Thursday, June 29, 2017

Griffith Peak - 6/29/17

Griffith Peak from South Loop Trail

Charleston Peak from Griffith Peak Summit

Mt. Potosi from Griffith Peak Summit

Steps Section
 Griffith Peak (11,062') is the third highest peak in the Spring Mountains NRA; behind Charleston and Mummy Mountain. It rises near the end of the ridge that runs south of Charleston and can be approached by the South Loop Trail. The South Loop (Mt. Charleston) Trailhead is shared with the Cathedral Rock Trailhead located near the Cathedral Rock Picnic Area at the end of Kyle Canyon Road. The Carpenter One Fire of 2013 ravaged parts of the South Loop Trail and most of Griffith Peak and the trail was reopened in the fall of 2016. Out of the eleven hikers that climbed to the peak today, only about half had been able to make the trip since the reopening.

Snow Still There
 We parked at the trailhead and quickly found that we would be sharing the trail with another group from Las Vegas. As the hike progressed, we leap-frogged or overlapped the other group throughout.

Kyle Canyon from 1st Switchbacks
 We began our hike early (around 7:42am) and the temperatures were threatening to warm up. As it turned out, the temperatures stayed near the same with it being somewhat cooler at the peak.

Golden-Beard Penstemons blooming on Switchbacks

Happy Hikers
 As a group, we hiked up to the upper Rainbow Loop junction. Here, we paused before starting up the Steps Section. After starting again, the group spread out as we hiked up the first set of switchbacks. (There is still a layer of snow on the trail where we cross a ravine at the bottom of the switchbacks ... even after the record high temperatures we have had in the past week and a half.) Blue lupins (blue), golden-beard penstemons (red), and bushphlox (white) lined the trail as we climbed. The colors were very appropriate for the July 4th holiday which is just around the corner.

Switchback at Wilderness Sign
 Our second pause to gather was at the 1st Overlook. Without much of a wait, we continued up the trail tackling the switchbacks one by one.

Switchback before 2nd Overlook
 Our third pause to gather was at the 3rd Overlook. So, we passed the 2nd Overlook without much ado.

3rd Overlook View of Charleston Peak

More Switchbacks
 Our pause at the 3rd Overlook took a little longer. The work ahead of us was daunting. There would be a few more switchbacks among the large ponderosas that the fire did not damage, then the trail enters the burn area. Also, in this area, there is an open grassy field. The sun was warm but it was not hot. In fact, a luscious breeze passed over us once in a while. Plus, occasional shade of the trees was quite cool as well. One by one, we hiked the last hill to the South Loop / Griffith Saddle. The saddle has a new sign and the shelter has been rebuilt to some degree. We paused here for our fourth gathering.

Nearing small Griffith Overlook
 At this point, we were around 10,500' in elevation. A couple of the newer hikers learned how elevation can affect a person!

Lots of Sunshine Here
 With encouragement, one hiker slowly moved on. The other hiker started but then made the decision to stay and "hold down the fort." (Or, do some bird-watching.)

Griffith Peak from South Loop Approach

Entering Another Burned Area
 We turned to the left at the saddle and proceeded to hike a very pleasant ridge trail over to the base of Griffith Peak. There was a lot of burned area on the other side of the mountain ridge and we could clearly see Lovell Canyon. Before the fire, Lovell Canyon was never seen as well through the trees. Nearing the base of the final assault, the trail forked. The right fork leads around the peak on the Harris Springs Trail. The left fork was ours; the trail that steeply climbs to the summit. The group separated as we each climbed at our own pace.

Pause at South Loop Saddle
 The writer / photographer did not know how to feel about the fire damaged hillside. Loss. Just loss. And, yet, somewhat magical. Life goes on.

Wordy New Sign at Saddle
 We slowly climbed, taking our time and looking around. Finally, all ten of us were on the summit.

Hiking Ridge to Griffith Peak Trail

View through Burned Trees to Lovell Canyon
 The log book was still there and we all signed in. The peak, itself, was not much different. It never really had much foliage anyway since it is above the tree line. Still, there were burned stumps around the edges. We took our break here batting away a few bugs. (Yes, it's that time of year.) That other group of hikers shared the peak with us. We each took our respective photos and watched beautiful butterflies flitting about. (Do butterflies flit?)

Griffith Peak Trail seen through Burned Trees
 After a good rest, we opted to leave the peak first. Slowly, we descended the steep peak trail.

Climbing Griffith Peak
 We found the bird-watching hiker on the ridge trail and we stopped to take a count at the saddle.

Relaxing on the Summit

Harris Peak from Griffith Peak
 One hiker was still not feeling well so we kept an eye on him as we descended the trail to the 3rd Overlook. There, we figured out that he may have actually drank too much water, thereby, depleting his electrolytes. He stopped his water intake and took a salt-laden shot block and in less than 5 minutes, he was feeling much better. This sort of thing can happen to any of us and it has. We all helped him from experience. So glad it worked!

Starting Down
 We descended the next several switchbacks. A couple of the stronger front hikers were cheating by running down the trail.

