Harris Mountain Triangle
| Mt Charleston Wilderness, Nevada
Complete Harris Mt. Triangle Adventure
Eastern Ridge Baseline Exploration
Overview – Harris Mountain Triangle | Mt Charleston Wilderness, Nevada
What is The Harris Mountain Triangle?
Viewed from Kyle Canyon’s Fletcher Canyon Trailhead parking area in Nevada’s Mt. Charleston Wilderness, the Eastern and Western approach ridges to Harris Mountain form two sides of a triangle with Harris Mountain Summit at the apex. The base of the triangle is Kyle Canyon Road and the parallel Acastus Trail. In this adventure, beginning at the Fletcher Canyon Trailhead, we will take the Acastus Trail East to connect with the Escarpment Trail. Then we’ll circle above the Escarpment in a counterclockwise direction from West to East. From the upper East side of the Escarpment, we’ll ascend the Eastern approach ridge to Harris Mountain Summit. Then we’ll descend the Western approach ridge to connect with Rainbow Ridge Road at the base of that ridge in the Rainbow Subdivision. Finally, we’ll circle the base of the Western Approach Ridge on Forest Road 579, reconnect with the Acastus Trail and return to our starting point at the Fletcher Canyon Trailhead parking area.
These are huge wilderness ridges with no trails, ascending an elevation of about 3,000ft from Fletcher Canyon Trailhead to Harris Mountain Summit. There are rocky stretches on the ridges that require some light class 3 rock climbing skills. It’s possible to weave around the rocks to make it to and from Harris Mountain summit without exceeding light class 3 climbing. In places there is thick brush. However, it’s possible with some thoughtful care to weave around and between the brush without disturbing any living thing. No “bush whacking”! Rather, practice “bush weaving”. Tread lightly, you are on sacred, fairly untouched ground. In fact, total time on trails for me (Acastus, Escarpment, Rainbow Ridge Rd., Forest Rd 579) was about 90 minutes. Total time in the pathless wilderness was about 10 and a half hours!
It’s an amazing wilderness immersion, spending the greater part of a day on ground that has no trace of any prior human passage. In fact, the sun went down and I was caught in pitch black (no moonlight) darkness descending the final quarter-mile wilderness stretch of the Western Approach Ridge and the sketchy roads below. This was no problem because I had descended and ascended that ridge 4 times previously and was familiar with the ridge. I suggest taking this adventure in sections at first. Become familiar with the Western Approach Ridge backwards and forwards. Then, take the triangle in a clockwise direction saving the Western Ridge until last…just in case you’re caught there after sundown.
Spectacular Views Along the Way
Views up and down Kyle Canyon from the approach ridges an Harris Mountain are spectacular including Harris Mountain, Griffith Peak, Charleston Peak, Lee Peak, Mummy Mountain and Fletcher Peak. In the distance there is Angel Peak, the Sheep Range, Gass Peak, the Las Vegas Valley, the La Madre Mountains, the Rainbow Mountains, Lovell Canyon, Potosi Mountain and too many points beyond to list here!
Best Time of Year for This Adventure
The best time of year for this adventure is from mid-June through mid-August. This helps avoid encountering snow during late Fall through late Spring. In addition, it ensures the long daylight hours you will need to complete the triangle.
Route Starting Point Directions – Harris Mountain Triangle | Mt Charleston Wilderness, Nevada
This adventure begins at the Fletcher Canyon Trailhead on Kyle Canyon Road below Charleston Village outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. Driving to the Fletcher Canyon Trailhead is pretty easy: Up I-95 North from Las Vegas, take a left at the Kyle Canyon exit, continue about 20 miles up Kyle Canyon Road, pass the traffic circle at The Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway, pass the Deer Creek Road turnoff and Mt Charleston Lodge and then onward for less than a quarter mile to The Fletcher Canyon Trailhead parking on your left. In all, it’s less than 40 miles from the Las Vegas Strip.
