Friday, February 5, 2010
At only 8012', Mt. Bangs may not sound that impressive, but when viewed from Mesquite you can see what the draw is to this mountain. It truly is an imposing presence, covered in snow throughout winter and into spring, rising an astounding 6000' from the Virgin River valley. This 6000'-high mountain height relative to its base, also known as prominence, means that the Virgin Mountains and Mt Bangs are nearly the same size as the mammoth Wasatch Range of northern Utah (for example, Lone Peak at 11,200' minus east bench draper at 4900' = 6300'). People tend to get hung up on elevations printed on maps which are relative to sea level, but measuring mountain height relative to surrounding terrain is much more descriptive of how big a mountain is.
I've been obsessed lately with climbing high-prominence mountains lately and Mt. Bangs was a dandy.
Starting out near Mesquite amongst typical Mojave flora.
Like many mountain ranges in the Basin and Range, the Virgin Mountains are still on the rise. The white arrows in the air photo above point out a sharp fault break or escarpment that runs along the west side of the range. This escarpment was formed by powerful earthquakes that ruptured and displaced the ground surface several feet -- everything on the left side of the escarpment toward the valley dropped down, while the mountains to the right raised up a few feet. The fact that you can still see this sharp break today indicates it formed fairly recently in the geologic past and that future earthquakes and surface rupture are likely to happen again in the future.
Above: this is what the rupture looks like up close where the creek out of Elbow Canyon has carved out a nice view. The red line shows the plane of rupture or fault and the arrows indicate which way the sediment on each side of the fault moved. This rupture occurred during an earthquake in the 6.0-7.0 magnitude range.
The road up Elbow Canyon is steep and rough but not too bad on a bike.
This part of the Virgin Mountain are part of a metamorphic core complex. These areas, scattered throughout the Basin and Range, are where the Earth's crust has been stretched extremely thin and younger rocks have been either peeled or eroded away to reveal some of the oldest "basement" rocks on the planet. These billion-plus-year-old rocks at one time were covered by miles of additional rock and thus were under tremendous heat and pressure. Originally an evenly speckled granite, the heat and pressure have segregated all of the individual pink (orthoclase), black (biotite, hornblende), and white (quartz, plagioclase) minerals into colorful bands called gneiss.
The gneiss up Elbow Canyon is some of the most colorful I've seen. Some of it has some huge embedded garnet crystals (dark purple and brown circular "chunks" in photo below).
Gaining altitude -- about halfway up Elbow.
On the way up I noticed this formed concrete sidewalk, which was way out of place clear up here. No time to stop to investigate though. Onward and upward.
Above: near the top of Elbow Canyon -- soon the snow will become too deep and I'll change into hiking boots.
Above: crossing over a high pass at the top of the canyon brings you to a beautiful little green valley stuffed with manzanita. It has no name on maps, so I officially dub it Manzanita Valley. That's Mt. Bangs in the upper left part of photo.
Manazanita easily wins the coolest-looking-bark contest, but it also comes in a tie with the hardest-to-hike-through contest along with scrub oak. You need to stay out of this stuff and on the road as long as you can.
Above: the final approach to the top. Luckily, I spotted an old mining road seen here angling up to the left in the right-center part of the photo. This old track gets you within about 1/4 of the top. From there, it is bush-whacking and boulder scrambling to the summit.
Above: view from near the top -- this is looking north over the Virgin River Gorge area and on to the Pine Valley Mountains near St. George.
Above: looking back down southward into Manzanita Valley. You can just make out the Grand Wash Cliffs through the haze in the distance.
Finally! It's one of the best feelings in the world to sit on top of mountain that you have conquered 100% under your own power. Looking at these pictures now, I'll admit, the cycling tights with winter boots look a little silly but it got the job done.
Above: soaking in the views (to the west) on top. Somewhere way down there is my car where I started the day. Mesquite and the Mormon Mountains are in the distance.
Above: looking south along the summit ridge toward the southern Virgin Mountains.
What?! Hancock Peak? Did I somehow get off course and climb the wrong peak? Na - it's not that uncommon for triangulation station bench marks to have a different name than that printed on USGS topo maps.
I made good time up so I had plenty of time to explore on the way down. This little rock cabin is nestled in the southern part of Manzanita Valley.
On the way back down Elbow Canyon I stopped to check out the mysterious sidewalk. This is a seriously creepy place. There are a series of concrete pads connected with sidewalks. The pads have several firepits and the highest has a cement altar facing east toward the mountain and it's painted red. And then there is a stone-lined trough that resembles a baptismal font of some sort. Could this be some place of worship for a secretive sect?
Above: this pad hangs over the edge and has a nice view down the canyon.
Above: a closer look at the red altar.
Above: a clue perhaps about who would build such things out in the middle of nowhere?
An awesome day in the desert. I have to say I've been very happy with my new mountain bike so far -- light and efficient and perfect for these ultra-climbs.
Final round-trip numbers: 9 hours; 32 mi/4500' vert. bike ride; 10 mile/1500' vert. hike