This beautiful route ascends through the Foxtail Canyon picnic area and an abandoned Girl Scout camp and then gradually weaves around passing just right (south) of the beautiful Foxtail Canyon Springs before ascending to the upper rim of Kyle Canyon. A left (North) turn there will take you along the summit of Kyle Canyon’s upper rim to Mummy Mountain’s main summit area. However, in this adventure we turn right to traverse the high Lee/Kyle Canyons ridge top before connecting with the Mt. Charleston upper North Loop Trail then descending back to the Foxtail Picnic Area via Lee Canyon’s gradual mid-ridge.
The altitude gain is approximately 3000ft (8,000-11,000ft) and once you reach the Foxtail Springs area all trails disappear and the entire trip is pure wilderness (except for a brief 1/4th mile stretch far above on the upper North Loop trail). Foxtail Springs is also the point where the steep loose rock avalanche slopes begin, so have wilderness navigation skills and experience and ability to navigate those steep avalanche slopes. I did not see a single person throughout this 10-hour adventure and it’s almost 100% likely you will not see anyone. I had no phone coverage. So, carry everything you need because you are entirely on your own.
The wilderness is pristine and literally radiates beauty at every point as you ascend from mixed pines into the high altitude bristlecone pine zone. The cliffs of Mummy Mountain are too your left. Turn around often during the ascent to see expanding views of the Sisters South, North and Black Rock Sister and Macks Peak. McFarland Peak will become your reference point if you choose to descend by the route you ascended in Foxtail Canyon. From the summit of the Lee/Kyle Canyon upper ridge you’ll see the mountains surrounding Kyle Canyon including Mummy Mountain with its V-shaped summit approach canyon, Fletcher Peak, La Madre Mountain, Cockscomb Ridge, Harris Mountain, Griffith Peak, Charleston Peak and Lee Peak. At the base of Kyle Canyon there is Charleston Village and Cathedral Rock. In the distance is the Las Vegas Valley and many points beyond. For more on navigating the Lee/Kyle Canyon upper ridge between Lee Peak and Mummy Mountain see the 4-Peak Circuit Adventure.
Take Hwy 95 North from Las Vegas. Turn left onto Lee Canyon Road (Hwy 156). Continue on Lee Canyon Road about 16-18 miles, passing that road’s intersection with Deer Creek Road. Continue on Lee Canyon Road to take turn-around and park in a long parking area on the East (left) side of Lee Canyon Road just below the entrance to the Foxtail Canyon picnic area. Note: The tables in the picnic area are by reservation only, so, unless you’ve made a reservation do not plan to set up a picnic at one of the tables.
Starting from Lee Canyon Road, the first couple miles approaching the Foxtail Springs area are very gradual on mostly good roads. You’ll pass through the Foxtail Picnic Area. The warning signs that say, “By Reservation Only, No Walk-ins” refer only to picnickers, not wilderness travelers. They’re warning not to set up a spontaneous picnic in one of the reserved picnic areas–all areas are reserved. It’s a beautiful, well designed and managed picnic area.
As you ascend above the Foxtail Picnic Area the road becomes unpaved and soon arrives at the abandoned Foxtail Girl Scouts Camp. It’s my understanding that the Girl Scouts were faced with the need to upgrade their entire water system at over $1,000,000 and so closed the camp down a few years ago. However, the buildings are all in pristine condition. Be respectful and do not enter any of the buildings or structures in the camp area. I’m not aware of plans to re-activate the camp. If the camp is reactivated, you will need a course redirection along the gradual ridge to your right until you circumvent the camp and can re-descend into Foxtail Canyon above the camp. That might be difficult because the ridge becomes pretty cliffy around the camp.
Above the Foxtail Girl Scouts Camp the road becomes a forest service road and soon enters a wilderness area boundary, quickly becoming a rugged 4WD road (though no motor vehicles are allowed) and then a narrow trail. Take a right just before a long sandy ridge to continue upward on what appears to be an old Girl Scouts trail to Foxtail Springs. The springs area is beautiful — water dripping down from the roof of a cove in the cliff face. The Girl Scouts appear to have created a kind of shrine in the area with their hand made hanging ornaments. Please leave history alone.
On this day I bypassed Foxtail Springs and instead angled right to continue ascending the ridge above the Foxtail Canyon Wash. This is where it becomes very steep (about 6-inche elevation gain per step) and the ground surface is loose rock and dirt. There are many fallen trees. Be careful to ensure the fallen trees are well anchored at both ends in the rare instance you will need to climb over them. Quick note: Why the ridge instead of the canyon wash below? The canyon wash has numerous rocky, cliffy barriers. The ridge, though steep, has no barriers.
Though the route is steep and a bit tricky, my thoughts were not so much on navigation as on the beauty of the place which appeared entirely untouched and natural. Towering trees, blue sky, majestic cliffs.
When you reach a rocky bluff, circumvent it to the left, staying above the upper edge of the Foxtail Canyon wash to your left. There is a good passageway that will take you between the length of the rocky bluff above and the wash below.
