|Hiking||10.69 Miles|| 10 Hrs 25 Mns ||1.25 mph|
|3,436 ft AEG|| 1 Hour 52 Mns Break|
||no linked trail guides|
|Malapais was our backup plan today...ishamod wanted to go to Devil's Chasm, but the snow coverage map showed that the upper parts of the canyon had a solid layer of snow, so Malapais it was. I'd had this one on my list since 2017, but the weather/hiking partners' willingness to join me never worked out until today, so I was excited to finally hike Malapais.|
We started from Tortilla Flat just after sunrise, and I picked up a good gash on my left leg within the first 15 minutes when a loose rock broke away underneath my boot on the way up the steep hillside. In hindsight, it would've been more efficient following the official Geronimo Head route that's slightly longer but follows an informal trail...the Malapais route we were following takes a more direct approach up the first ridge and involves more brush and loose rock. Once we were on top of the ridge, the official route led into another rocky area that was slowing us down, so we backtracked slightly and made our way over to the Geronimo Head route and picked up the more open trail.
It had been 5+ years since I hiked to Geronimo Head, but the beautiful area around saddle 2750 with the yellow cliffs was very familiar as we made our way over to the creek bed. That stretch was mostly smooth rock with some small pools and was free of brush until we turned southeast and started the climb up toward Peak 3509, with Canyon Lake coming into view again behind us. On the way down the other side of the ridge, I found a single piece of pottery on the ground, and we saw a deer run off ahead of us.
We dropped down into another drainage and then started the final climb up the north side of Malapais. There was quite a bit of scrambling and catclaw in places, and we veered off the official route again and took a more roundabout but flatter approach farther east to get on top of the mountain. The terrain flattened out on top, but there was still a lot of cactus and catclaw that we had to dodge, so our pace still wasn't terribly fast. We stopped at the lower, north peak (4159) first before continuing south to the summit.
[ youtube video ]
It was great to finally be up there after looking up at Malapais from so many different angles over the years and was cool to see Battleship and Geronimo Head looking small from that perspective. We pulled out the summit register that @ScottHika placed in October last year. There were only two other entries besides his, both from December last year, so ishamod and I were the first and only signatures in 2022. There were a few initials carved in the rocks around the summit...too bad people don't just sign the register instead . We enjoyed the views and ate a quick snack but didn't spend too much time at the summit before we started down. Given how slow the pace had been, I expected we'd be finishing in the dark--one of the downsides of hiking Malapais on one of the shortest days of the year.
As we scrambled down the steepest stretch on the north side, I backed into a spiny plant and had ribbons of blood running down my leg and saw swelling within seconds...I'd never had a reaction like that to a spine poke, but it looked worse than it felt, fortunately. We made better time on the hike out, and the shadows and sun angle were nice as we looked out over Canyon Lake and the yellow cliffs on our way past 3509. We checked out Fragile Arche on the way down, and after learning our lesson at the start of the day, we stayed on the informal trail for the last mile, which saved some time.
We got back to the car just as the sun set and hadn't seen anyone all day. It was nice to see the Christmas lights on Tortilla Flat, and it ended up being a good plan B hike for today's Festivus hike, probably my last one of the year with ishamod. Although it's a challenging hike and a good workout, it was different than I expected--there wasn't any serious exposure or fall risk, with more long, steady ups and downs than extremely steep sections. It was more mentally than physically tiring, constantly looking down at the ground to avoid rocks and brush, but it was a fun one and worth the effort.