Mt. Tappen P300 RS
Peak 4,540ft P300 RS
Highland Peak P500 RS
Sleeping Indian Peak P300 RS
Highland Juniper Peak P300 RS
Mt. Alex P300 RS
Possible Mesa P300 RS

Mar 31, 2022
Highland Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profiles: 1 2


I was in the Highland Range of southern Clark County, looking to visit a handful of summits found in Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles guidebook. I would be kept busy for the entire day doing seven of these, having to leave the last for the following morning. It's a rugged range with plenty of scrambling opportunities. I had already been to the range HP in 2018, and then the class 4 Castle Peak in 2020. I'd forgotten how fun that last outing was, but was back to get reacqainted with the range.

Mt. Tappen

Mt. Tappen is the southernmost the day's summits. I had camped only a short distance from my starting point, so it was a pretty short drive for an early 6:45a start. The summit, about a mile and a half distant, is blocked from view behind a foreground ridge at the start up a sandy wash. Motorcycle tracks reach partway up the wash before disappearing. One can climb left or right out of the drainage to reach the intervening ridgeline. I climbed out a bit earlier than intended on the southwest side, finding the peak well to the west still, not exactly where I'd imagined it. I had to then follow the ridge northwest, west and southwest, going over a false summit before finding myself to the highpoint an hour after starting out. There is a view looking west across Piute Valley to the McCullough Range, a much larger range stretching north to Henderson. The view north along the crest of the Highland Range shows many of the rugged summits on offer. To the southeast is the lower southern stretch of the range with a few minor summits I had passed by on my drive the previous evening. Those would have to wait for another time. On my way back, I took the northern branch of the intervening ridgeline before dropping into the original wash. It was perhaps a slight improvement on my ascent route to the south.

Peak 4,540ft

After returning from Tappen, I drove a short distance north on the dirt BLM road to its highpoint where it goes over a saddle southwest of Peak 4,540ft, one of the few unnamed summits in Purcell's book that he didn't attach a name of his own making. Like Mt. Tappen, Peak 4,540ft's summit cannot be seen from the start, but it makes for a much shorter outing, taking only 25min to reach the top. Sitting off the east side of the main crest, it has a fine purview of this side of the range and east across Eldorado Valley to the Eldorado Mtns.

Highland - Sleeping Indian - Highland Juniper

While both of the first two peaks are no more than class 2, this next group would include a healthy dose of class 3 scrambling. I drove the Jeep further north into the range and up a spur road to a high basin between the three summits. The road goes higher to a collection of game guzzlers, but I stopped short of those where it seemed opportune for starting the loop to the three summits in the heart of the range.

It was shortly before 10:30a when I started out to Highland Peak, the closest of the three and only about 1/3mi distant. Cliffs abound in the area and routes need to be chosen more carefully. I headed southeast up the drainage leading to a saddle on the north side of Highland. A cliffband is presented just above the saddle. I used a class 2-3 ramp with exposure to get through this, but it seems there are easier ways if one explores more to the left (east). Above this, it's all class 2. I headed to the northern point first, only to find the southern one is the highpoint, with a cairn and benchmark, but no register. It took about 30min from the Jeep, a straightforward affair.

Sleeping Indian, my next stop, was a bit more involved. I first reversed the route off Highland to the north, then from the saddle I made a descending traverse to the northwest where the guzzlers were located next to another saddle. A pair of ATVs drove up while I was on my way there, but they were already gone by the time I arrived. From the saddle I headed west up class 2 terrain to work my way around an intermediate point and then northwest towards Sleeping Indian. There is some fun scrambling on the narrow ridgeline to Sleeping Indian, but a deep notch is encountered just before reaching the summit. Drats. This forced me onto the east side of the ridge to find a way around, done with some easy class 3 scrambling, then back up and around to approach the summit from the northeast, about an hour and a half between the two summits. Tracy Foutz had left a register here in 2013, with a few familiar names visiting since.

