There is some innate draw to places that include "Devil" or "Hell" in their name. Such places were often named so because of some characteristic that defied explanation or logic at the time of their discovery . . . Devils Tower, Hell Canyon, Devils Lake, Hell's Half Acre . . . the list could go on. In many cases, these places are geologically fascinating, making them particularly intriguing to me. Last night while scooting around in TopoFusion and making plans for today's ride, I came across Hell Hole Pass, sitting high up to the west. Then I noticed a jeep trail that climbed from the pass to the summit above, towering nearly a vertical mile above St George. Obviously, that's where I headed today.
I struck off at the lazy hour of 11 am, meaning I'd have to ride swiftly or else I'd have a fair amount of unknown territory to cover in the dark. The climb up to Blake's Lambing Grounds (a relatively interesting name in and of itself) on nice narrow gravel road flew by, taking me high above town and to the base of the Beaver Dam Mountains.
Narrow tributary canyons of the Virgin River Gorge claw into the rounded hillsides above. My path skirted the heads of these canyons before descending back down into the badlands to the north. I peered at the skyline and caught sight of a grouping of TV towers sitting atop sheer cliffs some 5000' above me. My legs were feeling good, but perhaps this was an overly ambitious plan.
The longer I climbed, the more challenging the road became. It steadily steepened, and the heavy December rains had washed out sections, created deep ruts, and spread sharp limestone rubble elsewhere. Hell Hole Pass was relatively uninteresting, but it signaled the beginning of the obscenely steep finale. I'm used to this sort of climbing, but these were the longest mariginally-rideable pitches I've encountered. No longer was I pushing the pace - it took everything I had to merely continue moving forward and upward. Snow and ice on the final few switchbacks forced me to finally dismount and walk tentatively on my injured ankle.
Two hours of laborious climbing brought me to the summit, which boasts expansive views in all directions . . . the Virgin Mountains to the south, the arid, rugged hills of eastern Nevada to the west, low mountains I know nothing about to the north, and the multi-colored hogbacks, clifflines, and plateaus of the St George-Hurricane-Zion region to the east, with the dark Kaibab Plateau just visible in the distance. The vastness of the Colorado Plateau is overwhelming.
After a quick snack, I tackled the long, steep descent and made tracks in order to find my way back to town by dark. When I returned and downed a pile of burritos, I pulled up the GPS data from the ride - oof!