Category Archives: Nevada


Intermittent cloudiness

Intermittent cloudiness

Hayford is a classic Nevada desert peak: an hour of rough dirt from the highway, then a moderate 7-mile, 4000-foot climb to the summit. After some frustrating shopping in Vegas, I drove out to the trailhead and slept next to the sturdy, informative, somewhat amateur, and mildly shotgun-damaged trailhead sign.

It rained overnight, and I woke to partly-cloudy skies and 1-2″ of fresh snow on the mountains above. The snow and clouds made for some interesting light during the 5.7-mile hike up a wash to the early-1930s patrol cabin. The cabin, which is on the National Historic Register, was renovated a decade ago, and is surprisingly vandalism-free, with a stove, intact windows, and even an air mattress for hikers’ use. I took some pictures, then continued past the spring and directly up-slope to the left, eventually meeting up with a cairned use trail.

With the clouds blocking views of the surrounding peaks, I had a bit of trouble finding the high-point where the use trail was lost under snow on a branching ridge, but eventually found my way to the summit. It was somewhat underwhelming; on a clear day, I would have had great views of Charleston to the southwest and other ranges in all directions. With the clouds, I was stuck looking at the elaborate summit weather station. Despite the difficult access, Hayford sees a surprising amount of traffic year-round from both local peak-baggers and the usual suspects. I stuck around just long enough to sign the register, take some pictures, and freeze my hands, then retraced my steps as quickly as possible.

The return to the cabin was quick, and the trail down the wash was a great slightly-downhill run. Hayford is a fun spring/fall outing. The approach road is probably not suitable for a passenger car, but a Subaru or similar would have no trouble.


Moapa from 2WD trailhead

Moapa from 2WD trailhead

I had never heard of Muddy, but I knew of Moapa, and had been meaning to climb it for some time. After waking up along one dirt road, we returned to I-15, where I got some lousy gas station coffee, then continued east before turning off on another, marked by an impressively burning semi truck. I would have taken a picture, but there was an extremely shouty cop on the scene. I don’t think there’s anything illegal about watching a burning truck from a safe distance, but he seemed to have a healthy dose of cop-rage, so I didn’t press the point.

We did much better on this road, getting within about two miles of the trailhead at the price of some scratches inflicted by the encroaching creosote brush, mostly on my side of the car. Where Muddy is shorter than it appears, Moapa is taller, rising 3500 feet from the valley floor with few visual cues.

From the trailhead, an old road leads through a gap in a rock fin to Jack’s Pockets, an apparently man-made catch-basin hosting a small, green lawn. A long walk across loose rubble eventually leads to a dry streambed connecting to Moapa’s southwest ridge. The streambed is mostly easy boulder-hopping, with one dry waterfall passed via a use trail to the left.

The way to the main west ridge from this southwest ridge appears to be blocked by a headwall. However, a meandering path marked by a series of cairns leads through the cliffs with no more than a few bits of 3rd class scrambling. From here, the broad ridge leads eventually to the west side of the large summit knob. This west side may go as a 4th class cactus-fest, but the standard route is easier and less direct, circling around the south side of the cliffs to the shorter, eastern end of the summit knob. From there, the path to the higher, western end follows an easy but surprisingly exposed ridge, gained by one of several short 3rd-class pitches. With decent balance and a head for heights, the rest can mostly be done hands-free or even hands-in-pockets.

Thanks to aggressive low-clearance driving, we had a short day, making it to the car before dusk. Unfortunately, after a long drive, we found the high trailhead in the Spring Mountains snowy and cold enough to make both camping and hiking unpleasant. Tired and frustrated, we headed back to the valley to camp. Hopefully, between my limited knowledge of area peaks and my partner’s data plan, we could find something else to do for the next two days.


