This is an epic journey and an essential experience for any Red Rock afficionado. The general idea is to traverse the Limestone crest behind the Red Rocks escarpment, making detours to climb the major Red Rocks peaks. From North to South; North Peak, Bridge and Rainbow Mountain, Mount Wilson, Indecision Peak, Sandstone Mountain, Black Velvet Peak, Windy Peak.
Much of the terrain makes for beautiful hiking with only two really ugly sections, getting down from, and back to the crest at Rainbow and Mount Wilson...grueling.
As a general rule, when traversing the crest, the easiest hiking is right on the crest. It is often easy to get lured onto the side slopes, but as much as possible try and follow the crest. There is usually a vague trail, but in large part this is a cross country route.
The traverse is surprisngly committing. Although it is always easy to descend to the west, this is a trackless wilderness. Many of the Canyons and their various branches end in cliffs. The best routes for descending to the east are as folllows.
(1) The branch of Pine Creek Canyon immediately to the south of Mescalito. As far as I am aware this is the only one of the many branches of Pine Creek that provides a reasonable descent. However, even it involves a few short fifth class steps.
(2) Oak Creek Canyon. Starting from the saddle to the west of Rainbow Mountain it is possible to descend the north fork of Oak Creek Canyon. Generally straightforward except for a few, long slippery slabs.
(3) First Creek Canyon. From the saddle to the west of Mount Wilson, head south into the upper reaches of First Creek canyon. Long and tiring, but straightforward.
(4) Black Velvet Canyon. From the saddle to the west of Sandstone Mountain, it is possible to drop into the top of Black Velvet Canyon. This is very steep at first , but is generaly straightforward. Long, bushy and tiring.
Overall this is an amazing hike, probably one of the nicest in the lower 48. The sandstone mountains themselves provide interesting semi-technical routes. The northern part of the crest is airy and rugged, the southern part more gentle with pleasant hiking but also a real feeling of wilderness.
The times given are not prescriptive, just an attempt to give a relative idea of the relative position of the major landmarks. The total distance is around 25 miles, with around 10000ft (a rough guess) of elevation gain in total.
I carried all my water with me (2 gallons) and didn’t see much opportunity for using a pump without major detours.
The route starts with a drive up the Rocky Gap Road to the trailhead below the west ridge of North Peak.
7 am Start hiking up the good trail which leads up the west ridge of North Peak.
7.45 am Leave pack on the ridge, where the trail reaches the crest.
Walk North along crest to North Peak (8.00 am), then retrace steps to pack (8.10 am).
Continue along crest, eventually reach Bridge Mountain Trail. Follow Bridge Mountain Trail along crest to where trail turns East and heads down to Bridge Mountain. (9.00 am). Drop your pack here.
Follow trail to Bridge Mountain Summit (9.45 am) and return to turn off. (10.30 am)
Follow the long crest to the Summit where a ridge drops down to the east towards the saddle that connects Rainbow Mountain to the crest. From the crest you are looking straight down to the saddle between Rainbow Mountain and the Crest. (12 noon). Leave your pack here.
From just North of the summit, go down a steep, rotten talus gully for a couple of hundred feet, until it is possible to traverse south onto the ridge that leads down to the saddle. From the saddle, walk up the sandstone for a couple of hundred yards, then go down a little gully on the other side of a saddle to join the Rainbow Mountain Trail. Follow the trail to the summit (12.45 pm) then retrace your steps back to the crest. (1.45 pm)
Continue along the rugged crest, over a major summit (pt. 2198m 0n the usgs map), which at 7253 ft is actually the high point of the range, and one of the best viewpoints. Continue along the crest towards another summit at the head of the ridge that drops down to the saddle behind Mount Wilson. Unfortunately, the upper part of this ridge is guarded by some steep, rotten cliff bands. These cliff bands are avoided by a long traverse which starts (2.30 pm) about two thirds of the way up the section of the crest leading to this summit. Traverse slightly down to the south east across rotten, bushy talus slopes. Stay as high as possible, and aim for the toe of the lowest cliff band on the ridge that leads down to the saddle behind Mount Wilson. When I was doing this section I came across a line of surveyors tape which marked the route.
If you find and follow the tape you reach the ridge at a small saddle just west of a little bump on the ridge. Leave the pack here. Continue down the ridge to reach the saddle between Mount Wilson and the Crest. Go up the sandstone a short distance to reach the trail up Mount Wilson. From the summit (4.00 pm) retrace your steps to your pack.
The next section regains the crest to the south of the summit at the apex of the ridge. Traverse slightly down to the south west, traversing around the base of a low cliff band. After getting round the cliff, traverse up and left over rotten talus ledges (brutal). Aim for the right end of a small cliff band of lighter colored rock. Once you get above this cliff band the terrain is a little easier. Continue heading up and left to eventually regain the crest a couple of hundred yards south of the summit on the crest. (5.30 pm)
Continue along the crest to the summit above Indecision Peak. An easy hike leads down to the saddle and up to Indecision peak. (6.15 pm)
Return to the crest.
After Indecision Peak, the crest changes character. The crest itself is less sharp and rocky and provides really nice hiking on a firm gravel surface. The Crest also drops down a little and splits up, with the higher ridge line being to the west. There are several options. I chose the lower crest to the east which goes along the rim of the upper reaches of the labyrinth of drainage's that make up Mustang and Sandstone Canyons. This section of Crest is nearly three miles long, and ends at Sandstone Mountain, the first major peak to the south.
After Indecision Peak continue south down the long crest to a saddle. Continue following the crest, at one point heading along a sharp ridge line on top of a steep east facing cliff. (pt. 6587 ft. on the usgs map) From just beyond this peak, head down to the east to get on the lower crest, which at this point is the rim of Sandstone Canyon. A short distance down along the crest is a little saddle where I bivied (7.15 pm). This saddle is actually at the very head of the north fork of Sandstone Canyon.
Continue along the crest for a long way until past the upper branches of Sandstone canyon. At this point I stopped following the crest and stayed slightly to the east, walking south east beside the border between the sandstone and the limestone. This involves crossing a few shallow ridges and heading in the general direction of the sandstone rocks just to the west of the saddle to the west of Sandstone Mountain. From these rocks (8.30 am) head down into the saddle then hike up to the Summit of Sandstone Mountain. Note this is not pt. 6252 on the Usgs map but the summit to the west, which is the higher of the two.
From the summit, retrace your steps then head west and back up to the limestone crest which is followed south to Mountain Spring Peak (6641). From the peak follow the ridge down to the east to the saddle behind Black Velvet Peak (9.30 am).
From the saddle follow the route up Black Velvet Peak. Expect tricky route finding and a few fifth class moves. Return to the Saddle. (10.30 am)
From the saddle behind Black Velvet Peak the next goal is Windy Peak a mile to the south. Although it is easy to regain the limestone crest and follow it around, this involves a really big loop around to the west. Instead I traversed the small bench between the sandstone and the limestone, which can be followed all the way around the upper reaches of Mud Springs Canyon, rejoining the crest a few hundred yards above the saddle to the west of Windy Peak. For much of the way a small but defined sheep trail makes for surprisingly easy hiking.
From the saddle behind Windy Peak a short hike leads along the broad slabby ridge to the summit. (11.45 am)
Descend down the hiking route, underneath the south face and out Windy Canyon to the Windy canyon parking area and your vehicle.