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Gobbler Knob Trail #236
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mini location map2015-11-25
33 by photographer avatarimike
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Gobbler Knob Trail #236Southeast, NM
Southeast, NM
Canyoneering avatar Nov 25 2015
Canyoneering21.00 Miles 4,300 AEG
Canyoneering21.00 Miles
4,300 ft AEG
Basic Canyoneering - Scrambling; easy climbing/downclimbing; frequent hand use; rope recommended; easy exit
 no routes
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Interesting to log an exploratory hike similar to my old solo outings... I miss those higher level adventure outings. Ross joined me to check out upper Deadman South... large drainage between Dog Canyon and Escondido Canyon. We discouraged other hikers from joining us; too much unknown about the upper reaches. Last hiker declined when we could not assure them that the hike would be less than 9 hours...

9 hours would have been a gift. The hiking continued for 18 hours without a major break.

At the end of 18 hours we were still 3.5 hours from being home. I will detail the events of the day with a revised post later. Bottom line: an exceptional canyon... and there are still two upper canyon sections that we need to go back and check out. We will plan and stage differently; the reasonable hiking time could be cut down to 12 hours... if all goes well.

...time to start using a Spot Device!

The Good…. The Bad… The Not so Ugly…

Where to Begin…? Perhaps at the end…

Ross collapsing on the ground, soaking in the heat from the fire… fully exhausted after 18 hours of constant, often too difficult hiking/climbing. Midnight rolling over in the moment… far away from the 6am start of our little bit of adventure.

The original plan: explore the upper sections of Deadman Canyon. We’d checked out the lower reaches back in the hot days of Summer; we knew then we needed cooler temps to allow us to go higher/longer.

It is cooler fact, we scored a perfect temperature range… cold morning rapidly warming to mild. We headed out of Oliver Lee State park for a reasonably early start, walking south across the desert scrub to the mouth of the canyon. Deadman has a great start: bit of minor bouldering surrounded by interesting slabs of limestone. Today’s route forked to the south, yielding a variety of great walking and lots of exceptional rock. Early on I began collecting pieces; the pack weight augments were to be impressive before days end.

Over the course of the first few hours I regretted having discouraged other hikers from joining us; this was one exceptional cut. The scrambles were mild and minor… the settings impressive. Anyone would enjoy the canyons lower regions.

Arriving at the first major fork, we spent time evaluating our options, finally deciding on a south cut off this South Branch. It was divided from the main drainage by a distinctive 40’ dryfall… staircase layers of not so good rock. We played with climbing the falls… eventually deciding that the worst case scenario (rotten rock!) dictated a bypass route. We made the easy alternate ascent on the north side. Once at the top and looking down over the edge we had a moment of pause… what were we thinking! Climbing that falls would have been nuts.

Right from the beginning this new canyon was distracting. The vistas… the rock layers… the fossil record… everything was just exceptional. The only negative was not related to the canyon. I was suffering a bit of gastric distress. It was enough to make me not want to add to the problem. My food plan for the day was simple: chocolate milk I’d warmed up and put into thermos bottles. I’d also packed a couple small bottles of Sport Aid. I held off drinking anything.

The canyon climbed. We lost count of the dryfall scrambles… climbing some, skirting others. Ever higher… the cliff walls closed in around us making the setting ever more dramatic. More impressive… ever more impressive. The rock collection in the pack also ever more impressive.

We had a time crunch decision… Noon… turn back… or risk the potential of making it fully up and out.

There were indicators that we might find a way up and out. Game trail activity on the side benches strongly suggested we could make it out. Then again, the same pattern would be there if there was surface water above in the canyon bottom.

We decide to move up…

The canyon just got better and better. We were into what might be the best of the best for this area… just a bit of everything we look to find. And then, we did find water…

There was a rotten rock climb out above the water area. All day we’d opted against moves that represented too much potential danger; we stayed with that pattern here. We back tracked and moved on to the canyon north side bench, once again finding trail activity… heading up!

We followed some trail areas… but we also continued to drop back into the canyon bottom, to enjoy that bedrock and dryfall scrambles. Eventually, we became blocked. We lost time making our way around, through and over the nastiest thick branch/vine tangle I’ve ever encountered. We needed machetes! From there, eventually back on the bench… and a make or break decision. We had to scale an 18’ vertical section of rock. Ross made the climb exposed. There were good foot and hand holds… I slotted into a narrow chimney; not good with exposure at all… I managed to squeeze my way to the top, pushing my pack up ahead where Ross pulled it up to a ledge.

