Saturday, February 22, 2020

hike #7; chutes and ladders. Ladder Canyon, Mecca California

Date: February 21st, 2020
Location: Ladder Canyon, Mecca California
Distance: 4.88 Miles
Condition: Clear, sunny, Warm, Nice Breeze
Total Miles: 27.18

If you say you're going to jump the Grand Canyon, You can't jump a different canyon
-Evel Knievel

 First of all, sorry for the late post.  I've been trying to get my trail postings up the evening that I go, but last night there was a problem.  I didn't bring a laptop on this trip, and last night attempted to write the post using the Blogger app.  I learned the hard way that the app doesn't save your progress as you're writing.  I spent two hours writing using the little keyboard on my phone, and went to push the publish button, and the app crashed.  Everything gone, no save at all besides the title of the post.  I'm going to look on the bright side and assume that it'll be even better the second time I write it, but I am a little salty regardless.  I'm borrowing my SIL's computer to hopefully not have a repeat disaster, so here we go.

Ever since my wife and I started dating, she mentioned a hike she would do as a kid with her family.  It was a slot canyon that had a series of ladders throughout to help get you to the top. She took a group of friends there when she was a teenager and it had always sounded interesting.  On all the previous trips to her hometown, we had never made the trip out to this fabled canyon, so when we started planning this most recent trip, I knew that it was tops on my list of hikes while I was there.

I've started using the All Trails app. It gives great info about the hikes and can do a very accurate GPS track of distances and elevations.  It listed this hike as a very high trafficked one, so I wanted to get going early like I usually do.  I informed the family of my start time intentions, and got my usual looks of disgust and disbelief. My wife and daughter begrudgingly agreed to my insanity.  My mother in Law hasn't got to go on a hike with me yet, and after a brief negotiation, in which she secured an extra half hour for everyone else involved, we had out team assembled.

The next morning we got geared up and headed towards the trail.  It was really fun to ride in the back seat and listen to my wife and her mom talk about the changes in the area they grew up in.  It's a weird feeling to return to somewhere you were so intimately connected to, and to find it having changed.  We passed fruit tree groves, vineyards, and farms with newly planted and ready to harvest lettuces.  We came super close to the Salton Sea and could see it in the distance, and then turned towards a really spectacular ridge of hills to the east

A sign on the road indicated the need for a four wheel drive car, but the MIL knew that our Kia rental car could handle it.  The sign greatly exaggerated the driving challenge, and 4 miles down a mild washboard road we were at the trail head.  The sun was a little up in the sky and there were four other cars indicating a light amount of company.  

This was a hike unlike anything in Colorado I've experienced so far.  The start was up a wash that was flanked by giant sandstone walls.  The ground was like walking on a beach, and the evidence of the ever-changing landscape was all around.  You could match up the strewn boulders with their matched areas on the walls to see exactly where they had fallen from.  It was a constant reminder that our presence was an inconsequential blip in the geologic history of these sentinels.

The trail listing said to look for an arrow on the ground.  It was easy to spot and pointed us to a giant boulder that seemingly was blocking entrance to a side canyon.  The MIL said this was totally different than the last time she was here and was caused by flooding from years before.  

We went to the big boulder, and hidden in a little cavern underneath was our first ladder.  My daughter decided to be the first up.  I was really proud of her willingness to lead, and how brave she was on the ladders.  She has her moments of grumbling and whining like any 7 year old would, but overall she's a great hiking buddy.

When my wife hiked this before, it was wooden ladders and she would describe the broken rungs.  Now, they've been upgraded to aluminum ladders, but kept the nostalgic charm of some broken rungs.  There was one that had a crack on the side that I was a bit skeptical would hold my weight, but it creaked a little in protest and let me pass

There was a really cool remnant of the last rockfall in the form of an aluminum ladder that was probably 15 foot long, but only a couple feet were sticking out from under a large rock, like an homage to the Wizard of Oz.

There was a total of 4 ladders in the slot canyon section.  It got a lot narrower and the scenery was spectacular.  The way the openings were allowing only light in select places and angles was amazing.  I could've sat there for hours watching the light shift through the day.

We kept on climbing up and up, and the canyon started opening to the clear blue sky above us in a wider vista.  The sun came in and lit things up and we made our way to the top of the ridge.  We saw the first other people on the hike at a distance in the form of a couple groups, but up to this point we had the trail all to ourselves.  

The next section continued up the canyon on the top of the ridge.  It afforded us vistas of the far mountain ranges and a glimpse of both where we had come from and where we were going.  There was a continuation of the helpful arrows giving us conformation that we were headed in the right direction.

I had to reconcile in my mind the fact that the desert is blooming and the wild flowers were sprouting while back home everything is still covered in snow and winter sleep.  It was impressive and this area is going to look stunning in a few more weeks.  

We got to the farthest out point of the hike where we started our return trip.  We went down into the wash and the rest of the hike would be downhill and connect us back to the original trail.  This was a great walk on soft ground.  I was chasing the shade to keep cool and not get baked by the sun, and was enjoying the rocks and colors.  The array of types of stone were really cool, and the moniker Painted canyon was well earned by the streaks of red green white black and everything in between embedded in the walls and boulders.

We started seeing the intermittent other hikers at this point coming up the wash.  I wasn't sure if people simply were choosing to go the other direction or if they had managed to miss the huge stone arrow indicating the normal trail

We heard a bunch of cool bird calls and got to view some interesting lizards and beetles.  At one point my daughter freaked out thinking she saw a snake, but we were only able to spot a snake shaped stick near her.

There were two more ladders to get us down one small section and then we were on the fast track back to the parking lot.  The closer we got, the more people we saw, and the group commented how nice the quiet was earlier.  I got a small amount of vindication for my early morning scheduling in the form of a parking lot full of 32 cars when we finished up.  I like having the trail to myself, and I considered our timing a success.

We stopped for Tacos at my wife's favorite place on the way back, and I started to figure out where to go  adventuring tomorrow.  My lungs are loving the altitude down here so I'm looking forward to my longest single distance so far. 

This was one of my favorite hikes ever.  We noticed a side canyon that had another ladder and I was able to find the trail on a map.  Maybe another trip will take us back out there to see another area.

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