By: Keats Hayden
The good news is that Charleston is delightfully easy to find and to climb; by far the simplest of the emblems. Hwy 95 crosses Hwy 15--the Strip Street--to the heart of CasinoLand (by the Bonanza) Turn left (NW) On 95, go about 15 miles to SR 39/157, Kyle Cyn Road, then left about 18 miles to the end of Charleston Park, where the roadhead is clearly marked with a sign, Charleston Pk Trail, 9 mi. There is parking across the road in front of the Group Camping area--even a handy bathroom--the trail is wide, well-graded, and easy to follow. It takes you right to the register, which is tucked in a box on a post. Makes Mt. Baden-Powell look hard.
In view of the above, it's hard to believe that each one of us feared, at some time on Sunday, that Mt. Charleston might be our final peak. Sat. was a poor night in the campground that we shared with a kindly older couple--rain poured down for hours, thunder and lightening added to the disturbance. Because of this we started out later than planned; by 8 AM when we hit the trail the sky was clearing. We started out left on the south Charleston trail, planning to complete the loop on the north trail, and possibly bag Mummy on the way down. The route climbed in easy switchbacks, swept around through a meadow, then a stand of stunted pines, followed by the open ridge that terminated in the peak. We were loaded down with canteens, as we had anticipated a scorcher, so we were pleased with the overcast skies and the cool breeze. Three of us were wearing shorts. As the wind cooled we put on sweaters, and finally rain jackets when gusts of hail began to occur, About a mile from the peak distant lightening flashed, thunder began to rumble, and the hail increased. By the time we were signing in the lightening was dancing around the register box, the hail was beating down like marbles.
The planned celebration for Keats' Emblem Peak was abruptly cancelled, all thoughts of the north loop and Mummy were abandoned, as we almost jogged back the way we came. While the lightening split the sky, the thunder roared, and the hail turned to grainy soaking snow we could see the desert out in the distance with the sun shining on the cars with A/C purring. "What a crazy way to go," we thought, as the snow blotted out the trail and our rain gear leaked helplessly.
Yes, we all did get down, in record time, for us, of three hours, reaching our car by four. The snow had stopped by then, and campers were driving by in tank tops and tee shirts, staring out their windows at four soaked shivering wretches in the second stage of hypothermia.
Dry clothes and hot cocoa were a big help; we scooped up our clammy camping gear and fled to a Vegas motel.
The moral of this story is: Don't sell Mt. Charleston short!
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