Monday, September 22, 2014

Mt. Charleston Peak (Almost Autumn Version) - 9/22/14

Today's First View of Charleston Peak in Sunshine

Aspen Field in Full Color
 On Sunday, six club members climbed Mt. Charleston Peak from the Trail Canyon trailhead to the North Loop and up. Heavy rain was just clearing out and we approached the hike with a mixture of trepidation and optimism. It would either be a wash out or it would be one of our most beautiful hikes up to the peak. September aspen anticipation pushed us up the trail!

McFarland Peak from North Loop Ridge Campsite

 Ascent (Trail Canyon TH to Charleston Peak)
Arriving at the Trail Canyon Saddle at Sunrise
 We arrived at the Trail Canyon trailhead in the Spring Mountains NRA at 5:45am anticipating a long day of ten hours or less. The drive up Kyle Canyon was very very dark! Clouds were covering any sort of moonlight that there could have been.

Today's First Views Toward a Cloud Covered Charleston Peak
 Headlamps were somewhat necessary on the first half mile of the trail. Trail Canyon seemed to be in better shape than the last time we used the thoroughfare so we had no trouble negotiating the rocks.

Sunshine Rises on the Aspen Field

 As we reached the saddle, the sun was just beginning to come up. Previous photos of the hike up were blurry due to the dimness but Rich did see a beautiful ten point buck. Perhaps it was the same one Jerry photographed a few weeks ago. All six hikers reached the saddle near to the same time but two hikers had decided to go at a slower pace. We still kept an eye on them until the trip down in the afternoon and all finished within the same fifteen minutes of each other.

Leaving Cave Springs
 Leaving the last two hikers, the four of us hiked up to Cave Springs and took a short break for water. This would become the rhythm of the day. We took several short breaks on the way up but they never lasted long enough for our muscles to get cold.

Cockscomb Ridge from Midst of Aspen Field
 We indulged ourselves in the aspen field above Cave Springs. Even though the sun stayed behind the clouds, the eeriness of the light and the beauty of the clouds gave the aspens a certain glow.

Orange is the New Green

Color & the South Loop
 Clouds hung where Charleston Peak was supposed to be. The somewhat gray layer of clouds made the South Loop ridge appear flat. We continued, stubbornly, passing two guys and a couple on their way down. They had camped last night with two entirely different experiences. (Cold rain and just sprinkles.) By this time, we were above the 4 Mile Cliff Overlook. A little more "up" and we would be past the big elevation gain. We watched as the clouds lifted, dropped, passed, lightened and darkened. There were several cloud layers; each doing their own thing.

South Loop Completely Cloud Covered as seen from Cliff Section of North Loop
 Just before we reached the 5 Mile Campsite, the wind started whipping up. Yep. It was cold wind. But, we knew that this was what was finally going to take the clouds off of the peak.

Short Break at a North Loop Ridge Campsite
 We donned our windbreakers, gloves and scarves and comfortably continued hiking. Every time we had a chance to see over the ridge toward Lee Canyon and the Spring Mountains Divide, we saw a gorgeous array of clouds hanging over the familiar peaks.

Small Switchback at the Ridge Overlook (Charleston Peak still Invisible)

Hiking Through the Cliff Section
 The wind was only a little annoying! Most of the time, we were protected by the terrain. The writer's only issue was frozen fingers! Should've brought warmer gloves! Nevertheless, the beautiful and dynamic scenery around us (and our mantra "Stay on the Trail") kept us warm. Missteps were not allowed on the sometimes precarious trail. As we neared the 6 Mile Mark, we noticed that the peak was beginning to clear off.

The Moment that the Clouds Rose off the Peak
 We grabbed our cameras to record the event! Soon after that, the peak even got a short bit of sunshine! Lookin' good! As we passed the Lee Peak spur trail, we studied its climb up from where we stood.

Arriving at Devil's Thumb
 From the beginning of the hike, we knew we definitely wanted to get to Devil's Thumb. Mission accomplished! So, well, some of the best scenery is right around the corner and the clouds are shifting and ....
Hiking Above the Cliffs of the Peak

Resting at the Kitchen
 We easily continued to the "Kitchen." The Kitchen is a campsite that juts out from the cliffs below the peak. There is an oven placed there and plenty of room for tents and sleeping bags. When we stopped there for a short break, those last two hikers arrived not far behind us. A short discussion revealed that one of the hikers in the first group, Dennis, who had been having a low energy day, decided to take his break here at the Kitchen then start a slow descent. The rest of us were game for the peak and the intermediary long scree field switchbacks.

