ApproachTake Nevada Highway 157 to the community of Mount Charleston, as you would for the South Loop trail. In winter, the gated Cathedral Rock picnic area is closed, so it is not possible to park at the South Loop trailhead. Parking is available at the Cathedral Rock parking area, which is on the right (south) side of the road as you approach the picnic area turnoff. Parking is also available in the parking lots on the left (north) side of the road, past the picnic area.
Route DescriptionThe route follows Echo Canyon directly to the north face of Griffith Peak. The elevation gain is about 3400 feet, and the one-way distance is approximately 2.0 miles, not including the short approach to the trailhead.
This is a winter or early-spring route that takes advantage of the deep snow in the shaded, north-facing canyon. While this route can also most likely be climbed in the summer, without snow it is an entirely different type of ascent, and the details for the route in those conditions will not be given in this description. In the snow season, the canyon’s steep cliffs are covered in snow, allowing one to ascend the route with ordinary snow gear (and skills) but without rock-climbing ability.
As evident by the lack of large trees and the presence of many broken tree trunks, Echo Canyon can be very prone to avalanches. Be aware of conditions and avoid this route when the snow is unsafe, particularly after big storms.
From the Cathedral Rock parking area, walk east-southeast along the road, and into the gated road to the Cathedral Rock picnic area. If there is at least a few feet of snow on the road beyond the gate, the route is likely in good shape. If there is little or no snow on the road here, there may not be enough snow in the canyon for a good snow ascent.
It is approximately .4 miles from the Cathedral Rock parking area to the South Loop trailhead. Continue southeast along the snow-covered picnic area road, past the trailhead, and then past where the road ends. While the South Loop trail will rejoin with the correct route, in snow it is easier to avoid the trail itself and just follow this gradually arcing path to the south-southeast into Echo Canyon.
Once in Echo Canyon, the route is easy to follow, as it heads south to southwest, following the canyon. Somewhere around an elevation of 9900 feet, you will need to make a 45-degree turn to the left and head south-southeast up a somewhat-obvious, treeless (avalanche) chute. This chute is the steepest part of the climb. The route ascends another 1000 feet or so up this chute to Griffith’s east ridge at about 10850 feet.
Once on the ridge, the route follows the ridgeline southwest and then west to the summit.
On the descent, there are some good opportunities for glissading, particularly on the steep section below Griffith’s east ridge.
Essential GearAn ice axe and crampons are essential. Snowshoes will be very helpful on the lower elevations, particularly on the descent, since the snow can get very soft by midday.
While the route can be done entirely with skis and ski poles, I am not a skier, so I will let someone else provide information as to what gear is necessary for skiing this route, and whether or not skiing this route is actually safe.