The last summit, Highland Juniper is about 3/4mi southwest of Sleeping Indian. I reversed the route back towards the intermediate point, then southwest down to a saddle. I then began a long-ish traverse around the northwest side of another intermediate point that I didn't want to go up and over. I'm not sure if my route saved any time, but it did save some unnecessary elevation gain and loss. As I was heading to a saddle just east of Highland Juniper, I noted the summit was capped by a cliffband with a few possible options to climb up from the east. After reaching the saddle, I decided to explore the north side (no good way up from there) and then around to the west side where I found a short but spicy class 3 route up to the summit. I spent about an hour and a quarter between Sleeping Indian and Highland Juniper. Adam Walker had left a register at the summit in 2020. A few minutes later, I headed down the east side, finding one of the two options I had spied earlier. It, too, was class 3, but easier than the west side route. I had then to reverse most of the route back to the eastern drainage where I had parked the Jeep, all of this class 2. I was back close to 2:30p, having spent four hours on the 3-peak loop.

Mt. Alex

I spent the next 40min driving back out of the high basin and further north in the range on BLM roads. Mt. Alex is a smallish volcanic lump on the east side of the range, standing on its own. There is little to recommend it. I climbed it from the southeast, taking about 25min for the short but steep climb to the rubble-strewn summit. A makeshift register consisted of some stapled index cards left by David Miller in 2020. Adam Walker had signed this one, too.

Possible Mesa

More driving got me to the east side of Possible Mesa, found a few miles west of Mt. Alex. This was the most interesting summit of the day for a variety of reasons. Purcell's description is enticing: "This improbable peak is well-guarded on all sides by massive cliffs and crumbly faces. Fortunately, an interesting weakness (surmountable by stacking rocks to climb a dry fall on its left side) near the peak's north saddle allows a reasonable way to the top." What I didn't know was whether this would be on the east or west side of the saddle. I was on the east side, but there was another road on the west side of the saddle. It was possible that the weakness was on the west side and unreachable from the east side due to cliff faces - that would be unfortunate indeed. I was getting a late start, after 4:15p, and it seemed likely that if I picked the wrong side, I would have to wait until the following day to climb it correctly. Luckily, I picked the right side (more accurately, it can be climbed from either side). The route from the road to the saddle is somewhat brushy in places and quite steep, but it made for some good scrambling up some conglomerate slabs found on the right side of the gully. As I neared the top, I could see what appeared to be the dry fall described by Purcell, and made my way over to it without actually reaching the saddle first. My hunch was validated by the sight of a stack of rocks at the base of the dry fall feature. I added a few more rocks to help me reach higher and made my way past the initial vertical face. The dry fall then angles over for an easier class 2-3 scramble up to the base of the summit mesa. With few options available, I followed ramps and ledges around the west side before eventually finding a way up from the southwest/south side of the highpoint. It took about 40min from the road to reach the summit.

Fun as it was, the really interesting part was still ahead. I had noted on my way to the summit past the dryfall, that there was plenty of sheep poop scattered about. I doubted that the sheep had come up through that vertical section, so I surmised there ought to be an easier way up (and down), and with a few hours of daylight still remaining, figured I had time to explore some. I ended up heading south and southeast along the ridgeline, finding two exposed class 3 sections along the way. I was looking for easier ways off to the west or east, but these seemed to be blocked by cliffs that ring the summit mesa. I went down a class 3 step in the mesa on the south side that would probably not work for the sheep either, so I don't think I discovered the sheep route. I still think there's an easier way, but will leave that for someone else to find. But I did find an alternate way down, and that offered some satisfaction. Once past the second class 3 section, I turned northeast and descended easier slopes back to the waiting Jeep. It was 5:45p by the time I finished up and time to call it a day. I didn't have far to drive, only about a mile back down the road to where it crosses a wash descending from the west. This would be the starting point for my first hike in the morning to North Castle Peak.


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