Monday, January 25, 2016

Mecca Hills: Painted Canyon Ladder Hike

Entering Painted Canyon
 Jutting upward from the San Andreas Fault just across I-10 south of Joshua Tree National Park is the incredible Mecca Hills. These hills are some of the most unique geologic rock formations I've ever seen. In fact, driving through them reminded me of a set from the original Star Trek. I almost expected to spot a Gorn on one of the jagged hillsides who would (of course) promptly hurl a giant boulder at our car, because that's what Gorns do. The Mecca Hills are beyond barren. There is little plant life and no sign of water. It's the kind of place you really don't want to be stuck in.
Looking for the slot canyon entrance.
Despite the remote feel of the locale, the trailhead at Painted Canyon was packed full of vehicles, and in typical southwest style strewn with trash and broken bottles. We were immediately barricaded on both sides by towering rock walls as we started the hike. I tried my best to ignore all the graffiti littering the walls as we hiked in deeper. We were looking for a slot canyon known as "The Ladder Hike" that existed somewhere within the larger canyon, but lacking a very detailed map, we weren't sure of its exact location. Eventually we reached an arrow on the ground built from stones that pointed to a mass of boulders that evidently led to the slot canyon. If we hadn't seen the crude marker on the ground we would have passed unknowingly by, as the junction lacked any signage and took some scrambling to reach. 

The walls closed in around us. Once we made the slot canyon the entire hike changed. Some places light didn't reach. Others we had to slide through narrow rock passages. Ladders placed throughout the canyon created a really unique hiking experience as we dropped deeper inside. Although I had a great time, I felt quite uneasy at times in that little canyon. A rock slide from the top could easily have trapped us. We had anticipated a view of the Sultan Sea once we reached high ground, but rain clouds moving in from the distance convinced us to turn around and cut our hike short. Flash floods are dangerous, and in that little slot canyon there is virtually no way out.
Greg descending a ladder deeper into the canyon,

Mecca Hills