Above the rocky bluff area I descended into the Foxtail Canyon Wash which became far more manageable with few if any obstacles. However, the surface is rocky, so you might alternately remain on the ridge above the wash. After some time in the wash I re-ascended above the wash, this time angling above the left side of the wash. Now the ascent became very steep (nearly 1 foot elevation gain per stride), but I was closing in on the Lee/Kyle Canyon Ridge summit! There was the feeling of seeing blue sky on the horizon above and a gradual rounding of the slope which indicated the summit was ahead! I was angling upward and a bit to the left in hopes of connecting with the upper Lee/Kyle Canyon Ridge near the approach to Mummy Mountain. Look around often if you intend to later descend this same route. A good reference point is McFarland Peak. When you head back down the ridge just head straight for McFarland Peak.
Words cannot describe the spectacular views you experience when you top the Lee/Kyle Canyon Summit Ridge! Suddenly, Kyle Canyon with all its surrounding mountains (noted above) come into view. In addition, there was welcome familiarity of the route along the ridgetop which I have taken from just below Lee Peak to Mummy Mountain. See the 4-Peak Circuit Adventure and the Fletcher, Mummy, Lee Circuit where I traversed that entire length of that ridgetop.
On this day, realizing that my energy was near spent following the steep 3000ft ascent, I knew continuing to Mummy Mountain summit would be quite draining. My conditioning base was three 5-mile runs per week and the long Saturday mountain adventure. This was my first ascent of the season above 10,000ft (the ridgetop is around 11,000ft). I’ll soon make Mummy summit from Foxtail, but it will require an increase in my conditioning base and a little more high altitude conditioning.
However, today I decided to turn right on the ridgetop toward it’s connection with the North Loop Trail below Lee Peak. There is a place of incredible beauty on the ridgetop toward Lee Peak. It’s a massive limestone high clifftop shelf with a bristlecone pine forest seemingly growing right out of the rock. And the views in both the Kyle and Lee Canyon areas are spectacular. I think it’s my favorite place on earth!
After refueling and resting a bit in that beautiful spot I continued along the ridgetop toward Lee Peak and the connection with the upper North Loop Trail. The North Loop Trail is always below the cliffs to your left as you’re heading toward Lee Peak. Stay high hugging the Kyle Canyon edge of the clifftop as you navigate the ridge. When do you descend to the North Loop Trail? The North Loop Trail has been ascending and will eventually meet the ridgetop. The connection point is well marked. When you see the unmistakable structure of a weather station (see the slide show on this page), just past the weather station head left over the edge of the ridgetop. By this point the ridgetop is a gradual 50ft slope from the upper North Loop Trail. No climbing involved.
Travel about 1/4th mile along the upper North Loop Trail toward Lee Peak. Just before a slope begins to rise to your right, take a right traversing along the South side of the slope. You’re now on what I call the Lee Canyon Gradual Mid Descent Ridge which will take you on an easy class 2 descent all the way back to the Foxtail Picnic Area.
Though I had ascended and descended this relatively easy ridge just a week ago, curiously, today I got disoriented and was not entirely sure I was on the correct ridge until half-way down! I had not marked the beginning of the ridge so it was just my best guess that I was on the descent ridge. I was paralleling my earlier route, but a little higher in elevation (perhaps only 50-100ft off) and so nothing looked familiar! There should have been a very faint trail in the upper section, but it was not to be seen today. All I knew was that if I stayed below the rocky cliffs to my left until those cliffs and bluffs momentarily ended, then followed a wide, more gradual ridgetop for about 1/4th mile, then descended angling left through a gully through the cliffs, then hugged a long cliff base (at that point to my right) until once again descending to the open ridgetop and finally down to the large green water reservoir structure, I’d have arrived back at the Foxtail Girl Scouts Camp, lower picnic area and finally Lee Canyon Road.
Yes, basically that is how it worked. I began on the East side of the ridge with cliffs to my left. About half way down the descent ridge along the wide open ridgetop stretch I recognized a landmark for the first time: A log I had sat on the week before. However, to get to that point had required a lot of wandering and course corrections in the unfamiliar surroundings on the ridge above.
Yes, I found a cairn I had placed the week before that marked the spot where I was to descend through the cliffs to the left, then continue along the lower edge of a long cliff base that would at this point now be on my right (along the West side of the ridge). However, I had forgotten, or not realized that the cliffs were terraced and I needed to descend in the gully passage past the upper terrace to the lower terrace. Instead, I hugged the lower edge of the upper terrace, eventually reached a dead-end cliff, had to retrace my way back to the descent gully, descend through the lower terrace, turn right and hug it’s lower edge to again arrive on the ridgetop below.
My route down the lower portion of the ridge was still a bit sketchy. I simply could not remember or recognize many of the points along the way down. More course corrections. Last week it had been so much easier!!
Remember along the lower ridge section to take a few steps to the rocky ridgetop viewpoints to your right to look down upon the Foxtail Canyon Wash. At some of these viewpoints you can see your entire route up Foxtail Canyon all the way to the Lee/Kyle Canyon summit. It’s a great review of what you’ve achieved during your adventure.
Finally, I reached the green water reservoir structure and took a right back down to the Foxtail Girl Scouts Camp, the Foxtail Picnic Area and Lee Canyon Road.
Alternately, at the water reservoir, you could continue on the descent ridge where you will find an old road just to the right of the reservoir. I believe you could continue down the descent ridge all the way to Lee Canyon Road, avoiding the Foxtail Girl Scouts Camp and Picnic Area below. I’ll try that next time.