I was in Las Vegas to visit with family but an unexpected break on Saturday morning allowed me to slip away and chase after Mt. Charleston. I left our hotel room at the Suncoast hotel about 4 a.m. and headed for the freeway and US 95 and then SR 157. SR 157 is a great road, paved, all the way from US 95. It takes off from the left lane but it is easy to access from 95. It is about 19+ miles up it to where you will park your car. You will pass the Mt. Charleston Inn on the left and then a bunch of homes in two areas that have names. First Rainbow and then "Old Town" Old town has a fire station on the right and you go past this until Old town is behind you. Soon after passing Old town, the road takes a fairly sharp turn to the left and you'll go about a half mile to where you will reach a picnic type parking area at the top of the hill. It has a restroom and some stairs heading up to the picnic area. Park here and then walk down the hill to where a road to the right leads up to the Cathedral Rock Picnic area, which is gated and locked. Go up this road and you'll walk uphill for a bit and then after about two tenths of a mile, you'll get to the actual trailhead for the south loop on the right side of the road
The trail doesn't waste any time as it gains steadily for the next 4miles with tons of switchbacks that I quit counting up the side of the canyon, gaining 3000 feet but with occasional views over towards Charleston's peak. However, once you get to this point, you have 70 percent of the elevation gained, now you have to put in some miles 3 1/2 more to gain another 1500 feet (includes a 200 foot loss). Carry plenty of water, this area is DRY. Wear a hat and put on some sunscreen. Carry some warm clothing.
The parking area where you park your car is at 7650 feet and the top of the ridge is at 10,600+ From the top of the ridge (at the top of the canyon where a sign is located), you'll go NW along the ridge for a bit and then you'll drop some elevation as you head into about a two mile traverse where you go through the bristlecone area which I thought was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the hike. Of course, there are great views down to west where I could pick out the town of Pahrump.
The trail was in good shape and I never had a problem following it at any time. You could safely headlamp this one IMO. Generally the footpath is easy to walk except for some stretches with scree type rock. After about two miles of this the trail starts to gain again and heads up the side of a hill to a point where you kind of crest a saddle and see Charleston Peak about a mile away from you. I used my GPS to make sure I was always headed in the right direction. And when I hit this saddle, my GPS pointed at the Hp. The trail drops a couple hundred feet but is tolerable. The rest of it is obvious so I end my description here. At one point, you see the wreckage of a plane (parts only) just off of the main trail. I didn't bother going over to it as I was on a very definite time table. After the plane crash site, the trail heads left and up around a corner. I stopped here and put on some warm clothes as it was obvious that the wind was blowing very strongly. There is a flag and a summit register at the top. I couldn't find the center Benchmark but I could find a witness bench mark nearby. I didn't take as many pictures as I might have as the wind about blew me off the top of the peak. It was very cold and my fingers went numb quickly without gloves on. I signed into the register and got the heck off the peak but before I did I enjoyed the views in all directions including the one that looked over towards where Las Vegas would be. I did see three other people who came up the north trail as well as only three on the south trail for the whole day. 17 miles and nearly 4300 feet. The bristlecone forest is one of the major delights of this hike and you get to walk among the bristlecones for almost two miles.
I was back in time for the family gathering and it was a day well spent in an amazing place, not far from the bright lights of Las Vegas. This is a must do if you ever get to Vegas.