Sunday, June 24, 2018

South Sister Saddle via Pine Cone Canyon - 6/23/18

Charleston Peak from Bonanza Trail

South Sister from Bonanza Trail

Flowers & Deadwood on South Sister Saddle Ridge

Starting up Lower Bristlecone Trail
There are a few different ways to get up to the Bonanza Trail in the Spring Mountains NRA. The route we climbed today is a short cut trail that takes hikers from the lower portion of the Lower Bristlecone Trail up to the main Spring Mountain Divide Trail called Bonanza. The small canyon trail is steep. We started using this trail a few years ago as a shorter way to accomplish the loop around to the South Sister Ridge. The route is filled with pine cones and we dubbed it Pine Cone Canyon. Eight hikers showed up for the workout climb.

Taking the Right Turn at the Hairpin
We parked at the Lower Bristlecone Trailhead and hiked up to the first forest road "switchback" or hairpin turn to the left. At the turn, there is a trail that turns off into the woods to the right.

Passing a Weather Anemometer
Just before the hairpin, we passed the junction of the Old Mill Trail. Don't confuse this trail with Pine Cone Canyon.

The Nitty Gritty of Pine Cone Canyon

Approximate Slope of Pine Cone Canyon
We followed the trail up veering to the right then the left passing the weather anemometer to our right. A single track trail takes over the small canyon wash and up we went. We spread out almost immediately as we climbed. Finally, nearing the junction with Bonanza, the route escapes the wash and climbs up the steep hillside. At the top, everyone took a rest on the rocks. That was the hardest part of the day and we were glad we did it. If Pine Cone Canyon is the hard part, the remaining 3 miles of the loop is the gorgeous and much easier part!

Bonanza Trail / Pine Cone Canyon Junction
Bonanza Trail is one of the most beautiful (... okay, there are a lot of most beautiful) trails in the Spring Mountains. The entire trail runs from the Upper Bristlecone Trail to Cold Creek, Nevada for ~13 miles.

Heading North on the Bonanza Trail
After our breathing returned to normal, we turned to the right and headed north on the Bonanza Trail.

South Sister from Bonanza Trail

The Back Country Horsemen of Nevada works on the Trail.
The trail follows the ridge passing small peaks on either the right or left. McFarland Peak rises prominently to the north. Behind us, to the southwest, we had several views of the backside of Charleston Peak. (There are still a few patches of snow back there.) To the southeast, the different outcrops of the whole of Mummy Mountain seem intimidatingly bold. And, to the east, South Sister stands like a beacon beckoning us to its saddle. All in due time as we happily strolled along the 1.25 miles between junctions.

McFarland Peak in View Ahead
There was evidence that the Back Country Horsemen of Nevada (BCHNV) were back at work on those little switchbacks up to one of the small peaks. Thanks guys! The horses and hikers appreciate your work.

Nearing the Ridge Junction
We replaced the rock on the left side stump that marks the South Sister Ridge junction and turned right. Just over the top of the ridge (small rise), a trail appears that zigzags down.

Starting down the Ridge toward the Saddle

Flowers & Roots
From here the sometimes trail stays atop the wide descending ridge. There are wildflowers and views out the wazoo. Wild horses visit this area at times. About half way down the ridge, there is a great snack place on three large logs in the shade. We stopped here for our break. No one was in much of a hurry and the ridge is such a pretty place to be! A slight breeze came around once in a while and we wished we could just stay there all day. But, alas, we had to continue on so we followed the semi-trail down the top of the wide ridge to the familiar saddle that we reach when climbing South Sister.

Descending the Ridge
Just before reaching the saddle, we passed another small group of hikers that were doing their ascent via the ridge we were just on for our descent.

Ridge leading to South Sister Saddle
A small gathering at the saddle sent us on our way again. Down the South Sister Trail to the right of the saddle.

Charleston Peak from the Ridge

Snack Spot on the Ridge
We descended this very familiar trail talking the whole way. After the first 50 feet of loose steepness, the trail is an extremely pleasant hike through the woods. At the bottom, it junctions with the rock-lined Old Mill Trail. We turned left and followed this trail down toward the Old Mill Picnic Area. Nearing the top of the picnic area, we looked to our right and spotted three burros (2 adults and a baby). There are several young burros and horses in Lee Canyon at this time. So so cute. But, be careful with them. Mothers are mothers. (We saw families taking selfies sitting beside the young'uns in the Meadow on our way down. Hmmm.) Anyway, we hiked through the top of the picnic area and climbed the hill to the Lower Bristlecone Trail to get back to our cars. Great day, nice people everywhere!

5.5 miles; 1750 feet elevation gain; 3.5 hours

Hiking through the Bushy Phlox

Saddle Junction - Right Turn

Baby Burro above Picnic Area

Friday, June 22, 2018

Fletcher Peak via North Loop - 6/21/18

Western View from Fletcher Peak

Fletcher Peak

Desert View from North Loop Meadow

North Loop Trail
Fletcher Peak is a twin peak that rises to an elevation of 10,255 feet. Its twin rises only to 10,245 feet and this is the point where we have traditionally stopped. This small wooded and rocky peak is said to be the easiest peak to reach in the Spring Mountains NRA. It is located in the vicinity of Mummy's Toe and Raintree. Fletcher Canyon is found just below these twin peaks. The lesser of the peaks has a wide fantastic view over Kyle Canyon from Harris Peak to Charleston Peak on one end of its rocky outcrop. From the other end of the limestone, the view ranges from Mummy's Nose, through the distant desert, over to Angel Peak and on toward La Madre Peak. Parts of Deer Creek Road can also be seen below.