Alternately, for a more gradual incline, but longer overall distance, you could catch the Eastern Approach Ridge beginning at the Visitor Gateway and ascending the Escarpment Trail. However, the limitation here is that the Visitor Gateway parking area is gated, and the gate opens later in the morning than you want to start, and potentially closes before you return…with your vehicle locked inside!!
Route Observations – Harris Mountain Triangle | Mt Charleston Wilderness, Nevada
- Map: Wide Green Route for Eastern Approach Ridge; Blue Route for Summit Ridge and Western Approach Ridge Descent. Take route in clockwise direction.
- Video: First Video (Complete long wide triangle adventure); Second Video (Initial baseline exploration of potential Eastern approach ridges and their access points)
The challenging stretches of The Harris Mountain Triangle are the two sides, Eastern and Western approach ridges leading up to the apex, Harris Mountain. The base of the triangle, Kyle Canyon Road and its parallel Acastus Trail are easy to navigate, and serve mainly to get you toe and from the approach ridges. Fletcher Canyon Trailhead sits at the center of the base of the Harris Mountain Triangle, nearly directly below Harris Mountain Summit.
The goal is to navigate The Harris Mountain Triangle mostly at the class 2 climbing level, basically walking, with a few if any brief, light class 3, use of hands needed, areas.
Baseline Acastus Trail Fully Documented
The baseline Acastus Trail, running parallel to Kyle Canyon Road between the base of The Western Approach Ridge and The Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway is fully documented.
Western Approach Ridge Fully Documented
The Western Approach Ridge is already tested, documented and mapped out in a number of prior adventures:
- Fletcher Canyon to Harris Mountain
- Fletcher Canyon > Harris Mountain > Griffith Peak Circuit
- Harris/Griffith Circuit
- Griffith/Harris Circuit
Both the Eastern and Western Approach Ridges are now fully documented with details, video and images. The Western Approach Ridge is pretty simple: One ridge, one route. Though, you could descend Harris Mountain by another lower, amore gradual ridge just West of the higher ridge. See the alternate descent on the video on this page. Having descended by both ridges, I prefer the higher ridge.
Eastern Approach Ridge:
This ridge is more complicated. There are actually two ridges with three potential routes. I have tested, verified and documented the first (video, images and description on this page). The other two may require more advanced climbing skills…maybe not. Not sure.
- Long Eastern Approach Ridge Route (Green): This route, completely tested and documented on this page and video, navigates the longest, most gradual version of the Eastern Approach Ridge in an overall clockwise direction beginning at The Fletcher Canyon Trailhead, then navigating East down The Acastus Trail, looping the Escarpment Trail (counterclockwise), then accessing the Eastern Approach Ridge above the Eastern edge of the Escarpment Trail.
- Cut-Off Route (Purple): This untested route is potentially the shortest, most direct route up the Eastern Approach Ridge ascending almost directly from the Fletcher Canyon Trailhead and bypassing the challenging mid-ridge rocky stretch.
- Short Ridge Route (Blue): This untested route is an intermediate ridge creating a shorter version of the Harris Mountain Triangle (compared to the green route). There is a challenging mid-ridge rocky stretch that could require more extensive rock climbing capabilities.
Initial Exploration: Scoping Out the Access Areas of the 3 Eastern Approach Ridge Routes
The “Initial Exploration” video on this page documents the three above routes from their access areas, along with enlarged video views of the routes taken from below. This video shows the process of identifying and scoping out these three routes. The slide show shows enlarged photos of sections of the ridge above.
Complete Harris Mountain Triangle Following Long, Green Route, Clockwise Direction
Fletcher Canyon Trailhead to Acastus, Escarpment Trails and Base of Harris Mountain Eastern Approach Ridge
From the Fletcher Canyon Trailhead parking area, cross the bridge behind the restroom and take a left onto the Acastus Trail. This trail weaves along roads through a camping area then resumes heading East toward The Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway. Just below the Gateway, keep to your right. Notice the Escarpment cliff line above. You’re going to take the Escarpment Trail around the upper Western edge of those cliffs and follow it as it circles above the cliff line. When you reach the Eastern end of the cliff line, just before the trail begins to circle around and head below the cliffs, there is a bench. This bench marks your departure point from the trail to the Harris Mountain Eastern Approach Ridge.
