Charleston Peak winter ascent: Jan 3, 2004

Charleston Peak winter ascent: Jan 3, 2004

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 36.27000°N / 115.69°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jan 3, 2004

This has been by far just about the most grueling and exhaustive climb I've done (...and I've done my share of climbs this past 2 years: several California 14ers as day climbs, got to the top of the East Horn of Mt Williamson, CA in winter via the NE Ridge, summited Mt Whitney in full winter conditions, plus others). The reason for all this was deep snow and routefinding without a map. I broke trail for approx 3000 vertical feet on 3-foot powdery snow. I had my snowshoes from the start all throughout the day basically.

I left from my home in Los Angeles at 11:00am Friday, 1/2/04. I stopped in Vegas to eat and then headed to Mt Charleston lodge area. I got there just before 5:00pm. I looked with the mininal daylight left which route I should take. I decided to go up via an unnamed NE ridge that starts off just a few hundred yards from Echo Well #3 just to the left (going up) of Echo Road (actually I think this is the road that goes off to Big Falls & Mary Jane Falls). I slept in my car Friday night just a few yards away from Echo Rd Well #3 (the road to Big Falls was icy; that's why I parked at the intersection of Echo Road with the road going off to Big Falls).

The ascent: I woke up at 5:30am Saturday, 1/3/04, and was snowing lightly outside. I geared up anyways and was hiking out by 6:07am. After a false start trying to get up a class 4 rock/snow gully in which I wasted an hour and I still could see my car, I actually began the climb at 7:00am. It was basically steep snowshoeing all the way. It snowed 'til about 9:00am, then it cleared up. At times in this unnamed ridge, I had to do several traverses to avoid cliffs which were part of the ridge itself. No tracks whatsoever the way I went up. Many times I felt like quitting as I noticed I wasn't making good progress like I wanted to. All the steep snowshoeing on 3-feet of snow (commonly, I was getting buried to just below my knees with my MSR snowshoes on) really took a toll on me. I kept going regardless and finally I got to the main ridge ( ~ 11,000 feet) that connects with the invisible (due to deep snow) South Loop Trail at 1:30pm. From here, I could see a false summit (bench marked as 3498 meters [11,476 ft] on When I got below this false summit, I was able to see the summit of Charleston Peak still a mile away. I told myself earlier in the morning that my turn-back time would be 2:00pm. However, I clearly violated my turn-around time. It was at the very late hour of 3:32pm when I finally stood on the summit of Charleston Peak. There was a coat of at least 1 foot of rime ice attached to the summit radio repeater, with the battered and frozen US flag. The structure with the solar panel (?) was completely buried in snow. I managed to sign the summit register (I had to body heat the blue-ink pen there). The summit as well as the trudge along the South ridge was very windy and cold. My Gore-tex gloves were frozen, my camera frozen (could not take pictures), my poles leashes were frozen, my bit of water left mostly frozen (even though I had it inside one of those OR water insulated covers). I stayed at the summit only 10 minutes.

The grueling descent: Left the summit by 3:42pm, which is very late on a short winter day. I descended what I thought was part of the North Loop Trail, however, it turned out when I looked it up on that I descended the prominent NE facing chute that goes down to a cliff canyon. It was dark by this time (~ 5:30pm).....and then I began the long circumnavigation below the actual North Loop Trail, including passing above Mary Jane Falls. I stayed most of the time at the 9900 feet countour interval as read by my Suunto altimeter. Luckly for me, it was a clear night and almost full moon and I could see all the adjacent cliffs and carved steep canyons. Sometimes I felt I would never reach my car. I left like lying down and collapse. I was very exhausted and dehydrated. Nevertheless, I knew that if I bivied (I had my Marmot 700-fill down parka with me) over night on what felt like single digit temperatures I might have risk frostbite and possibly whatever else. I even contemplated the idea of buidling some sort of snow shelter as I remembered from 'Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills.' After considerable route-finding in the dark with my Tikka headlamp, breaking more trail (this time the snow had frozen a bit, so it was easier) and intimidating cliffs, I ended up coming down a ridge and smaller chutes due west of Trail Canyon. I was so, but so glad to finally see footprints on the snow about 1/2 mile before the Trail Canyon trailhead sign. I got to the paved road at the Trail Canyon trailhead around 9:05pm. Took my snowshoes off and walked the last few hundred yards to my car, getting there at 9:12pm.

Clearly, I underestimated this mountain. Charleston Peak in heavy deep snow conditions is quite a challenge. In my particular case, it kicked my butt. It's a complex mountain with large cliffs, steep ridges; do not underestimate it. I was so exhausted when I sat on my car that my calves were shaking uncontrollably for the next 10 minutes. I drove out of there to warm up lower in Las Vegas, where I changed clothes, ate and rested. One final note: for me, this was by far one of the most physically and mentally demaning climbs I've done to date. Thanks for reading my account. --Miguel Forjan.


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