Backpacking in Vegas – Day 1

Laurie hates Las Vegas. She’s been there a few times and has never left The Strip.

Andy however, knows where to find the magic.

The Spring Mountains are located 45 minutes west of the hot, bright and insane city of Las Vegas. Andy’s last trip to this beautiful mountain range was about 10 years ago when he hiked to Griffith Peak. A lot has changed since then.

The Spring Mountain National Recreation Area – and more specifically Mt. Charleston – is no longer a quiet place only a few visit.  It is a mecca for all who seek respite from the oppressive heat of the desert and for those seeking stunning nature.

When Andy hiked to Griffith Peak he promised to return one day and hike the daddy – Charleston Peak.

We finally made the time to hike that mountain together. And this made the hike even more special for Andy.

Day 1 – Trail Canyon Trailhead to bushcamp

Miles: 4.3

Elev gain/loss: +2091 ft/-41 ft

Our day started at 5:40am. We jumped out of bed after snoozing for an extra half hour. Thankfully we were already packed. Andy showered, we shouldered our packs and went downstairs to meet Joanna – who was ready and waiting to take us to the airport. Thanks Joanna!!

We checked in, went through security and got on our plane on time but sat on the tarmac for over two hours. Las Vegas airport was having issues with their refueling systems so we had to fill up with enough fuel to take the plane all the way to Detroit. 

Unfortunately with more fuel our plane was too heavy. They offered $600 travel vouchers to each person who agreed to take a later flight.

Laurie had fallen asleep with her head in Andy’s lap. She woke up to the words “$600” but was too groggy to put up a good fight. Andy wanted to get to Vegas, but Laurie couldn’t stop her mind from wandering to all the places we could go with $1200. 

With every announcement the temptation in Laurie grew but Andy felt strongly that it wouldn’t be safe to arrive to an unfamiliar mountain range near dusk. His logical reasoning won out and we stayed in our seats waiting to take off.

After a few hour delay, we finally departed around 9:30am for Vegas. Tired, hungry and delirious, we landed in Vegas, picked up our rental car, drove to a sporting goods store for fuel, and a supermarket for extra rations. This is when Andy hit his wall. It was 1:30pm and be hadn’t eaten anything.

In-N-Out was a stones throw from the supermarket so we grabbed a burger each and drove to the mountains.

Andy’s jaw damn near dropped as he gained elevation on Kyle Canyon Road into the small town of Mt. Charleston.

There were roundabouts, a visitor center and multiple levels of parking areas for the main trailhead.

This must be what happens when an area and a trail are designated National Recreation Area and National Recreation Trail respectively.

It’s also probably what happens when there is a finite area for those who live in the urban sprawl to go and play in the summertime.

We parked our car at the Trail Canyon Trailhead and walked 1.3 miles on a shoulderless road to the South Loop Trailhead – or so we thought.

Things have changed in 10 years. There was a large fence around the parking area, stone benches and at least 50 people milling around. Andy remembered a small parking area that could fit maybe 10 cars. We weren’t sure if we were in the correct spot.

Laurie took off her pack and sat on the ground while Andy explored the area trying to jog his memory and figure out which trail to take.

Really there was only one trail but it was labeled as Cathedral Rock. There were many use trails from people ignoring signs and walking wherever they pleased.

Eventually after talking to some Forest Service Rangers and various maps we realized that our trial would branch off shortly up the main trail.

So we set off- hiking uphill around 3:30pm with 9 liters of water between us. The towering cliffs above us shaded the canyon. 

It was very overwhelming to be around so many people, especially when we didn’t expect it, but we took comfort knowing we’d see less and less people as we hiked further into the Mt. Charleston Wilderness.

We took many stops for water as we stumbled forward. Andy had a slight headache and Laurie kept burping up her In-N-Out burger. Plus we were starting at 7,650 ft and walking uphill from the get go. Needless to say, neither of us were feeling awesome.

We both forgot about our discomforts as the trail wound through a hillside of yellow and orange Aspen trees. Even though it was still 100° in Las Vegas, Fall had arrived in the hills of the Spring Mountains.

We smiled as we continued to hike up the rocky trail. The fall colors were an unexpected, yet welcomed surprise.

After slowly climbing up 30 or so switchbacks we began looking for camping spots. We knew we wanted to stay in the shelter of the trees as the wind bellowed at  every mini saddle we came upon.

We stopped at a nice spot that overlooked the town of Mt. Charleston but it was a bit too windy, so we kept going.

Two switchbacks up the mountain we spotted a nice, flat spot reasonably well protected from the sharp, cold wind.

We set up camp and Laurie quickly got in the tent to make home while Andy tried to make mac & cheese without making a complete mess of it as he had done multiple times on the PCT.

He did an ok job and crawled into the tent to eat with Laurie after putting up the fly. It had potential to be a cold night and the fly would bear the brunt of the wind better than the inner portion of the tent.

After we ate Andy tied our Ursack to a tree, came in and immediately fell asleep. Laurie read her book for a little while longer before crawling out of her comfy cacoon for a final pee before bed.

It was an exhausting day and we were both grateful to be in our tent – cozy and warm.

Laurie faded off to sleep under a big and bright full moon, her head supported on a new glamping style pillow.

Tonight we are grateful for switchbacks and fall colors.

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