First Two High Points on Eastern Approach Ridge
As you’re standing at the bench on the Escarpment Trail, look up to the Southeast to see an obvious huge hill. That hill is the first of many high points on the Eastern Approach Ridge. Carefully weave through the brush toward that hill and begin ascending the near side to the summit. The brush will soon begin to thin out (in about a hundred yards) and it will become easier to pick out a pathway to the summit of the hill. There are numerous animal paths.
Once on the summit of that first hill, look ahead to the next high point. There is a shallow, easy saddle between the two. Cross the saddle and weave around to ascend the second high point. Notice by now that the Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway and Kyle Canyon below are getting pretty small and distant as more expansive views open in all directions.
It’s always a question whether you’re going to reach a dead-end cliff barrier until you summit a high point and see a new way opening before you. This will be your experience along the entire length of the Eastern Approach Ridge.
Cliffs Ahead on the Ridge!
Once at the summit of the second high point (by now you’ve ascended about 800ft above that Escarpment Trail bench) you’re facing an imposing cliff face ahead. No worries, you’re going to navigate around and above the left side of that cliff face without climbing anything vertical…at least not completely vertical!
Proceed to your left along the base of the cliffs. You’re on a steep, loose rocky slope. I call this stretch “the terrible traverse”. As you round the base of the cliffs, look up to see a route that will take you to the upper center of the Eastern Approach Ridge above the cliffs. Just head up! Weave around brush and boulders on this very steep, loose rock stretch. You’re never really exposed to a fall, but it’s sure steep, and the rock is very loose! It is here that I experienced a condition climbers refer to as “sewing machine leg”, where your leg begins to uncontrollably shake, even when you mind remains calm and under control. You leg is telling you, “This is very steep and horrifying!”, even though your mind is saying, “Logically I can handle this.” In this case both your leg and your mind are right! Deal with it!
Upper Center of the Eastern Approach Ridge
Big relief…you made it to the upper center of the Eastern Approach Ridge! Now the remaining stretch all the way to Harris Mountain summit is pretty much a “walk in the park”! There are a number of false summits along the way, and some rocky sections to navigate, but as you approach the difficult looking places, easy routes become clear through the rocks. It’s all class 2 all the way to Harris Mountain summit. Enjoy the spectacular view in all directions. Enjoy the untouched wilderness ridge you are traversing. It’s all wild and beautiful. You will see no signs of prior human passage. You’ll feel as if you are the first human to set foot in this magical place!
Imposing Disappearing Ledge
From below, the next high point appears to be guarded by an imposing ledge. No worries. Continue upward. As you approach the ledge, a way will open up requiring absolutely no climbing. You will literally walk through and above the ledge.
Ponderosa Pine Forests and Harris Mountain False Summit
Continuing upward, you’re now in a beautiful ponderosa pine forest and approaching what looks like Harris Mountain summit. You’re roughly at the same altitude as the summit. It should be the summit…but it’s not! When you top that high point it’s clear that the true summit is still nearly a half mile ahead. This false summit is so prominent that it has its own summit mound (no summit box).
Standing on the false summit and looking ahead toward the true summit this is what you see: A steep ledge at the edge of the false summit and a long, narrow rocky saddle stretching ahead toward Harris Mountain summit. It looks like a lot, but actually, it will all go fast and easily.
Harris Mountain Final Summit Approach
That ledge at the edge of the false summit is not so imposing once you back up a little and head down about 10 feet to the left (East) base of the ledge. Hug the base of the ledge as you round it to arrive at the spine of the ridge/saddle. There’s plenty of room along the base of the ledge, and once you’re once again on the center of the ridge below the ledge it’s a nice walk across the saddle to Harris Mountain summit. You won’t even notice the few intervening rocky areas that looked more challenging from above.
