Las Vegas! My Best Bet? Hiking!

Local resident David Gray, my new hiking partner and friend, is also a trip leader for the Around the Bend Friends hiking meet-up group in Las Vegas. David signs the register on top Griffith Peak, elevation 11,060 feet. Mount Charleston, seen in the background is about five miles away. On Griffith Peak’s summit are scattered Bristlecone Pines.

 

by Amy Patenaude
Outdoor/Ski Writer

I lost a dollar in a slot machine and I thought I had my fill of gambling. But soon I was tempted again. I played a blackjack machine. I bet a five dollar bill since I didn’t have a dollar. I said goodbye to Mr. Lincoln as the bill quickly slid into the bandit. I played at least a dozen hands ,winning some and losing some when I noticed that my credits read $6.50 I decided to escape and quit while still 50 cents ahead for my efforts.
We went west to visit family and to have some outdoor fun. While Charlie was rock climbing “Dream of Wild Turkeys” in Black Velvet Canyon. I went hiking.
Before we left on our trip I sent an email to a group I had met a couple years ago when I was out hiking by myself in the Las Vegas area. After a few emails back and forth, I was invited to be a guest by one of the leaders.

Mummy Mountain as seen from Lee Canyon Road (Rte 156). Do you see why it is called Mummy Mountain? It looks like a Mummy lying in state, left to right, Toe, belly, neck, nose, forehead!

David took a bet on me and let me join his hike to the South Sister Overlook. The day was cool with lots of high clouds for the five mile out and back hike. While I waited at the Lower Bristlecone Trailhead a couple of wild horses showed up.
David led Rick and me up the trail and then at the fallen tree headed into the woods and past the foundation of an old sawmill. Soon a well-worn footpath was easy to follow up and then it disappeared again as we followed the ridge to the outlook.
The vista didn’t disappoint. Big Mount Charleston still had snow on its flanks, the Mummy’s head was across the way and the rest of the Spring Mountains just dazzled me. Southern Nevada has lots of mountains and ranges.
This was a good morning hike and it got me excited for our next day’s hike.
A couple of years ago Charlie and I did a long hike on the North Loop Trail to Mount Charleston’s summit and it was one of my favorite hikes ever. So when David offered to go with me to the 11 thousand foot summit of Griffith Peak via the South Loop Trail of course I said yes. I was happy not to hike alone and to have someone willing to share their wealth of knowledge about the area was a huge bonus.
We met at 8 am at the Cathedral Rock Trailhead; about an hour northwest of Vegas, up Kyle Canyon Road to the town of Mount Charleston.
In the parking lot we met a man who was all excited to tell us all about his new cellphone map/trail app and we headed up the trail behind him. At the intersection we turned left and headed up the South Loop Trail. In a few minutes we met the same man walking back down the trail and he sheepishly said he missed the turn for Cathedral Rock. Nothing beats a good map or better yet a friend that knows the way.

Fire isn’t funny. Charred dead trees still standing where a forest fire ravaged the mountain.

The trail has good footing and rises steeply from the canyon floor. We didn’t see water in the drainage but we could hear it running below the rocks. Everything is so open here, this is desert hiking. The area had been nearly completely burned in a raging fire five years ago and the trail was closed for a few years. Signs of the fire still abound.
There are some super overlooks along the way that would make a nice outing by themselves if you’re looking for a shorter hike.
Again the mountains dazzled me and the higher we climbed the more we could see. This time the Mummy’s toe was across the way and we could see the white streaks of snow on Mount Charleston.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather. We enjoyed the cool temperature and the blue sky above us.
As we followed the trail’s switchbacks up the mountain we had to make our way over snow covered sections of the trail as we neared the ridge. The Ponderosa Pines that had escaped the fire towered over us. I appreciated the many interesting things David pointed out along the way. He told me the names of the trees, identified the Charleston Woodpecker and hummingbirds and of course he named the mountains we could see in the distance. He poured water on what looked like a gray rock and magically the fossils of seashells appeared! All these mountains and Death Valley were once under the sea.

David poured water on the plain looking gray rock and magically seashell fossils appeared.

On the crest at the saddle there is a small windbreak shelter that campers sometimes use. The South Loop Trail turned right and its terminus is on the summit of Mount Charleston just 4.5 miles away. We turned left and hiked a short distance down before we climbed steeply to reach Griffith Peak’s summit.
On top the wind was gusty but not too cold. Two other hikers were sitting on top and were preparing to leave when we arrived. From our 11,064 foot perch the grand panorama reached far and wide. We signed the summit register and took a short break to eat a snack.

David on one of the outlooks along the South Loop Trail with Mummy Mountain’s big toe sticking up across Kyle Canyon.
Your truly and just one of the many large Ponderosa Pine that tower over the South Loop Trail.

Descending the switchbacks was this hiker’s dream. I joked to David that if this trail was in the East it would have led us straight down the drainage and been all washout and rocky. This trail was well graded and smooth, rarely ever too steep and ever so nice on my knees.
The temperature increased greatly as we descended and the sun was hot. While we were up high the leaves of the quaking Aspens had just popped wide open and were a fresh light green. What a treat to see the changes as spring settles in while summer is pounding at the door.
I can’t wait to go back to Las Vegas.
Thanks David!
Have Fun.

Amy Patenaude is an avid skier/outdoor enthusiast from Henniker, N.H. Readers are welcome to send comments or suggestions to her at: amy@weirs.com.