In the course of this amazing adventure you will pass through relatively untouched wilderness between Upper Lee Meadows on Lee Canyon Road and the summit of Lee Peak towering above Lee Canyon. The elevation gain is about 3,500 feet. You will need good wilderness navigation skills and the ability to navigate steep avalanche slopes. Otherwise, the entire adventure is pretty easy class 2 climbing skills (use of hands not needed).
This was my second ascent (third descent) of the Lee Canyon mid-ridge so this time I streamlined the route and ended up cutting over 1.5 hours off my previous time on the mid-ridge. The entire round trip from Upper Lee Meadows to Lee Peak summit and back was about 10 hours minus filming, one route diversion below Lee Peak and rest time.
Halfway down the Mid Ridge there is a gully/gap in the cliffs. On previous trips I wondered if this gully could be continued downward to the Lee Canyon Eastern ski run. The answer is yes. You end up at the Lee Canyon ski run, ski lift, lodge and activity park, all in full operation during the Summer months. From there you can connect with Lee Canyon Road and return to Upper Lee Meadows. Interesting alternative route. Good to know how everything connects in the mountains, but I prefer the mid-ridge route.
The view along this route are spectacular including Mummy Mountain from a number of different perspectives, the Sheep Range, Fletcher Peak, Harris Mountain, La Madre Mountain, Frenchman Mountain, Griffith Peak, Charleston Peak, McFarland Peak, Macks Peak, Kyle Canyon, Lee Canyon, The Sisters South, North and Black Rock Sister. Basically, you’re seeing most of the Spring Mountain Range.
The Summer months between June and September are the best time of year for this Lee Peak summit route. The Winter snows will have melted and the temperature along the route should be around 70-80 degrees, even when the temperatures in Las Vegas Valley top 110 degrees. However, as I experienced on this mid-July day, though Las Vegas Valley temperatures were 107-112 degrees, know that you can experience thunder, lightning, rain and a hail storm that turns the ground icy white and converts trails into fast flowing streams while suddenly dropping the temperature into the 30’s. Steep avalanche slopes become waterlogged and rocks that were not anchored down well break loose and hurtle down the slopes. Not a huge problem, but it’s always good to be prepared.
Take Hwy 95 North from Las Vegas. Turn left onto Lee Canyon Road (Hwy 156). Continue on Lee Canyon Road about 16 miles. You’ll continue on Lee Canyon Road past the intersection with Deer Creek Road. Park across from the Lee Canyon Meadow where there is a long paved parking strip.
Beginning at the parking area on the East (left) side of Lee Canyon Road at Upper Lee Meadows, ascend the steep slope behind that parking area. At the top of the slope things level out. Angle right to connect with an old unused road that will take you to a large green water reservoir. This marks the beginning of the Lee Canyon Mid-Ridge. Note that if you took a left at the reservoir and headed down into the next canyon (Foxtail Canyon), you would land in the middle of the abandoned Girl Scouts camp there. But today, you will be ascending the ridge that begins at the water reservoir.
Though there is no trail on the approximately 3-4-mile Lee Canyon Mid-Ridge, the navigation strategy is pretty simple. The mid-ridge between Upper Lee Meadows and the upper Mt. Charleston North Loop Trail at the ridge summit can be divided into an upper and lower half. The halfway point is marked by a gully/gap in the cliff line.
During the lower half of the mid-ridge circumvent all rocky barriers, cliffs and bluffs to the right (West) while staying as close to the center of the ridge as possible. Hug the lower edge of cliffs and barriers where you will find a narrow passage way above the steep avalanche slopes below. There is no dangerous exposure on the right (West) side of the rocky barriers. However, the East (left) side of the ridge is a vertical cliff during the lower half of the Lee Canyon mid-ridge.
During the upper half of the mid-ridge circumvent all rocky barriers to the left (East) side. However, in this case, do not hug the lower edge of the rocks, bluffs and cliffs. Rather, follow a VERY faint trail (looks like no one has used it for a decade) about 50-200 feet below the summit of the ridge. The faint trail provides some stability on the otherwise steep avalanche slopes. Near the summit of the mid-ridge just below where it connects with the Mt. Charleston Upper North Loop Trail, head straight up a 200ft avalanche slope angled so steeply that every step is about an 18-inche elevation gain. I call this section “The Ladder” for obvious reasons.
Stick to the center of the Lee Canyon mid-ridge as long as you can during this lower half stretch. There are a few rocky barriers that you will skirt to the right, always rising up again to the center of the ridge. Some awesome viewpoints reveal numerous approaches from the Foxtail Canyon area upward to the Lee/Kyle Canyon Summit Rim. At one point you can see the cave opening of Foxtail Springs and trace the summit ridge approach above the springs. Spectacular views continue to open up all along the way and you can see the Lee Canyon ski area and Upper Bristlecone Pine Trailhead below.
