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Hiking Las Vegas Blog
The Monument Arch has been a quest of mine for several years. At first I thought it might be an illusion. (See photo below.) As time passed I forgot about it until Davis just happened to catch the Arch in a photo taken from Black Velvet Peak. After inspecting the photo, the hunt was on again! From previous hikes to East Monument Peak I was convinced the Arch was a technical hike (ropes) from the east. Davis and I figured we would approach it from the west, which meant hiking to West Monument and then somehow find a route down to the Arch. Not an easy task for an illusive Arch that might not exist! We obviously would need a good pair of hiking socks.
On December 7th, 2001, Davis and I tried to find the Arch by ascending to West Monument and then descending the Gully of Death. About halfway down the gully the sun started to sink and we got out of there. Attempt 1 was a dismal failure. The only thing we learned was this was going to be a long hike. Also, we learn that our combined IQ's during the hike didn't reach into double digits :)
On an early and cold morning in January, Davis and I tried again to find the Arch. This time our trailhead was off of Lovell Canyon road, the same trailhead for "The Park" hike. We figured this was a quicker approach than from Black Velvet trailhead. We hiked to West Monument and started the descent. Once past where we turned around last time, the going became tough. It was loose and brushy and death was in the air or, at least, a minor scrape from scrub oak! Finally, we were just around the corner from the Arch. We turned the corner and... No Arch, it was an illusion! There was an Arch type structure without the Arch. Maybe in a few thousand years it will become an Arch. I don't think we'll wait. We were disappointed to say the least. I wouldn't have believed it unless I saw it with my own eyes.
Photos Don't Lie
We tried to return the camera that took the photo of the Arch claiming it was defective. The store manager promptly threw us out of the store. We looked at the photo again and realized we were defective. We had stopped about 75 yards shy of the real Arch. We were almost 100% sure there was an Arch. We planned to wait until the longer days of April to conquer the Arch.
On a warm day in mid-April we started at Black Velvet trailhead on our quest to stand in the Arch. We both agreed the hike in from Black Velvet was better than the hike in from Lovell Canyon road. It didn't matter to us that it was longer. As we approached the "Ledges" Davis hurt his ankle. Having watched several episodes of Marcus Welby, MD when I was a kid, I offered to operate on it. Davis declined. The Arch got us again! I think it was smiling!
On May 14th, 2002, we were certain the Arch was ours! We were both in good shape and the daylight stretched into the evening. We departed from Black Velvet trailhead, ascended to West Monument, and descended the Gully of Near Death. This time we walked the additional 75 yards and... there was the Arch. The only thing that separated us was a 60-foot, class 5, wall! Where did that come from? It was not apparent in Davis' photo. We both collapsed. I am sure the Arch was laughing at us.
Time to Bring in the Professional
Ed Forkos has been climbing mountains for 40 years. He's very knowledgeable and puts safety first. I told him about the Arch and he wanted to conquer it. Bringing ropes and webbing with him, we planned to approach the Arch from the east and descend into a ramp that leads to the Arch. From my previous trips I knew if we could get to the ramp, we had it made. I talked Peter and Anna into coming along. Suckers!
On Halloween 2002, the four of us started walking toward East Canyon in our hiking costumes on route to the Arch. On an previous hike I had descended Arch Canyon, so we decided to climb it instead of following the traditional route. Part of the climb was very exposed class 4. Once near the Arch, I showed Ed all the routes down to the ramp and we decided on one. After finding an appropriate anchor, Ed tied me into the 100-foot rope and I started descending to the ramp. Peter thought it would be a good idea to tie the rope around my neck. I disagreed and kicked him off the hike. (I kick him off every hike :) I believed it was going to be a class 3 descent. I was wrong! It was class 4, at least. The rope was very reassuring. I inched my way down to the ramp and started running toward the Arch. Slam! I forgot to untie the rope. Thankfully it wasn't around my neck :) After untying the rope, I walked to the Arch. Wow! It was taller than I had thought. I was finally standing in the Arch.
The Arch is NOT on topo maps. I believe we were the first to stand in the Arch. I have never talked to anyone who knew about the Arch. We figured the Arch was at least 100 feet tall. It's more impressive than the Arch at Bridge Mountain.
Today only a handful of people have stood under the arch. To my knowledge I am the only person who has led this hike. We now rap down to the arch. This is safer and faster.
I had the arch registered in a database of natural arches around the country.
This is one of many stories of how I and others found peaks and points of interest in Red Rock Canyon.
Branch Whitney is the author of Hiking Las Vegas and creator of the 52 Peak Club where members hike to the best 52 Peaks around Las Vegas, NV