Gass Peak, Nevada Eastern summit at 6943ft is the true summit of Gass Peak. The high point on this long mountaintop stretches over 3 miles, so there are actually three areas that I have identified as a summit: A Western summit, a mid-summit and the Eastern true summit. The Eastern summit is about 1000ft higher than the others, however each has a unique view, and the most challenging part of the adventure is navigating what I call the Gass Peak Gauntlet–the route between the mid-summit and the Eastern summit.
The most direct route to the Eastern summit is a very nice 4-mile trail that begins just North of the summit in the valley between Gass Peak and the Sheep Range off an unpaved road in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.
However, the route I take begins at the North end of Rainbow Blvd. in Las Vegas and turns this adventure into a 30-mile ultra-marathon with a 5000ft elevation gain and, if the additional elevation gain and loss on the return trip is taken into account an overall 6000ft elevation gain. To put this into perspective, I can do the 18-mile Mt. Charleston loop in 7.5 hours. On this day it took 13.5 hours to complete the Gass Peak Ultra!
All that aside, the view of Las Vegas from the summit of Gass Peak can only be matched from the view in an airplane. There’s nothing like the experience of topping that last ridge after ascending the North side of Gass Peak and seeing the entire city suddenly appear stretching beneath you! In addition to Las Vegas, the view also includes Lake Mead and the mountains to the East, Frenchman Mountain, the Rainbow Mountains to the West of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Damsel Peak, the La Madre Mountains Wilderness, the Mt. Charleston Wilderness, the Sheep Range and the many additional landmarks between and in the distance. It’s pretty incredible.
The most direct and shortest distance to the Eastern summit of Gass Peak is to take I-95 about 5-8 miles past the Mt. Charleston exit to the Corn Creek exit (Desert National Wildlife Refuge). It’s a direct right turn off of I-95 marked only by a small brown informational sign, so don’t be expecting an off-ramp. Proceed past the Desert National Wildlife Refuge visitor center to take a right at the unpaved 4WD road system navigating those pretty well marked roads to Gass Peak Road and finally to the Gass Peak Trailhead on the North side of the mountain. That trailhead is just 4 miles from the Eastern summit.
The route I take begins at the North end of Rainbow Blvd., about 1/8th mile from my home–basically out the front door. There’s parking for about 3 cars along a chain link fence at the intersection of Rainbow Blvd. and Horse Rd. I’ll be describing this route below.
From the end of Rainbow Blvd., proceed as directly as possible across a 6-7 mile stretch of desert toward the pass between the Western base of Gass Peak and Castle Rock. Along the way as you cross the desert you’ll cross some power lines, navigate the bad lands of the wash that continues from Tule Fossil Bed area located to the West, cross a fence marking the Southern boundary of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge and then begin to rise from the largely barren lower desert landscape into an area dominated by Yucca, Creosote and many other forms of plant life. You’re traveling through multiple climate zones. All the while the city of Las Vegas is opening into view to the South and the La Madre Mountains Wilderness and Mt. Charleston Wilderness to the West.
As you proceed through the pass between Castle Rock and Gass Peak you’ll connect with an unpaved road. Near the summit of the pass there’s a beautiful Joshua Tree forest and you begin to see the Sheep Range coming into view to the North. At the summit of the pass (you’ve ascended your first 1500ft) take this road to the right and along the North side of Gass Peak. More of the Sheep Range and Fossil Ridge are now in view. A couple miles and another 1000ft ascent further you’ll reach a divide in the road. By this time you’ve ascended about 3500ft.
Take a right and head up the canyon I call the Mid-Summit Ridge Northern Canyon. You’re still on a gravel surface. That surface ends at the base of the Northern edge of Gass Peak. Now head straight up the North side of Gass Peak at first ascending what looks like a very steep road/avalanche slope. Continue as straight upward as possible along a ridge top until you reach the mid-summit ridge of Gass Peak. You’ll know you’re there when you’re standing on the edge of a cliff looking down over the entire city of Las Vegas!
At this point you could take a right and head over to the Western summit, only an easy 1/2 mile away with an incredible view of Las Vegas, the Mt. Charleston Wilderness, the La Madre Mountain Wilderness, the Sheep Range and the Eastern summit of Gass Peak.
Your only other option at the Mid Summit Ridge is to take a left and head toward the Eastern Summit. I refer to the route between the Mid Summit and the Eastern Summit as “The Gass Peak Gauntlet”. This route involves traversing 2-3 miles of steep avalanche slopes.
Avoid the temptation to ascend the large bluff on your right as this will end in a dead-end cliff . I’ve done this a couple times. That bluff is like a vortex sucking you up toward its dead-end summit. By this time you’ve traveled 13-14 miles and ascended 4,500ft and at this point I usually don’t have the energy to retrace my route back down the avalanche slope and across to the Eastern Summit. So, rather than getting sucked up into the bluff, stick to the lower avalanche slopes along its Northern base. I wouldn’t make this section of the journey when there is snow on the ground unless you have a death wish! The Eastern true summit of Gass Peak comes into view as you’re crossing beneath that large bluff to your right.
After you clear the bluff, begin to ascend to the upper ridge. Las Vegas will again come into view. Navigate as closely as possible to the summit of that ridge skirting to the right of some intervening rock formations between that point and the Eastern summit. Though it looks as if you’ll risk falling over the edge of the Southern cliff of Gass Peak at some points, you’ll actually find some decent, non-exposed space to navigate once you into those rock formations. The Eastern Summit is now within an easy walk or run and you’re past the avalanche slopes that lined the base of the mid-summit bluff! The Gass Peak Gauntlet alone took me about 3 hours to navigate.
Once you’re reached the Eastern summit marked by communications towers and solar panels you could return via the Gass Peak Gauntlet. On this day I decided to try the main trail down the North side of Gass Peak and then navigate the base of the peak back to the road I left at the Mid Summit Ridge Northern Canyon. The best way to locate the trailhead is to skirt just below the South summit of the ridge for about 100ft. The trail will appear. Once you’re on the trail it’s easy to follow down the North side of the mountain.
About 1 – 1.5 miles from the base of the trail I decided to take a left and navigate the lower washes and ridges near the base of the North side of Gass Peak. This was probably a mistake as it added an additional 1000ft elevation gain and loss to the journey. Were I to do this again I would have descended into the valley and taken that to just below the Gass Peak/Castle Rock pass.
However, on this day I navigated the washes and ridges and eventually found my way back up to the base of the Mid Summit Ridge Northern Canyon.
Then I took the road back through the Gass Peak/Castle Rock pass, then descended across the desert back to the my point of origin at the North end of Rainbow Blvd. (intersection of Rainbow Blvd. and Horse Rd to be exact. Eventually the residential area may extend North up into the desert, potentially to the border of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge lopping off another 2-3 miles from this adventure.)
I refer to this as an ultra-marathon because it would make an awesome and challenging world-class ultra-marathon.
Would I do this again? Perhaps, but not this week! The best time of year to guarantee missing potential snow near the summit or very high heat in the lower desert would be late September/October or March/April. It’s a pretty small window of time, but very possible.