Friday July 6, 2001
Today, I was planning to climb Pilot Mountain 12200 ft, 3719 ft. The mountain is only one mile away from Manns Peak which we climbed on Wednesday but I wanted to take a totally different route so that I could see as much of the La Sal Mountains as possible. I was planning to approach the mountains from the northeast through the Beaver Basin (on Wednesday, we had approached the mountains from the west and on Monday I had done it from the southeast).
Got up in Moab, Utah at 5:20. I ate in the hotel and left at 6:30. The forecast said isolated afternoon showers and it was already partly cloudy but it turned out to be a great day.
I went on Route 128 where we had come from on Saturday. This road follows the banks of the Colorado River (elevation 4000 ft, 1200 m) northeast at the bottom of a canyon with red walls. After about 18 miles from Moab, I reached the junction of Castle Valley which joins the canyon of the Colorado River from the southeast.
Castle Valley is a straight valley that runs southeast-northwest. It is 7-8 miles long and about 2.5 miles wide. A very long and impressive looking wall runs the whole length of the valley marking its southwestern boundary. This wall is about 1200 ft, 350 m tall. The northeastern boundary is much less obvious and consists of buttes, spires and other odd-shaped rock. I turned on Castle Valley Road which slowly went up in elevation as it traveled the length of the valley. It was only then that I realized this was the valley I had seen from the top of Manns Peak and Mt. Tukuhnikivatz. The mountains could now be seen rising above the southeastern end of the valley. The beginning of the valley had sparse vegetation and was made of intensely red dirt and rock but toward the southeastern end, the elevation had gone up to around 5600 ft, 1700 m and small green Juniper trees and bushes had come to cover everything. The earth was no longer red. A lone round rocky hill rose to 6184 ft, 1885 m in the middle of the valley. This hill is known as: The Round Mountain.
As the valley merged into the northern slopes of the mountains, the road became much steeper. I was up to 6500 ft, 2000 m when I turned east on Castleton Gateway Road which goes up the hills that form the northern margins of the La Sal Mountains. A dense forest of big bushes covered all the slopes. The road made many turns going higher in elevation. I could sometimes get glimpses of high peaks looming above the slopes to the south but I could not identify them. There were supposed to be dinosaur tracks around the road but I did not see them.
The road went up to a maximum elevation of around 8600 ft, 2600 m where it suddenly reached the edge of cliffs that led to steep slopes dropping 2500 ft, 750 m into a valley to the north. This must have been the Fisher Valley which runs parallel to Castle Valley but is much wider.
After that, pavement ended and the road went down to about 8000 ft, 2450 m where it turned south. I was at that point on the northeastern corner of the La Sal Mountains heading toward them. I could see the north slopes of The Red Wedge 11641 ft, 3548 m (this side of it was not red) and the Beaver Creek Peak 11841 ft, 3609 m (AKA The False Summit of Mt. Waas) forming the eastern and the western walls of the Beaver Creek Valley. This was the valley that would lead me into the mountains. The tip of Manns Peak 12272 ft, 3741 m was sticking above the southern end of the valley.
The road then began to slowly go up in elevation again until it reached Beaver Basin Road which I took south. This road follows the Beaver Creek giving access to the upper portions of the Beaver Basin. Dense forests of Aspen appeared everywhere. The road tunneled through the trees and became rough and uneven. I could no longer see any peaks. Only the immediate slopes around me were visible. Like Monday (when I climbed Mt. Tukuhnikivatz), cows that were left free to graze the forest appeared on and around the road.
I then reached a place where several spur roads branched off. I didn’t know which one was the main road. I had to get out of the car and walk on the roads a little to find the one that seemed to be the main branch.
After 1.5 miles on Beaver Basin Road (near the spur road to Dons Lake), the road became 4 wheel drive like my guidebook had said. I had planned to park there and hike the rest of the road but I decided to drive on to see if I could shorten my hike a little. As I drove on, I found the road wide enough for only one car. Tree trunks were literally an arm’s length away. The surface of the road was littered with big rocks and huge potholes. Very soon I decided that I had had enough of that road. There was no place to turn around so I reversed back to a place where I could park.
It was 8760 ft, 2670 m there and I was 40 miles from Moab. The hike to the 12200 ft, 3719 m summit of Pilot Mountain will be 4.75 miles one way. Had I driven to the end of the road, my hike would have been shortened by 3.5 miles, however, I felt that I would not get the true mountain hiking experience unless I walked the road. Compared to Monday and Wednesday, this will be a much longer hike with a greater elevation gain. I was not "in the mountains" yet but I could see that forested slopes around me would gradually come to form the tight valley of Beaver Creek which cuts into the mountains in a southwest-northeasterly direction.
