Behind Cathedral Rock there are two very inconspicuous routes that go straight up the side of the South Ridge of Kyle Canyon. They are actually washes that I understand have been used by climbers to ascend Charleston Peak during the Winter months when the South Climb Trailhead and parking lot has been closed and blocked off and the upper elevations are snowed in. If you’re going to navigate and ascend these washes, the best times appear to be mid-Summer when there is little or no ice on the rocks or mid-Winter when the washes are packed with snow making it possible to ascend with ice axe and crampons. Of course, my initial exploration was during the Fall when the rocks were coated with rock-hard ice impenetrable by crampon or ice axe! Lesson learned. However, I learned enough to estimate that the route to the top of the South ridge of Kyle Canyon may take about 4 hours from the Cathedral Rock Trailhead once thoroughly explored and practiced. The total time to reach the same spot via the more traditional South Climb trail is about 2 and a half hours. It’s not a time saver, but a greater immersion in with wilderness, and the joy of figuring out a puzzle. I’ll be able to give a better route and time update once I’ve figured it out.
When the Cathedral Rock/South Climb Trailhead is closed, the closest access where it is possible to park is the Echo Trailhead. From Las Vegas, head North up I-95 for about 25 miles and take a left at the Mt. Charleston/Kyle Canyon Road exit. Proceed up Kyle Canyon Road for about 20 miles, pass the fire station and when Kyle Canyon Road veers to the left, continue straight onto Echo Road toward Mary Jane Falls. In about 500-1000ft pull into the Echo Trailhead parking area on the left. Note: If the Cathedral Rock/South Climb Trailhead is still open, park at that Trailhead instead. Historically, that trailhead has been closed from Labor Day through Memorial Day. However, it was open this year (2019) for the first time on November 1st, so give it a try.
After parking at the Echo Trailhead parking lot, head straight toward the ridge, cross a normally dry stream bed and take a left at the trail you will find part way up the ridge.
Continue to the Cathedral Rock Trailhead and take a right (actually nearly a u-turn). After about 1/2 mile you will see the first of two unmarked paths that split off to the left and head up the South ridge of Kyle Canyon. You can take that first path or continue up the Cathedral Rock trail for another 1/8-1/4 mile and take the second path that splits off and heads up the South ridge of Kyle Canyon. You’ve gone too far if you begin to circle to the right and head toward the back side of Cathedral Rock.
During this exploration I discovered that the canyon spring above Cathedral Rock continued to flow with strength even in the middle of a July 3-week heat wave. This year-round spring has created its own beautiful climate zone populated with lush green plants, colorful wildflowers, butterflies and other insects. The spring (Mazie Spring) is one of the largest springs in the Spring Mountains. It flows with many times the strength of Mummy Springs and Cave Springs on the other side of Kyle Canyon. In the Fall season the spring continues to flow creating beautiful ice formations. See the slide show on this page.
The thick brush lower in the canyon was not too bad. It just slowed me down a bit picking my way through the aspen groves and the boulders in the wash.
After about 1/4th mile, just above the aspen groves 3 things happen:
Actually, on this trip, I continued up the main wash and enjoyed the spring mentioned above. However, about 1/8th mile up the spring the wash was blocked by a high mossy cliff. I ascended the very steep avalanche slope on the left canyon wall hanging onto the young trees that happened to appear at just the right time.
At the summit of the avalanche slope the more gradual ridge top allowed ascent to near the base of a huge cliff to the left. The last hundred yards of ascent was another very steep avalanche slope to the very base of the cliff. This is where I stopped and turned around. It did not look as if I could have skirted the cliff to the left or to the right. However, after viewing an earlier photo I took from the summit of Cathedral Rock it does look as if the cliff can be skirted. There appears to be a rather steep avalanche channel to the left and a way back down into the main wash to the right. I’ll return at some point to check these potential routes out.
That said, the area at the base of the cliff is very wild, rugged and peaceful amidst the bristlecone pines and the majestic beautiful cliff face. This could be a destination in itself.
In total, the canyon above Cathedral Rock ascending toward the summit of Kyle Canyon’s South ridge offers both the beautiful colorful spring and the majestic bristlecone cliff forest, without even ascending to the summit of Kyle Canyon’s South ridge. However, note that there are no trails, so some wilderness and avalanche slope navigation skills are required.
One quick note: Timewise, one might find it hard to ascend to the summit of Kyle Canyon’s South ridge more quickly than via the traditional South Climb Trail route. In fact, I estimate that on the best day the route up the Cathedral Rock wash canyon will take up to two times as long, so it’s no short cut to Charleston Peak!
As is common with mountain washes, navigating this wash involves weaving upward around rocks, boulders, bushes and trees…and thistles with 1-inch needle sharp thorns! On the way up all the branches are pointed toward you! However, the first mile of this wash is fairly tame. Just take your time, look around and natural routes will occur without having to push your way through bushes or do any scrambling. I suggest hiking poles in the Summer, crampons and ice axe in the Winter. During the Fall and Spring the rocks may be coated with a thick hard layer of ice that makes navigation near impossible. My first trip in the Fall I only made it to about 8,800ft before being stopped by rocks and ice. As the Kyle Canyon South ridge summit at the top of this route is over 10,000ft, there was a lot of navigation ahead when I turned around. The return trip takes about 1/3rd the time of the ascent, and is relatively easy. But I can’t yet vouch for the final 1,500ft to the top of the ridge. We’ll learn more about this section of the wash next Summer! I predict this wash will take up to twice as long as ascending to the top of the ridge via the South Climb trail, so don’t try it if your main goal is to save time!
This wash was a skating rink from the very beginning, so I just took a look and turned around. Not sure which wash is the quickest or easiest ascent. We’ll find out next Summer!