Harris Mountain Summit
Enjoy Harris Mountain summit when you arrive. The Eastern Approach Ridge was quite an accomplishment! Harris Mountain is my favorite summit in the Spring Mountains for four reasons:
- It’s always Spring on Harris Mountain summit: At least between June and September. Summit flowers are always in bloom. Actually, the only other season is Winter with its snow. Two seasons: Spring and Winter.
- Spectacular 360-degree summit view: The summit area is small and prominent, so you can stand in one place and simply turn to see spectacular views in all directions.
- Blessed Solitude: Since every approach to Harris Mountain summit is remote, chances are great that you’ll be the only person on the summit. I’ve never seen anyone on Harris Mountain summit in the 6-8 times I’ve stood there.
- Rare Acastus Butterfly Sightings: Every time I’ve been on Harris Mountain’s remote summit an Acastus Butterfly has shown up. The rare Acastus Butterfly is found only in the Spring Mountains and nowhere else in the world, so seeing one land on a flower right at your feet and stay there to pose while you take pictures is quite a memorable experience. And, earlier in the summer there are swarms of migrating ladybugs. I’ve never seen so many in one place!
Descending the Western Approach Ridge
It took me 9 hours to get to Harris Mountain summit from the Fletcher Canyon Trailhead parking area by the Eastern Approach Ridge. Add a couple hours for filming and, being mid-August, you can imagine there were only a couple hours of light left in the day…this with a huge, wild, pathless descent ridge still ahead!
First, get your bearings. There are 4 ridges you could descend and you don’t want to head down the wrong one. I’ve linked them to their individual adventures:
- The Eastern Approach Ridge you just ascended: You probably will find it easy to avoid this ridge. You were just on it.
- The Wilson Ridge: This will take you down to Lovell Canyon…way off course!
- The Saddle to Griffith Peak: You’d better be prepared to spend the night in the wilderness. This is a very long way home!
- The Western Approach Ridge: You want this ridge. The reason for linking it to another adventure is that today I ran out of light on the ridge and didn’t do a lot of filming. The linked adventure documents the ridge better.
So, start out by getting your bearings so you head down the right ridge! Actually, as you’re standing on Harris Mountain Summit, you’re at the apex of a huge triangle facing Kyle Canyon below. To your right is the Eastern Approach Ridge. And immediately to your left is the Western Approach Ridge. From the summit, you can see nearly the entire length of the ridge before you stretching all the way down to Kyle Canyon below. There’s a prominent narrow high point at the bottom of the ridge, where the final descent disappears. See the slide show on this page. Keep your focus on that narrow high point. You can see it pretty much all the way down as you’re descending the ridge. With your focus on that high point below, you’ll stay on course and have an enjoyable, successful descent. Keep to your right, hug the edge of the ridge just above where it drops off in that direction.
The Sections of The Western Approach Ridge
Though it’s not as complicated or long as the Eastern Approach Ridge, and you’re going downhill all the way, the Western Approach Ridge is still a long, pathless wilderness ridge and no small feat.
Let’s break the Western Approach Ridge down into sections:
- Bristlecone Pine Forest Stretch: This is the first stretch as you descend, very beautiful. As you weave through the forest, you’re guided by the sight of that sharp high point below and keeping close to the right edge of the ridge.
- Aspen Burn Area Stretch: Beneath the Bristlecone Pine stretch there’s a huge hill populated by young aspen trees and fallen logs from the former burn (I believe, The Carpenter Fire Burn of 2013). Be careful here and in the burn areas below. The young plants hide the uneven surface beneath you where there are potholes and small drop-offs, dangerous enough to sprain an ankle or break a bone. And remember, you’re probably alone! In addition, the fallen logs may be unstable, and there are sharp, broken branches that could skewer you good! I recommend you carefully place each step and not put your full weight on any log or boulder unless you are 100% sure it is well anchored.