I began hiking at 8:20. I did not see a single person until later when I was on the summit. I was glad I did not drive. Although most of the road was not too bad (by 4WD standards), it did have a few rough spots. Forests of Aspen grew all around me. Sometimes pine trees became more abundant making the forest pretty dark. Occasional meadows provided bright sunny spots. The road went parallel to Beaver Creek but was far from it so the creek could not be seen. I don’t know why I was getting paranoid about bears. I was telling myself I had three lines of defense: my hiking pole, the noise maker and finally the bear mace. Of course all of these can turn out to be pretty useless. I was not too far from the car when I heard something move in the forest. I turned around and saw a big animal but soon realized it was a cow. I did not see any cows after that.
It was 9:50 when I reached a large talus field 10100 ft, 3078 m which had created a big opening in the forest. It looked like the site of an ancient landslide. The steep slopes of Manns Peak appeared at the end of the valley to the southwest. This reminded me so much of a picture I had taken of Handies Peak (July 12, 1998). The 11849 ft, 3612 m Dry Peak, which is a bump on the northwestern ridge of Manns Peak was also visible. I was now right at the base of the Beaver Creek Peak (to the northwest) and the Red Wedge (to the southeast). The slopes of these two mountains formed a "gate" that guarded the entrance into the Beaver Basin. I had come 2.5 miles from my car and had only now reached the elevation at which I started hiking on Monday and Wednesday. I don’t know why I had become so concerned about bears today. I had been hiking the last few days and I was just tired.
As I went on, Aspen forests were gradually replaced by Pine forests. The meadows gave me great views of Manns Peak. I was getting closer and closer to it. The valley became much wider until it turned into a cul-de-sac surrounded by mountains. This was the Beaver Basin.
The slopes of Pilot Mountain and Green Mountain appeared to the west. I could not tell if I was seeing their summits or not. Jackass Pass (where I had to go next) could be seen above the timberline between Dry Peak and Pilot Mountain. I saw two cars and a couple of tents under the trees by the road. someone had camped there but I saw no people. The rusty remains of a crashed 1940s looking car was sitting by the road. The really red slopes of the Red Wedge had now appeared behind me. I was also beginning to see the southern slopes of Mt. Waas.
The road made two sharp switchbacks and ended. I had seen these switchbacks from the top of Manns Peak on Wednesday. An abandoned mine is supposedly somewhere around here. I then went up a steep slope and reached a very pretty grassy area 11100 ft, 3380 m that had a lot of tiny yellow flowers. I really liked it there. The slope above me to the south, had very young pine trees on it. There were a few dead logs in the area but not too many. This did not look like the site of an avalanche. I was wondering what had happened to the trees. To the north, I could see the slopes of Mt. Waas which were a little red.
I then continued on a trail that went into a nice pine forest. A few times I ran into fallen trees that blocked the trail until after one such tree I could not find the trail anymore. I kept looking but there was no sign of it anywhere. I went up the forested slopes toward where I thought Jackass Pass would be until the forest began to thin out and I saw the pass in the distance. There were a few cliffs on my way to the pass that I needed to avoid. The earth around me turned yellow.
I then ran into the trail which I followed around the cliffs and above the timberline 11500 ft, 3500 m to Jackass Pass 11660 ft, 3554 m. The red canyonlands suddenly appeared on the other side in the western horizon far below me. A very different view of Manns Peak could now be seen to the southeast. The very tip of Mt. Mellenthin was also visible much farther south. I was just laughing at the name "Jackass Pass" and kept using it as a swear word.
I then headed northwest on top of a broad ridge. There was no more trail. At first there were still a few bushes around but then the slopes became covered with alpine tundra which consisted of very small flowers, grasses and moss. This gave everything a fuzzy velvety feel. I first reached a false summit and then went up another small hill to reach the true summit at 12:10.
No one was there. The summit was a rather broad dome that looked like an upside down bowl covered with alpine tundra. My GPS said 12150 ft but after a few minutes it went up to 12220 ft and stayed there. That was still pretty accurate (within 20 ft). It said I had hiked exactly 5 miles.
The view of the far south was very similar to what I had seen from the summit of Manns Peak on Wednesday. The three highest peaks of the range: Mt. Peale 12721 ft, 3877 m, Mt. Mellenthin 12645 ft, 3854 m and Mt. Tukuhnikivatz 12482 ft, 3805 m (plus Little Tuk) could be seen on a straight line east to west. These constituted the entire width of the La Sal Mountains. To the east of Peale and to the west of Tukuhnikivatz, forested slopes merged into lowlands.
The long narrow Burro Ridge and the dome-shaped summit of Haystack Mountain (both 11641 ft, 3548 m), were much closer to me to the south. Right in front of me to the south, the slopes dropped into a valley called the Dry Fork of Mill Creek. Across the valley, was the 11867 ft, 3617 m Mill Creek Peak which is really just a high point on the western ridge of Manns Peak.
Manns Peak 12272 ft, 3741 m dominated the view to the southeast only one mile away. Its northern slopes were very steep. A high ridge (with 11660 ft, 3554 m Jackass Pass as its lowest point) connected Manns Peak to Pilot Mountain. Dry Peak and the false summit I had climbed were located on this ridge. The tips of Mt. Tomasaki 12239 ft, 3730 m and Deep Creek Peak 11926 ft, 3635 m were peeking above the southeastern slopes of Manns Peak.
