Wed, Jul 19, 2017
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I had originally planned to spend just three days in the Spring Mtns before continuing east on my way to Telluride, but the hiking and scrambling had been so nice that I decided to extend it another day. Willow Peak is the northernmost summit in the Mt. Charleston Wilderness, and can be accessed from Wheeler Pass to the west (high-clearance) or Camp Bonanza to the east (any vehicle). I drove in the evening before, spending a warm night camped at the TH. I was up around 5a and on my way half an hour later. The first three plus miles were spent plying the Bonanza Trail up to the crest at nearly 10,000ft, a gain of 2,500ft. The trail continued southeast, traversing just below Bonanza Peak, a higher summit I had climbed with MacFarland on a previous visit. Leaving the trail, I turned right at the crest to follow the ridgeline to Willow Peak, about 1.5mi distance. If your goal is simply to reach Willow, the ridge may seem long and tedious, but really, this part of the route is the most enjoyable if getting there is more fun than being there. There are ducks and portions of use trails that can be followed the entire way, though they aren't really necessary as the route-finding is not difficult and there are ample options to bypass any difficulties along the ridge. There are a few fun class 3 moves along the way, but nothing with any real exposure or difficulty.
Partway along the ridge there is an interesting limestone arch that you might notice during the traverse. About 15ft in height, it can be seen during the drive in to the TH with a sharp eye. A register was left here in 2006 calling it "Window in the Cliff", a descriptive if not very inventive name. Somewhere along the traverse I got an emergency broadcast on my cell phone. "Flash Flood Alert in Your Area." The sky was overcast and there was some buildup starting with moderately windy conditions. I had my rain gear with this time so I wasn't too concerned, but it was a good reminder to keep an eye to the sky. I spent an hour on the traverse and about 2.5hrs all told to reach the highpoint at a rock outcrop marked by a small cairn. From a PB trip report, I knew that the register was at the lower summit further west, so I took five minutes to walk the short distance to it. Here the crest drops sharply down to Wheeler Pass and there is a good view looking west, but it is clearly not the highpoint nor the point marked on the topo map as Willow Peak. On my return back over the highpoint I paused to leave a register here as it seemed more fitting. I continued back along the ridge until I had completed about half of the traverse. I then decided to go rogue and drop off the northeast side of the crest to slopes unknown. The purpose was two-fold - I wanted to do a bit more adventuring and it would probably cut out a mile or two from the route. After some weaving down through the limestone cliffs, I ended up on easier slopes lightly forested and somewhat loose. I made a descending traverse to the east, going over a few subsidiary ridgelines before hooking back up with the Bonanza Trail about halfway down from the crest. To shortcut things further, I kept to the west of the switchbacking trail and made a more direct line back down through forest to the trailhead. It was interesting to discover old trails, rusted tins, cut logs and other signs of human activity. Back by 10a, it was time to call it a day since I had a long drive ahead of me to get to Flagstaff this afternoon. I was happy to avoid the thunderstorms during the hike, but there would be plenty of rain between Las Vegas and Flagstaff to entertain me...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Willow Peak
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