Monday, July 14, 2014

Mt. Charleston Peak via North Loop Trail (Megablog) - 7/13/14

Mt. Charleston (11, 916 elevation feet)
Tenacious Bristlecone Tree on Mt. Charleston

 With four training hikes and a week of non-stop monsoons, five hikers attended the final peak assault on Sunday. Mt. Charleston, reigning in at 11, 916 feet in elevation was our objective even though we had been unable to hike in the higher altitudes for the 11 days prior. We had scheduled the hike for Tuesday but knowing we had to be flexible due to weather constraints, we forged ahead with the climb. And, what a magnificent day to choose! Sunday turned out to be the epitome in hiking weather!

 Before we get ahead of ourselves, the hike to the peak was preceded by the before mentioned four training hikes. The first hike, Cave Springs, was done in the beginning of June. During this hike, we started becoming acclimated to the higher altitudes since we had spent the previous 9 months in the desert lowlands. The second hike, The 4 Mile Mark, wasn't attempted until the third week of June just prior to the Potluck Charleston Hike. And, the 5 Mile Mark hike was done on June 24th. The 6 Mile Mark hike happened on July 1st, the same day that a stronger group of club members was also hiking on the same trails all the way to the peak. Below, you will find photos of some of those hikers as they passed us on the way down.

Mt. Charleston Peak in Early Morning Light
 That brings us to a week of delaying monsoon weather and our hike to the peak during a weather window. The photos in this blog are a compilation of photos taken during all five hikes.

Cockscomb Peak from Trail Canyon

From the Trail Canyon trailhead to the Trail Canyon saddle, the rules are always the same. "Hike at your own speed and stop to wait at the saddle for the rest of the group." Trail Canyon is a bugger. Two miles in distance and 1500 feet in elevation gain isn't always fun. But, it is a necessity and it certainly does get all the kinks out. On Sunday morning, leaving the cars at 5:45am, we paced ourselves slow and steady but still managed to get everyone to the saddle together in around an hour. In the photo to the left, you see that the morning shadows were cleaned off of the ridge just as we reached it.

The Six Mile Bunch on the Horse Trough at Cave Springs
 Turning to our left, we began hiking the North Loop Trail through a previously burned area of aspens for a half mile to Cave Springs. At Cave Springs, there is an old horse trough carved from a log. Spring water is piped into it. The carved out log is a great place to sit for a rest and the photo above was taken on the way down from the 6 Mile Mark hike.

Hiking Through the Aspens on the North Loop Trail

 After a few adjustments, Sunday's group of five hikers turned to hike up through a very long switchback through the aspens. Our next rest would not be until the switchback corner at the wall of Mummy Mountain. The early morning air was cool and fresh. We had no problem going non-stop to this next point whereas, in the heat, we could never quite do it. Right after our rest, we spied two familiar figures coming down from Mummy's Tummy junction. None other than Steve and Becky An ! They had camped overnight while bagging the peak and the tummy this weekend.

The Mummy's Tummy Junction Tree (go right)
 After Mummy Mountain's base of scree fields, the North Loop Trail reaches the top of the first layer of limestone cliffs. Our views of a sleepy eyed Kyle Canyon opened up.

The North Loop Reaches the Cliffs

 This section of the climb has its own charm as hikers begin to experience the flora and limestone of the upper elevations. Trees tenaciously cling to the cliffs and wildflowers abound. The views were totally exposed as twisty bristlecones decorated the landscape. Although the ridge line could be seen up to our right, it was still not close enough to climb up to easily. Our ascent continued without interruption.

Cliffs Above and Below
 Finally, the slope began leveling off slightly but it was only a brief reprieve. We hit a couple of small switchbacks then found the 4 Mile Mark after one more bit of a climb.

The Sunrise Reaches the Echo Cliffs
 Across Kyle Canyon, we could see Harris Peak and Griffith Peak ... the "untouchables!" Their trails still off limits after the Carpenter One fire of last summer (2013).

