Climb to summit of Cathedral Rock to escape heat

An excellent way to escape our oppressive summer heat is by heading up to Kyle Canyon in the Mount Charleston area of the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area. You can expect temperatures to be about 25 degrees cooler than in Las Vegas, and there are plenty of trails to hike under the nearly ideal conditions.

One of my favorite short hikes is to the top of Cathedral Rock. The trail is less than three miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of about 950 feet, which makes it moderately strenuous. One of its few negatives is that it starts at an elevation of about 7,600 feet. That means city dwellers of Southern Nevada might find the hike feels more strenuous and tiring than an equivalent distance would be at their accustomed elevations of 2,000 feet or so.

Nor is it a good hike to bring children or anyone afraid of heights. Once at the summit there are extreme drop-offs and people have fallen here. But to the courageous and careful, the extreme drop-offs also offer unobstructed, magnificent views.

In the past, another problem with this hike was finding a place to park your car. But that situation has improved. There are now two trailhead parking areas, with the hike commencing between the two.

This entire area has had a major face-lift recently with new bathrooms and a complete renovation of the Cathedral Rock Picnic Area. It is now one of the finest picnic areas around and offers plenty of shade.

If you are planning to picnic, though, be aware that each site fee is $15 per vehicle from Monday through Thursday, and $20 from Friday to Sunday. It is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The well-worn trail starts off in a thickly wooded forest of ponderosa pines and white fir. Soon you will be walking through Mazie Canyon and a chute scoured of timber by many a avalanche, but now boasting a healthy stand of aspen trees. This time of year you might also see the showy colors of the wildflowers such as the purple lupine, red paintbrush, periwinkle blue thistle and scarlet penstemon.

Once you reach the far side of the avalanche chute look for the short spur trail on your left which takes you to the base of a series of seasonal waterfalls. Unless it has recently rained, during summer there is just a trickle of water, but it is a pleasant place to rest just the same.

Continuing back on the trail you will make a steady climb up the chute and behind Cathedral Rock itself. Before the trail reaches a saddle you will come to a fork; stay to the right. The trail makes a slight dip and you will cross over a small stream.

After this you will start a series of switchbacks that bring you up the west side of Cathedral Rock. The trail then swings north to the summit and overlook.

If the hike didn’t take your breath away, the views will. Almost directly below you can see the Mt. Charleston Lodge and numerous private residences. Looking east down Kyle Canyon Road you can see all the way to a portion of the Sheep Mountains. To the north you can see Mount Charleston Peak, towering to 11,918 feet and the highest peak in the Spring Mountains.

There is no gasoline available in Kyle Canyon so be sure to fill up before leaving the urban area. But if you forgot that picnic lunch you can get meals and beverages at the Mt. Charleston Lodge and The Resort at Mount Charleston, both conveniently located to furnish the famished hiker some well-earned calories.

Many of Deborah Wall’s columns were recently compiled with new information and photos in “Base Camp Las Vegas” and published by Stephens Press. She is the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.

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