By: Mark Adrian
Rising to 11,918 feet, the most prominent peak in Nevada, Mount Charleston can be seen from many places. On a clear day, with Charleston's noteworthy Nevada prominence, you can perhaps make it out from some of the Sierra l4ers and surely from dozens of other nearby DPS summits. The other nice aspects about this peak, along with its widespread summit panoramas, are its easy access and delightful trail to its barren summit. Plus, all the nearby Vegas ,buffets make the alure pretty high for novice climbers such as my good friend Rodney who was intrigued by seeing Charleston in a recent movie backdrop. So our plan was formed : a Vegas "experience" combined with a climb (my 2nd) of Charleston and then a mandatory soak at Tecopa Hot Springs. Dispensing with the antics of Las Vegas (when will they ever build a Mount Everest theme casino ?), we headed up well-paved highway 156 and camped near 8,000' at Hilltop campground (on Deer Creek Highway, $14/night). I usually detest fee areas, but the campground was virtually empty and the views to the north over Nellis and the Sheep Range were spectacular. So, we decided to camp there, enjoy happy hour, the sunset, a tranquil fire and numerous shooting stars.
It was a peaceful evening : quiet, calm and clear. The Monday morning sun was brilliant and the day was beyond ripe for a quality dayhike. Our casual breakfast with gourmet coffee became a little too decadent so we didn't depart the South Loop trailhead until 9:30 for the 18 mile, 4000' gain hike. For veteran climbers, these stats aren't too demanding, but for the tenderfoot novice, well, an earlier start would have been preferred. Nonetheless, the Fall colors were beginning to flourish and the sterling day was compelling, which seduced us along our way in the chilly morning air. We saw no one all day, but we did see numerous deer along our journey.
The trail's relentless switchback' s crest around 10,000 feet where the views begin to open up dramatically. Despite Rodney's fatigue, a brief food and water break was enough to help us both along the way and rejuvenate our spirits. The views at this point, for me, were pretty nostalgic since any DPSer can identify perhaps a dozen or more familiar summits and for me, being a range/ hills highpointer and climbing most anything with a name, I could recognize many other (non DPS) summits I've visited as well.
Proceeding north through the thinning pine forest, the views became more comprehensive as the summit darted in and out of sight. To the west loomed Telescope, the Inyos, the Whites and many lower desert ranges, while to the east, the Sheep Range, Virgin Mountains, Arizona and Lake Mead dominated the landscape. And of course, the distinguished profile of nearby Mummy.
Finally, cresting over the shoulder of point 3495m, the summit was is clear view. This last mile or so is not too steep but there is a definite lack of vegetation, contrasting sharply with the pine/aspen-dense forest of only a few miles before.
With a little encouragement, I coerced Rodney towards the summit and we arrived on top near two PM.
the summit's structures were a welcomed sight and we relaxed for about 30 minutes to catch our breath, enjoy the views, sign in and wave to a passing military helicopter (your tax dollars in action). It was hard to give up our perch, but time was pressing and we needed to descend. On the way down, we stopped to assess the old plane wreckage. It seems the pilot just missed the lowest spot in the saddle. We arrived back at the truck in the dark around 7:30 (always keep your flashlight handy). Then, we stopped for fast food in Vegas before soaking our weary bones in Tecopa's mineral water.
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