Charleston Peak via Carpenter Canyon

pics by Harlan W. S.
August 1, 2009


This is a tough hike, starting below 6900’, with no real trail, and a lot of very difficult terrain.  The route-finding occurs at a small scale; at low elevations, you will be constantly looking for the most brush-free route by the stream – which is choked with willows and thorns – and at high elevations, you will be searching for the least-slippery path by polished-rock and algae-covered falls.  You can avoid a lot of pain by simply taking the ramp to the right of the “5th-class dryfall” (the fall is mentioned by Branch Whitney). (However, there is one significant caveat about this ramp; near the elevation as the waterfall, there is a 10-20’ cliff band.  You can climb through the cliff band in at least two places; the ramp may fade out farther to the SE, but I was just impatient and climbed a class 4 crack.)


My main conclusion is that if you want to do this route, you should become a member of Branch Whitney’s site, and follow him.  He knows the many paths around the brush; else you will waste a huge amount of time trying to navigate the obstacle course.


I went solo, driving out from Vegas. Two hours of driving  got me to the USFS sign about 8AM.  I hit the “trail” ~8:20AM, and topped Charleston about 4h30m later, after much needless moving up and down imaginary herdpaths (that usually turned out to be animal trails). I took 2h15m to descend.  Those of you who know my hiking style, realize those are fairly slow times for me; that should be a caution about the complexity of this route; more below.



The upper part of the route.


The road-end parking area.  There are many great campsites, and this area is extremely popular with the Pahrumpians.


Starting up the stream.  There is a confusing network of trails on both sides.  I was looking for a divide in the trail, so I might take the lower branch; I counted 5 divides.





Scarlet columbine.


A much-photographed waterfall; this area has abundant flowing water all summer; that means abundant choking brush.


Hummingbirds kept buzzing me, apparently thinking that my yellow-and-orange shirt was the mother lode.





Near the “class 5 dryfall” I headed R (NE) onto this simple ramp up to 11200’.


Finally on the South Loop Trail, I look back S over Carpenter Canyon; Kingston Peak is in the distance at L.


Lots of people were on the peak; here hikers descend the NLT.  Mummy Mt. is to N.





Some people saw me doing my standard cerebellum check, and began clapping. Then a young fellow tried to replicate the move, and complained of a severe burning.  He wanted to try again, but I convinced him that it was not a good idea to injure himself before a long hike back.


Looking back SE; Carpenter is over this ridge.  I was going to use this ridge for descent, but it looked a bit rough.


The upper parts of the canyon (above 10000’) are smooth ramps.  I decided I would descend the canyon to say I had properly done the route.





Rose coral fossils.


View down toward Nopah Peak. This sums it up; the canyon route is an obstacle course of logs and…


Extremely slippery, slimy stream beds. Near here I lost my GPS; I slipped on the slime like Bambi on ice, and while I was upside-down, the GPS probably slid into the bushes.  Ironically, I normally keep that velcro-flap closed, but was consulting the GPS at the time.  I didn’t notice the loss till 30 minutes later.





You will find yourself avoiding the slick polished-rock falls and algae slime at all costs, occasionally walking over beautiful columbines, by thistles and stinging nettles.


More neat canyon and slimy streambed.


This is the top of the “class 5” waterfall.  Go L and up for an easy climb around.





These white blotches are calcite crystals in the partly-metamorphosed limestone.


This is a convoluted chert and limestone boudinage.


You really don’t want to see the stream too often on the way down; if you do, it means you have some nasty navigation.





This is the arch in Branch Whitney’s figure 1, description of the hike.  Actually, you don’t see this unless you turn around on ascent.  I didn’t see it till I was coming down.

Some thoughts: The road.

Branch Whitney says to allow 90 minutes to get here from Las Vegas.  I would say: 2 hours.  It took me longer to get up this road, than to Wallace Canyon, which is farther away, higher, and involves more travel on gravel roads.  After you pass the Pahrump fire station, this road is crappy for 11.5 miles; I don’t think it has been bladed in recent times.  It’s nothing that a modest-clearance vehicle can’t handle, but you have to be diligent and take time to avoid tire damage.  Plus, this canyon is very popular with Pahrumpians, and I met 6 trucks coming up, as I was leaving Saturday afternoon. Since the road is narrow with few turn-outs, you may spend a lot of time backing up on iffy terrain to let folks pass.

Some thoughts: The hike.

The majority of the people who discuss this hike think it is great; but the majority have followed Branch.  I would suggest that you do the same, because the initial brush route-finding is maddening. The faint initial “trail” divides many times, and the cairns are sporadic, often ending when an animal trail branches  from the “true” route.  The upper parts of the route are very slimy and slippery at some times of year; even without algae, the highly-polished limestone makes the footing treacherous.


It is simply impossible to describe the early route-finding in a printed document.  The path is far too convoluted, and the landmarks are ambiguous.