Wednesday July 4, 2001
Got up in Moab, Utah (elevation 4000 ft, 1200 m) at 5:15. We wanted to climb the 12272 ft, 3741 m summit of Manns Peak which is the fifth highest peak in the La Sal Mountains. Originally, I had planned to climb the mountain from Warner Lake (9370 ft, 2856 m), where the route seems to be pretty, going by the lake and following a creek. Mary, however, wanted to make sure that we made it to the top so, a few days ago, she had found another route that was shorter and started at 10180 ft, 3103 m. We had decided to follow the shorter route.
We got ready, ate in our motel and left at 6:45 going on Route 191 south. The sun rises from behind the mountains to the east so, until noon, they only appear as black shadows. We had to go to Geyser Pass which is a low point separating the northern from the middle portion of the La Sal Mountains. Unlike Monday, we did not need to drive all the way to the east side of the mountains because there is a good dirt road that climbs the western slopes to Geyser Pass.
About 8 miles south of Moab, we turned west on a paved road called La Sal Loop Road. It went up the foothills getting very close to the mountains. I had good views of Mt. Tukuhnikivatz 12482 ft, 3805 m which looked very sharp and steep. At about 6500 ft, 2000 m or so, bushes and Juniper trees appeared. The road kept snaking up the slopes and as we went higher the vegetation became much denser.
We were up to 8000 ft, 2400 m when we reached Geyser Pass Road. This was a dirt road that started wide and well graded. We had very good views of the plains below us to the west. Green mountain slopes gradually went down and turned into red arid lands. Aspen forests appeared rather suddenly at around 8500 ft, 2600 m. I really love these trees. They look very beautiful with their white trunks and light green leaves that rustle in the wind. The sun was still low in the sky and the forest was rather dark. We then reached a few wide switchbacks where there was a large meadow which gave us great views of the red lowlands to the west. In the distant north, I could see a pretty impressive looking scar in the slopes. This must have been the Mill Creek Canyon. I remember seeing it from the summit of Mt. Tukuhnikivatz on Monday. Moab also appeared as a green area among the redlands below.
We then continued on the road which became somewhat narrow and rough. I could no longer see Mt. Tukuhnikivatz but the dome-shaped Haystack Mountain 11641 ft, 3548 m was very well visible. Soon, a dense and lush forest of pines came to replace the Aspens. The car’s thermometer showed 53 degrees F. We then reached Geyser Pass 10538 ft, 3212 m which is a 2.5 mile wide gap between Mt. Mellenthin 12645 ft, 3854 m to the south, and Haystack Mountain to the north. Trees obstructed the views of the mountains. At the pass, we turned on a 4 wheel drive road which descended the eastern slopes of the mountains. I was worried that the road might be rough but it turned out to be ok. We drove the road one mile until we reached a two-track that spurred north. This was our trailhead.
We were now at an elevation of 10180 ft, 3103 m and 29 miles from downtown Moab. As I said earlier, Manns Peak is 12272 ft, 3741 m high. My guidebook said it was a 2.25 mile hike from there. We were on a large meadow covered with green grass. A pine forest surrounded us. I could see the top portions of Mt. Mellenthin rising above the trees to the south. The very tip of Mt. Peale 12721 ft, 3877 m could also be seen, although at the time I did not know this was Peale. We were right at the base of Mt. Tomasaki 12239 ft, 3730 m (to our northeast) so we could not see it. To the north, Manns Peak loomed above a tight valley. We could only see its bare slopes of above timberline. It looked like a triangle whose western slope suddenly became steeper half way up. It was all sunny and very nice.
We began hiking at 8:45. We did not see a single person while we were on this mountain. I loved the solitude. We headed north on the two-track up the meadow and toward the tight valley. Like the meadow on La Sal Pass (Monday), this meadow was literally filled with small grasshoppers. With each step, we could see at least 5-6 of them jumping out of our way. A little farther up the meadow, Manns Peak disappeared but Mt. Mellenthin came into full view behind us. It was a very pretty site. We were walking slowly making frequent stops to enjoy the views. It was good to have Mary with me because she could give me my Camera/camcorder without having to undo my backpack.