Approach valley from climb

Approach valley from climb

Desert peaks are usually something I do to break up the long drive between California and the Rockies. However, I decided to give it a try over Thanksgiving, tagging some of the more interesting desert peaks around Las Vegas. I shoved a bare minimum of gear into my climbing pack, suffered the degrading farce of airport “security,” and took a short, scenic flight to Las Vegas. A recent storm had left half a foot of snow at home, and the red deserts and forests of the Kaibab Plateau shone in the sunrise.

After grabbing some water — carrying a full Camelbak would certainly have annoyed security — I met my partner at the curb, and headed east to Valley of Fire State Park. Though desert peak-bagging is best done with a high-clearance vehicle, I had opted not to drive the 9+ hours to Las Vegas, so we had to park our impractical vehicle 2 hours’ walk from the old trailhead. Road hiking is rarely interesting, but this particular road, passing through sandstone reminiscent of Canyonlands, had enough scenery to pass the time.

From the sturdy metal trailhead sign, the route follows an even worse, closed-off road into the valley north of Muddy, then takes off for the peak as the road wanders further west. I am not sure why this road was created, as I saw no signs of mining along the way. The route description mentioned an unpleasant loose climb, but the scramble out of the valley was, by my low standards, relatively solid and free of spiny plants.

Muddy’s summit lies to the south along a surprisingly long ridge with a few 3rd-class sections, a surprise after so much easy hiking. Though it was t-shirt weather below, it was surprisingly chilly for mid-day on the windy ridge. However, we spent quite awhile on the summit, enjoying the views of higher mountains to the west and north, and dreading the long, evening road hike out. This delay probably cost us about an hour of headlamp, and complicated finding a campsite, night comes early this time of year, especially at the far eastern edge of the Pacific time zone. We still had plenty of time to burn things and stare at the stars while trying to get to sleep.

Solar Slab (III 5.6)

Solar Slab (l) and descent gully (c)

Solar Slab (l) and descent gully (c)

This was another short day, but at least somewhat legit. I rolled into the old Oak Creek campground parking lot around 7, threw food, water, and rock shoes into my pack, and admired Red Rocks in the morning light as I hiked to the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon. The plan was to climb the easier Solar Slab Gully (5.3) and, if I felt good, continue up the route itself, then find the supposedly tricky and nasty walk-off. It was already a bit warm, promising a hot morning on the southeast-facing slabs.

There were already two parties on Johnny Vegas, the route to the left, and a pair from Georgia just starting to solo up the gully, who kindly let me climb through. The gully was steep but mostly easy. Placing gear would have been a nuisance in a couple short chimneying sections, but I fortunately had none to place.

I watched yet another party at the first belay as I contemplated the first pitch above, eventually deciding that I was feeling it today. After walking up the first half, I wandered a bit before finding my way through the steeper upper section on big, fun, positive varnish holds. The second pitch was kind of garbage, stemming and scrambling up a ramp while dodging through the other party’s twin ropes.

I was a bit concerned about P3, the crux, which supposedly included some “thin face climbing.” After some hand- and foot-jams in the initial crack, I found said climbing on unvarnished white sandstone, but still felt fairly solid. I was soon at the top of the pitch, looking down at the other party’s leader as he clipped into the bolted anchor. My time climbing this past fall and winter has clearly helped — I normally don’t feel this solid at the start of the season.

P4 followed an amazingly straight crack up to another ledge, though there were enough varnish holds nearby that I rarely treated it as a crack climb. From there, the angle decreased and there were a number of possible lines generally heading up and right. I had the summit to myself, kicking off my shoes and eating an orange as I imagined the fate of the 4 parties below, all funneled into a single route.

I eventually psyched myself up for the walk-off. Red Rocks walk-offs can be anything from mildly unpleasant (Lotta Balls Wall) to epically nasty (Mescalito), with oakbrush, cactus, yucca, and the potential to cliff out. After a long hike up more slickrock past a few ducks, I reached the base of the red (not purple) rock and, after exploring around a small natural arch, started down what I hoped was the correct gully.

