Fortification Hill • Black Mountains
• Lake Mead National Recreation Area
• Mohave County


Fortification Hill as seen from a highpoint along Kingman Wash Road
 

Starting the hike up the ridge
 

Now at the final ramp below the cliffs
 

This is the "scramble" section of the climb. Above this, there's a thin trail along a ledge in the cliffs
 

Now on the plateau top, hiking to the summit ahead
 

Almost there
 

Just a little more
 

The summit cairn
 

North view of the Muddy Mountains, I think
 

Lake Mead, looking west
 

Zoom of the Hoover Dam and the bridge
 

East view, Mount Wilson
 

The ledge part as I hike down
 

Now looking down the scramble part
 

The trail follows the spine of this ridge
 

Shot of the cliffs
 

West part of the "hill"
 

East part, with the route-trail
 

Benchmark
 

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Date: January 6, 2018 • Elevation: 3,717 feet • Prominence: 863 feet • Distance: 4 miles • Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes • Gain: 1,421 feet • Conditions: Overcast, blustery and cold

Fortification Hill is not really a hill. It's a flat-topped plateau formed by volcanism, the caprock a thick layer of basalt surrounded by cliffs. Below the cliffs are steep slopes of rubble and rock, and ridges that steeply gain to points below the cliffs. It is a colorful peak, with reds and oranges mixed in with the blacks, browns and grays of the rock.

The peak lies astride Lake Mead and is a favorite of Las Vegas-area hikers. It looks and feels like a Nevada peak to me. I've driven by it too many times to count, every time I've ever driven over Hoover Dam or the new O'Callaghan-Tillman bridge. It looks like an imposing peak to scale, but there is a hiker's route that weaves through a weakness in the cliffs. It was a hike I would do someday, whenever I got around to making the time for it.

I was visiting my parents for a couple days, and I didn't have time for some big long dayhike, and the weather was cool, so I decided now would be a good time to see what this peak had to offer. I flew in Friday the 5th, which was sunny with blue skies. They were calling for rain this weekend, so I figured I should go earlier than later. I got up early Saturday (today) and drove my dad's Jeep the 20 miles or so to Kingman Wash Road off of US-93. The day was cloudy and cold, with a steady breeze.

Kingman Wash Road is dirt but in good shape. It leads to Painters Cove, about 3.5 miles north, where people can drive to the lake's edge and camp. Fortification Hill stands high above the cove, here nearly 2,000 feet higher. Near a single restroom structure, I got onto Fortification Hill Road, and followed it for about 2.5 miles north and east to the trailhead. It's just a wide area in the road, room enough to park without obstructing traffic.

I was the only one here. I got my stuff together and started walking at 7:40 a.m.. It was gray and cold, but not uncomfortable, the temperature about 50 degrees. There are two options: hike up a drainage a ways, or angle right and catch a ridge. The two braids meet higher up, so I chose the ridge option.

This segment was steep, gaining about a thousand feet in a mile. It would gain steeply, then level a little bit, sometimes dropping twenty or thirty feet. The tread was loose, with rocks and gravel, but not too bad. I was able to make good time up this slope.

About halfway up I stopped for a break and realized I did not have my cell phone with me. I know I did not drop it, so it had to be back at the car. I remember putting it on the car roof for a moment while I got myself situated. It must still be sitting there. Well, I wasn't going to go back down to get it. I hoped it would still be there when I got back.

I hiked up and up, coming to a point where the trail bends left, now aiming for the cliffs directly. This turn is marked by a clump of about five large basalt boulders lying is a loose heap, seemingly out of place here on the ridge. From here to the base of the cliffs is about 150 vertical feet of very loose and sloppy trail.

As I hiked up this segment, I eyeballed the cliffs up ahead and wondered just where the weakness was. It all looked uniformly imposing from below, even from a few feet away. The trail then met the cliffs and angled right, parallelling the cliffs for about 200 feet. Finally, I came upon the weakness. It was not visible until I was within feet of it.

This little scamper section gains about ten feet, of which a couple moves require careful planning. Reports variously rate this as class 2 or 3. I'd call it 2+. Once above this, the trail resumes, angling right.

The trail is built on a ledge that is just a few feet wide, with a steep drop below. A fall here would be very bad news. This segment ran about a hundred horizontal feet. I rounded a corner and suddenly saw the steep chute that would lead to the upper plateau. It was steep and loose, but shielded better from a possible fall. I scooted up this section quickly and finally was atop the plateau, slightly less than a mile from the summit.

This portion of the hike was flat and delightful. The trail rambled through basalt rock fields with bursage, agave-like succulents, barrel cactus and prickly-pear cactus. I was on the top soon, guessing it to be a little over an hour after I had started. The views were nice, but muted due to the heavy clouds and hidden sun. I shot images of the surrounding mountains and of Lake Mead, including Hoover Dam and the bridge. However, it was windy and cold, so I didn't spend much time up here. I kept moving and started down quickly, just five minutes after arriving.

I followed the trail back down, carefully picking my way down the steep slopes, the exposed ledge and the little scramble section. That part went well, but the trail down the steep slope back to those big rocks below was very loose and I had to go real slow here. Every step was precarious, and my hiking staff was critical to maintain balance.

Back at the rocks I met a guy hiking up, so we said hi. I retraced my route down the ridge, keeping an eye out for my cell phone on the off chance I dropped it. I saw another couple hiking up in the drainage below. I was back to my car soon, and there was my stupid cell phone, lying atop the roof where I had left it. It's thing that tells time said it was 9:55, meaning I had been gone for two hours and fifteen minutes.

I changed into a dry shirt, but started down soon, the stiff breeze not helping me much. I was back to my parents' place within an hour, where I showered and rested. Later today, my mother took me to the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas, which was fascinating and very well done.

I spent another full day with my folks. Sunday was bright and sunny. Where was this rain that was supposed to come in? I was kind of bummed I had chosen to hike the peak on such a gloomy, cloudy day, but I was under the impression that the rain was imminent. Oh well, I can't win them all. I still had fun on the hike and enjoyed it very much.

(c) 2018 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.