| A Moab Smorgasbord
A Moab Smorgasbord: Deserts, Mesas, Arches, Mountains and All-You-Can-Eat Pizza
La Sal Mountains and Windows Area of Arches National Park from Balanced Rock
Mount Peale (12,721') – 28th Highest in Utah, La Sal Mountain and San Juan County Highpoint, 23rd most prominent in lower 48 (6,161' of prominence)
Mount Tukuhnikivatz (12,482') – 49th Highest in Utah
PT 6475 (6,475') – 2,939th Highest in Utah
North and South Window, Turret, Double, Delicate, Pine Tree, Tunnel, Landscape, Navajo, Partition and the site of former Wall Arch ( collapsed in 2008 )
Pepperoni, Cheese, Nothin' But Meat, The Tree Hugger, Royal Hawaiian, Bleu Buffalo
As the weekend got closer, the forecasts in Colorado seemed to get worse. While neither Kiefer nor I have any particular aversion to hiking in the cold and snow, we both had a desire to get to Moab at some point – especially me seeing as I had never been there before. The forecast in Moab was for mid 70's and sunny, much better than the 100+ it tends to be in the summer, and with cold and wet being the local forecast, it seemed the perfect time to head out to the desert. We loaded up bikes and hiking gear and left town Friday night for the roughly 4 hour drive from Vail.
We arrived around 11pm, but it took us 2hrs of driving around to find a suitable (and legal – at least not signed otherwise) place to camp as it seemed Moab was a popular destination this past weekend. I guess between Columbus Day, amiable weather and the 24 Hours of Moab race, we weren't the only ones with this idea.
Saturday – October 10, 2009
We awoke at our camp along the Onion Creek Road which we had driven into in the dark. Now in the light we were surrounded by red sandstone canyon walls and a couple of spires, one of which I think was Hindu Tower. I took a short scramble up the wash across the road and was treated to delightful alpenglow playing on the mesas and spires.
Morning alpenglow from above camp along Onion Creek
Back at camp, we contemplated what to do this morning, looking at the maps it seemed we were only about a 5 mile drive away from a peak, labeled on the map as just PT 6475. The peak sat at the head of Fisher Valley and looked promising for offering great views of the surrounding mesas. Based on the map, it looked like it would be an easy hike and a nice morning warm up, so we drove towards the peak along the Onion Creek Road which climbs out of the red sandstone canyon to a hanging valley above. The creek crossings on the road were fun and I still have red dirt on my vehicle. At least when we got to town we would look like we belonged.
The west and south sides of PT 6475 were guarded with cliffs, but some easy scrambling at the southeast end got us to the gentle ramp-like ridge of sand, slickrock, and desert plants. The plants grow on a unique part of the desert known as cryptobiotic soil, or as some call it: Endangered Dirt. The soil is made up of lichens, mosses, and cyanobacteria to create a crust on top of the desert that dually serves to hold the soil in place as well as provide nutrients for plants. We did our best to avoid walking on the crust areas choosing to hop among slick rock and sandy washes as much as possible.
Gentle slopes lead towards the summit of PT 6475
From the summit we were treated with great views to the north and west of the surrounding mesas, as well as behind us to the northern La Sals, which to our delight were snow free (the seeds of a Mount Peale climb for Sunday were planted…). It took us a little over 90 minutes round trip for this easy peak, so when we got back to the car it was still only mid-morning.
Views of the surrounding mesa country from PT 6475
We drove back to the main road and had time to head over to the Fisher Towers area to check them out up close. They offer some incredible technical climbing and are very imposing up close. One day maybe I will have the trad skills to lead here, but for now they just served as inspiration. The mesas of Castle Valley also dominated, and I really want to come back and climb Castelton Tower one day, the standard route is "only" 5.9, out of my reach for leading still, but at least I know I could follow the route!
Castleton Tower, The Rectory and Priest and Nuns
We drove to town just in time for lunch, and after walking the street a bit found Zax, which offers an all-you-can-eat Pizza buffet with soup and salad bar. After a cup of soup and a salad, we attacked the pizza buffet. I think we had about 6 slices each and sampled everything from traditional pies like pepperoni, cheese and the "Nothin' But Meat" to specialty pies like the Blue Buffalo (Buffalo wing sauce, chicken and blue cheese), the Royal Hawaiian (ham and pineapple) and the Tree Hugger (artichoke, spinach and sun dried tomato with feta). After wandering a few of the shops, it was off to Arches National Park.
We started off with a hike of the Balanced Rock Trail, then broke out the bikes and took a quick 10 mile RT ride down the neighboring dirt road. The ride wasn't particularly strenuous, as there was only about 400 feet of elevation difference, but the soft sand in a few places really wrecked havoc on our traction. One section we had to walk after attempting to get up a sandy section of hill 3 times. Apparently its not always an easy drive either as we frequently came close to catching up the to the Jeeps that has passed us as we neared a particularly rough section. It really does give a unique perspective to the park to travel by bike, and I recommend it. Next time we will start earlier so we can do the whole Salt Valley loop.
Kiefer bikes along the road with Elephant Butte in the distance
We then drove over to the Windows Area and hiked around Double Arch, the Windows and Turret Arch. Double Arch was really cool, and was used in the opening sequences of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. I will have to watch my DVD of that this week and check it out. The arch was formed by potholing of water from above and has two legs that spring from the same point and head out at a wide angle from each other to create a sort of sky lit amphitheater.