Two Club Members seen from the "Kitchen"
 Excited to start the final leg, we hiked to the start of the long and famous switchbacks. In this section of trail, there is a crucial switchback that is easy to miss. We pointed it out, climbed a few rock steps then began the first of six long switchbacks in the peak's scree field.

Switchback #5
 The scree field can be seen from the floor of Kyle Canyon. From there, the field appears as if it is solid rock. However, it is really a moonscape above the treeline that is covered with small limestone rocks. The trail is easily balanced on but it is grueling. Keeping a slow pace from the beginning seems to do the trick.

Watching the Clouds Climb Up the Peak from Switchback #4
 It was very interesting to see the clouds effortlessly climb up the side of the mountain and disappear on the other side. One cloud even passed right in front of us on the switchbacks. Other worldly!

 Charleston Peak
Five Club Members on Charleston Peak (11,916 ft)
 Today's group of hikers included two Charleston Peak newbies. Congratulations Anthony and Rich! Other peak hikers were Maria, Kay and Helmut.

Solar Panel Paraphernalia

Clouds over the South Loop
 The wind was not too bad up there so we decided to stay for our lunch break inside the rock cubby built into the peak on the south end. One advantage to hiking Charlie at this time of year is that there are absolutely NO bugs! We signed the log book, took lots of photos and watched as the clouds danced around us. While we were on the peak, the clouds formed a low ceiling under which we could see the distant views. What a display!

Charleston Peak with a Very Low Ceiling

Hiker Arriving on the Peak through the Clouds
 The last two hikers arrived and we got a group photo. When we were just about ready to start down, we noticed a hiker strongly climbing the switchbacks. Straining our eyes, we wondered if we knew this person. Turns out, he was another club member, so we spoke and shared then started down anxious to warm up a little. Some wind still persisted but it was slowing down. As soon as we got off the peak, the wind stopped.

Northern View off of Peak
 Protected by surrounding mountains and ridges, we warmed up quickly as we started down the scree field. Right away, we passed two separate hikers on their way up. Anthony provided one of them with a little extra water.

Southern View off of Peak

 Descent (Charleston Peak to Trail Canyon TH)
Mummy with a Blanket of Clouds
 The switchbacks went by a lot faster going down than they did going up! We were happy to get back to the cliffs below the peak.

North Loop Trail on Cliffs below Peak
 During the hike back to Devil's Thumb, things warmed up quite a bit. At the bouldered corner, we stopped to take off the extra clothing.

Hikers Standing on Cliffs of the North Loop Ridge

Cliff Overlook Toward Kyle Canyon
 On the descent, we didn't stop as many times as we did on the way up but we did stop several times. The scenery had changed with the changing weather so photos had to be taken again! When we looked back to the peak, we saw that it was still going in and out of the clouds regularly. We hiked the "up" part of the descent easily as we talked and photographed. Our strategy for the day was working very well.

Clouds over Kyle Canyon
 At Big Falls Overlook, around 2pm, we passed a young hiker who wanted to reach the peak. We advised him of how far he had to go and that there were other hikers still up there. Probably couldn't do it before dark. But, he was willing to see how far he could get. Bon chance!

Kyle Canyon View
 We reached the aspen field and started with these billions of photos. Peak season.

Surrounded by Yellow

 Among the aspens, three of us had previously stashed bottles of water. We retrieved our bottles as we hiked through the yellow leaves. The hike to Mt. Charleston Peak usually requires around 100 oz. of water. Hotter days take more. The normal 3.5 liter pack bladder doesn't quite hold that much (... and who wants to carry it around anyway ...) so hiding water bottles among the fallen logs on previous shorter trips to the area is common practice. Just remember to retrieve them so they don't become trash.

Aspen Leaves
 We stopped briefly at Cave Springs to put, said water bottle, in a pack and continued. This is usually the point at which hikers must remind themselves to enjoy the incredible gifts we are experiencing.

Hiking Down the Last Three Miles
 The last 2.5 miles are difficult on the feet and knees. The rocks underfoot become increasingly present. It is good to slow down to deter bodily harm!

Last View from Within the Aspen Field

 Three of us gathered at the Trail Canyon saddle for a short rest before taking on the last 2 miles then we gingerly started down the trail passing several late day hikers. We wondered how long Dennis had to wait for us at the cars. As we passed the water tank at the bottom of the trail, lo and behold, there he was ahead of us. Dennis had thoroughly enjoyed his long descent taking in the views and we all arrived at the trailhead together. One of the best!!

17 miles; 4800 feet elevation gain; 9.75 hours
Trail Canyon
 (The last two hikers texted me ten minutes after we left saying they were down, too.)

New Wilderness Sign

Afternoon View from TH parking lot

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