Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Turtlehead Peak - 11/13/23

Turtlehead Peak trail Approach

Turtlehead Peak view of Cottonwood Valley

Turtlehead Peak backside view of La Madre Peak and Brownstone Canyon

Trail starting up through the Sandstone
Turtlehead Peak is a mainstay of Red Rock Canyon NCA. Twelve years ago, the hike up to the top was filled with slippery scree slopes and trails that went every which way. Trail maintenance has improved the experience a lot but there are still many trails. The improvements include large cairns placed in strategic locations to tell hikers which of the many trails should be taken. ... And, still, mistakes can be made. Mistakes will only add time and/or difficult terrain. It is very difficult to get lost. There were no newbies on the hike this time. We were seven hikers strong. ... And, seven strong hikers. Leaving from the Sandstone Quarry Trailhead located on the Red Rock Scenic Loop, we hiked out to where the Turtlehead Trail hung a left.

View back on Trail

The Seven member Team (add the photographer, Mike)

Up the limestone Trail

Kay Sweeps
There is a sign here. If you go straight, you will be on the Calico Tanks Trail. Our trail climbs a little berm above the Limestone Wash and dumps you back down. After yearly washouts, the trail still takes hikers up the wide gravel wash to another berm on the other side. Up you go. The trail soon connects you to a trailing ridge that leads all the way up to a saddle that is on the Turtlehead Ridge. Between the trail and the peak, there is a deepish wash. With the wash, the rearview of Cottonwood Valley and the Red Rock escarpment and the towering peak, the scene is beautiful and colorful. Even with the overcast skies of this hike, the scenery could not be quelched. (squelched, quashed) We hiked up the trailing ridge at a steady pace lead by Mike who was watching the large cairns. There are also white blushes on rocks to help with navigation. The trail has a strenuous rating due to the difficult footing of scree and scrambling. We stopped only once when we were almost all the way up to the saddle as the trail begins to level out a bit. After a brief separation, we reconvened on the saddle and turned our efforts to the final peak climb. Of course, hikers can make shorter work of the climb by heading straight to the peak but why would you want to. There are too many views you would bypass.

Following the Large Cairns

Taking a small Break

Limestone Outcrops on the Saddle

Mike and a profile of Turtlehead Peak
So, we decided to climb the large circle trail that leads clockwise from the bottom to the top. This is where you will get the views that are in the next two photos. Brownstone Canyon, Gateway Canyon, and Ash Canyon are the prevalent arteries that can be seen from the circular trail. Finally on top, we wandered around taking photos and enjoying our break. We enjoyed the peak all to ourselves. It wasn't until we were half way back to the saddle before we saw anyone else up there. (Unless you count the two morning hikers we passed on our ascent.) Ready to return, we started dropping on one of the many choices of trails. They are all steep and filled with scree. The descent is a slow process. (My doctors have told me not to fall anymore!)

Brownstone Canyon and Damsel Peak

Gateway Canyon from Turtlehead Peak

Group summit Photo

Turtlehead Peak, Calico Hills and
North Blue Diamond Hill
Somehow, I got in the lead again ... that always happens ... and down we went ... slowly. I believe I made one wrong turn as I misread the cairn arrow. But, we were back on track very soon. We passed several other excited hikers. Turtlehead is, in fact, a great hike and the most difficult of the "official" hikes in Red Rock. The views are incomparable. What a great day with great friends!

Stats: ~5 miles; ~2000' gain; ~2.75 hours

Careful descent from the Peak

Descending to the Saddle

Almost to the bottom of the Trailing Ridge - Turtlehead Peak Above

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