North and South Window Arches
We then drove over to Delicate Arch to watch the sunset which accentuates the red even more so than usual. Being so close to sunset we chose to head to the viewpoint rather than the arch itself, and we were able to sit atop a slick rock ridge across the valley from the arch.
After a burger at the Moab brewpub, we drove to La Sal pass and camped at 10,200' for our ascent of Mounts Peale and Tukuhnikivatz on Sunday.
Sunday – October 11, 2009
The warm weather of the desert was not present at 10,200' as we geared up for the climb. Kiefer must have had desert on the brain as he had no hat or gloves and had to go with socks for "mittens" and a T-shirt turban for a "balaclava". The route starts off on a trail through a meadow that quickly forks. Taking the left fork leads to an aspen grove along a creek which opens into a higher meadow. This meadow is home to range cattle who kept a watchful eye on us as we passed through. I get the feeling they don't see too many people around these parts.
Mt Tukuhnikivatz at sunrise from La Sal Pass
The upper meadow was in a basin that was closer to Tukuhnikivatz (or Tuku as we called it) and also gave us a closer view of the crux of the ridge traverse with Peale – a section known as the "Razor Fang". We decided upclimbing the loose class 3 ridge would make more sense, so we headed up a steep meadow covered slope to gain a ridge spur that would take us to the main connecting ridge at a point closer to Tuku.
Upper ridge on Mt Tukuhnikivatz
From here the ridge slowly transitioned to steep semi-loose talus as we neared the summit of Tuku. From the summit you get tremendous view to the north, west and south. You are basically 8000' above Canyonlands and Moab at this point, and you can see for a very long way. Unfortunately the winds were picking up and we couldn't stay to enjoy the view for too long before beginning the traverse to Peale.
Canyonlands is almost 8000 veritcal feel below
The early part of the ridge was just grass and talus but soon we were approaching the Razor Fang section. This sections is out of place with the generally "Sawatch-Like" character of these peaks so far. There are basically 3 fangs that need to be negotiated, and we pretty much took them each "head on". Finding the easiest way was not too difficult, but there are no cairns and there is some loose rock. The difficulty was class 3 and the section is short. It can be completely bypassed on loose talus cross-hilling below but that would honestly be more tedious and probably not worth it.
The Razor Fangs - looking like they belong on the S Ridge of Snowmass
Above the fangs the ridge continued over some false summits to the base of the final ridge section. Here the ridge changed direction such that we were going face first into the wind. The summit luckily had a large enough wind break that we could hang out and have a snack. The views here are spectacular as well, as this peak is the 23rd most prominent peak in the lower 48 with 6,161' of prominence.
Final Ridge on Mount Peale
I actually think the views were better from Tuku though because when on Peale, Tuku blocks some of the views of Canyonlands. Mount Peale is the highest peak outside of the Uinta Mountains in the State of Utah though, so the views are expansive in all directions.
Looking south from the summit of Mount Peale (Abajo Mtns in the distance)
We descended the standard route which has some loose rock and is said to make a better ascent in spring when it can be done as a snow climb. We were back in Moab around 1pm and had a pasta lunch before deciding to explore a few more areas of Arches on our way home.
Today we hit the Devils Garden district of the park, which is all the way at the far northern end of the paved road. The trail starts out along large fins of rock reminiscent of the Garden of the Gods, I guess this is its "evil twin". Several short spur trails leave the main one to explore several named arches. The first two were Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch, which are easily reached from the trailhead.
Trail through Devils Garden
A little farther up is Landscape Arch, the last one along the "maintained" trail and the longest span in the park. It is also quite thin and is a very impressive piece of natural structural engineering. Behind us was the old "supports" for the fallen Wall Arch, which fell the previous summer to serve as a reminder that we are just a blip on the radar of "time". Someday perhaps all of the arches will fall and a new geologic era will reshape this part of the world, but today we are lucky enough to be able to experience these natural wonders.
We continued farther up the trail to visit Partition Arch which is at a higher point in the Devils Garden and actually offers views of Landscape Arch from above if you scramble on to the neighboring slick rock. We scrambled up to the top and were intrigued by a high point on the sandstone fin above us. After some poking around, we found a class 2+ way to get up on top of it and were treated with tremendous panoramas of the park. Unfortunately it was not a "ranked point" but views from above of Devils Garden were most impressive.
Banded rocks near Partition Arch
Devils Garden from Above
We scrambled back down and headed over to Navajo Arch. We were hoping to continue on the loop trail, but it was now 5pm and we realized that with the 4 hour drive we really should be getting home. Despite looking small on the map, this park is actually quite large and difficult to explore in its entirety with all of our other side trips. I would recommend 3 days for anyone coming to Moab, a full 2 of which should be dedicated to Arches so that you can complete the entire loop and perhaps take a ranger led tour of Fiery Furnace. At least we now have a reason to go back again!
Moab is a vast and beautiful area of the world, and one that I look forward to returning to and exploring further. There is a lot to do there, and we are grateful that it is only 4 hours from Vail. While it may be really hot in the summer, the spring and fall offer warm temperatures and a great "escape" from the cold of our own home valley. I can see why so many people from the Vail Valley make annual trips there during the shoulder seasons. I think I just became one of them…
Devils Garden rock formations
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):