South Fork Pine Creek Canyon

South Fork Pine Creek Canyon

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 36.12273°N / 115.49584°W
Additional Information Route Type: Scrambling
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Additional Information Time Required: Half a day
Additional Information Difficulty: Mostly Class 2 and 3 with one or two short spots of Class 4
Sign the Climber's Log


This is the route described on the main page as the summit descent route. Here, you'll find some photos that might help as well as some additional details, and by having a separate route page, we avoid the concern of people missing those details on the main page.

There are two scrambling routes to the summit of Mescalito. This one is the easier of the two. I recommend it as a descent route for anyone who has climbed via North Fork Pine Creek Canyon or a technical climbing route.

Getting There

Park at the Pine Creek Canyon parking area off the Scenic Drive through Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Route Description

Hike the well-trodden trail into Pine Creek Canyon. Mescalito is the aesthetic pyramid-shaped peak splitting the canyon. Numerous use trails begin to appear near the mouth of the canyon; find one that will take you left (south) to South Fork Pine Creek Canyon. If you don't find one of the trails, then bushwhack, though that can be very nasty here.

Now head up the canyon. Don't be surprised to find flowing water and wading conditions even in summer; the big canyons here are spring-fed (hence the name Spring Mountains). In warm weather, and if you don't mind getting your shoes wet or if you have brought extra shoes just for the purpose, it is very pleasant simply to go through the water in many places rather than work around it through brush. The canyon is very scenic, and there are numerous small waterfalls and other obstacles to negotiate:
South Fork Pine Creek Canyon

1.5-2 miles from the parking area, just beyond the spot shown below--
Route Beta

--look for a cairn on your right and a use trail heading steeply up. (See below.)
Leave the Canyon Here

Ascend, following cairns and the path of least resistance, to the ridge above. The going should never get harder than Class 3. If it does, backtrack before you run into something nasty and then look for easier ground.

Atop the ridge, descend to a notch and then begin climbing up Mescalito proper. The way is mostly intuitive but still well-cairned, exposed in places (especially during a short traverse that comes soon after reaching the notch), and not harder than Class 4.
Ridge Route to Mescalito

Enjoy the summit. Views actually are best if you continue a short way east and descend slightly to where the precipitous edge of the peak's east face begins.

Descent Notes-- Important

If you have come up from North Fork Pine Creek but are using the South Fork for the return route, you might have a little trouble with route-finding your first time here.

After climbing back up from the notch, look for a prominent tree:
The Tree Marks the Spot

Shortly beyond the tree, notice a gully leading down from the ridge to the south. You will probably see cairns both on and below the ridge here. This is the way to descend. See the picture below to help with location.
Descent to South Fork Pine Creek

Now comes the part that can cost you time and energy. Your intuition will tell you to descend as straight and as quickly to the canyon as possible. Forget it. Rambles and Scrambles warns not to descend too quickly, and this is spot-on advice that I learned the hard way. Compounding the trickiness of the situation is the fact that in August 2012, I actually found and followed cairns that led me down what turned out to be too soon and in the wrong direction, and I kept cliffing out.

Instead, stay as high as possible while continuing to gradually descend southwest. Eventually, a cairned route reappears and leads you to the canyon floor.

Round-trip distance is 4-5 miles. Elevation gain is about 1000'. Plan for at least two hours to reach the summit since most of this is an off-trail route.

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