Hiking to the Top of Mt. Charleston

A couple of weeks ago, my oldest son and I tried hiking to the top of Mt. Charleston, which is 20 miles northwest of Las Vegas and at nearly 12,000 feet is the highest peak in southern Nevada.  We only made it halfway, but a few days ago I went back and did the whole thing.

I went up the south trail, and down the north trail.  Those are about eight miles each, and with the short hike up the highway to get back to my car, the whole trip was 17 miles.  That took me ten hours (5.5 hours to get up, 4.5 hours to get back down).  I drank seven water bottles during the hike, FYI.  Here are some pictures I took along the way:

I took this picture just to capture that blue sky. The sky never gets that deep of a hue down here in the valley. This is in a meadow at about 10,000 feet.

Looking southwest over rural Nevada from 10,000 feet.

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Hiking At Red Rock Canyon

Just ten miles west of Las Vegas is Red Rock Canyon, a gorgeous area in the mountains that offers plentiful opportunities for sightseeing, rock climbing, and hiking.  For this holiday weekend, our family continued an annual tradition: each year around this time, a waterfall forms at a certain point on one of the hiking trails, and we go to see it. 

We usually take the Lost Creek Children’s Discovery Trail (#8 on the page linked above), but today we took the adjacent Ice Box Canyon Trail (#12), after I failed to notice the sign clearly showing that this trail is twice as long and much more difficult than what we’re used to.  Also, it’s been ten degrees colder than usual for the last two weeks, and uncharacteristically rainy.  I thought this might make the waterfall stronger; I didn’t count on it covering half our trail in ice and snow. 

We expected to be hiking for about an hour and a half.  We ended up being out there for over three hours.  Although the younger kids got whiny at times when it got too slippery, everybody was fine and had a good time.  We’d never seen anybody take dogs hiking up there, but we saw several today, which was unfortunate, since the two preschoolers are both deathly afraid of dogs; their hysterical wailing made for some awkward moments. 

On the way in, we noticed a stunning sight up ahead: where the canyon walls on either side of us came closer together in the distance, another mountain face was visible in the small gap.  On it, a huge sheet of glistening ice was reflecting the afternoon sun and was practically glowing.  My wife snapped a great shot:

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When we realized we couldn’t scramble up any further (besides the fact that it was getting late and we were hungry), we stopped to enjoy the picnic lunch that my wonderful bride had packed for us. 

Next to the area where we’d stopped, one of the trail’s signature seasonal waterfalls was spilling down the cliff and into a little lagoon in a small reservoir next to us, down a slope that was overgrown with bushes, hiding the pool itself.  I took the camera and managed to get down the embankment.  The hardest part here was that I had our five month old baby strapped to my chest in one of those Snugli carriers.  At the bottom, I discovered a frozen palace of ice and snow.  I took this picture, which sadly turned out a little blurry:

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Two more views of the winter oasis I found, one of which has a clearer shot of the ice formation above:

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We came home with rosy cheeks, wet shoes, and a unique story to tell about how we spent our Valentine’s Day.

Highly Recommended: Camping At Kyle Canyon

Around here, this is a great time of year to go camping.  The heat and the bugs have clocked out for the winter, and it won’t be very crowded…up in the mountains, at least.

Saturday morning we packed the van and went to beautiful Mt. Charleston, just a little northwest of the valley.  Settling into the Kyle Canyon campground, we knew we’d gotten lucky: it was perfect.  After setting up the tent and unpacking our basic provisions, we enjoyed a a lunch of hot dogs grilled on the barbecue.  It was still warm enough for only a light sweater.  When lunch was done, we started gathering firewood, the kids hunting all around the mountainside for good, dry wood, bringing back armfuls at a time.

We hiked up especially intriguing pass, the little kids impressing me with how well they navigated the steep slopes, and my older boy scrambling up a nearly sheer face off to the right.  By the time we crested the area we had our eyes on, we could see the road up to another area of the mountain several miles away. 

Here’s something that I learned up there: gray is gorgeous.  The family joined me off and on for leaning back against the hood and windshield of the car to look up at the sky and watch the clouds slide by overhead, seemingly only a few feet away.  They were the best kind of clouds: like a cottony blanket whose mild, medium, moderate grayness treats the background blue like a lampshade and gives the whole atmosphere a calm, relaxing demeanor.  There’s nothing like looking up through several 50-foot evergreens at a sky like that.

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