Sunday, June 30, 2013

South Sister Saddle Loop CW via Pine Cone Canyon - 6/30/13

McFarland Peak from Bonanza Trail near Ridge Junction

Ridge Line Scenery

Once again, as seventeen members of the AtBF rode toward the trailhead, they saw wild horses. One was feeding off of Lee Canyon Highway and a family of three were feeding at the Sawmill Picnic Area. We love to see the horses!

Today's hike was another variation of the new South Sister Saddle Loop. This time, we would travel in a reverse direction and take a different approach from the Lower Bristlecone Trail.

 We parked at the Lower Bristlecone Trailhead parking lot and started up the forest road for half a mile where the road takes a U-ey to the left. Just at the point of the hairpin turn, there is a trail that leads up a wide wash. We have decided to call this wash trail, Pine Cone Canyon. ... (just so we know what we are referring to!) Pine Cone Canyon starts out fairly non-threatening. However, as the trail bears off to the right wash, the trail becomes very steep and is filled with many pine cones.

Climbing Pine Cone Canyon

Pine Cone Canyon Slope

Did I mention how hot it was today? Well, let me tell you! The Las Vegas valley was expected to reach 115 degrees and, in the Spring Mountains, it was around 90. Anywho, this very steep climb up the wash required a few stops and a lot of water. Finally, all seventeen of us reached the ridge line where the Bonanza Trail lay. The junction area is seen in the photo to the left facing south. We took a few breaths and turned north on the Bonanza Trail.

 Enjoying every minute of the beautiful Bonanza Trail, we traveled around three quarters of a mile. The ridge trail comes into the Bonanza Trail at a perpendicular angle to the right. Wandering slightly as we searched for the ridge trail turn off (look for a log with a rock on top of it), we found it and began a somewhat steep descent for a hundred yards. The trail is small but fairly clear. Wild horses are most likely the trail blazers.

Starting Down Ridge Line Trail

Following Ridge Line Trail Toward South Sister

 The ridge trail leveled out a little then dropped again off to the right. We continued down until we reached a great place for a picnic! Plenty of log seating. Here, we noticed that a large gray cloud had appeared overhead. The monsoons have arrived, right on time! The heat creates rain clouds out of nowhere right around noon.

 We were very happy to see the change in weather as the sun went away. Everyone finally reached the chosen snack spot and we had a very leisurely break. There were views of mountains all around. Mt. Charleston, South Sister, Mack's Peak and Mummy Mountain could be seen from the bristleconed ridge. And, it was obvious that this was a favorite hang out of wild horses and even a few elk or large deer.

Great Snack Spot!

The Horses Missed These!

 After the break, we finished our hike across the ridge line trail and dropped down to the South Sister Saddle. While we took a small break here, a few (very few) raindrops began falling. This was not a problem! Now, at our own pace, we started down the South Sister Trail. At first, it is very steep but levels out quick enough.

 The bottom of the hill brought a walk through the forest, past the spring and a small old home foundation. We connected with the rock lined path that comes up from the Old Mill Picnic Area and after a few more yards we turned off to the right to crossover to the forest road where we would finish the hike back to the cars. This was a 5 mile hike with 2000 feet of elevation gain that took us almost 5 hours to accomplish today.

Starting Down South Sister Trail from Saddle

Finishing Hike on Forest Road

The first half mile of forest road is omitted.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bonanza Peak - 6/27/13

View of Pahrump Valley from Bonanza Saddle

View of Charleston Peak from Bonanza Peak

 According to twenty hikers of the AtBF, Bonanza Peak was the place to be today ... in spite of the heat! With 8.5 miles and 3474 feet of elevation gain, the hike was a challenge ... especially since much of it was hiked in the sun. Nevertheless, eighteen of the twenty hikers made it to the peak, many of whom had not been there before.

We journeyed up to Cold Creek, Nevada and drove out the high clearance dirt road to the Bonanza Trailhead. On the way into Cold Creek, we waited for and passed a huge herd of wild horses. There must have been around fifty in all. (Some were very skinny.) A waning gibbous (the moon) hung over the Window-in-the-Cliff area above the Spring Mountain Divide ridge line. And, after twenty hikers finished their preparations, we began the climb up the initial 57 or so switchbacks (who counts anymore?) to the Bonanza Saddle.

View of Cold Creek Valley from Initial Switchbacks

Hikers Dealing with the 70 Switchbacks

By the time we reached the beginning of the switchbacks, we were well on our way to dividing into around three pace levels. The climb seemed to go faster when we carried on a conversation. It really didn't matter what we were talking about! Someone once said that if you can talk and hike at the same time, then you are going the right pace for you and your heart. 'Nuff said!

