Overview – Kraft Mountain, Gateway Canyon Loop | Calico Basin , Nevada
Gateway Canyon – Frequent Wrong Turn
Many hikers have mistakenly taken this route thinking they are on the Kraft Mountain Loop. I made this very mistake on my first attempt to do the Kraft Mountain Loop! In fact, during today’s adventure, I redirected 2 groups of appreciative hikers back to the Kraft Mountain Loop. Here’s how that error happens: Either way you take the Kraft Mountain Loop, you end up in Gateway Canyon for part of that loop.
Counterclockwise Kraft Mountain Loop Mistakenly Too Far up Gateway Canyon
If you take the Kraft Mountain Loop counterclockwise from the parking area, as soon as you reach the far edge of Kraft Mountain and begin to circle the mountain up a narrow canyon along it’s East side, that canyon is Gateway Canyon. It’s possible to mistakenly miss the next turn of the Kraft Mountain Loop and continue up Gateway Canyon beyond Kraft Mountain instead of circling Kraft Mountain and heading up Pink Goblin Pass.
Clockwise Kraft Mountain Loop, Wrong Turn Up Gateway Canyon
On the other hand, if you take the Kraft Mountain Loop in a clockwise direction heading up Pink Goblin Pass, when you descend from the pass into a canyon wash, that’s Gateway Canyon. Unless you take a sharp right in Gateway Canyon to finish the Kraft Mountain Loop you will continue mistakenly heading up Gateway Canyon.
Either way the mistake is made, to head too far up Gateway Canyon turns the intended relatively easy 3-4-mile Kraft Mountain Loop into a 10-12 mile adventure packed with class 3 climbing stretches and avalanche slopes!
Intentional Adventure on the Gateway Canyon Loop
On this day I intentionally set out to head up Gateway Canyon thinking it might be a short cut to Damsel Peak. Wrong! Between figuring out the best way to navigate 10-15 class 3 and class 3 barriers, I ate up so much time that I decided to just make a large loop out of Gateway Canyon, continuing all the way to Brownstone Basin at the base of Damsel Peak, and then taking Brownstone Basin down to a cross-over point back to Kraft Mountain. I call this the Gateway Canyon Loop.
Advantages of Taking the Gateway Canyon Loop
First of all, Gateway Canyon is beautiful with towering rock walls on either side of a narrow passage way. Gateway Canyon is also interesting with 10-15 unique dry waterfalls to navigate, each one requiring careful study for a best route. I did end up with a brief 15-20ft class 4 climb up a crack in the rock wall, but in all, the climbing portions were more interesting than scary…even to this non-climbing trail runner.
Another advantage of the Gateway Canyon Loop is the many alternative routes that present themselves. I came across no less than 12 alternative routes including a few routes over the ridge and into Red Rock Park, a couple routes to the summit of Turtlehead Peak, a few routes over into Brownstone Basin and up the canyons into the ridges between Gateway Canyon and Brownstone Basin, a route to the summit of La Madre Mountain (up the notch between La Madre and El Padre Mountains) and a couple routes to the summit of Damsel Peak.
And there are dramatic variations in the landscape between stark rock walls rising up on either side to more gentle colorful Jurassic era sandstone hills and cliffs with a range of plant and animal life that is equally varied. Views include the Rainbow Mountains, Potosi Mountain, Turtlehead Peak, La Madre Mountain, El Padre Mountain, Damsel Peak, Gass Peak, Frenchman Mountain and the Las Vegas Strip perfectly framed between hills and rock walls. All this and more makes the Gateway Canyon Loop quite the photo tour!
Trekking poles come in handy on the avalanche slopes but my non-collapsible yucca poles were a disadvantage while navigating the class 3 – class 4 stretches, taking one hand out of the stability mix in order to carry the poles.
Trailhead Directions – Kraft Mountain, Gateway Canyon Loop | Calico Basin , Nevada
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.
Route Observations – Kraft Mountain, Gateway Canyon Loop | Calico Basin , Nevada
Gateway Canyon NOT a Fast Approach to Damsel Peak
The video will show that I intended to take Gateway Canyon as a short cut to the South climbing route up Damsel Peak. Wrong decision! If you’re going to summit Damsel Peak from the Kraft Mountain parking area, it’s better to head East across the base of Kraft Mountain and then continue over to Brownstone Basin. The video on this page will show the stretch of the Gateway Canyon Loop from Brownstone Basin and back to Kraft Mountain that, if taken in reverse would be one of the quickest ways to reach the summit route of Damsel Peak. Another route to Damsel Peak’s South summit approach is to begin near Hwy 215 and Charleston Blvd. Navigating Gateway Canyon eats up too much time for a Damsel Peak adventure, especially during a first-time tour while taking videos and photos!
Damsel Peak Adventure Becomes a Gateway Canyon Loop Adventure
So, this adventure quickly focused on Gateway Canyon and a Gateway Canyon Loop. I began by heading from the Kraft Mountain parking area up through Pink Goblin Pass on the West side of Kraft Mountain. Though the incline is fairly dramatic, the trail is excellent and the views of the intricate colorful Jurassic era sandstone formations of Kraft Mountain, the Calico Hills and surrounding landscape are incredible!
