Friday, July 14, 2017

Charleston Peak (S to N) - 7/13/17

Charleston Peak View from Treeline Corner

Backside of Charleston Peak

Burned Bristlecone Forest

Ascent from South Loop / Mt. Charleston / Cathedral Rock Trailhead to Ridge Saddle

Deer Foraging in Early Morning
 Charleston Peak officially rises to 11, 916 feet above sea level and requires a climb of between 4000 and 5000 total elevation feet. 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. The route chosen for today's marathon of 17 miles was up the South Loop and down the North Loop putting the elevation gain nearer to 5000 feet. This was the writer's fifth trip to the peak and her third trip on this route. The group consisted of eight club members. In the end, we averaged 9.5 hours for the total trip. (Not bad for a slow and steady mantra.)

Moon over Echo Cliffs
 Also, on the mountain, representing our club, were a couple who climbed up and down the South Loop and a group of three super hikers who climbed both Griffith and Charleston from the South Loop and descended the North Loop in 7 hours and 20 minutes. Gee!

Sun rising in Kyle Canyon
 So, we arrived at the Mt. Charleston / Cathedral Rock Trailhead at the top of Kyle Canyon Road in the Spring Mountains NRA for a 5:51am start up the trail.

Sunrise view of Charleston Peak

Arriving at the Rainbow Junction (1 mile)
 The early start had us breathing heavy as we watched the sunrise display all around us. We noted several mule deer foraging on the slopes above and below us as we circled around through the young aspen filled ravine that was burned in the Carpenter One fire of 2013. Life goes on. After a brief stop at the Rainbow Loop junction before the Steps, we continued up and began to separate as we tackled the first switchbacks. Another group stop was made at the 1st Overlook where we continued viewing the sunrise spectacle that was proceeding up Kyle Canyon.

Climbing the 1st set of Switchbacks
 As a group, we had decided to take on today's hike at a slow steady pace. No one really felt like breaking their record. We just wanted to enjoy it as our bodies allowed.

1st Overlook (2 miles)
 Everyone except one hiker had made the trip up to the peak at least once. That one hiker was very excited as we all were.

Starting up More Switchbacks

Mt. Charleston Newbie Sandy at 3rd Overlook
 We climbed up the more familiar switchbacks in the ponderosas and bristlecones to the 3rd Overlook. This is where we got our last look at Charleston Peak for a while. Now, we were climbing the higher switchbacks that we rarely climb unless we are on our way to either Griffith Peak or Charleston. Slow and steady, our hearts and lungs were awake by now and we persevered. The section from the trailhead to the ridge saddle is the most prolonged climb of the day. As we hiked up, three early morning runners passed us on their way down.

More Switchbacks in Ponderosa / Bristlecone Forest
 We neared the Griffith Peak Overlook and the outskirts of the burn area became apparent. Many trees were burnt here.

Pause at the Griffith Overlook (3.75 miles)
 The last quarter mile up to the saddle is difficult because this is where the altitude starts coming into play. At around 10,500 feet, most people start becoming a little sluggish.

Eastern View toward Harris Peak

Resting at the Ridge Saddle (4 miles)
 The front hikers reached the saddle in time to be able to say "hi" to the super hikers as they hiked through. They had started about 10 minutes ahead of us and had already done Griffith Peak and were on their way to Charleston! We, however, took a longer break on the saddle and talked about our electrolytes supply!

 Ridge Saddle to Mt. Charleston Peak

Ridge Saddle Trail Sign

Starting Hike through Meadow

Arriving near Ridge Line - Charleston in View

Arriving at the Burned Area
 Most of the group had not been able to hike the next section last fall when it was opened again after the fire of 2013. Between the saddle and the treeline corner, we would soon learn that it was total devastation. We turned right on the South Loop Trail and entered the Meadow. The meadow grass was very healthy and had a nice supply of wildflowers in it. But, we couldn't help noticing the burned trees down the left slope. We edged near the ridge on the right and enjoyed the last of the rising sun.

Flowers improve the Scenery
 After about a mile of wonderful easy meadow hiking, we began our entry into the burned landscape. If it wasn't for the colorful wildflowers growing among the black and white trees, it would have been even more depressing.

Burned Trees lie across Trail
 This forest used to be filled with beautiful ancient bristlecones much like what is seen on the No Name Trail. It took thousands of years to create. Now burnt to simple logs that have fallen across the trail.

Mummy's Toe from Ridge

Resting at the Ridge
 We made our way around and under the burnt forest then arrived at the ridge again. We could see Kyle Canyon but not the peak. We had also reached the point where totally burnt landscape loomed all around. Unbelievable destruction. Akin to the results of a volcano such as Mt. St. Helens' aftermath. We took a short rest here where we were about to start another climb. Our next stop would be the treeline corner. After the burnt scenery, passing the treeline was a gift.

Kyle Canyon from Ridge
 We slowly hiked up through the devastation dotted with wildflowers up and around a protuding ridge.

Starting Climb up to Treeline Corner (6.5 miles)
 There are a few steep sections here but they are not too long. It was a challenging day for most of us so we appreciated the shorter shots of ascent.

View across Burned Area back to Griffith Peak

Treeline Corner (7 miles)
 Looking back, we could see Griffith Peak rising high above the burned forest. It seemed so far away now. We had made good time hiking through the previous mostly level trail. Finally, we climbed up and over the Treeline Corner and were given a gorgeous view of the peak in the sunlight. Today's forecast had called for 20% chance of rain and thunderstorm. We never felt threatened by the slightly gray clouds but their shadows entertained the landscape. We were especially thrilled with the cool temperatues, light breeze and overcast skies. We could not have asked for better weather!

