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It was 39F when I awoke at 5a and the first thing I did was start the van's engine while I crawled back inside to wait for things to warm up. At least the wind had died down. It would be a cold start, but the day would thaw nicely. Our goal today was Hayford and Sheep, two peaks in the Sheep Range of south central Nevada. Hayford was one of the remaining DPS peaks that neither of us had climbed while Sheep was a bonus peak at no short distance from the other that would ensure we had a full day's outing.
We took more than half an hour to ply the washboarded roads by headlight, quite a few miles that kept us from starting off at the TH until almost 6a. Our headlamps were needed for only 15 or 20 minutes as the day came on quickly. We hiked east up the the gravelly wash of Deadman Canyon on the remains of what used to be a road going nearly five miles in. Gated at the start, the road has been deteriorating over the years due to flood and revegetation. Unlike most of the other ranges in Southern Nevada, the Sheep Range has healthy stands of ponderosas and other evergreens, though mostly at the higher elevations.
There was no water in the creek this time of year and the first hour was a standard hike up a dry desert wash, though deeply walled in on two sides. The flora slowly changed to include a few trees which eventually grew to displace the desert flora that was found at the lower elevations. By 7:30a we had reached the Hidden Forest Cabin at the end of the road. Built around 1900, the cabin has been slowly restored over the past several years by volunteers. There was still a good deal of work to do. We stopped long enough to check out the inside and take a few pictures. It was a bit messy, but serviceable with a stove, some bedding, a few supplies and tools hanging on the wall.
Our next move was to hike up to the nearby Wiregrass Spring (presumeably the reason for the cabin's location) which we found by following a trail through the forest understory. We had intended to take one of the two DPS routes given in their guide, but as we were traversing out of the spring we found a few ducks leading up the ridgeline west of the DPS routes. This turned out to be a fine, easy ridge climb with a decent use trail the entire way. We followed this up to Hidden Forest Ridge and a subsidiary summit southwest of Hayford Peak. Some snow lingered on the north-facing slopes, just a dusting from a weak storm earlier in the week. We dropped down a short distance to a saddle, then headed up the remaining 800ft to the summit. There was a rocky outcrop to avoid enroute, best done using a faint trail on the northwest side of the ridgeline.
It was not yet 9a when we found ourselves on the broad summit, much sooner than we had expected. A radio tower and shed were erected at the top, visible for much of the route to the summit once we had climbed out of Deadman Canyon. We found the views marginal, particularly considering the 5,000ft+ of prominence the peak has. Stunted trees blocked views in some directions with the most open view available to the south. We climbed atop the fiberglass shed for better views, but the cold wind dissuaded us from spending more than a minute or two in that venture. We huddled on one side of the shed where the register and benchmark were located, eating lunch, perusing the entries and trying to stay warm. Overall we were unimpressed with the summit and would gladly vote to excise the peak from the DPS list.
We discussed briefly the plan to visit Sheep Peak. By now Matthew had lost interest in it due to the lack of excitement he found in reaching Hayford. On the other hand, I had shown little interest in it earlier thinking we'd already had a full day, but now that Hayford went so easy I was up for climbing Sheep as well, and I kinda like long easy hikes sometimes. Unable to reach agreement, we deferred the decision until we had hiked back down to the cabin where the two routes diverge.
Following lunch we hiked back down to the saddle on the SW side, then descended the side canyon from there down to Deadman Canyon. This was one of the DPS routes from the guide, but we found no use trail and only an odd duck about half way down. We agreed that the ascent route was much better. It was after 10a before we returned to the cabin, then spent the next hour and a half hiking back down the main canyon along the old road. Matthew had suggested we go find something else to climb instead of Sheep and I was happy to oblige him (I may have felt otherwise if Sheep had been a P2K peak or of similar interest). I was unable to keep up with Matthew's accelerated pace, so I let him go out of sight and I continued down at my more leisurely pace. By the time I returned to the car at 11:40a he had already been there more than fifteen minutes, poring over guidebooks and maps while he was waiting for me to arrive.