Descending from Pink Goblin Pass into Gateway Canyon
As you begin to descend from the summit of Pink Goblin Pass, there are 2 trails splitting off to the right. Take the second split down into Gateway Canyon if you’re intending to do the Kraft Mountain Loop. On the other hand, if you want to head up Gateway canyon continue down the main trail down the opposite side of Pink Goblin Pass until it lands in the Gateway Canyon wash. Before landing in Gateway Canyon wash, I noticed a few potential routes heading off to the left, up and over into Red Rock Park. In addition, from the summit of Pink Goblin Pass one could explore Kraft mountain and potentially reach the summit. I haven’t yet tried this and so cannot attest to the difficulty factor.
Arrival in Gateway Canyon Wash
Once you’ve landed in Gateway Canyon Wash, you have one last chance to do the Kraft Mountain Loop by taking a U-turn down Gateway Canyon. On this day I continued up Gateway Canyon. At first the going is level, through sometimes deep fine sand and gravel. There are a couple additional routes up to the left and a couple to the right up the surrounding ridges. But within about 1/8th mile the canyon narrows and the surrounding walls become steep, high cliffs. Still, a few openings can be found to the right and the left up the ridges.
Navigating Gateway Canyon’s Dry Waterfalls
Within about 1/8th mile you will begin navigating a series of class 3 dry waterfalls that come one after the other with only a 1-200 feet between. Welcome to Gateway Canyon! The series of dry waterfalls does not end all the way through Gateway Canyon to Brownstone Basin. There are a few places where you find yourself faced with an impassible 20-30ft high cliff barrier. Fortunately, there are always cliff bypass routes to the left or the right. By the way, don’t attempt this route when the rocks are wet or on a rainy day!!
Route Choices Nearing Brownstone Basin
As you near Brownstone Basin the dry waterfalls taper off and the Jurassic Red and White frozen sand dunes begin to appear. The sandstone surface offers more traction, is gentler and easier to navigate (only when dry). The surroundings become more artistic and beautiful with lone pine trees growing out of the colorful sandstone surface.
As you near Brownstone Basin potential routes appear:
- The first hard right turn is a canyon leading upward into the hills sandstone hills. This may summit and then descend on the other side. I have not checked it out yet.
- The second is straight ahead and down into the Brownstone Basin. I have not check this out, but it may be the most direct route out of Gateway Canyon and down into Brownstone Basin. However, there may be hidden obstacles and drop-offs.
- The other route leads upward toward Turtlehead Peak. This is the route I took.
Diversion Toward Turtlehead Peak Summit
I chose to head upward onto the Eastern slopes of Turtlehead Peak because I had previously descended and ascended those slopes a number of times to and from the Brownstone Basin wash. I knew that would work. At first the going was easy and the view was beautiful as I ascended a large wide white sandstone slope. The slope continued to where it became loose rock skirting the East side cliffs of Turtlehead Peak. I continued to rise along the base of those cliffs, up to just 800ft below the summit. I could have continued on and may well have hit the main Turtlehead Peak trail from Red Rock Park’s Sandstone Quarry Trailhead.
Descending Turtlehead Peak Down into Brownstone Basin
However, about half way around the base of the Turtlehead Peak Cliffs and by now on the East side gradual slopes of Turtlehead Peak it seemed a good place to descend into Brownstone Basin. I headed down to what looked like an opening a bit to the right. It was taking a chance because if that opening ended in cliffs or impassible brush, I’d need to turn North looking for the next potential spot to break through to the Brownstone Basin wash. The opening did indeed bypass cliff ledges. However, between the bottom of the canyon and the Brownstone Basin wash there was a 40ft wall of thick brush! So close, I had to go for it. Fortunately, by removing only dry dead branches I was able to make it to the Brownstone Basin wash!
Down Brownstone Basin Wash
Once in the wash, I took a right and headed downward toward a point where I could take a right and traverse the remaining distance to my starting point at Kraft Mountain. The wash is easy to navigate with the only obstacle being the deep sand and gravel surface. Eventually an unpaved road appears as you continue down the wash. The big question is when to turn right (West) out of the wash and over toward Kraft Mountain. There are a few actual trails. I have taken some of these before, but they involve more class 3 stretches and avalanche slopes. I’d had enough of that for a day in Gateway Canyon.
When to Turn Right (East) Toward Kraft Mountain
I continued down past a peak and then a cliff face to the right (West). The key is to turn right and emerge from the wash near the same altitude as the Kraft Mountain parking lot. This means descending to around 3,700ft before turning right. If you don’t have an altimeter or GPS, just take that right after passing the peak and the cliff section.
Final Stretch to Kraft Mountain
Once you’ve taken the right out of Brownstone Basin it’s just a matter of heading straight for Kraft Mountain, which will appear after topping a couple of intervening ridges.
As you near Kraft Mountain, watch for a trail that will guide you to where you can easily cross the last intervening wash to connect with the lower portion of the Kraft Mountain Loop that skirts the Southern base of Kraft mountain leading you to the parking area where you began. That last intervening wash to cross is, of course, lower Gateway Canyon wash!
Everything I have described along this entire route is clearly pictured in the slide show and video on this page.