Instead of heading to our usual hiking haunts around Las Vegas, Dinah and I drove over two hours to Hualapai Mountain Park in Arizona. The park is a delightful mix of towering pines and aspen trees – the latter turning yellow – all flourishing amidst monumental stacks of granite boulders. There we would climb the highest mountain, Hualapai Peak, for the modest park entrance fee of seven-dollars.
Hualapai Peak can be approached from either of two trails: Potato Patch Loop and Aspen Peak Trail. Being nearly the same length and suffering almost the same elevation loss, the trails are about equal in effort and together encircle Aspen Peak.
After parking at a gated road, we walked 25 m to the trailhead. From there it's a 20-minute hike to the north junction. We turned left onto Potato Patch Loop. I'm guessing that it derives its name from the numerous rounded boulders lining the trail, although these aren't small potatoes!
Most of the trail winds through trees. We did, however catch glimpses of both Hualapai and Hayden Peaks before Potato Patch Loop dropped down to meet Aspen Trail at the south junction. We turned left onto a road (right for Aspen Trail). The slope on our right was obstructed with trees and boulders so we continued on. Ten minutes after leaving the south junction, the obstacles thinned and we left the trail. At first hiking was easy but soon we were bushwhacking through trees and bushes with limited sight as to where we were going. We angled left and climbed until we reached a plateau. Here, fantastically-shaped granite boulders sprouted everywhere, but the biggest pile of rocks rose above the tree tops ahead of us: the summit of Hualapai Peak. We made our way toward it and soon encountered an old road.
We followed the road until it ended just below the summit on the south side where vertical cliffs stopped us dead in our tracks. So we backtracked to the penultimate switchback. Here there was a likely place to tackle the summit: a bushy trough bounded by boulders rose up to a ridge next to the summit. We made our way up, sometimes bushwhacking, sometimes scrambling, but often getting scratched by cat-claw bushes that seemed to crowd every space not bearing boulders. Eventually we found ourselves a few metres below the rocks topping Hualapai Peak.
Dinah hung back while I made it to the base of the chest-high summit rock and by stretching, I could tag the summit. But the rock was slightly over-hanging and bore no handholds so scrambling directly up was out of the question for me. It looked easier to work left along a ledge a few inches wide and then scramble up, but I didn't like the exposure. Instead, I backed down and climbed the next highest boulder, only a foot or so lower than the summit, where I took a panorama. On a clear day, the views must be far ranging, but today they were restricted by overcast skies.
We retraced our steps back to the south junction and for a change of scenery, got on the Aspen Trail. Then it started raining lightly. This not only dampened our T-shirts, but also our enthusiasm to hike up a side trail to Dean Peak Overlook and climb Aspen Peak. After donning rain jackets we made our way back to our car.
Hualapai Peak is a delightful climb so I'm surprised there are few details about it on the Internet. For us it was worth the long drive from Vegas, not only for the unusual scenery but to escape the heat. While Vegas was undoubtedly well on its way to reaching 33C/92F, it was only 19C/66F when we hit the trail late in the morning, and we enjoyed mild temperatures throughout our trip.
Within minutes of starting out the trail runs under a tree
Trees and boulders line the trail
A humongous boulder lies next to the trail
The trail traverses below several rock outcrops
We lost elevation as we headed to the south junction of Potato Patch Loop and Aspen Trail
We left the road where there were few trees and boulders
But we were soon bushwhacking
Aspen Peak lies north
We reached a plateau strewn with enormous boulders
Climbing down rocks as we crossed the plateau
The summit is ahead
Passing more boulders
On the road below the summit
The road ends in impossible cliffs so we backtracked a bit
This looks better!
We bushwhacked up
We gained the ridge directly above Dinah
I scrambled up while Dinah squeezed between the rock and the bushes
After scrambling up I traversed to join Dinah. Note the cactus (bottom, centre) in my way.
Touching the summit
Standing on the lower summit rock
Looking northwest at Hayden Peak
Hiking back across the plateau
Back on the road
It started raining after we got on Aspen Trail
Like Potato Patch Loop, Aspen Trail has its share of great scenery
1:24,000 Topo (7.0 mi, 8438 ft, 1693 ft)