Spring Mountain 4.5 Peak Hike

Mummy to Lee(1/2) to Charleston to Griffith to Harris, no car shuttle.

Harlan W. S.
Sept. 19, 2008

A full narrative is at the bottom of the page.

I finished the 22-mile, 8800' accumulated elevation, often trailless hike in 11 hours 15 minutes. I was injured, and pretty much just walked, but I am in decent shape.


GPS trace. I parked at Trail Canyon.


Here's the traditional 1stshot of Mummy from the Trail Canyon-North Loop Trail (NLT) junction.


This the 3rd class chute up Mummy.





Mummy, 17th time: see older trips.

View of McFarland from ridgeline between Mummy and Lee.


Another view of McFarland and the ski area parking.





View back at Mummy; the 2nd and 3rd class chutes are shown.


View down to Cockscomb.


This younger bristlecone was cut down to prevent spread of a fire on this ridge.





Young bristlecones grow among the fire-killed trees.


Mighty Lee Peak from the ridge.


One can walk along right on the edge; views are more open than on the NLT.





This pano is marked with the locations of Charleston, Devil's Thumb (where I will take a shortcut to the Peak) and Lee.


Weather thingy on ridge.






View NW to Macks (L) and Sisters.


On top of Lee; the ammo box is only a month old, but much of the paint has rubbed off.


This is how I reinjured my back. Fortunately, I had just 15 miles more to go.





Charleston from Lee.


Ski area parking from Lee.


Mummy from Lee.





After going up the Devil's Thumb shortcut, I met Mike Brooks -- the only person I saw "on the trail" all day.


Ravens! I saw at least 30. This is the view of Charleston (looking up) on the trailless shortcut.


Mysterious 1-legged man at summit of Charleston (Chaz).





Mummy from near top of Chaz.


Rather than take the South Loop Trail (SLT), I decided to follow the ridgeline as far as practical; view back to Chaz.


About this point, I contoured back to the SLT.





This badly-burned bristlecone is still alive and growing.


OK, I'm looking E and up Griffith. At this point one must be careful to leave the official trail, which contours S around the peak, and head up the ridge.


On Griffith, view SE to Red Rocks and Potosi. My back hurts, which should be obvious.





View of LaMadre.


Bridge, Rainbow and Wilson from back.


Mummy from Griffith.





Kingston from Griffith.


Now I'm looking at Harris from the meadow on the east side of Griffith.


Hmm. Harris is now above.





View to Potosi.


Mummy-- gee, I was way up there this morn.


Top of Harris; view to RR.





View of LaMadre from Harris.


Now my back REALLY hurts.


Fascistoform coral fossils.




Suddenly, at 4:40 it starts to get dark; view to Chaz.







I woke up Friday morning, the day before my 54th birthday, and wondered how I might prove that I wasn't a decrepit old fart. That proof might be a little hard, as I currently had injuries in both shoulders, tendinitis in my right elbow, and a back injury that seemed pretty well healed. Most of my injuries were due to sitting at a very non-ergonomic desk, using the computer mouse too much, and not getting enough regular exercise -- between weekend gonzo hikes -- to keep my muscles and tendons limber. I'm also partly paralyzed on my right side, and am very prone to injuries on that side. Basically, I make exaggerated motions with my right arm so I can use the computer mouse with any accuracy, and am constantly clamping the motions with deliberate, cerebral control. In a normal person, the cerebellum would smooth out these motions and reduce stress; but I am missing part of my cerebellum. But just this last Sunday, a hard hike had limbered me up enough, that the pain in my shoulders disappeared, and I actually felt good until I came back home to work at the computer. So, a long hike might just be the best therapy.

Only, I was a bit fuzzy about "long". The weather was still a bit warm down in Las Vegas; but since it was almost the equinox, there wasn't all that much daylight. I decided on the traditional multi-peak loop hike over Mummy, Charleston and Griffith, so I printed out maps of the route for my wife, and sent a gpx file to her e-mail address. But I decided I would leave room for an optional, extra mountain.