Kyle Canyon from the Aspens on the North Loop Trail
 The 4 Mile Mark log seating is seen in the photo below. The log is polished from an abundance of exhausted hikers resting their flanks at the cliff edge overlook.

Mile Four Stopping Point

 Next came the business of more climbing. The trail dances on an etched in path of a very steep scree slope. Our motto became, "Stay On The Trail!" One slip from an undetermined step could become the fast way down! ... Or, at least, until you were stopped by a tree, cliff or multiple contusions. It isn't easy to pass other hikers on this section but it CAN be done! A little bit of undulation ensues then Big Falls Overlook arrives at the top of this part of the climb. From the overlook found below the trail, hikers can see Big Falls across the canyon below and wonder at the squiggled lines in the rock face of the opposite cliffs.

 Between the overlook and the 5 Mile Mark, the trail is wonderfully flat. Our legs enjoyed the rest. We passed the first campsite then followed the trail to the second campsite which is quite a bit larger. Here, there are wide views of the Lee Canyon side of the North Loop ridge. To our right, we could also see the side of Mummy Mountain. The photo below shows this campsite in the morning light. ... Yes, it was still morning albeit five miles up!

Mile Five Stopping Point

 The photo to the right shows the 5 Mile Hike hikers resting on the campsite furniture. On Sunday, we passed by the campsite without stopping. The next part of the trail would become difficult very soon but not before Mt. Charleston peak appeared in our front windshield. We began climbing again. Up, down, up, up, down, up, up, up. We wondered why the variations were necessary back when the trail was being made. It wasn't obvious.

Mt. Charleston Comes into View

Another Ridge Campsite

 The undulation of the path gave way to a constant climb. When we approached the next small switchbacks the first time, we almost missed them, forgetting that this false lead existed. Today, we confidently started climbing the zigzags and stepped over at the top to take in the ridge overlook. It was a nice break and an interesting look at our surroundings.

Resting at the North Loop Ridge Overlook

 We passed another small campsite on the ridge then began circling the base of Lee Peak. As we continued our climb, we remembered that this was the area that we began seeing Mike OC's group of peakers on their way down off the mountain. First, it was Roger and Jerry. Then came Steve Al, Richard, Mike OC, Steve An and, finally, Mickey. The last two hikers, Helmut and Maria would come down behind us that day. We sat above the cliffs, that day, at the 6 Mile Mark and waited to "adopt" Mickey back into our fold for the trip back down to the cars.

More Club Members Passing on the Trail

Mile Six Stopping Point

 Mike wrote me the next day and he reported as follows: 

As you know, we had nine folks yesterday.  Steve Anderson collected some good GPS stats:  17.2 miles and just under 4800' vertical.  Our main group was back in eight hours.  Jerry & Roger ran down and probably finished in 7+.  Helmut called me late afternoon to report that he and Maria were safely back.  Maria, as well as Mickey, were first-timers.

To put those times into perspective, remember the gent who jogged past all of us yesterday?  He is a young officer from Creech Air Force Base who ran the entire distance.  He took his final sip of water on the summit and blithely descended in two hours.  A scintillating 4 3/4 hours r/t.  Amazing.

He was real happy to see the AtBF gang in the parking lot as we had ice cold water for him. ~ MOC

Devil's Thumb Corner

 The descent at the 6 Mile Mark was a nice rest for the legs but we knew that it would be a difficult climb on the way back. Another half mile and we were around Lee Peak and turning the Devil's Thumb corner. Here, there is a large monolith outcropping where the trail and ridge turn to the left. We had begun seeing orange blaze markings earlier and there was one here. We assumed that the blazes were helpful when the trail was snow covered in the winter.

Wildflowers on the Cliffs
 Now, the trail started really getting interesting! The elevation was rising, however, due to the amazing surroundings we had in the limestone cliffs, we really didn't notice it much ... at first!

