Wednesday, March 28, 2012

2012 - March 6th - West Fork Pollock Canyon, McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area / Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness

I probably spend more time than I'd care to admit using Google Earth.  I remember the first time that I had found out that Google Earth was coming into existence.  I about lost my mind.  I spend a considerable amount of time perusing maps; I have since I was a child.  Believe it or not, my desire to look upon a map is what initially got me into weather.  But that's another story.

I have often explained to people that the waterfalls on the Uncompahgre Plateau usually exist along the exposures of Precambrian rock.  For whatever reason, I had neglected to use Google Earth to find the Precambrian exposures.  Imagine my excitement when I realized that many of the canyons that I had not explored yet had Precambrian exposures.  Looking closely into the forks of Pollock Canyon, I saw what I thought might be plunge pools or areas of water likely carved by a waterfall or cascade.

 Possible Plunge Pool
I searched online for images of possible waterfalls in Pollock Canyon but came up empty.  I knew that I would have to see for myself.  So, on my next available day off, I decided to head out. 

It was happenstance that I'd be hiking on the day prior to a storm once again.  Somehow that was becoming a common thread in 2012.  Winds were expected to pick up in the afternoon which would carry in dust from the rest of the Southwest.  Clouds would also be on the increase, so I was hoping for at least a little good light early.

I hit the trail a little later than planned, but was up on the Pollock Bench by 1PM.  The winds were strong, especially along the exposed sandstone ledges overlooking the Flume Creek drainage.  Wave clouds were already setting up in the lee of Grand Mesa.  

Waves over Grand Mesa

I made good time across the bench and descended onto the lower bench in the Pollock Canyon drainage.  The terrain seemed remarkably more forgiving than my previous trip through that area, the last time being on my return trip from the fourteen and a half mile Rattlesnake Arches adventure where I ran out of water. 

I had plenty of water and Gatorade with me this time and a much shorter route, rounding out around eight miles.  On my previous trip, I had neglected to take any pictures of the homes carved into the sandstone north of the wilderness boundary in Pollock Canyon, so I paused and did just that.

I also noticed a small arch in a sandstone fin across the canyon! (Look under the "a" in Dann)

I was blessed with a decent amount of sunshine before the big deck of clouds drifted in.  This gave me the opportunity for a few good sun-on-sandstone-and-blue-sky pictures. 

As I rounded the corner and began to head south, upstream on the canyon's middle bench, the clouds moved in and stuck around for the rest of the day.

Mossy Detail

As I reached the rim of the canyon, I encountered another solo hiker and exchanged brief tales about the long route to Rattlesnake. He seemed to be out without a specific destination.  I had a definite goal in mind.  

I paused to marvel at the canyon and remembered my first thoughts upon reaching it last spring.  "How the hell am I going to get down?"  

Which was immediately followed by: "And how the hell do I climb out of the other side??"

Luckily, that trail had already been blazed, so I found it much easier.  Soon, I was creekside at the bottom of the canyon.  Much to my delight, there was water in the wash.  It was milky, but flowing none the less.  Running water allows for the possibility of waterfalls, for those not following along.

I made haste up-canyon and headed right at the big canyon junction.  The canyon bottom wasn't anything unique compared to other canyons in the area.  The was was sandy and gravelly with plenty of exposed sandstone on the walls, which occasionally narrowed.  I knew once I entered the West Fork, I would be only a half mile from the Precambrian exposure.  Before I even got there, I found a nice drop in the sandstone. 

Not too much longer after that, I reached the pool that I had observed on Google Earth.  While there wasn't a towering waterfall, a nice little chute of about teen feet was a satisfying outcome. 

I paused here for a while, ate some trail mix and had a little Gatorade.  Then, I wandered around the vicinity, taking photos. 

Then, against my better judgement, I attempted to climb the rock next to the falls.  My first attempt ended in failure.  I just couldn't find good enough footholds to carry me up the face.  I ended up finding a much taller route, but that one was a little easier to manage.  Up above the pool now, I continued upstream, where several more cascades, chutes and drops could be found.  I eventually made it to a drop that I couldn't climb.  Water was falling down in curtains, but wasn't too concentrated in any one area.  I'd imagine during higher flow, this waterfall would be much more impressive.

I wedged myself into the little alcove and attempted to take a few hand-held long(er) exposures.  I was reasonably successful.  (The blurry ones are not shown!)

These boots are made for gettin' dirty.

Detail shot of the upper falls.

A nice little slide.

Looking back up.

A hidden cascade.

And finally, down the lower chute.

One of the biggest things I've learned while hiking is that just because you climb down something, doesn't mean you can get back up.  One of the other biggest things I've learned while hiking is that just because you climb up something doesn't mean you can climb down.  File this next step under the latter.  If you'll recall, there were two routes that I attempted while climbing the lower drop.  The first, I had to abandon.  Ultimately, the way I climbed up did not look suitable for climbing down.  So, I tried the first route and slowly worked my way down.  I came to a point where I could no longer get a good foothold and realized that I would have to jump.  So, here's how it worked: I slid down on my butt until the last foothold and then used it to launch myself forward, my arms adding a burst.  Luckily, I made it over the drink and landed feet-first in the soft mud. 

A final view of the pool.

With my goal achieved, I decided to head back home.  The skies had clouded up completely and the wind was occasionally mixing down to the canyon bottoms. 

Small arch on the canyon wall.

Once back up on the bench between the lower canyon and the higher area known as Pollock Bench, I found some hail from the previous storms that had rolled through.  See: 2012 Storm Chase 2 Report.

By the time I got up into the higher reaches of the canyon, I could really see the dust in the air.  What a change from earlier in the day!

Okay, not dust, but broccoli-mossy.

Here's the dust again, looking off the Pollock Bench.

Now looking east, over the valley.
Dusty, but notice the wave clouds still present. 

You can barely see the Book Cliffs in the background. (Colorado River middle ground)

After reaching my car, checked some satellite imagery and noticed that it was relatively clear to the west.  It occurred to me that the clearing may allow some sunshine in under the cloud deck at sunset, so I drove north of Fruita and found a nice position to watch the sunset.  Just as I suspected, with the dust in the air, it was spectacular.

Its funny that after a day, deep in the canyon, the best photos would come from sunset.  You always have to be ready, I guess! 

I didn't have the time or motivation to explore the East Fork of Pollock Canyon, but I plan to head back.  There is evidence on satellite of a few more pools in the Precambrian exposures.  Another time!  This hike ended up being about 8 miles round-trip with 400ft of max elevation change (though there was a lot of up and down).

Here's a useful map:



Lopez Kilpatrick said...

Dan, I love reading about your hikes. We managed to get Ian up and back a 3 mile hike at the edge of Morrison last weekend, and that was our first hike of the season... I am in awe of all the hiking you have done out there!

Dann Cianca said...

Thanks! I'm getting that "if you don't now, you may never" bug which is keeping me out on the trail more often than ever.

I was thinking of Alx the other day. Did he have any family affected by the earthquake near Oaxaca?