Friday, September 2, 2011

Griffith Peak Loop via Rainbow - 9/1/11

Thursday morning, six adventurous hikers set out on a ten mile loop hike up to Griffith Peak, a 3500 foot climb in elevation. Only two of the hikers had taken on this hike before and the other four were in for a real treat. What took us so long?

Today was also a special day for the Around the Bend Friends as the men in the group decided to carry extra bottles of water and five pounds of bananas (Chris) up to men who were working on the Griffith Peak approach trail. This extra weight would come into play often as the hike progressed up to the peak.

We parked in the dirt trailhead parking lot at the top of Rainbow off of Kyle Canyon Highway and began hiking up through the cabin area until we met the Harris Springs Trail approach junction. The trail here is easy to follow until you reach an area of decision. Turning to the right, we found the trail again and began a very steep climb. At first, the four men carried their extra weight very gracefully. The two women were quietly very impressed with their strength. The women also quietly appreciated the slower pace which was set by "the great equalizer." We climbed and climbed gaining almost 2000 feet in the first 1.8 miles.

Upon reaching the junction of the Harris Springs Trail which leads the hiker along the ridge right and left, we took a breath and turned to the right, happy to be done with the steepest part of the day. At this point, Chris announced that the next third of a mile was his favorite trail in all of the Spring Mountains. We soon understood his enthusiasm as we switchbacked up a section called the "cliff area."

Views from this section of the Harris Springs Trail are some of the best the writer has seen from the Spring Mountains. Behind us is Harris Peak. To the left of us is a wide-open view of Lovell Canyon, the back side of the Red Rock escarpment, Mt. Potosi and, on this very clear day, California! To the front and left, we watched a beautiful parade of limestone pass by us until we reached the top where we found an overlook providing views of all of Kyle Canyon. Looking down, we saw air for about 200 feet!

As we started out again, it was clear that the heavy packs were beginning to take their toll. Our volunteer efforts were feeling the sacrifice.

Still, we continued through the low lying yellow flowers and then the forest of huge bristlecone trees. The weather could not have been better. The ridge temperatures were in the mid to upper 60's. The slower pace meant we were there in paradise for a longer period of time.

The forest service and volunteer workers who were being sponsored by REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.), were re-routing the approach trail to Griffith Peak and closing at least two previously used unofficial scree/ meadow routes in efforts to save the endangered Mt. Charleston blue butterfly. The meadows of Griffith Peak support an abundance of milkvetch needed by this butterfly.

A Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office website tells us, "The Mt. Charleston blue butterfly is a distinctive subspecies of the wider ranging Shasta blue butterfly (Icaricia shasta), a member of the Lycaenidae family (little butterfly family). The subspecies is known to occur only at high elevations of the Spring Mountains, located approximately 25 miles west of Las Vegas in Clark County, Nevada. The butterfly requires open habitat that supports its larval host plant, Torrey's milkvetch (Astragalus calycosus var. mancus), which grows between 5,000 to 10,800 feet on the east side of the Spring Mountains. The core colonies for the Mt. Charleston blue butterfly are located on less than 9 acres in Kyle and Lee Canyons, on lands managed by the Forest Service in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest."

Seeing a spur trail and large cairn, we turned to explore and found the volunteers' campsite being watched by one of the workers. We let out an almost audible sigh of relief as some of the bottles of water and the load of bananas were emptied from the men's packs. The supplies were much appreciated and after about ten minutes of conversation about closed routes and such, we continued up Harris Springs Trail. Not far from the camp, we saw two deer running very fast away from us. Then, a little later, we saw the young buck in the photo to the left.

During this portion of the trail, we found ourselves surrounded by really huge bristlecone trees. Through the trees, the tremendous views didn't quit.

We circled around the last small peak of the ridge and, finally, came upon the Griffith Peak approach trail. At the base of the trail, we met Chris' contact from the forest service, Jose. It was here that all of the remainder of the extra bottles of water were deposited. Jose gave us official volunteer status and took our photo after we signed the volunteer form. REI will appreciate the additional volunteer hours.

We continued once again, this time with a warning from Chris that the next half mile will test your will. Jose assured us that switchbacks have been added and that the trail is not quite as challenging as in the past. ... The writer is here to say, the past trail must have really been a doozy! ... As we slowly approached the peak, we passed three workers shoveling dirt and rocks on the trail. "You're almost there!" and "Sorry for the mess," were their comments. We assured them that their efforts were appreciated and arrived at our long- awaited destination.

We took a well- deserved break on Griffith Peak, looked for seabed fossils, signed the log book and took several photos. The sun was beginning its downward spin so we began our trek back down to civilization.

We negotiated the steep approach trail then continued on the Harris Springs Trail toward the South Loop junction. At the South Loop, we began switchbacking down down down. Just past the long set of steps, we found the Rainbow Loop junction and hung a right. Connecting with the woodland trail which was recently cleared by members of the club, we struggled through the last mile of the ten mile hike. This entire area was hit very hard by strong winds last winter and the downed trees destroyed the once beautiful area. We noted that time heals all things and reached our cars around 4:15pm.

This GPS left out a few switchbacks. The hike is generally a 10 mile hike.

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