Mile Seven Stopping Point

 We passed a large campsite on a corner of the trail just before 7 miles. We decided this should be the 7 Mile Mark even though we were skipping that particular training hike and going for the full monty ... ahem ... well, you understand. This campsite was complete with an old campfire oven and sleeping cubby. Nice digs! The hike was simply wonderous at this point! Words can't describe the views ... and, probably, the photos can't either! But, nevertheless, photos galore were taken. As we hiked among the tree line, a yellow helicopter buzzed the peak just above us. Not sure what they were looking for.

Hiking the Scree Switchbacks
 We crossed the tree line and began a long and arduous switchbacked climb in the scree that covers the prominent peak of Charleston.

Roger Heading Down ahead of Us

 Charleston Peak is officially 11,916 feet in elevation. It is the 8th highest mountain peak in Nevada but the 1st in topographical prominence. It is also the 8th most prominent peak in the continental United States. All this says that once a hiker begins climbing that scree slope, it is just a matter of determination. Breathing deeply to capture that thin oxygen and willing the feet to take step after step will get hikers up ... God willing.

There are six major switchbacks up through the scree. They are very long switchbacks. On about the fourth corner, we turned to see Roger (who started at Trail Canyon with us) coming down. The man's an animal! He passed us gingerly and saw, later, that he signed out at the cars. We continued and finally reached the peak. Solar panels and the wind battered United States flag on a small tower are seen first.

Dennis Signs the Log Book on the Peak

We signed into the log book and commented that it was a "magnificent day" as if this would be important to anyone who cared to sit and read a book on top of this amazing crows nest. The next half hour was spent taking photos, eating lunch and doing equipment readjustments. The rock bunker has been built up a little since the last time the writer was up there and the bunker's residents included a few flies and crawly type mites that squirted red stuff when squished.

Western View on Mt. Charleston Peak
To the west, or the back side of the peak, the view was of Pahrump, Nevada and California.

Steve, Dennis, Mickey, Roger and Kay on the Peak 2014

The north side held the Spring Mountain Divide which includes McFarland Peak, and the Sisters. East was Mummy Mountain, Kyle Canyon and Las Vegas. We could even see Lake Mead. And, the southern view was of Mt. Potosi and beyond. It wasn't anyone's first time here but no one was unimpressed. We were the only hikers up here during our stay. At 8.5 miles, we had accomplished the easy part of our day. Now, the descent! It was 11:20am.

Old Bristlecones on the Corner
On our way down, we passed four solo hikers on their way up. Each one asked how far they had to go. Charlie is no piece of cake!

Lee Peak in Distance
Light clouds started rolling in as we passed the tree line and headed to Devil's Thumb corner. We could not have asked for better weather.

Trail on the Edge
The camera kept jumping into my hands.

Mack and the Sisters Peek Out from Behind Ridge

We passed the 7 Mile Mark and the 6 Mile Mark before we stopped to take a major break. We had been stopping shortly here and there for water and stretching. We still felt good even after the climb around the base of Lee Peak. We moved on at a steady pace. Not fast and not slow. Just trying to protect our feet and knees as best we could. Whenever someone requested a stop, it was immediately attended to. Conversation was non-stop. Someone once said, whatever is said on the trail, stays on the trail!

After that first major break, we blew past the 5 Mile Mark and the 4 Mile Mark. We started ignoring the shorter breaks for water. (Delirious, I guess.) At any rate, we called for a major break at Cave Springs. It was here that it became obvious to the writer that not enough water had been taken in. A slight dizziness rang in my head and I vowed to drink more. Another hiker was also having issues with his knees. From Cave Springs down to the cars, it is and always will be another "matter of determination."

The Mummy Mountain Scree Base

We stopped at the Trail Canyon saddle and recovered a stashed water bottle then began our last leg of the trek down the rocky two miles. Thankfully, cloud covered the sun off and on throughout. Will it never end, I thought! Finally, the first two hikers (not including Roger) walked into the trailhead parking area 9.5 hours after leaving it. Could it be? Yes! A personal best! Oops sorry ... just sayin'.

17 miles; 4800 feet elevation gain; 9.5 hours

Wildflowers and Limestone

Cockscomb Ridge in View

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