View from Mount Charleston

Mount Charleston and Griffith Peak
Spring Mountains, Nevada
September 18, 2011

Ever since Dinah and I stepped foot on a desert peak two and a half years ago, we have wanted to ascend Mount Charleston. At over 3600 m, it's the highest peak in Southern Nevada and the Holy Grail for Las Vegas hikers, at least the fit ones.

We used the South Loop Trail and encountered no difficulties except at the start. The trailhead begins in the Cathedral Rock picnic area, but the area was fenced off so we crawled through an opening in the fence. We learned that the picnic area is being moved.

The trail switchbacks up to the ridge that connects Griffith Peak to Mount Charleston. Our two-hour ascent to the ridge crest seemed long, perhaps because bristlecone pines mostly obscured our view.

After reaching the crest, Charleston lay over five km away to the north while Griffith was less than a kilometre south. We would do Griffith later, but first we wanted to tackle Charleston. We followed the ridge trail as it threaded through trees and meadows, except for the final stretch beaten into scree slopes. Four and a half hours after starting out, we reached the summit.

Dinah and I were expecting cool temperatures on top of Charleston and came prepared for that, and even a sudden storm. So we were surprised to find this high summit was both warm and calm. My thermometer read 20°C (14 degrees cooler than Las Vegas). We relaxed for half an hour before heading back down.

Back on the ridge crest in the afternoon, things were heating up even though we were still above 3200 m. It became uncomfortably warm and we took short breaks in the shade of trees.

After passing the trail junction, we started up Griffith Peak on a trail that had been completed just a week earlier. From the junction, our round trip time for Griffith Peak was only 45 minutes and the elevation gain 110 m. It's well worth the slight effort. It's the third highest peak in the Spring Mountains. After a 20-minute summit stay, we came back down the endless switchbacks.

We learned later that Charleston had been beset with storms the last few weeks, so we were fortunate to climb Mount Charleston in balmy conditions. This peak is a must for anyone visiting Las Vegas in the summer.

KML and GPX Tracks


Starting up the South Loop Trail


Broad trail and gentle grade at first


Above, switchbacks lead to the crest.


Fall colours


A sign on the ridge crest indicates Charleston and Griffith.


Taking a break. Mount Charleston is the highest point on the skyline.


We found it hard to believe we were hiking at an elevation of over 3200 m.


Mount Charleston will come into view after the rise ahead.


Passing a dead pine tree


The summit ahead


Looking back


Trail heads left, under the summit, before ascending to the top


On top of Mount Charleston


Dinah signs the summit register.


Heading back, Griffith Peak ahead.


Griffith Peak


Looking back along the ridge at Charleston as we ascend Griffith


Posing on Griffith Peak, 3377 m


Panorama on Griffith Peak


Charleston Peak and Griffith Peak 1:24,000 Topos (18.6 mi, 11,916 ft, 4,288 ft)


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