To the east, the slopes of Pilot Mountain dropped into the Beaver Basin. I actually had to walk a little east and down in elevation to get a good view of a portion of the road I had hiked on. The Red Wedge marked the eastern boundary of the Beaver Basin. I was probably seeing Colorado’s Uncompahgre Plateau beyond the Red Wedge in the eastern horizon. It was barely visible and only appeared as a continuous stretch of highlands rising above a valley (probably that of Dolores River).
To the north, the 12163 ft, 3707 m Green Mountain was only half a mile away. The ridge that connects Pilot Mountain to Green Mountain goes barely below 12000 ft, 3650 m. From Moab, Pilot and Green Mountains appear as twin peaks.
To the north and northeast of Green Mountain, Castle Mountain 12044 ft, 3671 m, La Sal Peak 12001 ft, 3658 m and Mt. Waas 12331 ft, 3758 m (which was much bigger than the other two) were visible. These peaks appeared as a cluster of bare hills. On the summit of Green Mountain there seemed to be a wooden post standing above a white plastic barrel lying on its side. Maybe it was a weather station.
I could see sections of an old abandoned road running just below the summits of Pilot Mountain, Green Mountain and their connecting ridge. My guidebook talked about "an ugly bulldozer scar courtesy of Union 76 to the mountains". I don’t know why there was a road there and where it came up from.
To the northwest, the cliffs of Castle Valley made a very impressive sight. On a map, the cliffs seem to be on a straight line but from here they seemed to form an arch. The southern end of the valley was forested and appeared green. The northern end, which is lower in elevation, had sparse vegetation and looked fiery red. That conical hill that I had driven by (Round Mountain) was also visible. A couple of lower peaks that were covered with forest all the way to their summits, provided a nice foreground for the view of Castle Valley. These peaks were probably Horse Mountain 11130 ft, 3392 m and its false summits.
To the west, a few lower peaks dropped into forested slopes that gradually merged into the red barren canyonlands. The lower peaks had a number of bald (unforested) spots where the earth had a whitish hue. Mill Creek Canyon carved a deep groove in the forested slopes. Part of the La Sal Loop Road could be seen near the canyon. The view of Spanish Valley with its long line of cliffs was the same as what I had seen from the summit of Manns Peak and Mt. Tukuhnikivatz. Moab could be seen as a green spot at the northern end of Spanish valley which was red. With my camcorder, I was zooming on the red canyonlands hoping to find something I could identify but I could only see vague cliffs and mesas in the haze.
It was partly cloudy. When the wind blew, it felt a little cold but overall I was very comfortable with my raincoat on. There were a lot of flies there but they did not bother me. I was enjoying the silence that was broken by the buzz of the flies or occasional planes that flew over at very high altitude. I was tired so I lied down on my belly spreading my arms and legs. The ground felt pretty warm and comfortable. The fuzzy alpine tundra made me feel as if I was hugging a warm furry giant.
It was 1:20 when I saw a couple coming to the summit. They had come from Miners Basin to the west where the route is shorter with less elevation gain. They said they live in Moab and climb these peaks often but they rarely run into other people. Later I heard the woman talking on her cell phone about "the clinic". I wondered if they were doctors.
I then left at 1:30. It was mostly sunny. Going down steep slopes can be very slow. I reached Jackass Pass and went on the trail going into the pine forest. I did not lose the trail this time. The steep slopes of Manns Peak provided me with very dramatic views through the openings in the forest.
Once I reached the road, I was finally able to begin to walk fast. I was then going through those dense forests of Pine and Aspen. Occasional meadows gave me great views of Manns Peak behind me. The weather was perfect. I could hear the birds and the sound of the wind in the trees. I was halfway down the road when I heard the roar of an engine approaching. After a minute or so two jeeps went by. They were filled with camping equipment. There was a big dog in the front seat of one of the jeeps who seemed to have a hard time holding his balance on the rough road.
I was almost back to the car when three people on mountain bikes came. They had a map that was not very detailed and only showed Manns Peak. I gave them the photocopy of my map and the route description that I had in my pocket.
I reached the car at 4. My GPS said the round trip had been 10.6 miles. I started to drive back, stopping at that high point on Castleton-Gateway Road to check the view of Fisher Valley again. After that, the road was paved but very narrow, having one curve after another. I love driving on roads like this. I had to put the car in low gear to avoid speeding up too much. There was good music on the radio. Sometimes I came across sharp curves that I wanted to drive through without slowing down but at the last second would need to hit the brakes. That was fun. Every now and then I got views of peaks that I could not identify. When I reached Route 128, all those red cliffs by the Colorado River were looking very dramatic in the late afternoon sun but I did not bother to stop to take any pictures.
I dropped off a few more rolls of film at the photo shop on my way into town and then went back to the motel. Mary came back from having been at the pool. We went back to the photo shop and picked up my pictures, then went to the brewery and had a nice big meal. All day, besides breakfast, I had only eaten two 200 calorie Balance Bars.