus the Calico Hills, I was confident I'd have something to see.

I had been in Ice Box Canyon last February. Then, the lower of the two waterfalls at the end of the hike was but a thin sluice of water, while the upper falls was but a seep. A few other seeps could be seen on the walls on the way in. And this was during the part of the season when the falls normally run.

This time, there were many falls entering the canyon from both sides. All are undoubtedly temporary, only visible during actual rainfall. Most were not that large, but one near the entrance to the canyon thundered down several hundred feet off a cliff. It reminded me of Upper Yosemite Falls, albeit from a distance. No easy way to the base seemed apparent. I though of perhaps trying to approach it on the way back, but was way too beat when that happened.

So my hike began on a high note. Photography, however, was tough. With rain falling a second day in a row, I kept a microfiber cloth in my coat pocket, and regularly wiped the lens. Still, there were many photos that were ruined by drops on my lens filter.

The trail begins clearly enough, but numerous use trails make it really impossible to stick on the true trail. Also, there have been obvious improvements (large rocks embedded to provide stair steps up some inclines), often within sight of each other, but mutually exclusive. in other words, what trailbuilding they've done has not reduced off-trail use, but increased it, because it creates a crazy mish-mash of crisscrossing trails.

The general goal is to stay near the ridge as you make the first mile of walking. Eventually, you reach what is undoubtedly an illegal cross/memorial for something or someone. That's the end of the "improved" trail. After that, you descend to your left, towards the wash bottom, and head upstream.

In normal weather, that's a dry wash bed you walk your way up. However, on this hike, it was a roaring river. It would rarely be more than knee deep, but it was deep enough and wide enough that crossing the water at spots proved tricky. This is particularly true since the normal route is up the riverbed. So if you need to go around the river bed, the trail is not always defined, or even extant.

More than a few times, I crossed the water, went up a short segment of apparent trail, then either had to bushwhack through thick foliage or admit defeat and work my way back down to the water. When you bushwhack, rubbing your clothes against rain-covered leaves, you get wet. I got REALLY wet. By the end, I was completely saturated, both inside and outside my jacket.

Of course, I expected that, but figured the hike was short enough that I could get there and back to the car before heat loss became an actual issue.

It was tiring going with lots of scrambling up rocks and trying to ease my way down the other side, or hopping on rocks and trying to keep my boots dry. At one point, after several alternate routes failed, I finally had to take my boots off and wade across a short segment of water. This was just near the end.

Finally, I was there. And I was not disappointed. The lower falls curved a nice reversed "C" shape, looking a little bit like a mirror image of falls on the Middle Fork of Lytle Creek. By contrast, as the last photo here shows, last time, that bit was just a thin sluice of a trickle. You can also see a couple of hikers adjacent to those falls, to put the size of the falls in context.

Even more impressive was the upper falls, coming over the lip of an overhang, and free-falling 80 or 100 feet down into the alcove.

There is a middle falls that you can only see from the top of the lower falls, which I did not hike to). Instead, I took many pictures from near the lower falls, then made my way back. It was the most tired I ever felt after an allegedly less than 3 miles of walking.

When I got back "home," I took a warm shower and wrapped myself up in some blankets. Tired. But happy I was able to walk on such a beautiful day in Red Rock Canyon.

Today, as I write this, my arms are still tired from the climbing and descending of all those rocks.

About 2.5 miles of hiking on Saturday. Add in the mile or so from Friday, and this together is my 53 hike of the year. Extremely detailed descriptions of the Ice Box Canyon hike can be found here.

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