Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Hike 2015.079 -- North Peak Trail, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Hiked Sunday, October 24. This was my most recent hike as of this writing. It appears likely I'll end the month with either 80 or 81 hikes, meaning I'd need about ten more hikes each in November and December to reach my goal. It'll be a little tough, but still doable.
There will be nine more weeks in the year after this Saturday, so I'll need to average just over two hikes each week to hit my target. Having some holidays coming up that will give me some chances to squeeze in some non-weekend hikes helps make this achievable. Heck, if I'm within a hike or two and I have to, I'll take a day or two of vacation time off to squeeze in that last one or two!
Last weekend, I was in Las Vegas, so I got two hikes in there. One was in Sloan Canyon, which I've done many times before (although the trailhead directions have changed, again, on account of further developments in the "Inspirada" area of Henderson). The other hike was on up to North Peak.
I'm pretty sure I have not hiked here before, though I might have. In the 1990s and early 2000s, I lived in Las Vegas, and hiked somewhat, but not much compared to now. But I probably made it out to Red Rock maybe 15-20 times over the years, and to near Bridge Mountain at least 3-4 times.

I wasn't sure where my destination would be this time, at least not 'til I got there.

The trailhead is at the end of the pavement for the Rocky Gap Road. That's about 3/5ths of the way around on the 13 mile scenic loop in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. At this point, you'll have passed the High Point lookout along the road, and begun heading back towards NV-159. You'll also have passed the White Rock trailhead. Next, on the right, will be the road heading to the the Willow Springs picnic area.
At the end of the pavement, most folks park. Those with high clearance (and, especially, if they also have four-wheel drive) can continue on. If they're gold and skilled, they can drive the whole 4.5 miles to the Bridge Mountain/Rocky Gap Trailhead. If so, then this is a trivially short hike. But, if you're like me, you'll park at Willow Springs and have a long walk on to the top of the pass. Over those 4.5 miles, you'll gain (very roughly) 1200 feet (can't be sure, because the start of the trailhead is not on my map, so I don't know the altitude at the pass).

Incidentally, the map I'm using is the "Green Trails Maps, Map 2474S, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. It seems to be the standard hiking map for folks visiting the area. Sort of the equivalent of the Tom Harrison maps for California.

Back in the day, the 4.5 miles from trail head to trail junction passed quickly. But I'm older and heavier, now, and the walk to the pass proved tiring. I kept saying to myself, "I don't remember this being so long!" and "I don't remember this being so steep!"

Along the way, there are some nice views of both the red sandstone and the grey limestone of the mountains that surround you. In parts, there was also some water at the canyon bottoms. The western red bud trees grew in creek-adjacent areas, and their leaves were turning yellow (in the spring, of course, they burst forth with their tiny signature red flowers). But most of the way, it was more typical juniper-Pinyon pine forest. The occasional Ponderosa pine also stood tall, in wetter, more protected areas of the hike.

At the pass, there are brown plastic markers, well off the road, but easily visible. That's the trailhead. It doesn't give a name or destination here, but there are no other trail markers along the way, so if you find this, you'll be fine. Just avoid going up any of the side canyons by accident before you get here!
According to my map, it's .6 miles from the trailhead (which, as I mentioned, is off-map) and the point where the trail splits between either Bridge Mountain or North Peak. The sign at that split says it's .3 miles to North Peak, or 1.2 miles to Bridge Mountain. Well, because I was already feeling fatigued, I figured trying to head up what I already knew to be sketchy terrain (then having to head back down that way on the way back, when I would be even more tired) was a bad idea. So, to North Peak!
Three Tenths of a mile is't far. And most of the climbing, even on the trail (as opposed to the dirt road part) was behind me. So this last bit was pretty straightforward. The last fifty yards or so required some picking and choosing, but nothing really difficult, and no significant exposure to a deadly fall, unlike what would have happened on the Bridge Mountain trail). There was a plastic "ammunition case" that contained several note pads that served as a summit registry. Because this was one of those rare hikes where I was really beat, I signed it. Had I just driven to the pass, I probably would not have bothered.
I admired the expansive view from the top. To my east was Bridge Mountain. It looked as imposing as ever. I was also able to see the "Bridge" that gave the mountain its name. It's not visible in the 26mm version of the picture I took (3 pictures up), but it's visible in the 70mm version, and quite obvious in the 300mm version.
For reference, the bridge is just a bit below center of the 70mm photo. Obviously, the 300mm photo was a longer exposure, so the colors are less intense, but lightening of the image helped the bridge stand out a bit from the background.

(I'm using a cropped CMOS sensor, meaning you should multiple each of those numbers by 1.5 to get the 35mm film equivalent for focal lengths).
The view to the west was also pretty.

On the left, slightly below the vertical middle, you might see some trace of Rocky Gap Road. The next image is a 300mm shot of that road, with numerous off-highway vehicles, heading towards Red Rock.

I'm thinking Bridge Mountain was a bit closer than Rocky Gap, but that may still give you some perspective on how far from the road we were, and how large the bridge opening might be.

I spent longer than I usually do at the summit, because I was tired and it was just that beautiful. It was also a place of solitude. Once away from the trailhead, I saw only two hikers on the way out (and heard the voices of a few more, off on Bridge Mountain). I was also passed by numerous off-highway vehicles, but certainly no more than a dozen. For a weekend, this was a surprisingly quiet place to be.

I began my hike around 10am, and got off the trail around 4:30pm. That's a lot of time, even for an 11-mile-ish hike. And I was pretty beat by the time I got back, too. Not sure if I'll soon return to try to challenge Bridge Mountain--Just so tiring to get there, I'm even less likely than in the past to want to try to do that last bit of climbing. But I may just return to near that last push, because, from there, even more than from North Peak, you do get to look down the escarpment, to the canyons below. It's a long way down there!

No comments:

Post a Comment