Charleston, Mummy, Waucoba

21-29 Sep 2002 - by Debbie Bulger

September is the ideal month to climb 11,000 ft. desert peaks that may be too hot during the summer and are snowed in during the winter and spring. This year Richard Stover and I set off for the Spring Mountains just north of Las Vegas. Back in 1989 I would drive to Las Vegas in one long day-not anymore. We spent the first night acclimating at the free Grandview Campground, a dry camp at about 8,500 ft. in the White Mountains. The next morning we tagged along with a college botany class, leisurely hiked the Methuselah Trail of ancient bristlecone pines in the Schulman Grove at 10,000 ft., and visited the small museum there. Then, on to the Spring Mountains which we reached at dark after stopping along Highway 95 to view the distinctive profile of Mummy.

Rising early, we left the South Loop Trailhead at daybreak and climbed through glorious red and yellow aspen leaves among the Doug fir. Yes red. I never realized that aspens come in red, and that they spread by underground roots. One cloned group of aspens in Utah covers over 100 acres. (Can you tell I picked up a book about aspens at the ranger station?)

Charleston has a trail to the summit, but no water this year on the route we selected. Until you reach the crest of the ridge, it feels more like a Sierra or Colorado peak than a desert peak. It is full of interesting things to observe: the pattern of an old fire that must have swept up the other side of the ridge, marine fossils, and what we were later told was the wreckage of a large spy plane that crashed in the 1940s. Be sure to leave ample time to explore these points of interest.

On the way down we stayed on the top of the ridge instead of descending on the trail. Special treasures await the curious. As a bonus, we climbed Griffith on the way down. All in all, the day's hike was about 19 miles with about 4900 ft. elevation gain.

We played tourist the next day, sleeping late, going out for breakfast and hiking the short trail to Cathedral Rock. From our table in the restaurant, we could see itty-bitty Calliope and Broad-tailed hummingbirds feeding on the other side of the plate glass window.

Mummy Mountain is more fun than Charleston, and much less visited. We left the North Loop trail to climb cross country too far past the last switchback and had a short traverse on the ridge with one or two airy steps. Richard walked into a protruding bristlecone branch and bloodied his leg, so we took a break to patch him up.

From the saddle, Mummy looks like a fortress. The key is the break in the rock wall. We ascended and descended the narrow, rocky chute one at a time to avoid being hit by loose rocks. There was no DPS register, only a book placed by someone from the Naval Air Weapons Station. The broad summit sported gnarled pines with immature blue cones.

That night we took unpaved back roads towards California's Inyo Mountains and were rewarded by seeing a herd of wild horses walking toward us. We stopped the truck and snapped lots of photos as they warily passed very close.

On the approach to Waucoba the high point of the Inyos, we were glad to have 4WD. Waucoba presents a challenge to stay out of the brush. We were pretty much successful. The view of the Sierra is wonderful. Back at the truck, it started to sprinkle and we decided to forgo exploring the old cabins in "the narrows" on the drive out lest we be swept away by a flash flood. It was raining on the peaks all around. Winter had finally come to the mountains.

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