Ascent of Charleston Peak on 2018-04-09

Climber: Alex Lennon

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Monday, April 9, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Charleston Peak
    Elevation:11916 ft / 3631 m

Ascent Trip Report

Whew! Doing Charleston Peak as a snow climb is no joke, as I found. Don't even think about attempting it outside the prime hiking season without an ice axe, crampons, and a helmet. I left the Trail Creek trailhead at 6am sharp, and there was only one other car in the parking lot. I headed up the magnificent North Loop trail, a marvel of trail engineering to be sure. Gentle switchbacks at a steady grade made for quick elevation gain toward the peak itself. The route was mostly snow-free to this point, and I hiked the first 6 miles in under two hours. The trail meandered through a maze of ledges and offered amazing views- whoever designed this thing really knew what they were doing.

Shortly before the cliff band, it did get snowy and I got out the axe and laced up my crampons. Someone had done the snow route already, perhaps the day before, so I had a bootpack of sorts to follow. This was lucky, as the route looked so improbable in its traverse of the steep snow slope in between cliff bands that had no tracks been evident I probably would have turned around. I was confident in my footing, even on the steepest and most exposed snow ledges, and this traverse ended up being quicker than it first appeared.

Still, it did not go as smoothly as planned. First, I stepped near a buried log and my right leg post-holed up to my hip. In the process, the soft snow somehow cemented around my foot, and I couldn't free my leg until several tedious minutes later- digging my foot out awkwardly with the shaft of my ice axe. Liberated, I continued the traverse. A few minutes later, I stopped to wipe the condensation off my sunglasses, only to drop them off a short ledge! I could see them, but they were totally unrecoverable. Not good. I weighed my options- on this sunny, snowy expanse, snow blindness was a real concern. I was close to the summit at this point, and turning back presented just as much sun exposure as pressing on. I decided to continue to the summit, also not really wanting to re-trace the snow traverse. I figured I could scope out the South Loop and evaluate my options.

After completing the final portion of the climb, which I'd spent intermittently covering one eye then the other, or pulling the hood of my base layer over my eyes, I topped out on the east slope near the summit- snow free! Relieved, I tagged the summit and had lunch. It was now 11:15. I admired the views of Telescope Peak and the snowy Sierras beyond. I was happy to see that much of the South Loop route in its higher portions was free of snow, and looked a lot more inviting than re-tracing my steps. I followed the easy trail down the long ridge until I came to the saddle with Griffith Peak. There were a few ups and downs along this ridge, and noting how much elevation loss awaited me still I opted to save my energy and pass on bagging Griffith. This was a good decision as the descent was quite snowy and arduous, at times requiring tedious routefinding to navigate through numerous cliff bands.

Finally, I reached the lower portion of the South Loop trail, and welcomed the chance to shut my brain off as I finished the hike. I hiked past the closed Cathedral Rock trailhead and took the Echo trail to Echo trailhead, then walked the road from there back to Trail Creek, a short distance. There were quite a few ups and downs in this stretch, adding a bit of extra gain. I got to the car at 4:40, a round-trip time of 10 hours 40 minutes. Exhausted but thoroughly pleased with my adventure, I did a few stretches and drove to the BLM campsite at Red Rock Canyon to post up for the next couple days. Well earned. And as I write this a day later, still no snow blindness!
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
Charleston Peak on a beautiful spring snow climb. A steep and exposed snow traverse leads the climber to rewarding summit views (2018-04-09). Photo by Alex Lennon.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5416 ft / 1650 m
    Total Elevation Loss:1000 ft / 304 m
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5416 ft / 1650 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 4416 ft / 1345 m; Extra: 1000 ft / 304m
    Loss on way in:1000 ft / 304 m
    Route:North Loop to South Loop
    Start Trailhead:7500 ft / 2286 m
Descent Statistics

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