Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hike Report: Caprock Canyons SP

Monday, July 20.

This was a difficult hike for us. The first 2 miles and the the last section were easy enough, but the middle 2 or 3 miles were steep and rugged, with a little ledge walking and much scrambling over loose rock. Combined, Donna and I are 120 years old, and that is just probably too old for this type of hike. The country was beautiful, but our bodies just took too much of a beating. We will be more careful in the future about selecting our hikes, and we won't hesitate to turn around if the trail becomes difficult.

Normally, we walk at a pace of about 3.5 miles per hour. On hikes, we normally average at least 2 miles an hour. Today, we struggled to do 1 mph.

Our hike
We began the hike at 7:30. Temperature was in the high 60s and the day was clear, so it was a perfect day for a hike. We parked at the North Prong Primitive Camping Area Trailhead (see map) and planned to hike the Canyon Loop Trail in a counter-clockwise direction. The trail began deceptively. It was broad, clear, and had very mild ups and downs. It continued this way past the North Prong Primitive Camping area, which is about a mile in from the trailhead. About half a mile beyond the campground, the Lower Canyon Trail intersected our trail from the east. At this point, our trail turned westward.

Trailhead for North Prong Primitive Camping Area

Donna near the beginning of the trail, where the canyon is wide and the trail is level and clear
Interesting formations sculpted by nature's forces
Canyon walls begin to close in, and more brush and trees appear
As we moved westward, the canyon walls began to close in on us. This should have been the first clue that we were in trouble, but we were too ignorant to realize what this meant. Next, the broad, clear trail began to give way to a small trail, much the size of a game trail. Then the trail began occasionally following dry stream beds. Finally, we began our climb up the canyon walls. By this time, we were committed.

Our broad trail becomes little more than a game trail
Sometimes the trail simply follows a dry stream bed
The object of our hike was Fern Cave, located in the northwestern corner of the park. Fern Cave is a rock overhang covered in ferns that grow at the source of a spring. I was glad we stayed with the hike long enough to see it. Had we been smart, we would have turned around and gone back the way we came. Problem is, we aren’t very smart.

The roof of Fern Cave
So, we continued the loop trail so that we would come out at the South Prong Primitive Camping Area Trailhead. From Fern Cave, we continued our ascent. One of the problems hiking this way is that the signs are placed for people coming to Fern Cave on the Upper Canyon Trail, not from our direction. Not far above Fern Cave, we took our first wrong turn. I scouted out 2 or 3 possible trails before finding the true trail.

We continued our ascent around a canyon and finally came out on top. Our walk along the top was probably not more than half a mile, but it was a welcome break from the climb up the steep cliffs we had just completed. Then we began our descent and the most difficult part of the trail, at least for us. Once again, on several occasions, especially about the middle of the descent, we had trouble finding the trail at times. Much of the trail is over rocks that do not show a path, so it is necessary to look for signs. I missed one such sign, causing us to have to backtrack a considerable distance. All of this extra effort took its toll on us, zapping much energy from our aging legs.

View from the top
Rocky trail. Notice the trail marker center left
Rattlesnake with his lunch. I got a bit closer to this rascal than I wanted when I walk beside this rock. He gave me a severe warning, and my old legs came to life.
After reaching the canyon floor, we still had a considerable hike, as we had to first go to the South Prong Primitive Camping Area Trailhead, then walk almost a mile along the road back to our vehicle at the North Prong Primitive Camping Area Trailhead. It was almost 1:30 when we arrived back at our truck, so we were on the trail for 6 hours. All told, we only hiked 6.2 miles if I read the map correctly. But so much of the hike was on steep ascents and descents where footing was poor, and we added a little extra mileage from all the backtracking we did.

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