Saturday, August 1, 2009

Charleston Peak via Big Falls

On Saturday (8-1), 10 hikers followed one of the best routes to Charleston Peak (11,918 feet ) that being the Big Falls route. I found this route years ago and it has been a favorite of many hardcore hikers. The route begins at the Mary Jane/Big Falls trailhead. The trail was outlined by logs as it entered a minor drainage making it easier to follow. Since there's not a main trail, several paths have been created causing harm to plants and eroding the land. I am not sure why there has never been an established trail to the best waterfall in all of Mt. Charleston???

At Big Falls we scrambled up the falls on the left side. Big Falls is just a trickle now since it depends on snow melt. Above Big Falls we crossed the water that feeds the falls and then we ascended a steep, but short slope to an awesome camping spot hidden in the forest. We then dropped into a drainage and followed it to just before it ends where a year round snow bank lies. Imagine that a year round snow bank only 30 miles from Las Vegas! The route travels through a forest as it nears Airplane Gully, a gully full of airplane debris from the crash that everyone sees along the South Loop Trail.

For the most part we stayed in the gully only climbing out to the left when we encountered a class 5 wall. This is the safest way to do this route. In year's past we have climbed straight up only to find very loose rock, which is very dangerous with a large group.

Once we hit the South Loop Trail at the plane crash site, it was easy going to the summit. The first group of hikers made it to the peak in less than four hours. Not a bad time, but not a great time. Shin's GPS recorded a little over four miles from TH to the summit. That sounds about right.

We saw several groups at the summit as we waited well over 30 minutes for the last ones in our group to make it to the highest point in southern Nevada. The sky was cloudless, a nice change from thunderstorms last weekend. We followed the North Loop Trail back to the trailhead.

Notes: This is a very hard route to follow. Getting off route guarantees a lot of loose rock.
The plane crash occurred in 1955. You can read more about it here.