Saturday, September 28, 2019

Bristlecone Loop - 9/27/19

Autumn Aspens on the Bristlecone Loop

Yellowed Mountain Currant Bush at Bristlecone Trail

Autumn Aspens along Upper Bristlecone Trail

Descending the Steep Hill - Followed by the Sun
Stealing a chance to see autumn color on the Bristlecone Loop, ten hikers gathered at the Upper Bristlecone Trailhead at the very end of Lee Canyon Road where the ski slopes are located, and set out down the steep trail connecting this trailhead with the road below the switchback. The descent on this precarious trail is the most difficult part of today's moderate hike. Then, we walked on down the road to the Lower Bristlecone Trailhead where there were several mules and riders being unloaded and readied for a trip up to the Bonanza Trail. They were spotting water and tools at those same small switchbacks on the Bonanza Trail where the trail goes up and around a small rocky peak about 1.4 miles from the Bristlecone Trail junction. On Saturday, several experienced trail builders will arrive to finish building the switchbacks that were abandoned last year because of the blue butterflies. These trail improvements are made possible by the monies from the Mt. Charleston license tag sales and the effort of the Backcountry Horsemen of Nevada, the Nevada Wilderness folks and a group of trail builders coming out of Reno.

Backcountry Horsemen of Nevada ready for a Trail Ride

We spoke with the head of the trail ride and petted the mules (who were ready to go by then) and hiked on up past the gate. It wasn't long before the mules and riders came sauntering by with their cattle dogs bringing up the rear. The dogs were probably really the ones in charge! They appeared ready and able!

First Yellow Aspens nearing Pine Cone Canyon
As we neared the Pine Cone Canyon Trail junction on the Lower Bristlecone Trail ... or Scout Canyon Road ..., yellow aspens began appearing. The hairpin turn occurring one mile from the Lower Bristlecone Trailhead was our first "WOW" moment with the autumn color.

Pine Cone Canyon Corner

What a Beautiful Morning!
The aspens around this section of the forest road were brilliant in their yellows, especially in the early morning light. When we exited our cars above, the temperature was 46 degrees. But, there was very little wind and we were never really cold. Therefore, when the aspens started coloring the clear morning sky, we knew we were in for a very enjoyable hike. Smiles everywhere! ... Even when I asked the hikers that had jumped out front on the familiar trail to take it back a notch. This was not a hike to rush through! We regathered at the first forest road overlook, took a few photos and continued hiking in more of a group scenario.

Mummy Mountain from the Bristlecone Loop
Yes, I took some ribbing for this type of tyranny. But, these are all great people and the hike, indeed, was worth the slower pace.

Scout Canyon Road, Forest Road 71, and Lower Bristlecone Trail (all the same)

This part of the forest road has wide views of the North Ridge and its descending ravines. There were large patches of yellow aspens marking these ravines that can be seen in a few of these photos. This first forest road overlook is 2 miles. And, the Bonanza Trail junction is 3 miles from the Lower Bristlecone Trailhead.

Ravines full of Aspens below Lee Peak

Scout Canyon Road
Add the almost half mile from the Upper to the Lower Trailheads and we were 3.5 miles into the hike at the Bonanza junction break. At the mid-morning hour of 10am, the sun was strong on Mummy Mountain as seen in the photo below. Once we started hiking again, we headed up to the high point of the loop. Just after that point, we passed a gorgeous albeit small wild horse grazing not far off the trail. Photos ensued. (See second photo down.) On down the trail, we began passing more and more hikers that had come up to the mountains for the outstanding day. The fall weather was changing the colors of several mountain shrubs as well and the aspens.

Mummy Mountain in the Rising Sunshine
One of those shrubs is the mountain currant that is plentiful along the trails. BTW, the rabbitbrush is fading in the higher elevations. Sad to see it go.

Painted Wild Horse near Trail
After the horse, we continued down past the Upper Bristlecone Trail overlook. This is the one that is located at a switchback that features South Sister on one side and Lee Peak on the other.

South Sister from the Upper Bristlecone Trail

Aspen Grove on Upper Bristlecone
We kept to our moderate pace enjoying every bit of the autumn scenery as we could find. The first photo of this entry was taken as we neared the No Name junction. There is a large grove of aspens within the first (today's last) mile of the Upper Bristlecone Trail. We dove into the colors like we were jumping into a yellow kaleidoscope! What a great last mile to end the loop! Fantastic day! Fantastic group of hikers! Fantastic welcoming of autumn!

6 miles; 950 feet elevation gain; 3.25 hours

Aspens in Peak Autumn Color

Happy Hikers

Aspens near Trailhead

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

North Peak (Sandstone) - 9/24/19

Calico Hills & Las Vegas from North Peak (Sandstone)

Rocky Gap Road snaking up La Madre Mountain Range (Seen from Ridge Trail)

Rising Sunlight on Red Rock Wash

Red Rock Wash leaving Willow Springs TH
Wow! Red Rock Canyon in the third week of September! It was a cool morning, a breezy summit and a descent that got warmer as we neared the trailhead. Twelve adventurous hikers came out to the Willow Springs Trailhead for a challenging climb up to North Peak (Sandstone) via Red Rock Wash and the steep trail on the ridge approach. We dropped into the wide wash on the Petroglyph Trail located near the end of the paved Willow Springs Spur Road. (Look for a very small sign on the left!) Red Rock Wash is filled with sandstone of many colors. Many of the boulders also have intricate designs on them as seen in the second photo below.

Stair-stepping the Beautiful Red Rock Wash
The sun had made its debut on the rocks in front of us as we began our scramble climb up the gravel. Soon the gravel turned into small boulders and, eventually, large boulders.

