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Sitting in a motel room in Lone Pine, I was poring over maps and online descriptions for peaks ranging all over the state, trying desperately to find some peaks I could enjoy climbing in the remaining six days of my trip. The Sierra had turned out to be a bust with excessive cement-like snow that made outings more of a grind than enjoyable. The previous day's outing to Mt. Inyo and Keynot had been fun, but I had climbed the rest of the DPS peaks in this range earlier in the year. There were still a few DPS peaks of interest in Death Valley, but it would be too hot by this time to enjoy them. What to do? I was ready to pack up and head to Southern California when I struck upon the idea of heading to the Charleston Peak area near Las Vegas. The peaks there were high enough to be doable in the summer despite the desert surroundings, but the drive would be quite long. About four hours long, it turns out. I went to bed by 7p so I could be up and on my way by 3a the next morning. Driving through Death Valley at night was enjoyable, temperatures in the high 60s. I hit a bat near Panamint Springs which I came to find later had cracked my windshield, but had no other collisions with the wildlife. At one point I had to come to a complete stop to keep from running over a rabbit, but it was the thought of larger mammals crossing the road that had my full attention and my eyes glued to the road. I reached the Trail Canyon TH in Kyle Canyon just after 7a. A large party of Koreans was just starting off on a hike up the trail. It took only a few minutes to toss my pack together before I, too, was heading up the trail.
All that I had gleaned of the peaks and the Mt. Charleston Wilderness had come from the DPS guide. There appeared to be two main loops, aptly named the North Loop and the South Loop trails that looked to make a good tour of the area. I hadn't realized that the area is really a mountain island in the desert, forming a large C-shaped crown with Kyle Canyon draining the middle. The two trails together covered almost all of the region above 10,000ft in elevation. Cockscomb Ridge, an interesting formation worth another visit, rose high on my right side as I hiked up the trail, gaining several thousand feet in a few miles. Mummy Mtn, my first destination, rose before me still higher, with Charleston Peak to the west and Griffith Peak behind me to the south. Not long after a trail junction (which put me onto the North Loop Trail proper) I passed by some cliffs that had obviously been developed for sport climbing. Switchbacking still higher, I overshot the turnoff for Mummy Mtn, thinking I had one more higher switchback before turning off. The climb up to the main crest from the trail was steep and tedious over loose sand and dirt - a far better descent path.
I found a random cairn at a saddle where I reached the crest, about 100 yards west of the usual ascent point. I turned east, heading for Mummy Mtn and the gap used to access the summit through the cliff band that surrounds the peak. I found a well-ducked use trail snaking up the ridge and then left across the base of the cliff band to the gap. The gap proved to be easy enough, what one might call "high class 2". Harder than the gap were a few hard snow banks that blocked portions of the trail on the way to the gap.
I reached the summit in just over two hours, arriving by 9:30a. There are two rounded summits, the south one nearest the gap being where the summit register and benchmark could be found. The register did not go back far, only to 1996, placed shortly after Patty Rambert's death as a memorial to her.
It took another three hours to make my way over to Charleston Peak. Along the way, not long after returning to the trail, I encountered an elderly hiker asking if I had seen his dog. I had not. Ten minutes later I found his dog coming up the trail behind me. I shooed the dog back down the trail in the direction of his owner, and only after several efforts did the dogpack-toting canine reluctantly turn and go back. Later in the day when I returned to my car I found a note on my car. The owner had evidently come back without his dog, typed up a Missing Dog notice on his computer and distributed printed copies to the vehicles in the area.
Where the trail turned to the southwest as it switchbacked up the northeast and east sides of Charleston, I encountered large banks of snow that blocked the trail across the steep slopes. I had no axe with me, but I did carry crampons which I used to my advantage to cross these sections. Luckily the snow was starting to soften up so I didn't find the same hard conditions I had encountered on the way to Mummy. The last set of switchbacks I avoided altogether (they were about half covered in snow) by climbing directly to the summit up boulder and talus slopes. There were several hundred ravens about the summit, congregating on rocks and on the snow. They looked to be feeding on insects that had been blown into the snowbanks, but many were just taking it easy. Others were playing in the drafts running up the west side of the mountain. It was almost like a scene out of The Birds. There was a small radio antenna and what looked like some kind of storage shed with a solar panel atop it. A summit register ammo box was welded to a pipe fixed to the ground about waist level. The box was full of papers, torn registers, and other junk - a very popular mountain it would appear, and I was unmotivated to bother signing the book myself. A set of colorful prayer flags was the most interesting adornment at the summit.
Not staying more than a few minutes at the bleak, vegetation-free summit, I wasted no time starting down the South Loop Trail off the southwest side of the peak. I encountered a couple of younger guys on their way up only a few minutes after I had started down. They were the only other folks I ran into on the trail the rest of the day. It took less than two hours to cover the distance between Charleston and Griffith, an easy, delightful trail that follows along the south, mostly snow-free side of the crest through forest and grassy meadows. The summit of Griffith had another ammo box secured to a pipe fixed in the ground, though this one looked to have been clobbered by someone wielding a large rock in an effort to knock if from its perch. What we won't do for fun...
Returning from Griffith Peak back down to Kyle Canyon took another hour and a half, made non-trivial by the presence of a great deal of snow on the north and northeast-facing slopes. I followed the boot prints of other hikers where I could, shortcutting switchbacks buried in snow, wandering a few times through the forest understory in search of the trail when I lost it. After returning to the South Loop TH and starting back down the road to my starting point, I was able to hitch a ride from a man and his son who had driven up for the day from Las Vegas "to check things out." They were quite kind to give me a ride for the last half mile. 4p saw me back at the van.
It took an hour to drive in to Las Vegas, with heavy commuter traffic as I neared the city. From past experience I knew that $6 would buy me a shower at the Circus Circus KOA campground along with free use of one of their computers in the air-conditioned guest lounge. It was hot, 103F when I drove in. I stayed there until almost 9p waiting for the weather to start to cool. After finding a Subway for dinner (there's a Subway every other exit for more than ten miles along Interstate 15 heading to CA), I continued driving back to California. I stopped at an off-ramp about 30 miles northeast of Baker where I found it a cool 68F outside at around the 4,000-foot elevation mark. This made for a comfortable sleep in the back of the van before continuing on in the morning.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mummy Mountain - Charleston Peak - Griffith Peak
This page last updated: Wed Dec 30 16:56:46 2009
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