Macho hikers need not apply
On September 26, 2009, I led two moderate hikers up Trail Canyon in their attempt to climb Mt Charleston. Due to the distance (~16 miles roundtrip) and elevation enroute (7,800’ – 11,916’) this is a day hike only for very fit hikers.
My wife had tried doing it as a day hike a couple of years ago, but we turned back near the Devil’s Thumb realizing that it would be all she could do to get back to the car from that point. She still wanted to reach the top, so we decided to make it an overnight effort. Another friend, Anna, also wanted to do Charleston and joined us for the trip.
We left Vegas after lunch and drove to the Trail Canyon trailhead where we started our hike about 1:30 pm.
Start of the journey
After hiking several hours in the heat of the day we had gone about 2 ½ miles and gained some 2,000’ in elevation arriving at Cave Springs. The plan was to carry enough water to limp through the entire trip, but to rely on filling extra water bottles at the spring to be really well hydrated. Based on recent reports I knew the springs were flowing slowly. As it turned out, it took about 6 minutes to fill a liter and I filled several more while waiting for Pat and Anna to catch up.
This was Anna’s first backpack trip and I failed to properly monitor her packing. When they arrived, we checked Anna’s pack and found it was quite heavy. Much to my surprise, she had thrown in a banana and 3 apples along with carrots, etc! She also had a couple of water bladders and a water bottle. We started trying to lighten her load and found she had a stove and fuel which was duplicative to what I had offered to bring. We eliminated a few pounds which I cached nearby for pickup on our return and resumed our trek.
About a mile beyond the springs, it was getting late and there sat one of the few possible campsites, so I elected to stop and camp, trading distance for weight reduction the next day.
Pat at campsite
We set up camp and enjoyed dinner while the dusk arrived. At 7:15 we enjoyed a great look at the International Space Station as it passed across the Las Vegas valley from the NW for about 5 minutes on one of its many orbits of the earth that day. (It takes a little over 96 minutes per orbit) The half moon was up and we could see the lights of Vegas in the distance to the SE from our perch on a shelf at about 10,300’ elevation.
The night passed uneventfully with some random gusts of wind occasionally passing through the camp. In the morning, the sun greeted us for our late start and we left most of our gear at camp and headed for the summit with lighter packs. The elevation was giving Pat a headache so she took an aspirin…her muscles were sore so she added an ibuprofen as well. We hiked and hiked as the trail wound around the mountain gaining and losing way too much elevation along the way! Pat was having more trouble than on her previous attempt and Anna was going slowly.
We reached the Devil’s Thumb and stopped for a rest before our final assault on the summit. Pat’s spirits were quite low and I offered 3 choices as options. Return to camp and relax while I finished the climb, continue up the trail which switchbacks at great length to the top, or climb the cliffs behind the Devil’s Thumb and take the direct ridge route. To my surprise, both gals immediately opted for the latter with my assurance that the crux move was near the start.
Cliffs behind Devil's Thumb
I climbed up and placed some webbing to assist the gals and climbed back down to help them from below the cliff. Pat went first and was up in a flash. Anna took off her pack which I passed up to Pat and with great effort made it to the top of the move (with bloody knees to prove it). The cliffs gave new life to Pat and with the adrenaline she was soon well above us looking for the route on her own. Anna had some trouble with the other small cliff move that is on route and I managed to guide her from below through her difficulties. At this point, I reminded the gals that going back down the Thumb would be even more difficult than finishing the climb and coming down the trail. With that incentive, they persevered onward and we were at the summit by 11 am.
It was a perfect day with light breezes and clear skies. After pictures and lunch, we headed down the trail. After they saw all the switchbacks, it was their opinion that they would never want to pass that way again and really liked the shortcut.
I went ahead and broke camp while waiting for their arrival, hoping a fellow hiker would not come by and tell me they had stopped and were too tired to continue. Just as I was finishing my task, Pat arrived and shortly Anna also joined us. After a half hour, we loaded up and started the final 3 ½ miles back down Trail Canyon arriving at the car before 5 pm. We were all tired from a long day on our feet, but satisfied with a successful effort.
Fall colors along trail
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