Damsel Peak is that little-know massive 6,977ft destination right on the border of NW Las Vegas. If you’ve looked at the Las Vegas skyline above Summerlin, you’ve unknowingly seen Damsel Peak. The entire peak is a high desert wilderness wonderland with an incredible combination of scattered bonsai-like pines, junipers, yucca and cacti to a spectacular backdrop of one of the best aerial views of Las Vegas and its surrounding wilderness.
Are you looking for a secluded, seldom-traveled wilderness less than 5 miles from Las Vegas? Explore Damsel Peak! But you’ll need to overcome two challenges.
From the East (Summerlin area) you’ll encounter access barriers due to construction of a huge Las Vegas growth edge. Gated communities are emerging, roads are unfinished, public parking areas are rare to non-existent. And the terrain is changing week by week. We’re talking about the upper ends of Lake Mead Blvd., Far Hills Avenue and Charleston Avenue and the Little Red Rock area, privately owned by the Hughes Corporation. From the South, you’re facing a similar growth edge along the lower stretch of Highway 159. There are a few places to park along the highway, but do you really want to leave your car exposed there? From the North, forget it! From the West you’re looking at crossing two desert basins…Calico Basin and Brownstone Basin.
If you have a very good 4WD vehicle, there is a network of rugged access roads.
The most secure places to park your vehicle and make to approach to Damsel Peak on foot are the Kraft Mountain Trailhead in the Calico Basin, the Sandstone Quarry parking area in Red Rock Canyon and the Buckskin Trailhead on Cheyenne Road at the base of Cheyenne Mountain. But you’re looking at traversing 4-5 miles of fairly pathless wilderness just to get to the base of Damsel Peak.
Once you get to the base of Damsel Peak, there’s the question of summit approaches. The South summit approach has a very steep incline on a loose rock surface. That’s on my list for a future attempt, but I’m not enjoying the thought of ascending that 1,500 – 2,000ft stretch that appears somewhat exposed. Forget a West summit approach. That’s a sheer 1,500 – 2,000ft cliff! You’d need to be an advanced rock climber with a lot of skill and experience. If you’re looking for something resembling a steep challenging walk, this leaves the North and East summit approaches.
The North summit approach is class 2 (steep, but fairly gradual incline walk) with some light class 3 climbing (need to use hands to scramble over some fairly tame obstacles) …that’s once you get to the summit approach. The Sandstone Quarry parking area on the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive is a good access point. The Kraft Mountain parking area would also work. Both are long wilderness approach routes.
In this adventure I’m beginning to work out a class 2, light class 3 Southeast summit approach from the Kraft Mountain parking area.
This approach traverses an incredibly beautiful canyon and ridgeline on the Southeast corner of Damsel Peak. There’s very little evidence of human passage along this little-known isolated summit approach route. You may feel as if you had been transported to a distant wilderness until you look up and see Las Vegas and the Strip below. It’s a strange, wonderful feeling. By the way, you’re likely to have phone coverage all the way up the Southeastern ridgeline.
Here’s a short list of what’s visible from the ridgeline. Views from the summit are greater by a number of degrees:
You’ll need a long day with extended sunlight. During this adventure, I it happened to be one of the shortest days of the year: 3rd week in December! You may experience some ice and snow January through March. Summer temperatures can approach 100 degrees and exceed that along the base approach routes. Fall or Spring appears to be the best time of year for this adventure.
From Hwy 215 in the Summerlin area, take the Charleston Blvd exit, turn upward (West) on Charleston Blvd toward the mountains. Charleston Blvd becomes Blue Diamond Rd. (159) as you leave the city. Take the Calico Basin exit off 159 (right turn) onto Calico Basin Road. Continue on Calico Basin Road to the end of the road. On the way you will pass the Red Springs Desert Oasis parking area as the road veers right and becomes Calico Drive, then Sandstone Drive. Sandstone Drive ends with the Kraft Mountain parking lot, on the left.
I’m working on streamlining the long approach from the Kraft Mountain parking area. The approach took me about 5 hours, the return, more streamlined and downhill took about 2.5 hours. Using a network of trails and roads where possible speeds up the approach to the base of Damsel Peak. It’s possible to get all the way to the summit approach gully and ridge on roads and trails.
From the Kraft Mountain parking area, take the Kraft Mountain Loop trail East along the base of Kraft Mountain. Along this stretch you’ll pass many great bouldering locations used by rock climbers to develop their skills.
At the Southeast corner of Kraft Mountain, leave the loop trail and continue East on a trail across Gateway Canyon. Once across Gateway Canyon head South on Gene’s Trail until you reach a string of powerlines. Take a left (East) along the powerline maintenance road to cross a low ridgeline over to Brownstone Basin. At the ridgeline summit, look to the Northeast to see Damsel Peak.
There’s an unpaved road (all the roads in this area are unpaved) that parallels the low ridgeline, just over the ridgeline, heading North. Take this road for about a mile, watching for an intersecting road heading East about a half mile below the base of Damsel Peak.
As you skirt the South side of Damsel Peak along this road, notice a huge ridge between the road and Damsel Peak. Stay on the road until you reach the East side of this ridge. At this point the Southeastern approach ridge and gully of Damsel Peak will be clearly visible. Also, at this point you are at the edge of Little Red Rock. You’ll notice scattered Jurassic Red Rock formations in the valley there.
Head North on a faint road up the ridgeline stretching toward the large Southeastern gully of Damsel Peak. You’ll know you’re on the right road and ridgeline when you see a few large scattered parts of a dead Toyota Pickup (see the video and slide guide on this page). The road will end at the gully opening.
Once at the gully opening, it’s a matter of continuing to ascend the ridge or ascending the gully. In this initial exploration I entered the gully as I continued to ascend. The combination of high desert plants (pines, juniper, yucca, cacti and grasses) scattered among the limestone rock formations is incredibly beautiful!
About a thousand feet up the gully there are 3 choices:
The gully was becoming complicated with rocks and ledges, however these did not look too imposing, still class 2-3.
The slope to the right looked pretty vertical.
I chose a gully to the left leading toward the Southeastern slope. It was fairly easy ascending this gully (see the video, map and slide guide on this page). However, identify reference points that you can use to ensure you descend the same gully on the return trip! If you wander off down another route you may risk being blocked by a vertical ledge. I selected a large pine tree in the main gully below as my reference point, and that kept me safely on course during the return trip.
Once on the Southeastern ridgeline summit, you’ll find yourself on a ledge about 15-20 feet wide with an large vertical drop on your left (South). I continued along this ledge for a hundred feet or so before reaching my turn-around point. The views from the ledge are spectacular and the ledge itself is a great destination! By the way, you’re not far below the Southern pinnacle on Damsel Peak. The ledge may end before you reach the pinnacle, requiring some class 3-4 climbing. There is a proven route from the pinnacle to the summit, so things should begin to level off once you reach the pinnacle.
My next exploration will continue further up the main gully before ascending the Southeastern slope. There appears to be a more direct, gradual approach to the Southern pinnacle from further up in the main gully. There’s also the option of continuing up the main gully all the way to the summit. The incline looks steep, but fairly gradual and potentially class 2 all the way to the summit.