4052 ft (1235 m) – 2400 ft gain
I slept much better in Kyle Canyon the other night. The past two nights, however, have been strange. I have a room at the Flamingo in Las Vegas; it is a perfectly fine room with a nice view, but I feel trapped. Although I have a conference to attend later in the week, and work to do at our local office, I need to get out early and get back in the air.
I am in Vegas for the week, so I plan to take advantage and get beyond the urban interface to summit a few of the local, small high points, a couple of which are visible from my 24th-story window. But, before I can see any mountains on the eastern horizon, I am driving into the dark of the early morning and into a sheeting rain squall on the Lake Mead highway. Frenchman Mountain, the high point of the range of the same name, is the goal for this morning’s walk. It is a mountain I have looked at every time I am in Las Vegas Valley, and I stared at it for much of the time I spent in my hotel room yesterday – I am no fan of the casino and with the pandemic in its delta phase, and who knows what that is, I am not spending much time in the public masses of the casino floor.
The rain let up as dawn approached. Behind the rain, a brisk wind poured from the north, ripping at my jacket as I left the trailhead. The hike to the summit is rather uninteresting, and I kind of wish I would have found the faint trail that climbs from the west, but in the dark of a quick morning, the road to the summit towers makes sense. It is a road, however, that seems to go straight up. The hike stirs the soreness that echoes from the Charleston Peak effort a few days ago, but it fades as I gain elevation.
The road folds in ever-climbing switchbacks into the cleft of the canyon and views are only to the north. I am soon at the first pass; a false summit that might be disappointing if I did not expect it. I knew I would lose a lot of elevation after this pass before climbing the second steep grade to the summit. It came as no surprise. I would later see two groups that arriving at this point and, looking down the steep drop before the track’s ultimate rise, and probably influenced by the buffeting wind concentrated at the pass, would seem to utter, “forget it”, and turn back, descending to the trailhead.
The uninteresting ascent, descent, and ascent-again is well worth it. Thinly bedded, brown to white sandstone, limestone, and dolomite protrude in crenelated skins, tilted razors peeling away against the sky. Cactus, creosote, and blackbrush cling to the steep, parched slopes.
A misstep on the summit ridge could mean a deadly tumble in the washes thousands of feet below. It is surprising and exhilaratingly steep. I wander the summit straddling the ridge, the summit towers obscuring the natural setting and sitting in two clusters along the ridge. But these dramatic mountain rises above one of the most unnatural settings there is: Las Vegas blankets the valley below the peak, a sparkling mundanity of straight-line streets leading to the false opulence of the strip. (Is that too much? It is how I feel this morning because I am expected back down there).
The hike back to the trailhead is quick and windy. I meet the parties that re-think their outing at the first, false summit. I encourage them onward, but soon notice they are following me down.
Back on the 24th floor of the casino, I see Frenchman rising on the valley’s eastern skyline. It will greet the sun early tomorrow morning (and many days after, of course), but I will look at it a differently than I have in the past. It was a good to roam its summit and a great way to escape the valley, chasing the squalls into the early light. If I look to the south, I can see the River Mountains, I think I will do this again tomorrow.
Please respect the natural and cultural resources of our public lands.