After I climbed the highpoint in Arizona, Josh and I drove in a loop around the Grand Canyon (saw the North Rim) and headed back to Las Vegas.
Vegas has changed since the last time I was there. (1997) I had fond memories of the $3.99 buffet at Circus Circus.
Now in 2017 The Rio has a $32.99 seafood buffet.
A grilled cheese in the hotel cost $17, plus $8 room service charge, plus 8.5% sales tax, plus tip.
I decided to walk over to the strip and wait 20 minutes in line at In-N-Out Burger.
The city also seemed more crowded than I remembered. It was difficult to walk up and down the Strip among the crowds. Music blared at me from every conceivable angle.
When we went to the pool, the cute blonde girl checking for hotel keys wouldn’t allow outside drinks. It’s 113 degrees, but the hotel is going to make you spend $4 to buy their bottle of water. Josh refused to play their game, when he got thirsty he’d just go back up to the room to get a drink of water.
On Monday Josh stayed in the city to watch the World Series of Poker while I headed out of town to do some hiking. I stopped at a 24-hour Wal-mart and loaded up on Lemon-Lime Gatorade and Little Debbie Swiss Rolls, then headed west about 45 minutes to the tiny community of Mount Charleston.
My destination was a peak of the same name. It’s the highest point in Clark County (OMG he’s doing COUNTY highpoints now) and all of Southern Nevada. I pulled into the trail head parking at about 6:45. Only three other cars were there.
I decided to take the Southern Loop to the top, as the hiking reports for the Northern loop contained phrases like “narrow ledge” and “fatal fall.”
The Southern Loop is 8.9 miles to the summit, and starts out steep, gaining three thousand feet in the first four miles until you reach the ridgeline. From there you wander along the ridge for the remaining five miles and gain another twelve hundred feet or so.
I started out pretty quickly and got a bit winded, then slowed down to a reasonable pace.
I passed a pair of brand new hiking gloves on the laying in the path. I didn’t pick them up. Thought they might have been placed there by a trail runner.
A little less than halfway up I caught up to a hiker, a little stockier than I. He asked “Did you happen to see a pair of gloves?”
As I pressed on the trail began to switchback. It wasn’t especially narrow, but there was definitely the possibility serious injury (if not fatality) if I fell. When I run into a trail like that, I just try to look away from the dropoff and keep my head down at the path. I sort of lean into the mountain while walking, so if I stumble or trip my weight won’t take me over the side.
I ran into two separate groups coming down. Figuring them each for a car, and the stocky guy behind me for the third car, I concluded that there was no one in front of me.
At about 10,000 feet, I heard a “tick-tick-tick” noise. Could this be a rattle snake? The sound wasn’t exactly a rattle, but in my mind suddenly there were wild scenarios of being bit and having to rush down the mountain.
The sound was from ahead of me on the path. I stopped and tried to see if I could pinpoint the source.
It was on the ground. Maybe 10 feet ahead of me. Still didn’t see a snake. Or anything else that could be making the noise.
Now the sound was coming from the front AND the left side of me.
I continued to hold my place.
Front AND Left AND Right!
And then a cicada flew by me: “tick-tick-tick.”
What a worrying city boy I am!
I made it to the ridgeline (which was also the treeline) in 2 hours and 20 minutes. Took a break and enjoyed the view. So far not a cloud in the sky. Which was good, since I had to go 10 more miles (5 up and back) on the exposed ridge.
The Southern Loop had been the scene of a furious fire back in 2013 and the trail had only re-opened in September of 2016. It was quite the eerie site to walk through the charred trunks of what remained of the forest. I kept pushing forward, gaining slight elevation, until I was about 1.5 miles from the top (according to my GPS) and the trail split.
Foolishly I didn’t have a map.
One trail went higher along the ridge, and looked less used.
The other kept on the same level.
I stayed on the same level and then over the next hill, I stopped.
The trail became very narrow. If I slipped or mis-stepped there were no trees to stop or slow my fall.
It wouldn’t be a fatal fall, but it could hurt a lot. And the photo doesn’t show it, but the slope was steep enough to make climbing back up to the trail challenging-to-impossible.
On top of all that a dark cloud had appeared on the horizon.
Taking that all into consideration, I gave up and turned around.
About an hour after I turned around I ran into the stocky guy again. He had a map. I told him about the split trail, but that didn’t appear on the map. I wished him luck. The idea of turning around and trying to make it to the top with him never entered my mind. I had already checked out on the idea of summiting.
I made it back to the spot where the trail reaches the ridgeline. The dark clouds had disappeared. The trailmarker said that Griffith Peak was just ½ a mile further on. I had plenty of time and no other plans so I pushed on.
This turned out to be the most physically demanding part of the trip. If the trail were any more vertical I’d need ropes and pitons. I think it gained six hundred feet of elevation over the last quarter mile.
Now I was catching my breath whenever I could find a safe place to stop.
I pushed on through and made it to the top.
According to the register, I was the first one on the top today.
From the East side of the mountain I could see Las Vegas, from the West I could see Pahrump. No good photos of the cities, though. It was afternoon and the haze had started to build up.
I sat on top for 15 minutes enjoying the quiet and the solitude. Everything that Vegas was not.
Descending from Griffith Peak took almost as much time and patience as ascending. If I slipped, I’d be tumbling all the way down.
I kept my footing and made it back to the ridgeline and then began the descent to the trailhead.
I had a few tense moments on the switchbacks, as it became more difficult to avoid peering all the way down. But I gritted my teeth and overcame my fear. I was back in Vegas by 5pm.
By the Numbers:
Total hiking distance 17.1 miles
Griffith Peak Elevation: 11,064 (43rd highest peak in NV, 3rd highest in Southern NV)