One Example of Many Designed Boulders in Wash
A vague trail can be seen in the gravel where other hikers have repeatedly climbed up the best route. After the wash tributaries consolidated into one main wash, the route is obvious.

Spring Water in Wash (Go Around Used)

The Dry Fall nearing the Ridge Trail Crossing
Landmarks to watch out for are the island, a few difficult scrambles (or up and arounds), the brushy spring area, and the big dry fall. We climbed at a constant moderate pace. A lot of the time, we were in the shade. Then, after two miles, we came to the North Peak Trail crossing the wash. (There was another trail just before this that could lead you wrong.) We turned left on the familiar North Peak Trail and began the legendary climb up to the main ridge. This trail follows a trailing ridge up a steep grade (45 degrees incline at times). I pushed as long as I could then started having to stop to catch my breath. Although some of the hikers behind me seemed to also need the slow pace, some of them were simply enjoying the view! When we reached the sandstone slabs, the incline seemed to get even steeper and sometimes I could only do about 30 feet at a time! Some of the hikers behind me went ahead to wait for us at the "Gateway Cairns."

Starting Up the Ridge Trail
The only wildlife we saw on the way up were black girdle lizards and ground squirrels. Sometimes a few smaller lizards. But, the views of the La Madre Mountain Range were tremendous.

Views around every Corner
The sun was rising up behind the main ridge above us so the one photo I tried to take of our target wasn't very good. Suffice it to say, we went UP where the cairns led us to a pile of rocks with a couple of cairns that I have dubbed the Gateway Cairns. (This is an important landmark no matter what you want to call it.)

One of Many Stops

Sandstone vs. Limestone
At this point, it was nearing lunch time and some of the hikers needed a little refreshment. So, we sat at the Gateway Cairns and replenished our energy supplies so that we would be able to continue up to Dragon Rock and the peak. Just five minutes later, we headed up to Dragon Rock. We had several newbies today so a tour of the brightly colored stack of boulders was a must. We hiked through the landmark then climbed over to head along the main ridge. The trail was marked with sufficient cairns but one rule of thumb is to stay near the top of the ridge or just to the left of the higher points of the main ridge. Don't go deeply to the left.

Hitting the Sandstone Slabs near the Main Ridge
There are a few rock formations on the way over. The small window, the surfboard rock, and a couple of nice dead trees that cling to the sandstone.

Food Break at the Gateway Cairns
Just past the last dead tree below the left side of a rising boulder, we came to the peak ... or the traditionally known peak. I suppose the rising boulder where Mike took a photo of all of us is the actual high point on the ridge.

Climbing up to Dragon Rock

Leaving Dragon Rock to Follow Main Ridge
There is a log book here that we all signed. The views are really tremendous! Calico Hills, Bridge Mountain, Las Vegas, Ice Box Canyon, the La Madre Mountain Range and ... peeking around the rising boulder ... we also saw North Peak (Limestone). The views are worth the travail of climbing the North Peak Trail! It's always fun to bring hikers up to a fantastic place! We sat on the rock and just enjoyed. After the photos were done and we had had a rest, we started back toward Dragon Rock following the cairns. With a little bit of search, we found the most important Gateway Cairns and started out the sandstone slabs.

Hikers through Small Arch
Rattle! 😬I froze! I knew what it was before I saw it! Yes, there it was. A two foot Mojave Rattler (a few photos down) with a 1" rattle had been minding its own business sunning on the 6866' elevation sandstone! It politely gave me warning before I got too close. It slowly slithered under a rock. We were apparently too much for it to handle.

Trail leads to the Left of this "Hump"
Slightly shook, we warned of the presence of the snake to a single hiker we saw climbing up the side of the sandstone.

Yea! Twelve Hikers on Top of North Peak (Sandstone)

Various Views from Our Perch
We moved on down the steep slabs at a snail's pace. It was the only way to deal with the steepness on tired legs. Next, we came to the lower limestone part of the trail. Still slow. We had made bets about how many falls we would experience during the steep and slippery descent! In the end, it was one fall (that I know about) and a handful of half falls. It's inevitable. (I think this was only my second time with no falls at all.) Yippee. Anyway, the descent always seems to last forever. The concentration among the twelve hikers was palpable. It's quite a feat for old knees! We got down to the Rocky Gap Road North Peak Trailhead and rested our knees, thighs, feet and core for just a few minutes.

Following the Trail back to the Gateway Cairns
One hiker had a meeting to go to so he moved on down the road. The remaining hikers stayed together and willed our feet and legs to descend the 2.4 miles down the relatively easy dirt road.

Yep! We really did see a rattlesnake on the sandstone slabs! Luckily, he saw us first.
As we hiked down, a handful of cars passed us. A couple of the cars were well-equipped for the Rocky Gap Road journey but others were not. They really should put a sign at Willow Springs parking lot telling tourists to resist trying the road in a low clearance vehicle.

Descending the Steep Sandstone Slab Section

Into the Limestone
It appears that someone has graded Rocky Gap Road up to the Pink Jeep Turnaround. However, there are still a couple of spots where the bedrock comes up enough to result in a non-HCV car hitting bottom. We heard one such sound from a small truck. Finally, we slogged into the trailhead. In spite of the physical effort, everyone expressed their appreciation for the hike. Fun day. Beautiful Red Rock day. A little warm near the end.

7.3 miles; 2450 feet elevation gain; 5.75 hours; 1.3 mph average moving speed

2.4 miles down Rocky Gap Road

Beautiful Rocky Gap Road Views

Nearing the Willow Springs Trailhead