Mount Charleston • Highpoint: Clark County
• Range Highpoint: Spring Mountains
• Most Prominent Mountain in Nevada

The final couple of miles

Me on top, with "The Mummy"
in the background, and my
King Tut beard, fittingly

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Date: November 26, 1999 • Elevation: 11,920 feet • Prominence: 8,241 feet • Distance: 16 miles • Time: 10 hours • Gain: 4,800 feet • Conditions: Clear and warm for late November

Mount Charleston (Charleston Peak) is the highest point of the Spring Mountains which border Las Vegas to the west. The Springs are a huge range, and Mount Charleston is not only the highest peak, it is the most prominent mountain in Nevada and one of the top-10 in the coterminous United States.

My parents moved to Henderson in 1997, and I intended to hike Mount Charleston as soon as possible, but something "always came up". It was not until Thanksgiving weekend of 1999 that I finally got around to hiking the peak. I had a foolproof plan: eat like crazy on Thanksgiving day, then walk it all off the following day.

Early friday morning, I drove about 60 miles through Las Vegas to the Mount Charleston area, arriving at dawn. I parked at the Mazie Canyon Trailhead. The weather was cold but not freezing. Conditions had been mild throughout the Southwest recently, and today appeared to be more of the same great weather.

The hike up the South Loop trail begins with a relatively consistent upward grade, but not terribly steep. After a mile, the trail switchbacks up a steep gully that is known for its avalanches. The lack of trees and "scoured" look attests to the regular avalanches that happen here during the winter. About a half-mile into the switchbacks, the route levels off at Echo Point about a thousand feet above the valley floor. At this elevation, the forest gets much more dense with large pines and aspen groves.

From Echo Point, the trail switchbacks a couple more times, crosses a small drainage, and then begins a long, steep series of switchbacks to the top of the ridge. These switchbacks are well-constructed, but after two-dozen or so (I lost count), I was happy to arrive at the ridge. It was now about 9 in the morning, and I took a break and ate a turkey sandwich.

At the ridge, a partially damaged sign describes the routes. According to this sign it was four miles to the bottom where I had just come up. According to my map, I was near 3,200 meters at the ridge, which equates to just under 11,000 feet. Charleston Peak was still four miles to the north-west. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and it was even sort of warm up here at 11,000 feet in late November.

At this junction, I met up with a hiker (the second I'd seen so far today and the first up this high) who was going to the top as well. We hiked together for about another 2.5 miles. The trail in this region is easy to follow and crosses meadows. The trail contours across the south-west face of the ridge, overlooking the town of Pahrump. As we hiked up toward this false summit, my fellow hiker, whose name I didn't get, seemed to be struggling. He admitted feeling nauseous and having a headache. I suggested he should return for the bottom. He did, and reports from later hikers I met seemed to indicate he was making his way down okay.

I continued up and over a small saddle near a false summit, and could once again see Charleston Peak, now only a mile away. From the saddle, the trail contours across open scree slopes, losing about 200 feet in elevation before regaining it as it approached another small saddle below the summit. At this point, I came upon the wreckage of an old airplane lying scattered about on the steep slopes. I spent a few moments contemplating the events that led to this wreckage.

As I climbed the last few hundred feet to the summit, I met up with another hiker who was making good time, and we both reached the summit together around noon. We took photos, signed the register, relaxed, and were greeted by yet another hiker a few minutes later, a veritable traffic jam. According to the register we were the first visitors in 6 days. The views are tremendous: Las Vegas and countless ranges to the east, Pahrump and the Amargosa and Panamint ranges to the west, as well as a number of other ranges. After about a half-hour, I started heading down, taking the same route back as I came up.

As I hiked down, I made steady progress. Unfortunately, I turned my left ankle funny a couple of times, which meant I had to take each step deliberately to avoid any injuries. I arrived back to my car just as the sun was setting around 5 p.m. I was sore but felt great. The weather was fantastic and the views awesome.

Comment about this hike: a year ago I called the ranger station to inquire about hiking the route during late Spring, when there was still snow up top. He was not too keen on anyone going up due to the exposure problems the snow and ice could create. After doing this hike, I could see his point. The trail is fantastic but in places it's steep and treeless, and a snowy/icy patch and a wrong step could send one falling for quite a ways.

(c) 1999, 2016 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.