At this point I should note that the "traditional" Mummy-Charleston-Griffith hat trick is viewed by many as exhausting and insane. Nonetheless, some of my friends have done a five-peak hike -- Fletcher-Mummy-Charleston-Griffith-Harris -- that is truly exhausting and insane. But typically, those folks do the hike on longer summer days, and have a car shuttle, so they can park a car up Rainbow Canyon for Harris, and one at Trail Canyon for the start to Fletcher.

I would have no car shuttle, so I was looking at an extra 3 miles and 700' of gain at the end of the day. So, I planned a possible three or four "and one-half" peak hike; I'd do Lee Peak as the "half". Lee is barely 300' higher than the North Loop Trail; the route on the northeast side is rugged though, and the views are pretty good. I'd skip Fletcher -- which has never been my favorite peak -- and allow the option of doing Harris if I felt OK and had the time.

So I left the Trail Canyon trailhead at 7:19 AM and began heading up; my first goal was Mummy. When I'm looking for a quick hike to test my conditioning, I make the top of Mummy in 2 hours. But today I had to make myself go more slowly, or I would surely poop out. I was carrying an extra liter water, and noticed the two pounds. Plus I had my SPOT satellite transmitter with me, and throughout the day, would send my wife some 11 "here I am" messages as a matter of safety and comfort. Each SPOT message takes about 4 minutes of standing in one place, to ensure transmittal, so I would have some idle time forced on me. So I decided to relax, take my time, and get to Mummy when I was ready.

Hence I was a little surprised when I reached the junction of Trail Canyon and the North Loop Trail (NLT) in just 40 minutes. OK, I'd relax, send a SPOT message, and then mosey along. Two deer -- many-point stags-- ran ahead of me on the trail. I got to the talus slope, where one leaves the NLT for Mummy, and sent another SPOT call, then trudged up the talus, and reached the saddle at ~10700'. I dropped a few heavy items from my pack, and headed for the 3rd class chute (people usually take a 2nd-class chute to the top). I was even more surprised when I reached the summit at 9:17 AM -- in 1 hour 58 minutes. So much for my plan to take it easy. After a snack, a SPOT call, and some idle time taking pictures and staring into space, I headed back down to my cached supplies

Now I made for the connecting ridge. In "the old days", the three-peak would involve descending 550' back down the talus to the NLT, and on to Charleston. It may be that some people still take that tack; I don't. Instead, I follow the class 2 connecting ridge between Mummy and Charleston; this ridge is slightly west of the NLT. The ridge starts off a little rough; almost immediately, there is one rocky crag that is best traversed on the N side, with a steep slippery descent. Then there are a few little peaklets to surmount, but eventually the ridge becomes a very mellow hike, far airier and much less oppressive than the NLT. Eventually the connecting ridge dumps back out on the NLT, somewhere NE of Lee Peak.

Now back on the NLT, I headed to Lee Peak, the next goal. For years I ignored this lump, thinking I would go up it some day… then someone put an entry for this peak on Summitpost. Earlier this year, I found the rocky NE ridge was actually rather nice, and the views quite good. I quickly topped out on Lee, and set about taking a long barometric altimeter average, hoping to resolve questions about the prominence of the peak. While waiting for the average, I set up a camera for a self portrait, then ran over to do my one-legged stance. The rock I stood on began to roll; no matter, I'd put my right hand down and…

YEOW! I saw stars. I had just replicated the motion that injured my right back muscle two weeks before. Oh crap; should I call it quits and descend back to my car? The end of the planned hike was still about 15 miles away! I also planned to go up the Devil's Thumb shortcut, with some iffy class 3+; could I do that now?

Well, as you've surmised by now, I went on. I dropped down the south side of Lee Peak, hit the NLT, and took the trail to the base of Devil's Thumb. I walked north along the ridge for a bit, hoping to find a lower pass to take another long GPS average. (I'd use the difference in elevation between this point and the summit of Lee, to judge prominence.) After the average, another snack and SPOT call, I turned around and headed past Devil's Thumb to the cliff face.

