Thursday, July 23, 2015

Hiking the Bristlecone Trail

Earlier this month, my son and I headed to Mt. Charleston to hike the Bristlecone Trail. The cooler temps were a relief, but 80°F in full sun is still hot when you’re hiking.

When my son and I got out of the car in Lee Canyon, we were thrilled to feel the cool mountain air. At 9:30am, it was 74°F.

We began our hike at the upper portion of the Bristlecone Trail (also called the Bristlecone Loop Trail), which is at the very end of Lee Canyon, right next to the helicopter pad. The trailhead is clearly marked and has signage about the trail and information on how to identify a bristlecone pine: the tree’s needles look like a bottle brush. A very large, green bottle brush.

My original plan that day was to hike the Upper Bristlecone trail to the Bonanza Peak cut-off, and then turn around and hike back. This was about four miles, I guesstimated, versus doing the whole six mile loop, which would include walking up the road to get back to the car. When I told my son my plans, he said, “Can’t we do the whole trail? Six miles? I can do six miles.”

“I can do six miles too,” I said. And we were off.

I was excited about hiking this trail because years ago, my husband and I accidentally discovered the Bristlecone Loop Trail. We thought we were on a quarter mile loop, and instead of turning around when we realized our error, we kept walking… and walking and walking, until we had walked all six miles. Our long hike sparked a deep interest in hiking. (Mostly so that we’d never go on another accidental six-mile trek with no water.)

My son enjoyed this story immensely, especially when he heard that his dad had hiked the entire six miles in sandals.

The trail has great views, especially from the high point (9,400 feet elevation), which is close to the Bonanza Peak trail.

Spotting the bristlecones is easy because of their distinctive needles. They’re fascinating trees that grow in harsh climates at high altitudes, sometimes living to be thousands of years old.
See the bristlecone on the left?
The Carpenter Fire didn’t damage any areas visible from the Bristlecone Trail, but there seemed to be more deadwood than I remembered. Pests and diseases have taken a toll on forests throughout the West, and the Spring Mountain are no exception.

We saw wild horses and a Palmer’s chipmunk, but the most impressive things we saw were two mountain bikers, who passed us twice. We said to each other, almost in unison, “Twice?? They’re doing the trail twice?”

The Upper Bristlecone Trail turns into the Lower Trail when it joins the remnants of an unfinished Civilian Conservation Corps road. The wide, gravely road is in full sun. It was hot, but still pleasant compared to any July day down in the Las Vegas Valley.

We encountered a steady stream of people walking or biking, which is no issue at all on the wide Lower Trail. Passing can be tight on portions of the Upper Trail.

Walking back up the road to the car, we made a note that the trail would be easier if done in reverse, so that you’re walking downhill at the end. We also should have prepared better for the sun, but the sweat and sun burn was worth it.

Once we made it to the car, my teenager inhaled the sandwich we brought, and we drove down the mountain, back into the heat of the Las Vegas summer.

Have you been hiking at Mt. Charleston recently? 

See all the pictures from the day on my flickr page.