A mass of slings around a tree sort-of reassured me that I was in the right place. I bootied a carabiner off the slings, then downclimbed the short 5th class step below them. While there was brush and tricky route-finding, the descent was not nearly as unpleasant as I had been led to believe. One place with a fixed rope required a significant and tricky detour to the right, while an overhanging chockstone could be bypassed to the left. Once again, I was back to the car for “lunch.”

North Peak, Bridge Mountain

The bridge

The bridge

Another winter passes, and another season begins. With less downtime and an earlier start than last year, I will likely have a longer period of in-season fitness, and will hopefully find enough interesting objectives to put it to good use. It is still a bit early to talk about “projects” like last year’s California 14er record, but I have some ideas. I’ll just say that in addition to revisiting some familiar areas (Tetons, Winds, Eastern Sierra), I plan to spend quality time in unexplored territory. The mountain west is vast and varied.

I decided to ease into the season, and break up a long drive, with a couple of easy peaks near Las Vegas. Bridge is a fun little slickrock scramble where the easiest route crosses a natural bridge. North is an utter nothing-burger, but it does have a nice view of Bridge. Pulling off onto the Lovell Valley road around 1:00 AM, I found the first decent-looking pullout and crashed. I passed the Red Rock Summit road on the way out, but easily found it when doubling back, and drove it for perhaps a mile or so until it crossed the ravine a bit too steeply and roughly.

Though I could probably have driven over the ravine, the road turns truly gnarly after that. I saw tire tracks all the way up — perhaps from a quad or a lifted Jeep — but I also saw plenty of scrapes on the rocks, and a couple of car parts. From the saddle, a clear trail takes off to the east, branching at the ridge to go to either North or Bridge. After quickly tagging North, I took the roundabout trail down to the slickrock isthmus leading to Bridge’s summit.

Route-following on slickrock can be tricky, but not here: in addition to plentiful ducks, someone had “helpfully” painted black arrows and equals signs all along the route. I found no fewer than five arrows in one spot, all within maybe 10 feet of each other. It was breezy on the approach, and the wind on the summit was strong enough to knock me around a bit. I huddled in a corner next to the long-suffering summit tree to have a snack and sign the register, then got out of there as fast as I could. Feeling surprisingly good for so early in the season, I even jogged some of the road back to the car, arriving in time for “lunch.”

Red Rocks climbing

Red Rocks from campground

After getting shut down by rain a few weeks ago, I was determined to make it back to Red Rocks and climb this season. I had that chance this past weekend, spending three days climbing a grab-bag of routes, and two nights socializing with a grab-bag of climbers in one of the large group campsites. Quote of the weekend: “Bears are basically giant wolf-pigs.” Think about it.

Of the routes we climbed, the best were Black Magic, with 2-1/2 excellent pitches, and Dark Shadows (all the way to the top), with lots of good climbing and an amazing second pitch. Lotta Balls was also very good. Rainbow Buttress, though it has three stars in Handren’s guide, was a mediocre climb in a very scenic area.

Lotta Balls Wall (Lotta Balls, 5.8+, 3p; Black Magic, 5.8, 3p; Trihedral, 5.8, 3p)

Lotta Balls Wall (black, lower left)

After both arriving late, Jen and I spent our first day on several shorter climbs on Lotta Balls wall, a popular area a short hike up First Canyon, a trailhead outside the scenic loop. Finding another party at the base, we let them get on Black Magic first while we climbed Lotta Balls. Jen led P1, climbing a flake/block to a corner and some cracks. I led P2, the highlight of the route, which climbs a face covered in marble-sized but amazingly durable balls to another crack/corner. Pinching and standing on the tiny sandstone balls was unnerving at first, but fun and quite secure. P3 continues up the crack/corner, over a sort-of roof and onto easier ground.