Eventually, you will need to circumvent an approximately 50-yard long cliff line, hugging the narrow passageway along its lower base above the avalanche slopes. The narrow passageway is wide enough to comfortably stand and walk and it is pretty stable. Even if you fell, you would still be on a slope that would stop your fall. No real exposure here.
Soon after the above mentioned 50-yard stretch you will see an obvious opening in the cliff line to your left. This is what I call the “Gully/Gap” in the lower cliffs. This opening will take you up through the cliffs back to the center of the mid-ridge. There is a brief class 3 scramble over a small 4-foot rise, but otherwise the gully/gap is easy to navigate. Once you arrive on the center of the ridge the incline decreases and there is a beautiful, wide bristlecone pine forest during the next 1/4th mile ascent on the Lee Canyon mid-ridge. You’re at about 9,500ft and rising during this stretch.
After about 1/4th mile on this restful open ridge line stretch, you’re faced with your next rocky bluff. Just below the bluff and to the East (left side) watch for a very faint trail. It’s not actually a trail, but you can see that people or animals (or both) have used it in the past. This faint trail will continue about 200ft below the upper ridge line and give you some relief from the steep slopes above and below. When you see a blue sky horizon (on clear days) above, take a sharp right to ascend a couple hundred feet to that upper ridge where you will connect with the Mt. Charleston Upper North Loop Trail!
Total timing to this point, once you have gotten the hang of the ridge (during your second or third ascent), is comparable to the timing to that same spot on the Mt. Charleston Upper North Loop Trail if you had begun at the Trail Canyon Trailhead in Kyle Canyon.
Take a right onto the Mt. Charleston North Loop Trail. You are now only between 1-2 miles from the summit of Lee Peak! The North Loop Trail begins with a fairly gradual incline. At first you’ll notice a high slope to your right. This leads to the summit area of the fairly level, long plateau you saw on the ridgeline from below in Lee Canyon. The plateau area above you is about one eighth mile long. Where the North Loop Trail arrives at the upper edge of the plateau area there is a camping spot or two for those who want to make the ascent to Charleston Peak a two-day event. Curiously, at this spot there is a faint trail leading around the outer edge of the plateau area. Could this be an alternate descent into Lee Canyon? At some point we’ll see.
Not long after the camping spot the North Loop Trail will dramatically rise up angling to the right. After weaving around and upward you will arrive at a first plateau viewpoint. On this day, I mistakenly thought that viewpoint was the marker for the Lee Peak final summit ascent, so I took a right off the trail angling upwards. Turns out it rose to a high point with a spectacular view, but there ahead and above was Lee Peak! I had to descend back to the plateau and continue further along the North Loop Trail to a close grouping of two plateau viewpoints (plateaus #2 and #3). The true ascent to Lee Peak was at the 3rd plateau (there is a small rock pile there marking the spot).
At the 3rd plateau take a right off the North Loop Trail and angle up the slope. You are now on the final quarter-mile approach to Lee Peak Summit. There is no trail, but you will see signs of others having passed that way. Weave around the rocks trying to stay as high on the slope as you can just below the rocky ledge at the top of the slope.
When you can go upward no further and see a summit box, you’ve arrived on Lee Peak Summit! The views are spectacular and include all the points of interest I indicated in the introduction above. I forgot to mention, you can also see large portions of Las Vegas, Pahrump and on a very clear day, all the way to Telescope Peak on the far side of Death Valley!
Most days during the Summer have beautiful clear blue skies with spectacular views. On this day I was in the midst of a thunderstorm with lightning, rain and hail. Still, I got a few nice pictures and videos on the summit until my camera stopped working. All those great pictures and videos of the ground white with hail stones and trails turned into fast-flowing streams during the initial descent simply did not work. Camera shut-down! It only began to operate again half-way down the Lee Canyon Mid-Ridge during the descent. My descriptions of how to locate the mid-ridge descent from the North Loop Trail…gone!
That gully-gap halfway down the Lee Canyon Mid-Ridge will actually take you to the top of the Lee Canyon East ski run and down to the ski lodge. It’s fairly easy to navigate and a nice relief if you’re tired of navigating the ridge. However, I prefer the ridge. When I hit the ski run and looked up, I noticed a few additional potential approaches to the Lee/Kyle Canyon summit rim which I may try in the future. However, the mid-ridge appears to be the most gradual, friendliest approach to the Lee/Kyle Canyon summit rim while the approaches that go straight up from the ski run appear to have a number of rocky ledges to navigate.
While traversing wild areas with no trails I refrain from disturbing any plant life and try to leave the smallest print possible along with no trace. I don’t like the phrase “Bush Whacking” – I “whack” nothing, and so prefer the phrase “Bush Weaving“. On steep avalanche slopes be careful not to put your full weight on any object (rock, log) unless you are certain it is anchored down well. And, being alone and not being a rock climber, I stay away from fall exposures. Conditioning includes running about 5 miles per day along with the Saturday mountain adventure which may extend beyond 30 miles.