After staring longingly at Charleston every time I've gone to Las Vegas, it was time to make this trip a reality. Tanya and I headed up on the Friday of Labor Day weekend, finding the campgrounds in Kyle Canyon unsurprisingly full. No matter - forest roads down lower provided a nice place to bed down for the night.
An early start to a beautiful day brought us up the mountain. Runners made their way up and down the road, hikers were out and about...an active crowd always get the motivation going! The picnic area's seasonal closure curtailed our plans to take the locals' advice and proceed that way, so up the stairs we went at Cathedral Rock trail. Problem is, we kept
going up the Cathedral Rock Trail at the junction to descend to the Griffith picnic area, which dumps you at the South Loop's real trailhead. So we got a 900'/1mile warmup before we realized our mistake
Embarassed and back on route, we started making our way up the steep switchbacks on South Loop Trail. Soon the grade eased in an impressive limestone amphitheater as we enjoyed breakfast in an aspen grove...ahhh...the cool mountain air proved the therapeutic antidote to the stifling desert heat. We enjoyed the gentle switchbacks which push you out of Kyle Canyon and onto high, airy slopes. Soon, we found ourselves 4 miles in and only 1200' below Charleston's summit (!). I'm no math major, but I assumed our second-half travel would be gentler. True enough, but the views distracted all thoughts about numbers. The views? Absolutely unbelievable. Charleston soars 9-10,000' above its surrounding desert and you are acutely aware of that fact from your perch. Telescope Peak in Death Valley? Easy to spot. Lake Mead? Yep. Of course, the individual resorts of the Strip, too. Sierras on the horizon? On a clear day.
The stroll through the meadow, then into the bristlecone forest, cast a silence between us as we gawked at the surroundings. At last, you reach a saddle over 7 miles from the car and Charleston herself comes into view. A (very annoying on the return) descent lets you catch your breath before beginning the final steep push to the top. Small plants bloomed among the bleached rocks and soon we stood next to the American flag atop Charleston's summit, where we talked to some local hikers about their Spring Mountain trekking tips. After enjoying a Ranger IPA on Charleston's summit, we reluctantly bid farewell to our perch and strolled down the mountain. On the way home, I felt an urge to hit Griffith Peak too to see the view, and the effort was well worth it. The canyon was in deep shadow when we returned to the magnificent IPA-laden cooler at the end, after cursing through the climb out of the picnic area at hikes end
. Well worth it, Arizonans, if you're ever in the Vegas area.