After about half a mile, the meadow ended and we entered the tight valley. We could no longer see any of the peaks. The two-track turned into a trail that followed the right side of a dry creek and went into a pine forest. Soon the trail came out of the forest. After that, the forest was not continuous. Pine trees seemed to grow in clusters of 5-20 scattered all over the slopes. In between the trees, green grass and purple flowers covered most of the slopes. There was an overabundance of butterflies and songbirds. I could hear my favorite mountain bird among all the others. I couldn’t believe how beautiful that place turned out to be. I managed to film butterflies and other insects hovering around the flowers. Mary was concerned about bears and kept talking to make noise but I wanted to enjoy the birds.
The valley gradually turned northwest. Burro Ridge appeared immediately to our southwest. This is a long and narrow ridge with a maximum elevation of 11641 ft, 3538 m (just like that of Haystack Mountain which is next to it). For about one mile, the ridge is higher than 11400 ft, 3475 m. I could see Burro Pass further up the trail at the foot of the ridge. There were a couple of patches of snow up there. Mt Tomasaki appeared behind us. The sun was behind it and it appeared as a big black shadow. We then reached a place where there was a steep slope with loose slippery dirt. We struggled up that short slope and reached Burro Pass 11180 ft, 3408 m.
Manns Peak appeared to the northeast. A gently sloped broad ridge lead from the pass to the summit. The red lowlands came into view on the other side of the pass to the northwest. Had we started from Warner Lake, we would have climbed the slopes on the other side to reach Burro Pass. We then headed northeast going up the broad ridge toward the summit. This ridge is the same side of the mountain with a sudden change of slope that I had earlier seen from the trailhead. We couldn’t find a trail anymore but the route was obvious. There were still clusters of trees scattered around the grassy slopes. These trees were smaller in size. As we went up, Mt. Mellenthin and Peale appeared from behind Burro Ridge.
At about 11500 ft, 3500 m, we reached the last trees. Tiny yellow flowers grew everywhere. A piece of cloud had already appeared in the sky. I had noticed that everyday, clouds developed over the mountains by noon but the lowlands remained sunny. I wanted to get to the summit before it became cloudy but Mary was going slower than I. We then reached a somewhat steep outcropping of loose rock. This was Mary’s first time this far up a mountain and she did not want to tackle the rocky area. My guidebook said Manns Peak was the easiest mountain in the range but obviously it was not a stroll in the park. It was still mountain hiking. Mary told me to go to the summit on my own. She would wait there for me but I did not want to leave her alone. We slowly went over the rocky area until alpine tundra (grassy slopes) came back again. It had now become mostly cloudy. Mt. Tukuhnikivatz gradually rose from behind Burro Ridge. We then went by a patch of snow and then the slope became steeper.
The alpine tundra was so pretty. There were at least two types of yellow flowers: some really tiny and others larger resembling dandelions. There was also a very tiny white flower. The purple flowers were slightly larger being tall and skinny. I knew with each step I was trampling the pretty tundra. We were at about 12000 ft, 3650 m and Mary was slowing down. I could see the summit only 270 vertical ft farther up. I knew I would be able to see Mary from the summit so I told her I will go faster and she can come at her own pace. I made it to the summit at 12 and Mary came shortly after.
The view of the other side (north) suddenly appeared. The alpine tundra went all the way to the summit. This was very different than the 14000 ft peaks of Colorado that I have been climbing where tundra ends at 13000 ft and you still have another 1000 ft of loose rock or boulder hopping before you reach the summit. Here, there was only one area of loose rock on one corner of the summit where they had dug a little round hole for people to sit.
