Yeah, yeah, I know. I am a slack blogger. It’s not that I don’t enjoy blogging anymore, it is just that my New Years resolution for 2013 was to not stay up until 2 or 3 AM blogging. I did OK in 2013 but that means fewer posts. So anyway, here is my account of Thanksgiving, only a little over a month late but with no 3-AM mornings.
The reasonDrew, being the junior captain that he is, had to work on Thanksgiving; and I, being the state employee that I am, was prohibited from working on Thanksgiving. What to do without my honey? A couple of friends invited me over, but I didn’t want to be the odd friend out. I decided that if the weather was good, I would take Dewey on an excursion to hike Notch Peak. The weather was good, so off I went.
Notch Peak has been on my peak-bagging list since 2007, when I first saw it rising magnificently above the desert floor when I first starting working in the West Desert. It gets its name from the notch it makes in the skyline.
The geology was a draw for me too.
Cambrian- to Ordovician-aged carbonate rocks (limestone and dolomite) make up the cliff (one of the tallest carbonate cliffs in North America). Pink, Jurassic-aged granite is exposed at the foot of the mountain, and scattered deposits of white, clayey marl deposited in Lake Bonneville during the late Pleistocene are present on the valley floor.
Notch Peak is in the House Range in the Basin and Range province. A cool feature of most of the ranges in the Basin and Range is that they have one very steep side caused by uplift along major normal faults with, in this case, over 5000 feet of displacement, and a less steep side that is not faulted as much, which usually provides a hiking or driving route to the high elevations. The picture above is, obviously, the steep side. I hiked up the other side, but climbers scale this side and base jumpers launch off the top.
The approachI took off headed south from Salt Lake Wednesday afternoon, making it to Delta around dark and just as fog was settling in. My plan was to spend the night at the RV park in Delta, but they wanted $27 just for me to plug Dewey to shore power so I could have hot water at the sink. With the fog and the other ratty campers there, I was mildly freaked out and decided I would be better off on my own out in the desert. So I motored west, following the directions on the pages I had printed from this site.
The directions were good, but still, I was slightly disorientated with the ground fog. I followed the directions to a BLM-managed picnic spot and tried to drive farther toward the hiking trailhead, but 2WD Dewey was unhappy about the 4WD road, so I found a corral and parked for the night. Just me, my bike, and my van in the eerie fog.
I drank a glass of wine, ate some cold leftover enchiladas (had been counting on the shore power at the RV park to heat those in the microwave ), packed my bag for the hike, and set my alarm for 5 AM.
No, goodness, not to hike! I dragged my warm self out into the frigid desert night to try to spot Comet Ison and Comet Lovejoy. Strain as I would through binoculars, I could find no fuzz balls. I did see a whole universe full of bright star though and a big shooting star, which satisfied my stargazing urge. I crawled back in the penthouse for another snooze until the sun came up to warm up my house on wheels.
As morning broke, I had my first good look around at my camp spot.
I was underwhelmed by the site of the mountains (in the background) that I would be climbing. Because they didn’t look very big, they must have been far away!
But looking the other direction (east) was uplifting. Look at that ground fog – translate to smog in Salt Lake Valley – that I was high above.
After too much time futzing around* with the next-to-worthless Mr. Heater Little Buddy heater, I bundled up and jumped on my old mountain bike to ride about 3 miles on a 4WD road to the hiking trailhead.
*My second favorite thing** about doing outdoorsy things by myself is that no one is waiting on me. I can futz and procrastinate all I want.
** My first favorite thing is the solitude, duh.
Along the way is an old stone cabin.
By 10:10 I had stashed my bike and was underway on the trail up Sawtooth Canyon.
I was slightly disturbed by the amount of snow at the trailhead, but even more than slightly disturbed by the 8-inch deep snow only a little ways past the trailhead.
As I was only going to gain elevation and would be in a canyon for 3/4 of the hike, I was concerned that the snow would a) slow me down so much as to preclude finishing the hike by dusk and b) make the rock-scramble portion of the hike treacherous. Had it not been for one set of brave footprints to follow, I think I would have turned back. My thought was, “if this guy/gal did this hike in the snow, I can too!” Weird how just the trace of a forbearer made me feel less alone, although the tracks were obviously more than a few days old.
The second coolest* part of the hike is this massive log. It doesn’t look that huge in the picture, but believe me, for a tree at about 8000 feet on a dry desert mountain, it is huge.
*The first coolest is the peak, duh.
The log is just before the rock scramble. I was actually pretty worried about this next part. My friend Steve had reported that the climbing was not trivial, and with the snow and ice and the fact that I was alone, I was keenly aware that a slip could be very bad. I had an emergency GPS locator beacon and enough clothes and supplies* that I could safely stay out one night if I got hurt, but I really didn’t want to test my gear in that way. I stepped carefully ahead.
*I also carried my bicycle pump and spare tube all the way to the peak and back. Forgot to stash them with my bike. Ultralite hiker fail.
I tread so carefully that I didn’t take any pictures! Now that means I was concentrating. I double checked each foot hold and made my way up boulders and along ledges. After about 20 minutes of this, the canyon widened out and I was back to striding out again. Whew. It was 12:30 after I cleared the scramble. I had 1 hour and 15 minutes to reach the peak or I would have to turn back in order to make the trailhead by dark. It was going to be close.
I hoofed it up up up, barely stopping to look back at where I had come until this vista.
Just a little farther now to the saddle, and then finally, some crazy drop off views.
17 minutes later, I was at the top!
This is as close as I could get.
sources say the completely vertical part is 1500 feet high but if you include a couple of benches is it 2250 feet high. The edge, though, is rocky and a little loose, so I was too chicken to stand on the edge. Usually I love that kind of thing, but this cliff was too much for me. Plus, I had promised Drew I would not.
I took a bunch of pictures and sent texts to a couple of people (yes, reception!) saying I had made it. Then I started down. At the saddle I snapped a couple of rock pictures that I didn’t have time for on my push to the top.
By this time, I was about half an hour behind my ideal schedule. I would have to make significantly better time on the downhill than I did coming up. Again, I was worried the slippery snow would slow me down, but, except for ultra carefulness on the down scramble, I made good time, only stopping to ponder geology a couple of times* and take a few photos, including this one.
*Maybe my third favorite thing about solo excursions is that I can ponder geology any old time I want.
I made it back to the trailhead at 4:40, about 35 minutes before dark and with plenty of time to retrieve my bike and ride back to Dewey, however, I had to take a few minutes to chat with a young couple that motored up to the trailhead in their big truck at the exact moment I walked up! I had not seen or talked to anyone for more than 24 hours and had not expected that I would see anyone out there on Thanksgiving Day. I was actually pretty disappointed that they showed up, but I guess I don’t have the market on solitude.
Back at the van, I got out of my sweaty clothes and cooked up some delicious, non-traditional Thanksgiving food.
Friday, I intended to explore a nearby Contact Canyon.
shot, and 2) the road was too snowy and slippery for Dewey. Instead, I checked out a warm sunny outcrop of Tertiary Skull Rock Pass Conglomerate.
P.S. It is 2:22 AM as I post this. Good thing it isn’t still 2013.