The Thumb shortcut is a little bit creepy, even when one is fit as a fiddle. The log that we once used for a step-off is now missing; I now just muscle up with upper-body strength. This time, I would do the first crux with a pulled back muscle and two sore shoulders; I made up my mind that if it hurt too much, I would simply go back home. Surprisingly, all was fine, and I soon passed the upper rap sling, and climbed the fast/hard section of the next wall. Then came quite a surprise; I met Mike Brooks coming down the class 2 part of the route. (Actually, this shouldn't have been too much of a surprise, since anybody who does this route is also likely to know me.) Before long, I was looking up at the peak of Charleston, now a mere 600' higher, as a massive flock of ravens circled about. After the requisite plod (40 steps, 20 breaths, 40 steps, 20 breaths…), the Charleston weather station came into view; and my back felt…OK.

After Charleston, my next goal was Griffith. Normally, I run as much as possible down the SLT, mainly because I've taken that trail a lot. Now I wanted some other tack to pique my interests, since running didn't seem so great for my back. Susan and Judy told me how much fun it was, simply to walk along the ridge crest, rather than take the SLT. So I went along the crest, with a few minor ups and downs, and indeed, it was exhilarating; a far more open feel than the trail. I put off rejoining the trail as long as I could. I stopped to take pictures of fire damage to bristlecone pines; funny, I had really never noticed the extent of the burns before, but since someone had asked me, I saw a whole new world.

Next was Griffith; a mere 400'+ plod to the summit. More of the same; when I grew tired, I took 40 steps, then 20 breaths. But when I reached the summit, and signed in, it was still pretty early… so I looked to Harris, and without another thought, headed east down the grassy shortcut to the Harris Springs Trail, descending 2000' to the Griffith-Harris saddle.

I passed the saddle, and once again, I was off-trail, heading up Harris. Some people hate this peak; but the surprisingly easy push through the benign brush -- often composed of young aspens -- and the relatively benign slopes are pleasant to me. This was one of the peaks I climbed after my brain damage in 2002, and it holds a fond place in my memories. I pushed on to the top, arriving at about 4:10 PM, and rested a bit. Then I turned around to reverse an ascent I'd made several times -- the trailless NW side of the peak.

Only now it was a bit after 4:30 PM, and the low sun, often passing behind clouds, gave precious little light for the descent off the NW side. Furthermore, I realized that the descent was a bit tougher than the ascent. My back was stiffening up, so I couldn't duck under the multitudinous low branches; I had to crawl around or over them, in ridiculously awkward positions. I finally reached the rocky ridge at ~8500', and brimming with self-confidence, thought I might continue straight over the ridge, rather than angling to the NE. Soon I realized this was a bad idea; the ridge ended in rocky pinnacles and cliffs. Maybe this would be a good route another time; but not in the rapidly darkening forest. So I grudgingly back-tracked, and descended initially very steep slopes. Just when I thought all was clear, I slipped on pinecones and got my second injury of the day. (Four days later, I used sharp-nosed jewelers' tweezers to pull a piece of pine cone out of my leg.)

Finally I spilled out to the campsite near the Kyle Canyon Ranger Station. Campers were making evening meals, oblivious to me; only the dogs took alarmed notice. I followed trails on the S side of the main road (route 157) -- sometimes paved through pleasant neighborhoods, sometimes rocky stream beds -- and saw two more stags. I had put away my camera, and though the deer were tantalizingly close, I got no pictures. Finally I hit the bridge and trudged up the "Mary Jane Falls" road, back to my car. There was a fellow in a pickup truck; I couldn't tell if he was preparing to go to sleep in the truck bed, or was getting ready to start a hike. He asked me if I'd done the "full loop" -- presumably the NLT-SLT trip to Charleston -- and I told him what I'd done. He asked, "In one day?" and looked at me as if I were insane. Then he asked, "is there a trail up Mummy?" I explained the route, and in short order, realized that I was babbling.

OK, time to drive home and take some ibuprofen.