Fri, Feb 16, 2018
Three of us met up at a Taco Bell in North Las Vegas in the early morning to carpool for a hike to Sheep Peak. Located in the Sheep Range north of Las Vegas, this P1K is the second most prominent summit in the range after Hayford Peak, a summit I had climbed with Matthew more than eight years earlier. I had an overly ambitious day planned which was supposed to include Gass Peak and Castle Rock, but that proved unworkable due to the time chewed up driving. We spent more than an hour driving to the trailhead at the end of Cow Camp Rd, with most of that on the dirt roads north of Corn Creek Springs where the Desert National Wildlife Range Visitor Center is located. We used Matt's Subaru which did just fine - any high-clearance vehicle can handle these roads well enough. During the hike we ended up adding Sheep North as a bonus peak to make a very nice loop around the Wagon Canyon drainage. With 5,000ft of gain, the hike was a significant undertaking, some six and half hours' worth. Temperatures were chilly much of the day, especially on the summits and exposed ridgelines we traveled. There was snow on the northern aspects starting around 8,000ft, but most of our route was snow-free. Where we did travel through snow, the conditions were excellent for walking on - only in a few places did we sink in more than a few inches and those were thankfully short sections.
We started off at the TH at 5,500ft just after 8a, following the remaining part of the road (no long driveable) to the end, then along the base of the range to a short gully just south of Wagon Canyon. We followed this to its head, going over a shoulder above before dropping into Wagon Canyon proper. The canyon drains a large swath of the western slopes of the range up to the crest. One can follow the canyon up to the crest north of Sheep Peak and indeed, that route has been used by other parties. We followed the canyon, peppered with pinyon and junipers, up to the first major fork and turned right. This side fork leads up between two branches of Sheep's West Ridge, though we followed it only half a mile before starting up the north branch of the West Ridge. The three of us continued up for over an hour, often hiking alone but periodically reconnecting or espying one or the other of us ahead or behind. Zach and I went up and over one false summit while Matt more cleaverly skirted it to the right, moving from last to first in our line. At a second one, Zach managed to slip ahead as I again went the extra unneeded distance. Shortly before 10:30a I found Zach atop a highpoint eating his sandwhich. We looked at each other, but I made no move to join him to which he remarked, "This isn't the summit, is it?" That was still another half hour away, clearly visible in the background. Evidently Zach needed some schooling on prominence. Putting his sandwich away, we continued on, happy to find minimal snow along our route and finally reaching Sheep's summit just after 11a. The DPS's Wes Shelberg had left a register here in 1982, one of the oldest ones we'd find on this desert trip. MacLeod & Lilley visited a decade later as have dozens of parties over the years, making for a pretty busy register.
After a few minutes' time at the summit, I hatched the plan to visit the unnamed summit to the north with more than 500ft of prominence. The others were game and it took no effort to convince them. It was upon descending the north side of Sheep Peak that we encountered the only significant snow, 6-10" in places, but no signs of ice or other real concerns. It took us about an hour to cover the 1.5mi distance between the summits, finding views at the second summit unappreciably different from the first. Before starting down, we left a new register, christening it "Sheep North." Not exactly creative, but at least descriptive. In descending the Southwest Ridge of Sheep North, we headed down together to around the 8,500-foot level where the ridge forks. I dropped down a few steep sections to reach the north fork of the ridge, finding myself alone in the process. The others had either not seen me move in that direction or thought better of it, continuing together on the south fork of the ridge. We would meet up again 2,000ft lower at the bottom of Wagon Canyon where we weren't a minute behind the other - seems each ridge fork worked equally well. Together, the three of us then continued down Wagon Canyon and back along the same route we had used in the morning for the ascent. It was after 2:30p by the time we found the car again, all of us noticeably tired.
I was somewhat ambivalent about hiking any more, knowing we still had an hour of driving back to Las Vegas. Zach seemed wishy-washy too, but Matt was more eager, so we settled on an easy peak we could hit on the drive back. A few miles down from the trailhead, Cow Camp Rd passes through the Black Hills. One of its summits was named Cow Camp Peak in Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles, a mere 3/4mi from the road at its closest point. With only 600ft of gain, we made short work of it, Zach charging uphill in the lead, Matt following in the rear, myself in the middle, taking less than 30min to reach the summit. It isn't the highest point in the Black Hills (that point is 2mi to the north), but it's a decent enough summit with nice views of the Sheep Range to the east and the Desert Range to the west. Unlike the higher elevations of the Sheep Range, the much lower Black Hills have little vegetation and consequently wide-open views. The summit had a MaLeod/Lilley register from 1996, with Purcell and his girlfriend the only other entry back in 2011 - not a well-attended summit, to be sure. Zach started down shortly before Matt and I, using the same route we'd ascended. Matt and I dropped off the east side from the summit, a steep, talus-y slope that got us quickly down to the bottom in less than 10min. From there it was an easy walk across rolling terrain back to the car before 4p. It was a long day, but really just a warm-up for the scrambling fun we had planned for over next four days...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Sheep Peak
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