November 17, 2018
We visited the central canyon of Plaza Blanca up to the vertical headwall. This was followed by an attempted circumnavigation of the ridges that border the canyons of Plaza Blanca. Going in a counterclockwise direction, we were not able to complete the entire ridgeline and ended the hike via the South canyon.
A general description of Plaza Blanca: There are three canyons which end at a large, vertical headwall. The center canyon is the deepest with the most tributary drainages and reaches the tallest and largest face. The South Canyon is shallow without access to the headwall. The North Canyon seems to be the longest but least visited part of Plaza Blanca. The area is partially surrounded by a ridge line of which the East to Northeast section is easily accessible. The Western part of the ridge is difficult with breaks, volcanic dikes, and hard route finding.
There are a couple of ways up to the headwall area. You start by hiking up the central canyon, the most scenic of the three. A slot canyon coming in from the left takes you to a chest-high pour off with a convenient step. One would need to mantle up at this point but a butt belay or hand up would work for most people. Next, there is a short class IV climb which puts you in the open with a cairned route to the headwall. The other way up is to stay out of the aforementioned slot and stay in the main channel. You soon come to a couple of drainages, one of which is a straightforward climb without the need for hand or footholds. You then traverse around to the headwall. Do so with care as there is some exposure here and the limestone sand is loose with poor footing.
Done with the canyon, you exit the way you came in and head out and to the East to continue the route, going for an obvious ridge. You soon pick up a well used social trail, staying on it and following the ridgeline until you reach break with low limestone formations that are easily traversed. Once out of the limestone, the trail reappears and disappears, finally petering out at a high point above the headwall and central canyon.
From the high point, you can either retrace your steps or continue but the route finding becomes more difficult at this point. If continuing, you will need to backtrack to the Northeast and descend a canyon at it’s lowest and easiest point, then do it again, going to the North across a saddle and into a depression containing structures that I originally thought were part of an ancestral Puebloan ruin but are most likely associated with the nearby mosque. You then follow the Arroyo a short distance to the South until you find some crude stairs. Climb those until you reach a campfire ring.
From the campfire ring, you will head to the East hoping to cross a ridge shown on the map as 6400. You won’t get far as the ridge morphs into a crumbly and sharp series of dikes that cannot be safely crossed. We chose to go down a South facing slope which is the most hazardous part of this route as the slope angle reaches 30 degrees. Butt sliding and hoping that there is no pour off at the bottom occupy you here. Note that in future variations of the route, this part will be worked around.
At the bottom, you will find that there is no pour off and that you are now in the South canyon and you will be happy because you are in for a pleasant stroll back to your car without further hindrance.
411 and general info. All of Plaza Blanca is on private land and is owned by the Dar Al Isam Mosque and hiking is allowed however a sign at the parking lot informs visitors to stay on trails and not climb on the formations. I am pretty sure that this route is not totally in compliance as we did do some climbing but there are no marked trails other than obvious ATV tracks in the canyons. Cairned routes and social trails round it out. Go where we went at your own risk. This route taken the way we did it is 4.45 miles, 1367 feet, and took 4 hours and 10 minutes, all of which was thoroughly occupied in mind and body by SK Lund, Meghan Hurley, Nancy King.
About the route map. It is free for personal re-use or publication. Publication requires acknowledgment to the author. No guarantees of accuracy are promised or to be assumed. Do this at your own risk.