Not one to waste time, Matthew had been looking for something to spend the afternoon in pursuit of, coming up with La Madre Peak at the north end of Red Rocks. I was skeptical that we could get it done before we ran out of daylight but was more than willing to give it a go. We had to drive back to North Las Vegas to get gas, then north again and east on Route 157. We followed directions given in Zdon's book which were sufficient, for the most part.
While we sat parked in the middle of the good Harris Springs Rd trying to decide which of two closely spaced dirt side roads we were to use, a large white truck came up from behind us, hitting his horn when he found us unexpectedly blocking the road. We moved to the side to allow him to pass. He came up slowly, rolled down his window and asked if we were looking for the rehab center or the trailhead. "The trailhead," we assured him, now wondering about the rehab center and why it might be located along a lonely stretch of dirt road. He started on a long-winded description about many miles and switchbacks that lay before us to the end of the road, but I interrupted him before he could finish with, "I don't think that's the trailhead we're looking for." He was giving directions to Charleston or Griffith that were clearly visible in the distance to the west. He asked which peak we were interested in and when we replied, "La Madre," he smiled and chuckled and started up again, telling us we were nowhere near the peak. "You're fifty miles from the trailhead!" he exclaimed, launching off into directions taking us back to Las Vegas and Red Rocks. Matthew showed far more patience than I could have, nodding to everything the guy was telling us and then thanking him for the information before our friend drove away. I laughed about Matthew's approach, "Why didn't you tell him it's right there?" (It was clearly visible five miles to the south). Of course Matthew's approach was the most expedient because I would have just continued a losing conversation indefinitely, while Matthew managed to get rid of him as quickly as possible.
We turned onto the rough road after our guide was out of sight. About half a mile along the road we came to a steep drop into a wash. Matthew balked at driving down, to which I suggested we get out to "inspect" it. I was hoping that Matthew would find it no big deal, but there were clear signs of where other vehicles had struggled to get back up the grade. Since it was Matthew's car I didn't think it was right to press the issue, so we simply backed up a short distance and parked the car. What's another few miles of hiking anyway?
It was indeed a pleasant stroll up the road heading south in the afternoon sunshine. We spent about half an hour hiking up the last mile and half of road, reaching its end around 2p. From there we headed cross-country aiming for a ridgeline heading up to the peak from the northwest side. Though only about two miles to the summit, the cross-country went slower than expected with lots of brush and circuitous route-finding. We made it harder than it needed to be in trying to avoid rocky obstacles by traversing around to the west side in a number of places. This was somewhat of an illusion we came to find out later and it would have been both faster and more enjoyable to simply scramble along the entire ridgeline to the summit.
It was 3:30p before we summited, with a fine, albeit hazy view of Red Rocks to the south and Las Vegas to the east. There was a benchmark that had been placed in 1950 but no register that we could find. It was a bit chilly and we could not stay very long knowing the sun was going to be setting soon. We wanted to get back to the road before darkness overtook us. We followed the ridgeline more closely this time and found some fun class 3 near the top that we had missed earlier. The obstacles we had so carefully avoided on the way up turned out to be almost trivial and there was no need to bypass any portions of the ridge by traversing off to the side.
The sun set around 4:30p, but we managed to reach the road without needing our headlamps. A half moon was high overhead and helped us navigate the remaining distance without headlamps as well. We did some jogging along the road to speed things up, but I called a halt to that when the light seemed insufficient for preventing the inevitable accident that appeared likely to befall one or both of us if we continued. It was 5:20p before we returned to the car, having turned in a full day's work.
We returned to Las Vegas and the KOA at Circus Circus for showers (using the same code we had been given for the door lock the previous day). From there Matthew and I parted ways. He wanted to head to Utah and Zion National Park while I headed northeast on Interstate 15 for only about 40 miles to the turnoff for the Muddy Mtns. I was to meet Bill Peters in the area the next morning, having arranged the exact spot via email the previous day. My dinner consisted of soup prepared on a portable propane stove outside the van while I stayed warm inside with the motor running. It was 35F outside by 8p and I had no desire to sit outside with my dinner. It looked like it was going to be a cold night outside, indeed.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Hayford Peak - La Madre Mountain
This page last updated: Wed Dec 30 16:56:05 2009
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