Old Bristlecone Trees
It was a hot day in the alluvial fan called Las Vegas. 119 degrees was witnessed by my husband as he drove across the valley near the Strip around 4pm. (Road heat, maybe.)

Mummy's Nose from North Loop Meadow
However, seventeen hikers found Fletcher Peak to be ... well, ... actually almost cool! Almost.

La Madre Peak from North Loop Meadow

Digging in for the Switchbacks
We converged on the North Loop Trailhead parking lot which was relatively empty at the early hour of 8am. About half of the group jumped out in front early on. We were to meet up at the North Loop Meadow. We climbed steadily up the trail at our personal comfortable pace without stopping per Brian D.'s advice. If you find the right pace, this works very well. Here, it is important to be able to find the pace that works best for you ... personally. This is often difficult to do in a group hike setting but, today, it was encouraged.

High Point Corner Gathering
As we climbed higher, the views around us became more and more beautiful. There were a few flowers along the trail. Mostly bushy phlox, lupine, paintbrush and AZ firecracker.

Mummy's Toe Beckons above North Loop Trail
When the last of the hikers reached the meadow, they found the rest of the hikers in the shade on the right side of the trail.

Dropping down to Saddle on Fletcher Peak Trail

Fletcher Peak Trail among Limestone
This is a very photogenic location so we took a few pics. Afterwards, we all headed up the switchbacks. Our next gathering point would be the High Point Corner so we again naturally separated according to our pace. There are twelve switchbacks as you climb the hill and approach the 10,025 foot elevation at this locale's high point. A few hikers were still acclimating to higher elevations and felt that "drag" kick in somewhere along these switchbacks. But, perseverance is the name of the game sometimes and we all made it up to the gathering point where we got our first look at the target peak across Hummingbird Gulch. Of the twin peaks, our 10 foot lower peak is seen on the right in the second photo from the top of this entry. It is the one with the limestone "scar" down the side.

Charleston Peak from Fletcher Ridge
Knowing that the front hikers are very familiar with the route, our third and final gathering point would be the summit.

Trail up into the Bristlecones
Those that were not familiar with the route were welcome to stick around me as I showed them the left turn junction between the two large logs.

Griffith Peak

Limestone Outcropping Scar
Sorry to say, there is no signage here to say "Fletcher Peak this way!" And, the trail is not obvious since it takes a U-turn and steps up over a log where it disappears to those on the North Loop Trail. Over the years, we have come across a handful of hikers looking for this junction ... or, not even aware that the junction exists. This results in "wandering hikers" that don't really know their way around. (A recipe for a lost hiker.) Signage is not really a strong point here in the wildernesses surrounding Las Vegas. This encourages the development of a large number of hiking groups so that the trails and routes are handed down from hiker to hiker. (A blog or two helps, too!)

Hikers on Northeastern End of Fletcher Peak
If you want mileage stats (and keep in mind that all GPS instruments are different): the junction is ~0.35 mile from the High Point Corner and ~0.15 mile from Raintree.

Northeastern View from Fletcher Peak
We ushered everyone through the logs and up the increasingly large step onto the Fletcher Peak Trail. As you make your way to the other side of the hill, the views open up.

Hikers on Southwestern End of Fletcher Peak

Fletcher's Sister Peak
Behind you is Mummy's Toe. Very impressive. The trail takes you steeply down to the Fletcher Saddle. Hummingbird Gulch comes up on the left side to junction with the Fletcher Peak Trail at this saddle. The Fletcher Peak Trail continues forward as it leads along the right side of the Fletcher Ridge. The views don't quit! Kyle Canyon mountains are seen to the right and the old bristlecone trees plus limestone make the views forward and to the left just as magnificent. Eventually, the limestone scar can be seen on the left from the trail.

Returning down Fletcher Peak Trail
Finally, we made it up to the top! Fletcher Peak is like an old friend that we like to visit a few times every summer. There are at least three good routes to get to that log junction.

Mummy's Toe among the Bristlecones from Descent
We signed into the book and noticed that the elevation posted on the book is different than what is posted on Bird and GPS's are often different.

Back through the Bristlecones

Rounding a Corner of one of the False Peaks
We enjoyed the cool breeze on the peak then proceeded to descend at a careful but quicker pace. We stopped at the North Loop/Fletcher Peak Trails junction. Next, we stopped at the North Loop Meadow. Then, it was on down to the Trailhead. Most of the descent was done as a group. And, what a great group it is! In the past few months, we have added such great hikers as Charlie M., Ralph T., Mark H. and, just today, Randy G. Welcome to the party ... uh ... workout being held every Thursday on the trails! "Parties" are also being held on every other day as well!

6.5 miles; 2300 feet elevation gain; 4.25 hours

Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you've got
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot
Wouldn't you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And, they're always glad you came 
... You wanna be where everybody knows your name.

Gary Portnoy (won an emmy nomination in 1983)

Dropping to the Ridge Saddle

Shade Huddle at the North Loop Meadow

Nearing the North Loop Trailhead