The Griffith Peak / Harris Mountain Circuit actually takes over 2 hours longer than the entire Mt. Charleston Loop! I’ve completed the Mt. Charleston loop in about 7.5 hours including the run from the Trail Canyon parking lot to the South Climb parking lot. Adding in Griffith Peak, Lee Peak and Mummy Mountain, the Mt. Charleston 4-Peak Circuit takes me a little under 12 hours, and that could be shortened to between 10 and 11 hours with a little more practice and conditioning.
On the other hand, the Griffith Peak / Harris Mountain Circuit took me 9hrs and 50 minutes! Why? Because only about 2.5 of those hours are on any kind of established trail. The rest of the journey: 7 hours and 20 minutes, is entirely off trail picking out the best route as you navigate untraveled ridges weaving around cliffs and rocky outcrop dead-ends via avalanche slopes on loose rock footing while dodging abundant fallen trees and finally, through the vortex of the Rainbow Sub-division! Much of the time these obstacles limit progress to a very slow, careful walk. The good news is that with this slow, careful progress, you may not be very tired at the end of the journey, or sore the next day.
All of the above factors contribute to immersion in the quite solitude of nature in a largely untouched wilderness area for an entire day. The last 7 hours and 10 minutes of the journey I did not see a soul, and the continual action of navigating obstacles and smoothing out the route helped create a peaceful, meditative mindset.
The circuit starts and ends at the South Climb Trailhead above Mt. Charleston village. For directions to the trailhead, see the Griffith Peak page.
This portion of the adventure takes about 3 hours. (For directions to the summit of Griffith Peak, see the Griffith Peak page.) Achieving the Griffith Peak summit takes me about 2 hours. The real adventure begins on the summit of Griffith Peak. The overall route directions from the 11,056 ft. summit of Griffith Peak to the 10,014 summit of Harris Mountain are pretty simple. From the summit of Griffith Peak get a site on Harris Mountain (see videos and pictures). You’ll travel the ridge between Griffith Peak and Harris Mountain. Along that ridge there are a few places where you will encounter a cliff dead-end. Without an exception, the best route (and pretty much the only route) around the dead-end cliff is to skirt the cliff to the right. In the first 2 instances, this means traversing an avalanche slope. The higher and closer to the base of the cliff you can navigate, the firmer your footing. On the other hand, the lower you traverse the avalanche slope, the more difficult your route becomes.
Fortunately, the final huge cliff before the Harris / Griffith saddle has a very decent trail down and along the right of the cliff, taking you easily to the saddle. The trail has great footing, but is not very well maintained and becomes faint or disappears now and then. You need to feel it out.
Once you get to the saddle, head straight up to Harris Mountain summit, about 4-500ft. Again, there is no trail, but you can pick your way by weaving around brushy areas and staying basically on the center of the ridge.
Harris Mountain Summit affords some unique views from the Eastern side of Kyle Canyon along the length of the canyon with Griffith Peak, the entire length of the South Ridge all the way to Charleston Peak and Lee Peak directly across at the Western end of the canyon. Simultaneously you can view the entire North Ridge of Kyle Canyon from Fletcher Peak to Mummy Mountain to Lee Peak. View the 4-Peak Circuit adventure.
Looking to the East you can clearly see the entire Desert National Wildlife Refuge, largest refuge in the lower 48 states including the Sheep Mountain Range and Gass Peak. For a closer look, see the Gass Peak page.
As you gaze toward the South, the Northern area of Las Vegas comes into view along with La Madre Mountains in the foreground. You can also see Bridge Mountain, Mt Wilson, North Peak and the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline along the Northern edge of Red Rock Park.
This portion of the adventure alone took about 4 hours due to navigating an untraveled ridge and then the vortex of the Rainbow Sub-Division. The descent begins by locating the basically gradual, steady ridge between the summit of Harris Mountain and the Rainbow Sub-Division. A combination of navigating along the left side of the ridge and heading toward Cathedral Rock helps keep you on track. On the other hand, if you allow yourself to stray to the right side of the ridge you may end up descending off-course to an end-point that would require a few hours to correct. The ridge wants to take you off to the right, so beware! There are a few rocky outcrops to navigate along the way down, but nothing too dramatic. Near the bottom, head off the ridge a little to the left and begin skirting the area above the Rainbow Sub-division. To set your direction, begin to head straight toward Cathedral Rock. It will soon disappear behind the lower ridges, but your course is basically set, and true.
You’ll be surprised at the length of this section of the journey. It seems endless, and could easily eat up an entire hour. You’re skirting ridges above the Rainbow Sub-division, at times able to pick out footing that looks like it might have one time been a trail, at other times trying to keep your footing on an avalanche slope. Where possible, keep Cathedral Rock in view. Actually the rock disappears behind ridges above the Rainbow Sub-division, only reappearing near the end of the journey. Cathedral rock helps you initially set your course near the beginning of the Rainbow Sub-division and near the final approach to the South Climb trailhead.
Near the South Climb trailhead the course actually becomes a well maintained dirt road, ultimately passing through the picnic area below the South Climb trailhead. Ascend up and slightly right to the parking lot of this picnic area, take a right in the lot and skirt to the left of an iron fence separating the picnic area parking lot from the South Climb parking lot. You’re back at your starting point!
7 Hours. 3 major trouble spots to work out: 1st bluff on descent, descending from the saddle to the base of Harris Mountain, route from the base of Harris Mountain to South Climb Trailhead. Not looking promising at this point to tie this peak onto the existing 4-peak circuit!