Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mt. Charleston Peak - 10/05/12

                                Sunrise on Mt. Charleston Peak

The day arrived for the Friday Gang to climb ol' Charlie. Yep. Mt. Charleston Peak, herself. She rises to 11, 913 feet above sea level and requires a climb of 4800 total elevation feet. The route chosen for today's marathon 17.5 miles was up the South Loop and down the North Loop. This was the writer's second trip over the peak. (As an editorial note, I found this trip more meaningful, in that, I was more aware of where I was, where the photos were, and what it meant to be able to accomplish this hike. Although I may never do it again because of the stress it puts on the body, I am very glad I hiked this mountain one more time.)

 South Loop Trailhead to Griffith Saddle
                                      Sunrise on Mummy's Toe

                                      Sunrise on the Echo Cliffs

 Ten hikers gathered at the meeting place at 5:15am. Still dark, we drove up Kyle Canyon and arranged the cars so that we would begin at the South Loop trailhead and end at the Trail Canyon trailhead. A few of us used head lamps until it was light enough to see our footsteps about half a mile up the trail.

Then the magic began happening. As the sun rose virtually at the center of the down side of Kyle Canyon, the mountains, peaks and aspens lit up progressively providing a beautiful colorful light show as seen in the photos above. We hiked up to the first set of switchbacks taking a lot of photos, waking up our hearts and warming our muscles. The morning was a pleasant temperature, not warm and not too cool.

 The first overlook was our first place to re-gather. The hikers were of varying strengths and the pace was advertised as slow but the group separated a little, nevertheless. We switchbacked our way up the familiar trail that we had climbed the previous two weeks gathering only one more time at the second overlook before we all gathered at the Griffith Saddle.

 When we arrived at the saddle, the most difficult part of the morning was done. Even though, one hiker had decided to return as this was not his day for Charleston, one hiker had caught up with us after being late for the meet up, and one new hiker decided to tag along with us for a couple of miles. The views from the overlooks had that morning glow and, even though the aspens were on their last leg, there were bursts of color from other plant life.

                              Morning Color and Griffith Peak from South Loop

                                  Kay K. Checks the Sign at Griffith Saddle

 Griffith Saddle to the Corner
                                       South Loop Ridge to Kyle Canyon

 We left the saddle and proceeded up into the Meadow of the South Loop ridge. The Meadow promised to be a fantastic reprieve after the previous 3000 foot climb. Views of the valleys below and distant mountains could be seen to our left. The ridge, itself, rose to our right. Occasionally, we got close enough to the top of the ridge to be able to see into Kyle Canyon.

 As the front hikers approached an open part of the Meadow, they saw two small four-point bucks come across the trail. Following them, was a small herd of does and fawns. As the other hikers approached, cameras in hand, someone counted fourteen deer in all. One by one, the deer came from the left, crossed the trail, and dipped down below eyesight on the ridge to the right. Quite a large family and healthy, too.

                                      Herd of Fourteen Deer on South Loop

 Slowly, the flat Meadow turned into an old bristlecone forest. The terrain began ascending again. We were still trying not to get too far apart but the hikers were definitely not together. Among our ten, there were five hikers who had never set foot on the Mt. Charleston peak. These hikers were nestled in the middle of the string of hikers being shown the way. The trail is clear and there is little chance that anyone would get lost on the South Loop Trail.

 Diving into the bristlecone trees, we enjoyed the shapes of the old growth. The ridge to our right was sometimes way up the hill and sometimes footsteps away. The photo of Kyle Canyon at the top of this section was taken from one of these overlooks. Charlie's Peak could only be seen a few times from overlooks such as this.

                                         Carl Hiking the Ridge

                                     Gorgeous Sky Above Kyle Canyon

 Nearing the end of the forest where the tree line began, the trail started ascending sharply. At almost 7 miles into the hike, the climb was not that welcome. Looking back, we could see Griffith Peak rising above the ridge now. The trees were sparse and scree covered the slopes around us.

 One by one, we arrived at a corner where the trail surmounted a small ridge. As we turned this corner, the first view of the peak and her approach could be seen. This was a good spot for a break so we stayed there until all but two hikers were present. These two hikers were together and we knew they would be along eventually so we took our photos and continued.

                                         The Leaders at the Corner

 The Corner to Charleston Peak
                                First View of the Charleston Peak Approach

 With only scree and small patches of brush between us and the peak, we could clearly see the summit rising steeply up to the sky. It seemed to taunt us saying, "I'll make you climb even further!" We all knew that the final ascent would be the most difficult. Besides the slope and distance into the hike, we would also have the increased altitude reaching almost to the 12, 000 foot mark.