The descent is somewhat obnoxious, with 2-3 rappels through oak-brush and cracks which catch at your rope. The first rappel was a rope-stretcher for our single 50m, but was just doable by aiming for the high side of a slot on the climber’s right. The second, short rappel can be avoided by a bit of awkward chimneying. The third, from two brand-new-looking bolts, leads to some scrambling.

Next, I led P1 of Black Magic, which starts up a face with two bolts, then steps right across a vertical-to-overhanging wall with the help of a huge edge. I could not resist pulling a “Cliffhanger” and letting both feet swing free. The pitch continues up a steep face with awesome holds in the black varnish to a belay at a bolt and slung column. P2 consists of more fun, steep climbing on varnish holds. P3 has one steep move to the right, but soon tops off in scrambling terrain.

Reaching the base after a second obnoxious descent, we found a sizable crowd on both of the routes we had done so far. With plenty of daylight left, we decided to climb Trihedral, which follows the corner to the left of Lotta Balls. While P2 had some fun stemming, it could not compare to the first two routes. However, it did give me a chance to chat with and snap pictures of fellow climbers on other routes.

Mescalito (Dark Shadows, 5.8, 10p)


After a proper night’s sleep, we got an early start for what we knew would be a long day. While most people only climb the first three pitches of Dark Shadows, the route continues to the top of Mescalito, the small-looking peak between the north and south forks of Pine Creek. For a peak-bagger like Yours Truly, the choice to continue to the top was obvious. The descent via the north fork proved as “adventurous” as promised: we took full advantage of our late exit permit.

We reached the base of the route to find an older man seconding the first pitch (the absurdly short P1 and P2 in the guidebook), and sat down to let them get ahead. P1 starts with a step across the creek onto some slabs, threatening soaked feet and/or a wet rope, then continues up a crack to a comfortable belay ledge. Jen spent awhile on this ledge waiting for the other party’s second to start climbing, then belayed me up to join her, where we spent most of an hour waiting for the other party to clear the next belay. This was an inauspicious start to a long climb, but we hoped to pass them higher up, and passed the time reading the guidebook and talking to a friendly British couple climbing behind us.

P2 started with what I chose to climb as a bit of ugly, awkward offwidth/chimney, then turned awesome, following a straight, near-vertical corner with fun stemming and miraculous holds on the right wall. I clipped into the two-bolt anchor on a comfy ledge, then hung out staring up at the huge roof and down at other climbers. P3 skirts the roof to the two-bolt anchor where most people stop. We continued for six more pitches from here, repeatedly trying to pass the other party and being cut off at choke-points on the face. While the climbing could not compare to P2, it was still fairly good; I would have enjoyed it more if I was not watching daylight tick away while waiting for the other party, dreading a long and complicated descent in the dark.

These first nine pitches led to a large plateau below Mescalito’s summit, which we reached by hiking west, climbing one pitch up a wide crack, and scrambling up some easier terrain. After very briefly enjoying the summit view in the late afternoon light, we scrambled west along the ridge, picking up a line of cairns and bits of use trail on the north side of the ridge.

Things started well: while the path led west and away from the car, it also lost elevation with very little bushwhacking and no rappels. However, somewhere in the slabs still well above the canyon floor, the trail disappeared. We first followed some sporadic cairns to what looked like a very long rappel. Doubting that our rope was long enough, we found another rap station into a narrow, twisty slot. This looked fun and doable with our single 50m, so down we went. Another rap off a tree took us into a brushy slot, where the way forward became less obvious.

In the fading light, I spotted another rap station in the next gully east. After finding that it led to a drop much longer than our rope, Jen prusiked back up, and we dug out our headlamp. Singular. Sort of. For some reason, I mistakenly believed that I had left mine in the car. Taking the lamp, I made a diagonal bushwhack/rappel farther down our original slot, where I was overjoyed to find more slings around another bush/tree. Jen took the lamp and got a prusik ready for the blind rappel over the edge. Though the moon had not yet risen, the canyon walls were faintly visible Vegas-light from the east. After a seemingly endless wait in the dark, I heard a joyous shout of “ground!” Rapping the twisty sandstone face in the dark, seeing my shadow cast on the wall by the lamp, was a surreal salvation.

