Charleston Peak

  • Charleston Peak
  • 3633 m
  • Primary factor 2517 m
  • Location: North: 36:16.297, West 115:41.746 (GPS at the summit)
  • Nevada, USA (near Las Vegas)
  • Climbed November 11. 2006.
  • Difficulty: YDS class 1, (my route 2+)


How to get there: Note: This trip report describes a short, but non-standard route to Charleston Peak.
From Las Vegas, head north on Hwy. 95. You will pass the turnoff to the trailhead of Hayford Peak before arriving at the Lee Canyon exit. This road has number 156 and heads up to the west (left as you go north on 95). Leave Hwy. 95 at this exit and drive west. After about 24 kilometer (15 miles) you arrive at an intersection where signs for Mount Charleston points left. Ignore this and continue following signs for the Lee Canyon Ski Area. After a few more kilometer this road ends at the ski area. There is ample parking. This trailhead is located at N36:18.380, W115:40.685, elevation 2651 meter.
A good place to stay that is reasonably close to this trailhead is at Indian Springs, located a few kilometer north of the Lee Canyon exit along Hwy. 95. There is a motel right next to the gas station on the east side of the highway (right when travelling north from Las Vegas). They charged US dollar 44 for a room in 2006.
Route description: From parking, enter the base of the ski area. You will see one ski lift going up slightly left, the next lift heads more or less straight uphill. Follow this lift (number two from the left) uphill. Just before the end of the lift, you may follow a track that forks left as it continues uphill. This tractor road enters the lower part of an avalanche path. The area is completely in disarray with debris, mainly large trunks from destroyed trees. It seemed easiest to start uphill near but on the right side of the creek, then shift to the left side. Further uphill, progress is easier.
As you look uphill, it is easy to spot a very distinct gully that forks left and seems to run all the way to the crest above you. There is a pretty steep and easily recognized ridge/cliff on the left side of this gully. This gully is the key part of this route. Proceed uphill on easy terrain, the hiking is (YDS) class 2. Near the top, the terrain is somewhat steeper and a short section may be (YDS) class 2+. (I climbed on mixed rock/snow and hit a loose mix of crusty snow with unstable scree below it.) The easiest route is possibly to traverse a bit out left near the top. You are now in a small col at the main crest and Charleston Peak is visible across a deep valley. The location is N36:17.270, W115:40.865, elevation 3282 meter. The standard "north route" to the peak runs along the crest, a few meter from the col that you just climbed. Turn right (north) and follow this well developed trail to the summit.
This trail stays on the left side of the crest and thus avoids several smaller hills along the way. It has a bit of exposure as it follows some natural ledges in otherwise quite steep terrain. In winter, with substantial snow this route may be impossible or as a minimum require extreme caution. When I made this climb, the trail was mostly free of snow with only a few sections where the trail had been replaced by sloping (hard) snow. The safest route in winter is likely to be the south trail described for example at Summitpost.
Comments: After climbing Hayford Peak, I drove to the outskirts of Las Vegas in order to enjoy a well deserved dinner. I ended up at a steakhouse appropriately named Montana, perfectly OK, I had ribs and knew that my wife Heidi would have liked to be here. My plan was also to find a reasonable motel, however, this was not easy and I gave up and drove north on 95. I planned to sleep in the car, but realizing that this car (a Malibu) might not be so comfortable, I decided to check if the small place called Indian Springs just north of the Lee Canyon exit would have a motel. They did and I spent a good night there before starting out pretty early on Saturday. I knew this mountain could take considerable time, I did not know about possible snow and I wanted to travel to Flagstaff after my climb.
Thus, I was eager to see how the day would turn out as I started hiking from my car at 0615. The ski area was totally empty, a couple of simple closures had to be bypassed in order to enter the slope. The hike up along the right skilift was easy and a tractor track naturally branched left as I neared the top of the lift. This track led uphill and straight into the basin to the creek that came down in the middle.
This area is very confused by debris from numerous avalanches. I started up on the right side of the creek then shifted left. The gully that forked more left higher up was very easy to recognize. There was snow on the ground, but not much. This snow was not very recent and quite hard in places.
I quickly ascended the gully, it was easy, but gradually got slightly steeper as I got closer to the what looked like the top. I considered going straight up, but concluded that the snow was a bit unpredictable and therefore crossed left and scrambled the last 50 meter near a couple of old tree trunks. It was nice to reach this col, the climb had taken 1:45. Charleston Peak came into view directly across a pretty deep valley, and the normal route (north loop) passed just a couple of meter from where I had just topped out.
A strong and gusty wind swept the col, the sky was grey but the visibility was not bad. I started hiking along the trail and was a bit surprised when seeing how steep the terrain just below (and sometimes above) the trail was. The trail followed narrow ledges, perfectly fine with the current conditions, however this did not look like a good winter route. Further onwards I ran into patches of snow, but not more than easily negotiated. This snow was hard (old) and tended to be exactly in the trail. The effect would be that I could walk at the very edge of the trail where a narrow ledge remained free of snow. I carried crampons, but there was no place along the trail where I even considered this option.
I arrived at the summit 0925, 3 hours and 10 minutes after leaving the car. Here, the wind was gale force and the temperature was on the cold side. I noticed that the water in my bottle had frozen almost solid, a clear sign of cold weather. I signed a register that was already completely full, measured the summit with my GPS. I had planned for a break with some bread, however, it was so cold and windy that I decided to postpone this for a more sheltered place on my return hike.
Thus, I left after only 10 minutes and hurried down to find improved conditions. I made another stop among some trees and finished a piece of bread plus whatever water that had not turned to ice. As I resumed my hike, the weather took a turn for the worse. The wind picked up even down where I was and it started to snow. The snow remained on the ground and I felt quite happy about not being on my way up to the summit, but rather soon back at the col above the gully leading back down to the ski area.
Arriving at the top of the gully with snow flurries all around and wind gusts pushing me around, I had little doubt about making use of my crampons for the upper part of the descent. Care is absolutely needed on this upper part with hard snow, as it is steep enough to cause a potentially dangerous fall. I proceeded carefully down the first 50 meter, removed the crampons and had a good hike back down the rest of the gully and subsequently the ski slope. Arriving back at the car at 1215 with new snow coming down in volume, my main concern was to drive the car lower before the road also would turn difficult with my summer tires. A good 6 hour trip was concluded and I looked forward to a nice drive to Flagstaff.
I was quite happy with the effort today, the weather certainly took a turn for the worse and thus it was good that I made the summit early and got the worst weather on my return. I had a fairly long drive ahead of me, since the Sunday hike was planned to be the Arizona state highpoint, Humphreys Peak. Not only that, but I had tentative plans to do this with Bob Packard, an incredibly accomplished climber that lives in nearby Flagstaff.