- Grassy Hill Stretch: This is below the Aspen Burn Area Stretch, and also a recovering burn area. This time, slick, long grass is underfoot, hiding the surface beneath and, there are even more fallen trees to weave around or, in some cases to climb over. Same precautions apply as the stretch above. In this case, be sure that both ends of any log you stand on are well anchored before you place your full weight on the log.
- Ponderosa Pine Stretch: Now you’re again in a forest. The going is easier, the slope less steep. Just be sure to hug the upper right edge of the ridge and you should stay on course. In a few places you will need to circle the left side of rocky areas, but always return to the upper right edge of the ridge as soon as you are able.
- Long Burn Area: Now you’re approaching that sharp, lowest point you could see on the ridge from above on Harris Mountain summit. It’s the point that you’ve been using as your guiding reference all the way down the ridge. You’re now weaving through the white skeletons of burned mountain mahogany trees along with many fallen logs. Still, there are enough open areas on this stretch for you to easily stay on the upper right edge of the ridge. It’s a relatively easy walk in most places.
- Lower Ridge Above the Rainbow Subdivision: As you approach the lower end of the ridge and the Rainbow Subdivision comes into view below to your left, begin to angle downward and to your left toward the subdivision. I ran out of daylight here, but was guided by the lights in the houses below. This section is very steep with loose rock, wiry mountain mahogany skeletons and fallen logs. Still, it’s possible to switchback your way down the slope. If you’re lucky, you will see below a yellow roadway diamond sigh with the word, “DIP” This is your target as the sign is on Rainbow Ridge Road at the base of the ridge. No more wilderness…roads all the way home!
- Rainbow Ridge Road: Take this road along the left (West) base of the Western Approach Ridge. At the very lower end of the ridge, make a right turn onto Forest Road 579. Of course, these roads are unmarked, so you won’t see their names, except on the map on this page when you enlarge it.
- Forest Road 579: After turning right onto this road you will round the lower base of the Western Approach Ridge. The designation “road” is questionable as there are some points where it becomes a grassy path and you need to assume that continuing on the path is continuing on the road. Eventually, the road begins to look like a road again. There will be a sharp descent. At the base of the descent, there’s a fork in the road. The right fork heads upward. Don’t take that fork. Rather, take the left fork which continues downward toward Kyle Canyon Road. You’ll arrive at a fenced off Forest Service complex. Continue along the fence to where the road is gated off. There’s a passageway through the left side of the gate. Once through the gate take a right onto the Acastus Trail!
- Acastus Trail Stretch: The Acastus Trail runs parallel to Kyle Canyon Road and skirts the Forest Service complex. Just continue for about a quarter mile and you’ll see the Fletcher Canyon Trailhead parking area across the wash to your left. Cross the bridge over the wash, round the restroom and you’re back at your start point!
I actually did #6-9 above in pitch black darkness with only my mobile phone light. Yes, I know I should have had a head lamp, but not today! Still, prior familiarity with the ridge saved the day and that final stretch in the dark was actually peaceful (except for the barking dog in the Rainbow Subdivision)!
Completing The Harris Mountain Triangle creates a pretty legendary adventure and life memory with a wilderness feeling, images and a sense of accomplishment that will endure! Enjoy!
A Few Final Precautions
As mentioned above, learn the route by taking it in shorter sections and becoming familiar with each stretch on the route before attempting the entire Harris Mountain Triangle. There are a lot of places where you can go off course and end up on some ridge or steep slope or in some remote canyon in the dark.
Prior familiarity with the route and surrounding area can give you many exit points and save you from a world of hurt. Before attempting the Harris Mountain Triangle I had become very familiar with the Western Approach Ridge, Harris Mountain Summit, the Wilson Ridge and the Harris/Griffith Saddle, along with all the distant reference points.
Add to this many years of wilderness navigation experience. In addition, I selected a clear day with little to no chance of heavy cloud cover or rain. A thunderstorm could have easily changed the entire nature of this experience creating a potentially horrifying turn of events!