At around the 36th switchback, (because I counted it two years ago ...), where you can go off trail a short distance and see a good view of the Window-in-the-Cliff, there was a lone horse munching on the low growth bushes. He (or she) seemed to not notice us walk by and speak at all. The horse just kept munching. As skinny as the horses are right now, we don't blame him. A few more switchbacks and we found the big tree that we were obliged to climb over last year. It has been somewhat cleared now.

Tree Crossing No More

Bonanza Saddle and Pahrump View

We had been instructed by our coordinator du jour, Mike OC, to wait at the saddle where we would regroup to finish the climb to the peak. So when we arrived at the saddle, there were fourteen smiling faces already there. While waiting for the remainder of the hikers, there was plenty of time to take a few photos and eat a snack. The views from the saddle are expansive and the flowers bloomed throughout the meadow.

The last hikers arrived and took a small break then we started up the remaining 12 or so switchbacks to the approach trail turn off. Again, we spread out but Mike OC stood stalwartly at the pile of rocks (loosely called the cairn!) at the turn off to the left. He offered to lead hikers to the peak if they waited, however, it is a peak! Just go up! And, we continued and found a barely there trail marking the way.

View from Bonanza Peak Approach Trail

Bonanza Peak

We arrived at the peak, signed the log, took our photos, ate a snack and had more conversation. From the peak, one can see clearly to Mt. Charleston as seen in the second photo of the entry. Although it was cooler on the peak, the sun was still warming us more than we would have liked. Too soon, we began the descent process. We learned it is best to stay on the ridge coming down so that there is no confusion as to which way to hike when you reach the main Bonanza Trail.

Twelve switchbacks to the saddle again, then 57 to the cars. Four solid miles of down! We didn't stop and the knees and feet payed for it! But, please note the smiling faces in the photo below. Nothing beats a day in the mountains even if it is hot. What a great day!

Down ... Down ... Down

Summer Flowers at the Saddle

Orientation of Spring Mountain Divide from Cold Creek Area

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Griffith Peak via South Loop - 6/23/13

Griffith Peak from the South Loop Trail

Mt. Charleston from Griffith Peak Summit

 The Sunday hike on today's agenda was a Tuesday or Thursday hike with a multiple choice pace! We had twelve hikers to start and added one before we all summited Griffith Peak from the South Loop Trail. Starting at the new parking lot, the hike to the peak was around 9 miles with 3740 feet of total elevation gain. We left the trailhead at 7:44am and the last hikers returned at 1pm making it a less than six hour hike. Five of the thirteen hikers took off quickly and the rest of us never saw them again until we passed them as they came down near the saddle. (Note the photo of their backs near the beginning of the hike to the left!)

Walk Into the Light, Lettie!

 The South Loop Trail starts out just like it used to before all the construction started. (The Cathedral Rock Trail turns off of it to the right shortly after beginning.) We climbed the first steps, passed the Rainbow Loop junctions, then climbed the second set of steps (seen to the right). There was a rumor that the steps were much better. Hmmm. Looked the same ... just cleaner. Next came the first set of switchbacks which were adorned with colorful summer low growth flowers. By this time, the remaining hikers had divided into solos and duets.

Switchbacks Just Before the First Overlook

The writer hiked as a solo so many of the photos  on the ascent are scenery with no people! There were several other hikers on the trail today so it wasn't too lonely! We all faced the formidable climb at our own pace and the day was extremely pleasant. Passing the 1st, 2nd and 3rd overlooks, the writer took a few photos, drank some water and moved on while leap frogging with a quartet of younger hikers. She noted that the trail is very clean of rocks in some sections and the tree that we had to climb over last year is no longer there.

View From 3rd Overlook

 Reaching Griffith Saddle, where the South Loop Trail junctions with the Harris Springs Trail, the writer was pleased to look up and see another hiker from our group who needed a little direction since he had not been to Griffith Peak before. We both donned our light jackets in the cool breeze and turned left onto Harris Springs Trail. The short distance used on this trail sits atop the ridge and takes the hiker down through a small dip before reaching the fork where the Griffith Peak Trail bears off to the left.

View Looking Back from Griffith Peak Summit Climb

After bearing left, the hiker is hit immediately with a very steep finale! By this time, the climb to the peak has to be taken pretty slow. Nevertheless, when the peak is reached, euphoria ensues! There were five hikers taking in the amazing views from our group at this time. Those five guys in front were well on their way back down the switchbacks. And, three hikers were bringing up the rear. We waited until all were at the top before the five of us began our descent. Those last three began their descent soon afterwards.

View Toward Mt. Potosi from Griffith Peak Summit

 As we all descended on the South Loop Trail, we stayed pretty much within yelling distance. We assumed that the five front guys would leave before we got down so the eight hikers that were left knew that no one was going anywhere in the two remaining cars until we all got back. With very few stops, we did it! What a great day, great hike, great workout and great friends!

Doug Waves from Trail Below

Blue Lupine and the Cliffs of the First Overlook