To the north, the slopes of Manns Peak dropped very steeply into Beaver Basin 10800 ft, 3300 m. These slopes were covered with loose rock and were void of vegetation. A good part of the summit was just a sharp ridgeline. The southern slopes that we had hiked very suddenly reached the steep northern slopes. There was really no flat area on the summit. It felt like standing on the apex of a roof.
To the northwest, a ridge dropped down to a minimum of 11650 ft, 3550 m and then rose to the 12200 ft, 3719 m summit of Pilot Mountain only a mile away. Dry Peak 11849 ft, 3612 m, was just a bump on this ridge. Right behind (to the north of) Pilot Mountain was the 12163 ft, 3707 m Green Mountain and to the northeast of that was the 12331 ft, 3758 m Mt. Waas (about 1.75 miles away from Manns Peak on a straight line). Castle Mountain 12044 ft, 3671 m, which was further away, could be seen between Green Mountain and Mt. Waas.
All these peaks, together with Manns Peak, form a C-shaped cirque that forms the upper walls of the Beaver Basin. Beaver Creek originates in Beaver Basin and heads northeast at the bottom of a mountain valley covered with lush forests of pine. The slopes of Mt. Waas form the northwestern walls of this valley. The southeastern walls are formed by the Red Wedge. Like Burro Ridge, the Red Wedge is a long narrow ridge with a maximum elevation of 11641 ft, 3548 m (exactly the same elevation as that of Haystack Mountain and Burro Ridge). The wedge was really red and was mostly bare. Only in a few places did the pine forest climb its slopes. This brought streaks of dark green to the red background.
The mountains ended at the far end of the Red Wedge only 1.75 miles away. Beyond that, gentle forested slopes and hills dropped down into a number of barely visible canyons. These were probably the canyons of the Dolores River which unlike the canyons to our west, were not red.
In the northeastern horizon, I could see the flat forested highlands of Colorado’s Pinon Mesa and the tail end of the Uncompahgre Plateau which rises to some 9000-9500 ft, 2750-2900 m. A four wheel drive road follows Beaver Creek and ends in the basin. I could only see the end of the road where it made a couple of switchbacks. We plan to climb Pilot Mountain via this road on Friday. I was wondering how rough a road it was.
To the east, Deep Creek Valley merged into forested slopes that lead to the Uncompahgre Plateau in the horizon.
To the southeast, a ridge dropped to a minimum of 11600 ft, 3535 m and then rose to form the 12239 ft, 3730 m Mt. Tomasaki a little more than a mile away. Tomasaki looked like a volcanic cone but had a round top not a pointy one. I love saying "Tomasaki" really fast. It sounds like a Japanese word. My guidebook says it was named after one of the native guides of the 1875 Hayden survey team. Behind Tomasaki, was the 11926 ft, 3635 m Deep Creek Peak which was a much sharper cone than Tomasaki.
To the south, the slopes that we had hiked up, went down to Burro Pass. The long and narrow Burro Ridge rose beyond the pass. The tip of Haystack Mountain could be seen sticking above Burro Ridge in the southwest. Geyser Pass, which separates the northern section of the La Sal Mountains from the middle section, was behind Burro Ridge and could not be seen. South of the pass, the three highest peaks of the range dominated the view. East to west I could see Mt. Peale, Mellenthin and Tukuhnikivatz. To the west of Tukuhnikivatz I could see the pointy false summit of Tukuhnikivatz 12048 ft, 3672 m (AKA Little Tuk). Mt. Peale and Tukuhnikivatz were each about 5.5 miles away from us. Mt. Mellenthin sat less than 4 miles away in between Peale and Tukuhnikivatz. These peaks constitute the entire width of the middle section of the La Sal Mountains. The summit of Tukuhnikivatz looked very round, appearing as a half circle. It did not at all look like the sharp peak with steep slopes that I had seen from Moab.
