Monday, November 10, 2014

Little Ice Canyon ( Dripping Springs Canyon)- Organ Mountains

 I emerged from the thicket in Ice Canyon, and with little or no hesitation proceeded on the trail that goes above the old hotel and sanitarium ruins to the small catchment pond that impounds water from Little Ice Canyon. On the way, I snapped a few photos of the lower falls which had a decent,but not spectacular flow. At the little falls above the pond( where, in warmer months, I've often wet down my clothes for the return hike) I saw several pairs of shoes under some brush. Rock climbers? I didn't know, but I decided to head on up the use trail to the wild, wild territory above the little falls.

         It is often the case that when I can't reach my destination or otherwise can't complete the hike I had planned, a need grows out of my dissatisfaction to do one more thing,one more bit of exploring before I call it day. It could a bit of scenic driving,  taking a different route back, or just taking a short side trip. On this day, it was heading up into the narrow box of Little Ice Canyon.
  I had been up there once before, many years ago, when I caught  a glimpse of red high up, and decided to investigate. I made it up to the first few maple trees, took in their blessings and retreated. This time I wasn't sure what I wanted. After a few hundred yards, a trail exited to the left. I took it, and was soon up on the ridge that divides  Big Ice from Little Ice. I got a great view of where I had just been climbing in  Big Ice. The section of cascades on bare rock was so steep, it appeared to be without depth.  Flat. Two dimensional. I couldn't see exactly where I had turned around,but the visual of  how little  horizontal distance I had covered was disheartening. Maybe I had given up too soon. Maybe that 30 foot waterfall was last one where I would have to cling to the cliff, or power through the brush to get around. Maybe I should have switched to the north side of the stream and the going would have been easier. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe not.
Looking at Ice Canyon

 I climbed westward up to the high point  of the little ridge. Nice, but not enough. I ate my lunch looking eastward at the massive walls of the canyon. As I was finishing. I heard voices from up there. I went back down to the little flowing stream and headed up. After negotiating a slippery area of slabby bedrock. I came upon three teenage boys, barefoot, standing by deep pool of clear,cold water,which was being fed by a thin sinuous cascade that flowed down from the darkest, narrowest section of canyon above.

 The boys had thought bare feet would more easily  handle the terrain better than their slip on Nikes. They had been up above the cascade, but the rock had gotten increasingly sharp. The lichen and moss had also made the footing  tricky.  I told them I had heard of a passage from this canyon( with much climbing I'm sure) over into Bar Canyon( Soledad tributary). They were incredulous, not so much that such a route existed ,but perhaps that anybody would want to do it. They may haven't gotten the impression that that was my plan( it wasn't). They wished me good luck and headed down. I thought if they could do it so can I.
                                                                       The  Fall
 Even though I had carefully planned practically every step I took over in Big Ice, no sooner had the boys left my sight, I found myself powering my way up the smooth rock on the left ( north)side of the waterfall. It was very steep,but  I thought to myself, this is easier than I thought. Now of course,  when someone thinks that you know what's coming. At the very top of the cascade( it seemed like the top it was hard for me to tell), it got a little bit steeper. And then there was the hump. A small hump for sure,but with nary a place to get even a finger hold. I felt myself slipping down, only not the way I came, but toward the water. I panicked a little. I  really wasn't going to make it up, not only that, but I was going to fall. I felt it would be best to turn around  for some reason( perhaps to be facing my fate). It was difficult,but I managed it. I enjoyed my success for a second or so and then gravity and the lack of friction took over and I began to slide towards the water.  I accelerated rapidly,probably went airborne briefly, and then landed flat on my back in the waterfall, my backpack with my denim jacket threaded through it, helping to break my fall. Luckily, there was break in the vertical and I was able to stop myself from ending up in the pool at the bottom.  I took off my backpack and tossed it to dry rock below. I carefully eased myself out of the little pool, watching the gush of water  I was holding back erupt from underneath me as I lifted up. Slowly, I shifted onto the smooth dry rock on my right and made my way down without further incident.The whole time this was happening, my phone was ringing.

 My phone wasn't wet or damaged as I carry it in the front pocket. I called my wife.Didn't tell her what had just happened. I had some pain on my right thigh and hip socket, but other than that I was alright. Wet, but alright. I looked at the waterfall. Just above the pool, stuck, with the water running over it, was my hiking pole. I thought about retrieving it, but it would've meant taking off shoes, socks and pants. I was wet, but I didn't need to get soaked. Strangely enough I found myself looking back up at the rock beside the waterfall, thinking that perhaps a route further to the left would have been better. Thinking I should have asked the boys how they managed it. Much later it on, thinking on those photos I've seen, it occurs to me that in dry times the crack the waterfall has made in the rock at its top might be the easiest route of all. I could feel something inside burning to give it another shot. Wisely, the voice that said "no, not today" won out. Now  I felt myself giving in again to the idea of hiking with companions especially when attempting something ridiculously off trail such as this. I felt stupid.  I thought about how mortified I would have been if I had needed rescuing.All along, I had intended to invite a comrade, but never brought myself to do it. I'm pretty much a loner when it comes to the outdoors.,but now it may be time to break that habit, at least some of the time. I picked up my wet jacket and began to make my way down. Before I left I noticed some faint graffiti on the side of the pool. Kids probably come here in the summer to get wet and maybe even slide into the pool on purpose. With that bit of perspective, I was done with the place for that day.

    At some maples, lower down I snapped a few pictures. The boys were only a short ways ahead of me. Part of me wanted to catch up and tell them what had happened, part of me didn't. The whole episode  on the waterfall had lasted maybe a minute or two, but that's enough. It was cool and overcast as I hiked back. As I got in my car, it started to rain. NOTE: As with upper Ice Canyon, Little Ice Canyon above the little cascade has been posted with signs warning that you are trespassing on military property. Enter at your own risk. This area is not part of Organ Mountains/ Desert Peaks National Monument

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