Friday, October 4, 2019

Mountain Springs Peak Loop - 10/04/19

Calico Hills from the Escarpment Rim

Mountain Springs Peak from the Approach

Escarpment Peaks and the Calico Hills (also Turtlehead) from Mountain Springs Peak

The Radio Tower on Heartbreak Hill
 Mountain Springs Peak Loop is one of those tried and true hikes that will live forever. Thirteen hikers arrived at the Mountain Springs Summit Pass Trailhead after a slow drive up the road. The construction has progressed well on SR 160 but there is still more to do before traffic will flow smoothly. We watched carefully for the turn into the trailhead parking lot in the pine grove. A couple of our landmarks to warn us that it is coming are gone! After making sufficient preparations and without further ado, we started up Heartbreak Hill. The overall pace of today's hikers was admirable and the group stayed together throughout the hike.

Climbing Heartbreak Hill
 Climbing Heartbreak Hill was no different than the rest of the hike. We all arrived at the saddle within the same five minutes and, at the top, we welcomed the fourteenth member of today's group!

Climbing Heartbreak Hill
 The morning was very cool with a chilly wind ... especially when we reached the ridge saddle. The temperatures served to perk everyone up and enabled the decent pace.

Mt. Potosi in Morning Sun

Fourteen Hikers on Saddle
 After gathering at the saddle, we continued up the ridge before we got too cold. Our steady pace put us at the fork in no time. A few of us added a piece or two of clothing to protect the ears and chest from the gusty cold wind. Here, the right fork would take us to Windy Peak but, today, we took the left fork heading out on the Mountain Springs Peak Trail. Closing in on the escarpment rim, the wind got colder. However, with the extra pieces of clothing, we were now comfortable. When we reached the rim, we could see Las Vegas beyond the sandstone Black Velvet Peak below. There was a lot of dust in the air hanging over the "valley."

Climbing the Ridge toward the Trail Fork
 The Mountain Springs Peak Trail continued along the limestone ridge and the terrain dropped steeply to our right. The trail is in good condition.

Hollow Rock Peak framed by Tree
One more pretty good climb and around a couple of knobs and we could see Mountain Springs Peak rising roundly ahead and to the right.

Hiking out to Escarpment Rim

Mountain Springs Peak Trail (Windy Peak in Background)
 The only wildlife we saw this morning was an unkindness of ravens. (I kid you not! Look it up!) They were circling something in the brush below and tackling each other in midair. (Maybe that's why it is called an unkindness!)  Sometimes a raven would be in the air and not flying. The wind just held him there at a stand still. Oh, I did see a really fat black girdle lizard later! Anyway, we reached Mountain Springs Peak and proceeded to change out the log book container. The plastic bag that had held the book for a year or so was replaced by a plastic ammo box that Susan M. carried up. Thanks Susan! That should keep the rain out!

Reaching the Escarpment Rim
 We took about five minutes on the peak then proceeded down along the escarpment rim trail. There is a little bit of exposure along this section and the views are fantastic!

Black Velvet Peak below Mountain Springs Peak
 We hiked down along the cliffs until we reached the Snack Break Cliff where we took our break. To the side of this cliff is a small window. If you crouch at just the right angle, you can see the Stratosphere through the small hole.

View toward Pahrump and Death Valley NP

Reaching Mountain Springs Peak
 The wind wasn't too bad here if you sat back behind the cliff area. We had a few laughs then continued along the rim trail until we reached the next trailing ridge falling to the left. There are a couple of small cairns here but it is always best to not count on cairns being there ... or anywhere. We began a steep descent off trail down the ridge on a zigzag course while we tried to avoid brush and old fallen trees. At a deep saddle, we turned down to the left and descended into the small wash below. If you do it right, there will be three sets of cairns marking the junction on the side of the wash. If you don't do it right, you are probably still in the correct wash! (And, even if you do do it right, the cairns may not be there anymore!)

On the Peak
 The small wash has a trail of sorts that hikers have used to get around a few obstacles within the wash. Other than that, a good rule is to just descend the wash.

Hiking along precipitous Escarpment Rim
 When the wash begins to empty of large rocks and becomes more of a gutted ravine, you have a choice of what to do next. Either start looking for a good place to climb out to your left or figure out how to follow the wash down to the trail crossing.

The Stratosphere through the Small Window at Snack Break Cliff

Snack Break Cliff
 Usually, I climb out of the wash to the left and follow the neighboring ridge down until it junctions perpendicularly with the small Mountain Springs Horse Trail. There is a catch to this method. A lot of brush has to be circumvented as you walk down the gentle ridge! Most of the time, I find an elk trail to lead me through a lot of it. (I've never seen the elk!) Anyway, it is important to find the trail and turn left. This trail will take hikers all the way back to Mountain Springs. (Another way to get back to Mountain Springs would be to go all the way down to Rainbow Springs dirt road and follow that back to town. Believe me, the trail is the better way to go!

Descending the Trailing Ridge
The Mountain Springs Horse Trail undulates as it travels over little ridges and down into gulleys. There is only one ridge that is high enough to make a dent on the elevation graphs shown below.

The Small Wash Descent
 The pace picked up as it usually does on this trail back to town. Everyone stayed together quite well. Then, the trail ended at a trailhead above the springs for which Mountain Springs is named.

One of a few Small Scrambles

Another Small Scramble in the Wash
 We passed the springs and dropped down to the agave roasting pit that sits to the side of the throughway trail. Keeping to the right, we connected with the correct trail leading back toward the cars that were still approximately a half mile away. As we passed the old miniature horse yard, we lamented that the horses had moved away. Then, as we neared the cars, we saw a large group of hikers ahead of us. It turned out to be Keith and Beth from Sun City Anthem! Their group had just done the easier version called the Mountain Springs Loop. Great day! Absolutely beautiful! And, a great group of hikers!

6.8 miles; 1600 feet elevation gain; 3.75 hours; average moving speed 1.7 mph

Mountain Springs Horse Trail and Springs

Passing an Agave Roasting Pit

Last Stretch before the Empty Horse Yard

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