To the west, the forested foothills merged into red canyonlands. I could see Mill Creek Canyon and part of the La Sal Loop Road near it. Spanish Valley looked like a long trench dug into the redlands (just like it appeared from the summit of Tukuhnikivatz on Monday). Moab could be seen as a green area at the northern end of the valley. When I zoomed with my camcorder, I could barely see cliffs and mesas in the western horizon where Canyonlands National Park is. I was disappointed that I could not see anything I could identify. Yesterday, when we were in the park, I could see all the peaks very distinctly. Why couldn’t I see the prominent features of the park from here?
To the northwest I was seeing what appeared as part of a huge crater dug in the redlands below. This was Castle valley although I did not know it at the time (I had seen it from the summit of Tukuhnikivatz too).
I could look down to see the trailhead. Sometimes there seemed to be a faint glare down there. When I zoomed with my camcorder I saw our car reflecting the sun. The La Sals are such an interesting little mountain range. In every direction, I could see lowlands beyond the peaks.
It was mostly cloudy but the sun did peek through a few times. It was not windy and when I put on my raincoat I felt very comfortable. A lot of flies and bees were hovering around us. They did not bother us but I could hear them very distinctly in the absence of any other noise. What do these insects eat up here and don’t they freeze to death at night? (maybe they go down the slopes). Mary saw a lizard. I could hear birds from down below. I just found it so beautiful up there. I was getting emotional at times. This is such a pretty mountain. I was very glad that Mary made it to the top. I knew that I would always associate Manns Peak with Mary and give it a special place in my heart. I was walking around filming and taking pictures. I could see Mary sitting back there among the rocks. She was nauseated for a while. I thought that was cute.
At one point, I lied down on my stomach near the sharp ridgeline such that my body was on the southern slopes but my head was hanging above the steep northern slopes. I took a picture of Mt. Waas in that position. Later, Mary took a picture of me. When we developed it I noticed that Peale and Mellenthin looked like angel wings sticking out of the back of my neck. I sure felt like I was on cloud 9 in heaven.
My GPS showed an elevation of 12280 ft. I was happy that it was that accurate (within 8 feet of the real altitude). Many timesthe elevation displayed seems to lag behind the elevation shown on a map. I don’t know why it lags for a few minutes. It still depends on the barometric pressure so the number can be wrong if there is a high or low pressure front in the area. It is, however, much more accurate than the old altimeter I had or the watch altimeter that Mary bought me a few years ago.
We then heard a few loud explosions from far away. Must have been Fourth of July fireworks.
I did not want to leave but we finally started to go down at 2 o’clock. I was hearing thunder and I saw one bolt of lightening not too far away. A few drops of rain fell. Mary was concerned about the steep rocky slope. I let her go ahead while I took a few pictures of the alpine tundra. We then slowly went past the rocky area until we reached the trees. The hike became easy after that. The storm had moved away but it was still cloudy. We sat near the first trees for a while and then moved down to Burro Pass.
After the pass, we entered the tight valley that was full of birds and flowers. Mary was getting concerned about bears again and kept talking or singing. This was getting on my nerves. We finally reached the car at 4 o’clock. I really enjoyed the hike today.
I began walking around the meadow filming grasshoppers jumping out of my way. We then left.
At Geyser Pass, the car’s thermometer showed 71 degrees F (when we reached Moab, it was 104 degrees F). We were slowly going down the dirt road. To avoid speeding up, we had to put the car in low gear until we reached La Sal Loop Road. It is so interesting to move through all these vegetation zones from arctic tundra to barren deserts below. Mt. Tukuhnikivatz appeared again in its sharp form with steep slopes. It looked very high. I was looking at its steep slopes thinking driving to 10000 ft, climbing the last 2000 ft and claiming that you have "climbed the mountain", is cheating. To really climb the mountain, you must start at 4 to 5 thousand ft.
When we reached Moab. Most places were closed because of Fourth of July. We bought pizza at a place that was open and ate it in our motel.