Fearing a costly ticket at 8:00, we hiked back down the canyon as quickly as we could with one headlamp, reaching the car with minutes to spare. Looking back from near the car, we saw a lonely headlamp making its way back from Mescalito; I like to think it was the party who cost us so much time.

Eagle Face (Rainbow Buttress, 5.8+, 6p)

Rainbow Buttress

Despite our late return, we were up early again (too early — neither of us remembered the time change, so we had to wait at the loop gate) for another potentially long day. Determined to avoid waiting in line, we chose a route with a longer, more strenuous approach. There were several parties on nearby routes, but we had Rainbow Buttress to ourselves. Though the scenery was spectacular, and the walk-off would make a fun hike/scramble by itself, the climbing did not come close to deserving Handren’s three stars. We climbed the route as 6 pitches on a 50m rope, linking the guidebook’s P1 and P2 with a bit of simul-climbing, turning P3-P5 into two long pitches, and finishing on the last pitch of Mountain Beast, a 5.8 sport climb.

After reading P2’s description, I led P1, which starts off with some easy scrambling, then finishes up a surprisingly strenuous left-facing corner to a hot, sunny belay ledge. I hung out and sweated while Jen writhed up P2, taking every opportunity to engage in painful-sounding chimneying and offwidth. Following, I was able to reach some holds that let me avoid nearly all of the suffering. I scrambled up a face and through a tree to find her belaying from a comfortable, shady alcove.

P3 follows the crack between a pillar and the main face, then makes a fun, airy step across the gap before traversing to (for me) a semi-hanging belay near the base of the crux left-facing corner. P4 involved some thin but well-protected face moves lower down, and a short section of tricky stemming higher up, but allowed several comfortable rests. The short P5 started with some chimneying, then easier ground to the plateau below the final pitch. Rather than continuing along the original route, we finished up a fun, sport-bolted face to its left.

Heading west and slightly north — don’t be tempted south too soon! — we eventually found a well-used hiking trail which led back into Oak Creek. After some fun slabs and some boulder-hopping, we rejoined the approach route, reaching the car in time to quickly check out the visitor center on our way out of the park.

Mount Wheeler (NV)

Wheeler Peak

Nevada should give Boundary Peak back to California and make Wheeler its high point. The former is a bump on California’s Mount Montgomery’s northeast ridge. The latter is an island of alpine tundra between two basins 8000 feet below — a classic Nevada geographic feature — and the centerpiece of Great Basin National Park.

GBNP wasn’t far (by Nevada standards) from my direct route, so I decided to stop by and tag the summit. Also, since the trailhead is just over 10,000 feet, sleeping there would help me acclimatize for the Sierra. It was refreshing to finally stop somewhere without mosquitoes, and to wake in an aspen grove perched 5000 feet above a desert basin.

I had a fun run-walk along the trail to tree-line on the ridge, passing one hiker who had started a bit earlier. From there, the trail deteriorated somewhat, and the remarkably strong wind began. I guess that the sun warms the eastern and western valleys differently, causing a pressure difference that can only be resolved by violent wind from the west. The wind is reliable enough that there were many wind shelters on the ridge, some of them quite elaborate.

I reached the summit in good time, finding a nice register book in a mailbox, along with a cold, hungry hiker. I offered him part of my peanut butter and Nutella sandwich, and as he ate, he told me about his less-than-effective predawn start, which led to his losing the trail and slogging up windy talus, ducking behind boulders and shelters to hide from the wind.

The wind was even stronger as my new companion and I started down. Conversation was impossible, and it was sometimes necessary to stop and brace oneself to avoid being blown over on the talus. Once below the ridge, we had an enjoyable conversation about hiking, road trips, cheap living, and even computers (I meet a lot of programmers out here).