We were beyond the time break that would have allowed a timely descent… West Side road was above… miles away, but a safe passage in the dark. We knew we could call out to be picked up once up and within range of cell service; it was the safe option.

Of course, there was still the question of whether the canyon would let us up and out…

...a very encouraging sign was a renewal of game trail up above the climb… the chances of clearing the cliffs seemed good… better than good. The downside: no food all day. I had finally drunk the two small bottles of sport drink… a total of 280 calories for the day! I decide to start in on the milk once the climbing was over with… or when we finally made it up to Gobbler Knob trail which I knew to be on top of the ridge.

It was a long climb out… but in keeping with the rest of the canyon… exceptional!

High on the ridge, moving through the last of a line of cliffs, we encountered an old horse trail. It led us up and out...and topping the ridgeline we came upon a cattle trail that gave us nice walking to the old Jeep road that is Gobbler Knob trail. A few miles on it and we were at West Side Road!

...shadows were getting long… not much daylight left. We stopped long enough to add some layers of clothes… and I finally started in on my first quart of milk. It tasted a bit off; I attributed it to the dry cocoa powder I’d added. I needed some calories to help with the fat burn necessary to continue moving!

The long road march out started. How long? To where ever a cell signal could be had! I guestimated Joplin Ridge… if not there, we’d have to hike all the way over to Long Ridge. Cell towers feeding the area are oriented out on that Ridge.

It was something of a Death March. My pack was up into the 45 pound range with all the rock. I’m not yet back into any kind of shape after the 3 months off from the busted rib back in the summer. I had not worn my usual light weight padded running shoes; work boots instead! I was foot sore… and energy low.

Also, there was the issue of not being able to work too hard. Ross really needed/wanted to contact his wife. He knew she’d be worried and at some point would call out SAR. He wanted to go fast. I wanted us to go slow… not sweat… keep our clothing dry. We were up close to 8,000’ for the night. We did not have any gear.

The plan… walk until we can make a call. Stop, build a fire. Hold out till morning, if necessary.

Fast forward...are more accurately, slow forward. It was Long Ridge. Arriving there around 8:30pm, Ross set to building a fire as I put the full moon illumination to good use gathering wood to burn. Interestingly, Ross was carrying our hike “favors” from a recent group canyon event: windproof matches and fuel tabs! A little effort and we had the security of a nice blaze.

I settled in to enjoy the warmth… Ross prepared for the final effort. There was no signal at the road/ridge intersection; he would have to hike up the ridge until he scored cell reception. He headed out. I worked for awhile gathering more wood then settled in to enjoy the second quart of chocolate milk.

I could not get the spout to allow flow… and then I could not get the lid off this new Thermos! Odd. With an oddly over the top effort, the lid finally began to turn… and to spew out a frothy mess… the milk had fermented in the bottle over the course of the day! That odd off flavor on the first bottle had been just!

My problem was minor to Ross’s ordeal. He was successful getting his message out, but not in directly contacting anyone. He was not sure when anyone would come looking for us. At least it would happen eventually; they would know where we were. He made it back to the fire just as the clock rolled past midnight!

He collapsed… in pain… exhausted.

We got lucky… around 1:30am a sheriff pulled into our site. SAR had been called out. They were hugely staged down in Oliver Lee State Park(???) He had taken it upon himself to study a map and head up the hill on the off chance we might have made it out of the top of the canyon… and over to the road. Ross’s call out had not made it to his wife who was out at Oliver Lee without any cell phone reception…

So… down the hill in the pleasant security of a police vehicle… and over to orient and sign off with SAR… I guess they get credit for rescuing the lost hikers???

Our decision to take the safe roadway exit extended our day. We should have staged a vehicle up on West Side road… we’d have been home in daylight. Now, we are going with a Spot device. Long in consideration, this day confirmed the value of being able to let folks know we are fine. And, if we are not fine… might be nice to let them know that, too!

There are still two upper canyon forks to be explored. Will they also let us up and out?

Was the 18’ vertical climb reasonable? My chimney route was reasonably secure. Questions to be considered,, along with a number of others. Right now… need to rest up for what comes next!

Hopefully the pictures will yield some idea of just how nice this canyon is...

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Ageless Mind... Timeless Body... No Way! Use It and Lose It. Just the way it is...
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