Steep Descent off Peak
Some hikers swear that running is less damaging to your body. Hmmm.

Beautiful Butterflies

Pause at 1st Overlook
We gathered at the 1st Overlook and paused for a breath. The next section was a warm one on the 1st set of switchbacks and down the steps. Our last gathering was in the shade of the Rainbow Loop junction. From there, we headed to the cars at the trailhead. What a great day on the trail! The hike was extremely pleasant and done as a group. We love Griffith Peak!

9.5 miles; 3300 feet elevation gain; 5.5 hours

View from 1st Switchbacks

Fletcher Peak from above Steps Section

Starting Last Leg

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Black & White Sisters - 6/27/17

Black & White Sisters

North & White Sisters from atop Black Sister

Desert View from Shoulder Ridge

You have been warned!
 The Las Vegas temperatures are coming back down to normal this week so, luckily our mid-elevation hike to Black & White Sisters was about 71 degrees from beginning to end. The Sisters of the Spring Mountains NRA are located on a ridge that basically runs parallel to Lee Canyon Road to the west. As you pass the ridge driving up the canyon, Black Sister is first. Next are White, North and South Sisters. Black and White Sisters are difficult to discern from the road since they are not very prominent along the ridge. The approach to this northern end of the ridge can be made from The Sisters Spur Road, a 4WD high clearance dirt road that turns off of Macks Canyon Road about 2 miles in.

Ascending the Wash next to The Sisters Spur Road
 Five hikers piled in Richard's large red truck and made the drive to the trailhead. Only two of the five hikers had climbed to Black Sister before.

Climbing Pine Cone Canyon Junior
 We started by walking up the dirt road into the hills. The best rule of thumb is to either hike the road that is near the left (east) wall of the canyon or stay in the wash that ascends adjacent to that wall.

Mummy's Nose View from Ridge

Ascending the Ridge
 Our normal route of following the wash up was hindered by a fresh load of fine gravel in the wash bed. This was probably deposited by recent winter weather and snow melt. The gravel was difficult on our legs so we scooted over to the dirt road for a short distance. Finally, about 0.65 miles up, we came upon the large cairn leaning at the base of a ponderosa on the right side of the wash. This indicates the correct ravine to climb leading up to the left of the wash. This ravine is filled with pine cones and rotting fallen trees. The five of us made it slowly up enjoying a couple of needed stops. A recent motorbike had plowed its way up the ravine making ugly tracks in the dirt. Luckily, the fallen trees put a stop to that further up.

The Tree Saddle
 We made it to the saddle, took a breath, then turned to our right to continue climbing on the ridge. There is a faint trail that runs along this ridge.

Up the Steep Climb
 The views on either side of this ridge are fantastic. Most prominent are Mummy's Nose to the east and Mack's Peak to the west.

Charleston & Lee Peaks from near Top

North & South Sisters beyond Shoulder
 The ridge climbs, dips then continues on a gradual climb up to a saddle we'll call the Tree Saddle. There is a tall interesting leafless tree that rises on the ridge here just before the route takes a decidedly upturn in direction. In the past, a very faint trail (maybe a game trail) has helped in the climb giving feet a place to snuggle into the scree! After about twenty feet, this trail did not help at all except for a couple of short bits on up the slope. It appeared that there has not been any traffic in this area since last season.

Climbing the Shoulder
 The climb was slow but we were all pretty close to the same pace. Three hikers reached the shoulder ridge first, then the last two hikers arrived.

Black Sister on Approach
 At the shoulder ridge, we could see Black Sister rising up to the right and North and South Sisters had made their appearance on the other side of the ridge.

Three ascend Black Sister to Sign Book

Lee Canyon Road from atop Black Sister
 We made our way up to the large black rock outcropping called Black Sister, and three hikers decided to scramble up to the top to sign into the log book. We all had a good time finding places to get new views then went around to White Sister to take our break. White Sister is definitely smaller than its black counterpart but it is no less impressive with its bright white rock. The first photo of this entry shows their near proximity and the contrast in rock colors. A cool wind was blowing over White Sister so we found a seat that was sheltered by the rock.

Three atop Black Sister
 McFarland Peak rose strongly to the west and, to the south, we clearly saw the Spring Mountain Divide on which lies the Bonanza Trail.

McFarland Peak from White Sister
 The hard work that it took to get up to the Sisters' Ridge was repaid by the unique and beautiful views that were offered.

White Sister

Charleston, Lee, & North Sister from White Sister
 The return trip down the mountain started by descending the shoulder ridge then turning to the left. A challenging plunge complete with escalator scree deposited us near the Tree Saddle. Then a descent on the ridge brought us to the Pine Cone Canyon Junior Saddle where we turned left. At the bottom (the ponderosa cairn), we turned right and descended the wash and dirt road back to the car. Hard work but somebody has to do it! Me, me, pick me!

4 miles; 1600 feet elevation gain; 3.25 hours

Black Sister

The Shoulder Ridge

Almost down Pine Cone Canyon Junior