Mitchell Point, Edgar Peak
By: Dean Acheson
We (wife Pat and I) had always been curious about the peak guide side note about some having climbed Mitchell and Edgar via the triangle loop starting at the Cave of the Winding Stairs parking area. I'd been told there was a sign at the ranger counter saying "Don't evan ask!" regarding the question of whether or not you could get the key to the gate on the 4WD road leading to the cave. But, Pat said "Won't hurt to try" so I called and eventually talked to a (fortunately) newly assigned ranger who didn't know but would check with his supervisor.
Long story short, Pat and I met up with Vic and Sue Henney, Ted Brasket and Jeanette Vincent at the camping area just below the Providence Mountain ranger station on November 19, '99. Jeanette wasn't going to hike, so agreed to doggie-sit with our dog Gozer. Ted was eager to do the class 4 route more or less directly up to Edgar from behind the ranger station, and the rest of us set out to get a before daylight start to accommodate the expected climbing time required.
After a short night's sleep, we began hiking up the canyon towards Edgar in a foggy full moon, and by the time first light arrived, the sky was dark and we were beginning to wonder if we were going to be able to get even one peak. As we topped out at the end of the canyon the sky was black and visibility was reduced to about 50 feet. The wind was fierce and the freezing temperature did not promise a comfortable trip. At the register, Ted had signed in and left a note saying he'd waited an hour, but figured we'd turned back due to the weather. As we were contemplating what to do, the winds died down, the fog began to move away, and within 30 minutes of reaching the summit visibility had shifted from being barely able to see each other to being able to see all the way across to Mitchell!
So off we went, enthusiastically led by Vic across the ridge from Edgar towards Mitchell. There's about a thousand foot loss on the route, which has to be regained on the way. Vic's uncanny navigation skills maneuvered us over a few micro-peaks and around several dropoffs to finish off the last ridge ascent to Mitchell in full sunshine. We'd unlayered from winter to summer in something like three hours.
Our route from Mitchell back to the cave's parking area was back down the ridge just west of the ridge leading south from Mitchell. There was plenty of cholla to go round, and plenty of loose rock to help see that we each got our share. As dusk approached, Vic timed the departure from the ridge exactly right so we arrived in the canyon just west exactly at dark. A beautiful full moon was aimed perfectly up the canyon so our canyon walk could be accomplished sans headlamps! (Providence, perhaps?) We were back in camp at about 10:00.
Next day the ranger told us the guy who went up that 4th class route must've been a spiderman. We all laughed and said "Yeah, that's Ted."
A group of spelunkers were gearing up for the Winding Stairs trek as we were leaving. Their special non-stretch ropes and massive rings of beaners began to give us ideas about what we might prepare to do on a future visit to Providence. The advantages would be that the wind and weather would not be factors, nor would the phase of the moon or the status of the sun. Rules are now that for every one going into the cave, there-has to be one who's been there before. So we'll have to find enough cave people who've been into the Winding Staircase.
Meanwhile, we have fond memories of an adventurous hike in some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth, and got two more added to our list (Vic and Sue going on round 4!)
Addendum: Since this writeup, the triangle route access has apparently again been placed off limits to hikers. I hope this will be opened in the future, as this route was thoroughly enjoyable.
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