Thursday, January 24, 2013

11th Hour Explorers

Spearfish Canyon is a hiking wonderland. Just when you think that you've done it all, another hike will pop up offering awesome views and new inspiration. This was the case with 11th Hour Gulch.

Looking to the road.
We've heard that 11th Hour Gulch is so-named because it only receives one hour of daylight a day. It is located around Mile 20, right around Kissing Rocks, and there is a small turn-off that allows for a few cars to park.

After parking, my brother-in-law, Jeremiah, Wu, and I headed south a few hundred feet to the gulch. When you are walking south, keep your eyes open, it's pretty easy to miss. The opening is only about 20 feet across and creeps back into a limestone crack.

Wu at the 2nd ladder.
At the entrance there are boulders that have to be tackled. It brings out your inner mountain goat, which is fun. Just past the boulders is an opening that's just big enough for a few people and their gear. Clinging to the right hand side is a iced over waterfall. It was marvelous.

Just past the clearing is a makeshift ladder that brings you up to the next area. It was easy enough to traverse, Wu climbed it without trouble. With the recent snow fall it seemed like a winter wonderland.

When there is one ladder, I guess you should expect two. The next ladder was much steeper and impassable for Wu, though he tried. I made it up beyond it and was confronted with a ice rink, another small iced-over waterfall, and a tree root ladder up to an area that allows for some real hiking.

With Wu stuck at the second ladder, we decided to call this hike and head north to Community Caves. It's a favorite spot of ours, especially with snow on the ground. The hike is definitely more intense but grappling up a ravine is more fun when there's snow to slide down afterward.

Anytime of year, the trail is easy to spot. There's no markers but the braided trails of the visitors throughout the years show the way. We wove down the creek bed and then headed up the ravine. The ice was well developed and we took our time.

The worst part of the trail was the last one hundred feet. It was solid ice but once we reached the top, the frozen waterfall and the green columns of ice were our reward for making it all the way.

It never ceases to amaze me how the area under the overhang is always dry and a perfect haven from the weather outside. It seems to have a calming effect. Each time I visit it seems that I discover something new. I always find the same spot, take a seat, catch my breath, and enjoy the moment.

Once we'd taken it all in, then we began the descent. It was really a barely controlled fall. It was energizing and fun and I highly recommend it!

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