 As we took in the views of the Pahrump Valley to our left, it was very disheartening to have to follow the trail DOWN around 250 elevation feet before we were able to start the final assault on the peak. Still, the surroundings were other worldly and our attention was continually distracted from the task at hand. Soon, we were passing by the old airplane crash site. A few parts of the airplane still cling to the scree not far below the peak's ridge. See the photo to the right.

                                Mark Climbs the Final Peak Ascent

 In the photo to the left, hikers of our group can be seen climbing the last few hundred elevation feet. The trail that can be seen up near the distant ridge is a side trail or alternate route. By ones and twos, the ten hikers met the mountain peak. All that was left, was a simple one foot in front of the other scenario. Everyone's thoughts were their own and Charlie's. Everyone's thoughts were their own and God's. Everyone's thoughts were their own and their loved ones. There's something very strong about being on the highest point for miles and miles and miles. It is places such as this that we are all reminded of our mortality.

 We celebrated our peak arrival with a break inside the mountain top bunker where it was actually quite warm. The cold light breeze encouraged us to put on our jackets while walking around the peak. We were the only ones on Charlie today and we walked around like we owned it! Many photos were taken and everyone was very happy to have gotten to the half way point of the day.

                                     Ten AtBF Hikers on the Peak

All mankind is of one author and is one volume;
when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into
a better language, and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several
translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war,
some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind
up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie
open to one another. ...
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. ... Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. . . . ~ John Donne

                                Northern View From Charleston Peak

 Charleston Peak to Devil's Thumb
                                 Starting Down the North Loop Trail

 Second only to the previous segment of the hike in terms of beauty is this segment that begins on the peak, descends down the face of the scree covered peak via switchbacks and travels around the cliffed walls adorned with more gorgeous old growth bristlecone trees.

We lost altitude fast as we zigzagged  down the steep slope that ends abruptly on a cliff. Below us was upper Kyle Canyon. We were hiking on that face of the peak that everyone can see from the drive up Kyle Canyon Highway.

 After six switchbacks, we were at a level where we could begin circling around to the north ridge while clinging steadfastly to the edge of the limestone cliffs. Here, we crossed a few dry washes (one seen to the right) that carry snow melt every spring steeply down to the canyon below. It was noted that this trail cannot be utilized during the winter and spring because of the large snow drifts in these places.

                                Stalwart Bristlecone in Front of Mummy's Toe

                         Massive Double Trunk Bristlecone in Front of Lee Peak

 Circling around toward the peak ridge called Devil's Thumb, the bristlecone trees got larger and larger. It was evident that these trees have survived centuries of very severe weather of ice, snow and wind. Their growth was large, twisted and widespread. "Lord of the Rings" could have easily been filmed here!

 There is a large monolith type rock standing at the base of the Devil's Thumb ridge. Many people call this rock the Devil's Thumbnail (seen below). At this rock, the trail takes a turn to the right and the landscape on the north side of the ridge can be seen below. Familiar peaks such as North and South Sister, Mack's Peak and McFarland Peak are only a few of the mountains that can be seen here lying on or near the Spring Mountain Divide.

                                Hiking Around Devil's Thumbnail Corner

 Devil's Thumb to Trail Canyon Trailhead
                             Mt. Charleston Under Overcast Afternoon Sky

The last segment of this marathon hike was most familiar to us. The North Loop Trail is utilized for several other hikes just as is the beginning of the South Loop Trail. We hiked on around the curve nearing the base of Lee Peak. The small group of six hikers were staying together for the downhill portion of the day. Three hikers had stayed for a longer break at the peak and one hiker had scooted on ahead to beat his record time.

We were all very tired and the hike was beginning to take its toll on our bodies. When we got to the small campsite at Lee Peak, it was time to take another quality break. We sat on the logs and rested up. The sky had gone from being swirly gorgeous to plain overcast just since we left the peak which we could see from our position. Seven more miles to go.

                           Autumn Color Persists at the Major Descent Point

                                Cave Springs Horse Trough

From Lee Peak to Cave Springs, we stopped briefly a couple of times. The trail wound around above the cliffs and then began descending through spent aspens. Everyone was tired and everyone was hurting somewhere. Eighteen miles is eighteen miles, after all. We took a small break at Cave Springs then proceeded to the Trail Canyon saddle. Here, we stopped for just a moment before starting the hike down Trail Canyon, "the most difficult two miles in America." Why? Because, it is always either on your way to or back from some place really nice but never a destination. Let's just call it 1500 elevation feet of necessary evil. Okay ... enough of that. We all got down in our own time and clocked in our adventure for the day at an average of just under eleven hours. Not a record but we weren't trying for a record. It goes without saying that we all deserve a little rest now! What an adventure to remember!

                                           "Try to look tired, guys!"

                                Late Afternoon on Trail Canyon Trail

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