I received an internship with the USGS in Henderson, NV that runs the length of fall and into late January. I'm originally from Western PA, so naturally, I took this as an opportunity to climb some big mountains and log some good hikes.
Throughout my searches (which focused heavily on this site), I found out about Charleston Peak, sitting at a lofty (for this east coaster, anyhow) 11,918 feet. Excited about the opportunity to climb a big mountain, I planned endlessly for the hike.
The lucky date turned out to be Oct. 20th, 2007. My friends and I left Henderson around 8 am and arrived at the mountain before 9. I was hiking alone, but my friends were nice enough to drop me off. They also wanted to see the scenery and hang out at the lodge for awhile. The drive out on SR 157 is always nice; watching the scenery change from lowland desert to upper desert and finally to forest. This time of year, especially, was nice due to the brilliant colors of the aspen trees which dotted the hillsides. Coming from Pennyslvania, I'm used to colorful autumns, so this was a welcome change of pace from the browns and tans of the desert.
SR 157 leading to the mountain.
Arriving at Charleston Lodge, I was dropped off by my friends near the South Loop Trailhead.
The South Loop trailhead.
I started climbing at approximately 10:30 am. The climb starts right away and doesn't let up until you reach the summit ridge between the nearby Griffith Peak and the still distant Charleston. You begin by passing through Echo Canyon and, via endless switchbacks, gradually make your way up the canyon and to the summit ridge.
I am normally a very fast hiker so since I was alone, I blazed up the trail and covered the distance to the ridge (where the Griffith trail splits) in about 1 and a 1/2 hours. I had hiked this trail before to this same point the weekend before with a friend on a camping trip, but he got sick and we had to descend overnight. As always, the scenery was absolutely incredible and on this date, the weather was very agreeable. I had been warned at the trailhead of very high winds near the summit due to an approaching storm, so I was slightly worried that I would have to turn back again. I pressed on and on with that thought in the back of my mind as I watched and worried endlessly for any sign of stormy weather.
As always, the scenery was beautiful and my senses were assaulted by the fresh air, beautiful trees and unique sounds of the forest (not to mention the pounding effort of climbing the trail).
Beautiful aspens dotted the landscape around the lower sections of the South Loop Trail.
Once I reached the summit ridge, I began to make my way across the beautiful meadows and bristlecone stands. Since it was late fall, the meadows had a pleasing golden hue as they blew in the (as of now) gentle breeze coming from the W across the ridge. The bristlecones are always a treat to see; their twisted and scrambled trunks are works of art and testaments to the beautiful work of mother nature. I was lucky enough to spy a few Clark's Nutcrackers flying about collecting seeds from the pine cones of various species.
The golden hue of the autumnal meadows made the hike along the ridge much more enjoyable.
As I began to leave the treeline behind, I noticed the wind picking up, although the skies were still blue and partly cloudy. I made a quick stop at the plane wreckage to pay my respects and also at a small patch of snow (first of the season for me!) before crossing over the ridge to try to tackle the final mile or so push to the summit.
The final push to the summit. This is where the wind really started to roar.
As soon as I crossed to the other side of the ridge, the wind began to roar. It must've been peaking at 50 mph as it ripped over the summit ridge. The last mile or so was miserable due to the wind, but the skies were still clear so I still had no intentions of turning around. I wasn't quite prepared for a full blown storm, but I could get past the wind. Luckily, a storm never arrived and I finally reached the summit at approximately 3:00 pm.
I grabbed the log book out of the box, took a few pictures, and then settled down in the little indentation up there to stay out of the wind. I wrote a note in the log book, took a quick video and made a little soup. All in all I was on the summit for about 30 minutes.
The worst part of the hike down was, of course, getting past the windy section along the exposed ridgeline. Once I circled around to the opposite side the wind was low and the hike, once again, became enjoyable (not that the strong winds weren't enjoyable in their own way). I hiked my way back down, reaching the bottom just before it grew too dark to hike without a headlamp. I met my friends at the lodge (they had gone home and then returned) and we enjoyed a dinner and some beers next to the fire as I told them about the great hike they missed out on.
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