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Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
Not Really the Best Route?
I headed into this hike with expectations a bit too much on the high side. It's sister canyon, Marble Canyon (south)is an exceptional canyon trek, exhibiting variety, challenge and vistas right from the get go. This northern cut, though sharing the first portion of the bottom mile of the canyon, departs up and away without the drama, without the great upper vistas, and without any of the characteristics common to it's southern sister.
I found the first hour or so to hold to that pattern. It could well be that the issue is in the comparative only. In fact, it is a nice canyon hike. It moves steadily and easily up through mostly shrub and smaller boulders. Not too far up it forks, with the main cut staying to the right. The left cut is a shorter spur canyon that would terminate out in the 6800' level over into the ridge that accesses Ortega Peak. The right cut is the main canyon, and fortunately, as you work your way ever higher, it gets better and better. If I had to note one characteristics over any other, it was that there were repeated 9-15' high obstacles, usually bedrock waterfall slits with a chock block boulder. These turned into more and more interesting challenges and give the hike an interesting aspect.
Eventually, a very nice staircase waterfall is reached that includes a nice rock basin. This is a great picnic spot, and for many people may also be the logical place to stop and return back down the canyon. For those desiring the full canyon experience, above this point do lie some more of those challenging mini-climbs, and then one of the easier upper sections of any of the frontal range canyons. The grade stays soft, and the canyon bottom narrows and fills with dense growth. You will eventually reach a very surprising feature: a meadow formed from what appears to be a man made berm, once probably creating a small tank for collecting the seasonal runoffs.
At this point you have the choice of taking the first drainage cut coming in from the left, which will carry you directly up to the base of Ortega Peak.... or, continuing on up the main cut to the basin below the false peak next to Hershberger Peak... or, head up the drainage to the right which will carry you directly up to Hershberger Peak. I suggest that if this is your first time, take the route to Ortega Peak.
No matter which path you follow to the top, most likely you'll trek down the mountain on "A" Trail 119.
I'd have to suggest that if you plan to hike all of the Marble Canyon hikes, do this one first... saving the others for later!
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