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Five of us were in Lake Mead NRA for a day-long hike on the south side of North Shore Rd, north of Lake Mead. Four of the peaks are found in Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles, with Sentinel Peak's description starting with: "Some might argue that Sentinel Peak is the best peak in the Lake Mead area," high praise indeed. Note that Pucell did not necessarily include himself among those. After visiting the peak, I would not include myself, either. It's a good peak, but hardly a great one. Most of the day's peaks were southeast of our starting point at the northeast end of Pinto Valley along the highway. Our group would do the first four summits together before splintering into smaller groups based on what folks wanted to do (or not do) in the afternoon.
I had driven in from Las Vegas where I was staying with my wife near the airport to meet the others at their campsite in Callville Wash. We then drove all four of our vehicles some miles east on North Shore Rd to our starting point. This would give us much flexibility on how our day would end. The two peaks not found in Purcell's book were unnamed summits with identical elevatons of 3,051ft. Both had less than 300ft of prominence. Peak 3,051ft #1 would be our first stop about a mile and a half from the start. We hiked through rolling, rocky lowlands at the edge of Pinto Valley towards the southeast, aiming for a saddle on the peak's east side. This had some class 2+ scrambling to reach it, whereupon we started up the better limestone ridgeline that would lead to the summit. It was a nice ridgeline, nothing scary, and offered good views of Pinto Valley. It was a particularly clear morning with decent views in all directions. We took just under an hour and, not finding a register, left one of ours before continuing the journey.
Little Pyramid is about half a mile southeast of the first summit and it would take us about 45min between them. On the way up to Little Pyramid we went over a PB-only summit, Pt. 1000m, really just the lower north summit of our goal. Both are composed primarily of dark volcanic rock. Little Pyramid had a bit of class 2-3 at the top, where there is a very large cairn crowning it. There was a worn notepad that had quite a few entries, as well as a Smatko-style metal film cannister with a small note from 1977. Food was consumed as we sat about the summit and surveyed more territory to the southeast.
The North/South Crag pair lay 3/4mi to the southeast across a small valley. We descended the steep south side of Little Pyramid and crossed the drainage before starting up to North Crag, the easier of the two (North Crag is actually more east than north of South Crag). They are both small volcanic plugs offering some short but decent scrambling. Both had registers placed by Kevin Humes only a few months earlier. While the north side of North Crag had some modest scrambling, the real fun was on the traverse between the two and the climb of South Crag. We went around or over various obstacles along the ridge by various means as our group stretched out. South Crag looks improbable from the east and north, but there are class 3 options up from the west that we all used in turn, including a short little knife-edge that made for fun photos. We spent about an hour getting to North Crag, then another 35min to South Crag. It was close to noon when we all settled at the summit for a deserved break and more snacks.
It was at this point that our agendas started to diverge. I was looking south across another drainage at Peak 3,051ft #2, only 1/3mi away. The distance was short, but it looked like it might be the hardest of the day with significant cliffs on the side facing us. My refrain of "It's right there!" caused no concern for TomG, who seemed to clearly agree. TomB and Iris were quieter. Patrick, on the other hand, was not quiet and not all that happy. He'd been following me around all morning without feeling like he had a clear idea of the agenda and was looking a little exacerbated. "Ok, I'm heading back!" was his answer to what he may have considered continuing nonsense. "What about Sentinel Peak?" someone else asked. "Forget it! This is crazy, I'm going back." These weren't his exact words, but I think it conveys how he felt, or at least how I thought he felt. TomB and Iris talked him down, suggesting there was no reason anyone had to follow Bob, and in just a few moments the three agreed to skip #2 and head directly to Sentinel which was in the orthoganal direction. Seemed like a good enough plan to me, so TomG and I dropped off the south side of South Crag after first descending the summit blocks back to the ridge with North Crag. We followed a steep, loose class 2 chute with a few class 3 pauses, including an initial one getting off the ridge.
#2 proved easier than guessed. We went to the far left (east) end of the cliff face, ignoring a few possible steep breaks in the cliff that might have offered a shortcut (or might not have), and found a class 2 route behind it. We interrupted a herd of about a dozen bighorn ewes that kept their distance, eyeing us warily, until we were clearly going in a direction away from them. About half an hour after we'd left South Crag, we'd found our way to the top of Peak 3,051ft #2. Like #1, there was no register, so we left one. TomG was looking southwest to another collection of Purcell summits 2mi off that included Booth Pinnacle and Pyramid Peak. I thought these were too far myself, so I decided to head to Sentinel Peak, about 2mi to the west, while Tom went off to chase these other two. We stayed together as we descended off the west side of #2, separating where Tom dropped into a south-facing drainage.
I enjoyed the solo traverse between #2 and Sentinel Peak, taking about an hour and three quarters. Much of it was quite leisurely, though I had several intermediate highpoints to go over enroute. None of this involved any difficulties. It had a very remote wilderness feel to it all, and I'd have been happy for it to last a few additional hours. About halfway to Sentinel I heard voices which I quickly identified as TomB and Iris, though I could not see them anywhere to the north where I might expect them. Patrick's voice was noticeably absent, leading me to believe he had decided to return to the vehicle at some point (he did). As I neared Sentinel Peak, I went over Pt. 963m, a PB-only point that was directly across my route. I could now see TomB and Iris on the ridgline to the northeast, about 20min away. I doubted they could see me (certainly couldn't hear me), though they'd probably spot me on the way to Sentinel once they reached Pt. 963m. Sentinel is connected to Pt. 963m through a saddle composed of soft, decomposing badlands. Sentinel Peak from the east is quite a sight with its tilted plane of colorful layers, limestone at the top, then volcanic flows, then sandstone beneath these. The angle looks severe, but the limestone makes it no more than class 3. I spotted the others atop Pt. 963m as I was starting the scramble up to Sentinel Peak. I followed the East Ridge, or rather just left of the East Ridge where the going seemed more reasonable. It was 2:20p by the time I arrived at the summit, finding a newish register barely a year old.
I had several options for the return at this point. I had a track for the descent off the west side which I gathered involved some dry waterfalls that needed bypassing. I could also have gone back along the East Ridge and then off the north side. From a few days earlier, I recalled that Bob Cable had said he'd gone up the North Face and thought that was better than the East Ridge he descended. Purcell makes no mention of the North Face which appears to be fraught with cliffs. Bob had commented that he thought the sandstone on the north side was better scrambling than the limestone on the East Ridge. I decided to go with Bob's recommendation, knowing I might have to climb back up if I couldn't find a way through the cliff sections. It turned out to be a good choice, but far from easy. I had route-finding issues (fun?) and several places that I had serious concerns. The sandstone slabs were quite steep in spots and I wasn't sure my boots would hold. I had to make a mental calculation to judge how badly I might get hurt if I slid 20ft at one point, committing only after I figured it would be mostly road rash. Luckily I didn't slip in any of the tough spots and I managed to work my way through the obstacle course, eventually reaching easier ground about 35min after leaving the summit. Once down in Pinto Valley, I worked my way north to find the old road, then followed it out over the next hour to the northeast and the highway. It was 4:15p by the time I got back to the vehicles. As expected, Patrick's was gone. TomB and Iris would return about an hour after me. TomG would be several hours past them, not reaching Sentinel until after sunset and returning back by headlamp. As I was staying with my wife in Las Vegas, there was no need for me to wait for their return - they would settle back in Callville Wash for the night where I would rejoin them the next morning...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Sentinel Peak
This page last updated: Mon Mar 7 11:41:26 2022
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