Monday, January 16, 2017

The Haynes Ridge Blow-off

Even with my side-trip up the Eagle Point trail this morning, by the time I made it to the rather large parking area that services both the Canyon Loop (Which is not a loop at all!) and Lower Canyon trails, I was still the only one there.

Of course that could be because, even though the clouds of yesterday had been blown back to Mexico, that northerly wind was still howling and the temperature was struggling to reach 30!

So as I started up the Canyon Loop Trail

it was still - shall we say - exceedingly refreshing!

Looking west down the spine of Haynes Ridge.

My original plan for today was to follow the Canyon Loop Trail north then turn west onto the Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail, climbing the switchbacks to the highest point in the park then following the ridge for a few miles back to Fern Cave in the far northwest corner of the park.

But you see that notch the Canyon Loop Trail goes through up there??

Well I'm walking due north, right into the wind, and when I popped up into that notch it felt like someone had a leaf-blower pointed right at my face! I had to clamp my lips tight to keep them from flapping in the wind and if I hadn't had a skull-cap pulled tight over my ears I'm sure they would have been snapping like flags!

Looking west down the Haynes Ridge Trail. The switchbacks up to the ridge are behind the trees to the left.

So by the time I got to the turn-off for the Haynes Ridge Trail I was rethinking my plan.

With the winds so bad down here in the canyon I wasn't at all sure it was a good idea to be hiking up there on top of the ridge for a good solid couple of  hours. After all, from up there the nearest land feature to interrupt that relentless wind is - well - there really isn't anything to interrupt the north wind all the way up to the Canadian border and beyond!

Upper Canyon trail following the North Prong Little Red River

Which is why I decided the more intelligent thing to do in these circumstances would be to continue north on Canyon Loop until I ran into Upper Canyon Trail and take that west to Fern Cave. This would keep me down in the canyon where the winds might be a little easier to take. At the very least I wouldn't risk being blown off the ridge top!

More gypsum layers there in that eroded river-bank.

This reclassified my hike from very challenging to just challenging, but there's no one around to witness my refusal to climb the Haynes Ridge so I don't mind. It might just be what makes me a visitor and not a statistic. Besides, things are plenty interesting down here in the canyon too,

Shortly after reaching the end of the loop trail and turning west onto the Upper Canyon Trail,

I found not only standing water in the North Prong Little Red River,

but also heavy erosion which gives a graphic picture of the gypsum/sediment cycle that this area experienced some 200 to 240 million years ago

and is only now being returned bit by crumbly bit to its elemental form.

As I worked my way westward up into the canyon I came across this castle-like formation on the south rim.

but as I continued farther up the canyon the perspective changed

and eventually revealed that the tip of the formation above me is a pair of hoodoos

 called The Last Dance.

Along the north rim of the canyon I found some pretty good examples of the caprock,

the hard calcium carbonate or caliche layer, that resists erosion better than the softer rock below it and gives this area it's name.

For a good part of the morning the clear skies gave me a grand view of the waning gibbous remnants of the full Beaver Moon I watched rise back at Lake Arrowhead a little less than a week ago.

When I first made the turn into the canyon it was wide. Some 2500 feet wide

and there was plenty of room for the river, the trail

and some bottom-land.

But the further up I went the narrower the canyon got

until there wasn't always  room at the bottom for both the river and a trail. At that point I started coming across these white-with-red-top fiberglass poles that were being used to blaze the trail which was now pretty much following the riverbed, which itself wasn't always easy to find down there in the jumble of ongoing erosion.

For the last mile things got pretty steep and rocky in some places as the canyon floor curled up like a reversed ski-jump.

At the top of that climb, tucked in the brush safely above the waterline, I found a stash of the blaze-poles, which makes sense because it's clear that any significant rainfall up here is going to change the river-bed and wash poles away. (Though it seems strange to be calling the narrow creek that it is at this point a river.) 

With one final push, or rather scramble

I found the short spur-trail that went towards Fern Cave. Down towards Fern Cave, which meant that I was giving up some of that hard-won altitude and on the way out would have to climb it all over again!

A little more scrambling

brought me up against the end of a box-canyon where natural springs seep through the rock and ferns thrive in the near constant 'rainfall' underneath the overhangs.

After negotiating one last chute, this time with pack off, dragging it down after me a few inches at a time, I made it down to the bottom where I brushed away a few stones, set up my pack to form a comfortable chair and settled in for lunch and a rest down here sheltered from the worst of the wind and accompanied by the constant, gentle patter of dripping spring-water.

According to the map this narrow slot, or pour-off, over my head

marks the end, or rather the beginning of the canyon as well as the very northwest corner of the park.

I'm not sure how long I hung around at Fern Cave, but when I did climb back up out of there and returned to the make-shift sign pointing the way to the cave, I had the choice of climbing up another chute

then on up the backside of Haynes Ridge, there on the left, and hiking it west to east, coming back down the switchbacks on the far end that I decided not to climb on my way in, or backtracking my inbound route at the canyon floor.

It was slightly warmer now, but the winds were still blowing strong so I opted for backtracking the canyon trail. I hadn't seen a single person since I left the campground around sunrise and this place was feeling pretty dang remote at the moment, so I chose the sheltered, sensible way out.

I don't mind backtracking all that much anyway. Since I'm facing the other direction the view is different even though the trail is the same and the lighting has changed too, offering new sights and photographic opportunities. 

The further down the canyon I went the more room there was at the bottom

to separate the river and the trail,

The river crosses the trail right in front of me, or is it the trail crossing the river?

and eventually the river was crisscrossing the trail

And here I'm standing in that crossing looking up the river in one direction

sweeping wildly, exuberantly, from side to side

and down the river in the other.

often bouncing off sheer canyon walls before heading back the other way.

It made me think of kids with an overabundance of energy laughing and squealing as they circle and zig-zag down a hallway making a game of slapping alternating walls while the parents attempt some sort of dignity amid the chaos by walking steadily down the middle.

Eventually the lower canyon opened up in front of me and just around that shoulder in the center right is the intersection with the Loop Trail. From there I will have just a little more than a mile to go before getting back to the trailhead and The Van, and this time wind is going to be pushing me downhill the whole way.

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