Thursday, April 24, 2014

Gass Peak - 4/24/14

Gass Peak from Trailhead

Gass Peak Summit

Gass Peak Road

Hiking the Service Road to Trail
 The indigo bushes were blooming like crazy along the Mormon Well Road as three high clearance vehicles carrying twelve hikers ambled out Corn Creek Road, Mormon Well Road and Gass Peak Road to reach the Gass Peak trailhead in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. Gass Peak is the prominent mountain serving on the northern boundary of the Las Vegas alluvial fan. On a clear day, one can see the sun shining off of the solar panels residing on the peak from the city below.

Mt. Charleston from Ridge Trail
 The roads were drivable but we did need our high clearance. The approximate time it took us from our meeting place to the Corn Creek Visitor Center restrooms to the Gass Peak trailhead was an hour.

Climbing a Level of the Ridge Trail
 We stepped out of our cars ready to hike and the stint on the initial service road went by quickly. Soon enough, we were cutting up to the left onto the trail that leads hikers up the approach ridge.

View from Ridge Trail / Road Trail Junction

Gass Peak Road runs Along Fossil Ridge
 Another option for the approach would be to stay on the service road. However, this requires a very steep climb up to the ridge trail in the end. (Somewhere along that part of the service road, there is Gass Spring.) Today, we chose the trail option and began a climb that leveled off every so often just when you really needed a breather. The views of the wildlife refuge are vast and comforting. On this side of Gass Peak, the visitor feels far away from civilization. Nature is the only course of the meal.

Gass Peak and Upper Ridge from Ridge Trail
 Gass Peak rose up to our right and since we were climbing a ridge some distance from the peak, it never seemed to get any closer until we reached the upper ridge on which it sits. Even then, the peak stayed out of reach for a while.

View from Upper Ridge Trail Junction
 Our first view of the other side of the ridge held more mountains and valleys. We saw that the upper ridge curved around to the left and right. Therefore, the city did not come into view until we were much closer to the peak.

Starting Up a Nasty Hill on the Upper Ridge

View Back Along Upper Ridge
 At first, the upper ridge trail seemed to be on a steady gentle climb. Then suddenly (!) two very nasty hills had to be met. They were separated by a small saddle but neither one of them cared to share its spotlight. In the photo above, the first hill is seen ascending up to the left. This one had a few small switchbacks. Later, the descent down this hill required constant concentration.

A Respite of Fun on the Upper Ridge
Two of the saddles along the upper ridge allowed us to hike along raised chunks of limestone. Like the Spring Mountains, the higher elevations in the wildlife refuge also were once part of an ancient seabed of the Pre-cambrian Era.

Approaching Last Saddle before Final Climb
 At last, we reached the last saddle before the final climb to the peak. Compared to the previous two nasty hills, the peak climb was a piece of cake!

Final Climb to the Peak

Blooming Moss
 The trail up to the peak is very clear (albeit a little random along the earlier lower ridge trail). Even though earlier hikers tended to prefer the final climb on the rocks to the right, the trail now follows at the base of the rocks and switchbacks at the solar panels. During this section of the climb, the writer saw this moss plant in bloom. It was the only one around!

Las Vegas from Final Climb
 The Las Vegas Strip came into view at the second or third to the last saddle before the peak.

Arriving on Gass Peak
 When we arrived on the peak, we poked around the apparatus on top trying to make heads or tails of it. The cell tower and the solar panels were self-explanatory. But it amazed us how the windsock minus the "sock" was actually being moved by the light cool breeze.

While we were there ...

Starting the Descent
 Gass Peak summit is long (around 40 feet) and narrow (around 8 feet). We each chose a side to sit on for our break. One side faced Las Vegas and the other side faced the wildlife refuge. The far end of the peak pointed in the direction of the Spring Mountains and a snow-capped Mt. Charleston. We signed the log book and ate a snack. Too soon, we had to begin our descent. Two hiking sticks might be needed for this exercise!

Descending the Upper Ridge
 The descent down the upper ridge went quickly and the descent down the lower ridge trail went even quicker. All that was left was the service road then we faced the long beautiful drive back to the city.

Descending the Ridge Trail
 6.5 miles; 2200 feet elevation gain; 4.25 hours

Descending the Service Road

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