Columbine, Blue Lupin, Siler Penstemon, Locoweed
 A short break here led into a traverse along the scree filled slopes of the final assault. We were surprised to see exquisitely blooming lavender columbine flowers all about.

Sun Shines on Charleston Peak
 We decided to take the lower trail at this point. Both the lower and upper trails can be seen here. The upper trail might be slightly more challenging due to its rockiness.

Traverse through Scree Slope

Passing Airplane Crash Site
 After a bit of ups and downs through the spotty bristlecones, we came to the saddle where the airplane crash had occurred. This crash is memorialized at the Spring Mountain Gateway Visitor Center in Kyle Canyon. This is also the area where we saw a lot of bulbous locoweed. After passing the couple of club members who had hiked up the South Loop before us and were now on their way down, we hiked around a curve and saw the long high elevation ramp that leads up to the peak. It is quite daunting. Most of us had to steel ourselves before swallowing our thoughts of choice. ... What choice?

Ramp Climb to Peak
 Up we went, one step at a time. We were moving very slowly now. ... but moving.

Summit Photos (8.5 miles) - Richard, Karl, Sandy, Candace, Stephen, Rita, Donette, Kay
 One by one, we reached the peak arriving at the solar panels and continuing up to the log book box. We all proudly signed in.

Spring Mountain Peaks from Summit

Richard stands inside Pit
 An American flag blew in the cold wind and we took a lot of photos. Only a couple of hikers used the pit for their break. It was out of the wind but is still plagued by ticks. (How in the world did they get there?) At any rate, we killed the four ticks that we saw and ate our snack standing up! Perhaps some strong hiker should pack up a can of insect spray next time. The pit is too nice to not use. We stayed on the windy peak for around fifteen to twenty minutes then gathered for our trip back down.

Total Descent to Trail Canyon Trailhead

Starting down North Loop Switchbacks

Fourth Switchback with Kyle Canyon Beyond

One of few Remaining Snow Patches off Trail

Hiking the Cliff Area
 Until now, we had only seen one remaining snow patch which lied on the backside of Charlie. Starting down the North Loop switchbacks, we noted several others; none of which were on the trail. These were tinged with red micro-organisms that were infused in their frozen abode. We passed the solar array and started down the opposite side of the peak. These were the famous six long switchbacks that descend the front side of Charleston Peak and can be seen from various trails in Kyle Canyon.

Old Bristlecones line the Trail
 The slope is very steep and it behooves hikers to concentrate on "staying on the trail." The group separated but everyone knew to stop at the "kitchen."

Regrouping at the Ovenless "Kitchen" (9 miles)
 The Kitchen is missing its oven! Perhaps the rangers or the wilderness folks have removed it. Nevertheless, the campsite perches on a cliff and serves as a nice stop for backpackers ... albeit a cold stop!

Still above the Cliffs

From Cliffs to Lee Peak
 The hike through the cliff section afforded fantastic views and we made our next stop at Devil's Thumb. After that, we stopped at Lee Peak junction, Lee Canyon Overlook, and the 5 Mile Campsite. At Lee Peak, we joked that we should make an extra climb up to this peak so as not to be outdone by the Griffith / Charleston trio! Nah. The North Loop has a lot of elevation gain to go along with its descent. We knew the trail very well and were careful to spend our muscles, feet, knees and backs at a rate we could handle all the way down.

Just before Devil's Thumb (10 miles)
 The trail climbs after the Lee Peak junction. It is a particularly beautiful section where the trail leads along the edge of high cliffs.

Hiking toward Lee Peak Junction
 The trail makes a sharp descent just after the Lee Canyon Overlook which is accessed by stepping over a log at a small switchback. We noted something sitting on a tripod not far from the overlook.

Slope and Prominence of Charleston Peak

Cliffs below Lee Peak
 There is a rumor that cameras have been placed here and there in the Spring Mountains. If this is true, be careful where you choose to drop your pants! ... just sayin'... We descended the small steep slippery switchbacks and began an undulating hike to the 5 Mile Campsite. This is the largest of several saddle campsites where you can see over into Lee Canyon. Even though we had mostly overcast skies, we chose to not make another stop until we got to Cave Springs. There is a lot of sun exposure during this section of 2 miles.

Lee Canyon Overlook (11 miles)
 The relentless descent started at Big Falls Overlook, one half mile after the campsite. Already tired bodies began to feel the crunch.

North Loop Trail
 We stayed within sight of each other for most of the trip to Cave Springs then took a welcome rest in the shade where we did a few stretches before the final 2.6 miles.

5 Mile Campsite (12 miles)

Descending to Mummy Junction
 We had passed only a few hikers on the descent until we reached Trail Canyon where we passed a few more. When these hikers learned of our peak climb of the day, they were congratulatory. This made the painful last 2 miles of Trail Canyon slightly easier. One by one, we limped into the Trail Canyon Trailhead shocked to learn that we had made it down in 9.5 hours when we were simply hiking at a slow, steady and accommodating pace. Fantastic group of hikers! And, a fun, not soon to be forgotten day!

16.5 miles; ~5000 feet elevation gain; 9.5 hours

Leaving Cave Springs

We are tired! (Trail Canyon Saddle at 14.5 miles)

Painful(!) Descent down Trail Canyon

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