Lee to Kyle Canyon | Gradual Mid Ridge Approach | Mt Charleston Wilderness | Spring Mountains, Nevada

Lee to Kyle Canyon | Gradual Mid Ridge Approach | Mt Charleston Wilderness | Spring Mountains, Nevada – Overview

This approach to Kyle Canyon’s upper rim appears to be the most gradual approach from Lee Canyon. It begins roughly across from the Lee Canyon Meadow and gradually ascends to a plateau that connects with the Charleston North Loop Trail about a mile or two South of Lee Peak.

Lee Canyon Mid Ridge Seen from Many Points

I had viewed this gradual mid ridge from Kyle Canyon’s upper ridge, from the Black Rock Sister, from Mummy Mountain’s Summit and from the base of Lee Canyon. It seemed logical that this most gradual ridge might be one of the easiest approaches from the base of Lee Canyon to the upper North ridge of Kyle Canyon and the Mt. Charleston North Loop Trail. The only question was, “Where to locate the upper end of the approach ridge above Kyle Canyon and the lower end of the approach ridge in Lee Canyon?” Both these questions were answered in this adventure! See the video, slide show and adventure description on this page.

Pure Wilderness Isolated Route Along Lee Canyon Mid Ridge

This route is mostly pure wilderness. You will see on one during the entire route. In fact, though I looked closely for footprints and signs of human passage along the way, I found little of that. There were occasional faint use trails that appeared unused for years, and there were a few old cairns at a couple key points. But it looked as though absolutely no human had ascended this ridge for over a year or more, and then perhaps only one human ascent per year at most.

Fairly Easy Ascent Along Lee Canyon Mid Ridge

The ridge is beautiful and mostly class 2 with a few easy 4-5ft class 3 rock ascents as long as you stay on course (see details below). Just know that you will be completely isolated during this entire 5-7 mile ascent. So, have wilderness navigation skills and experience and ability to navigate some steep loose rock avalanche slopes.

Spectacular Non-Stop Views Along Lee Canyon Mid Ridge

Views are spectacular…it’s like being on a mountain top the entire way! You’ll see the Sisters South, Sisters North, Black Rock Sister, Mummy’s Head, Mummy’s Summit the North Ridge of Kyle Canyon along with various approaches from Lee Canyon, Foxtail Canyon, Lee Peak, McFarland Peak and Macks Peak. In addition you’ll look down upon the Lee Canyon Ski Area, Bristlecone Pine Trail, Bonanza Trail and down Lee Canyon to the valley below and some of the mountains beyond. And this is just a summary of the reference points you will see as you ascend this gradual mid ridge.

Best Time of Year to Ascend Lee Canyon Mid Ridge

The best time of year for this adventure is during the warmest months when there is no snow on the ground (unless you are a mountain snow navigator). You’re looking at mid or late June through mid or late September. This route will be a refreshing 70 degrees or so, even when temperatures in the Las Vegas Valley rise to 110 or above!

Lee to Kyle Canyon | Gradual Mid Ridge Approach | Mt Charleston Wilderness | Spring Mountains, Nevada – Route Starting Point

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.

Lee to Kyle Canyon | Gradual Mid Ridge Approach | Mt Charleston Wilderness | Spring Mountains, Nevada – Route Observations

After viewing this gradual mid ridge from many perspectives in and above Lee Canyon, it seemed a good starting point would begin across from the large Upper Lee Meadow. Nailed it!

Set Your Sites on the Goal Point

Before starting get a good bearing on an upper plateau a couple miles left (East) of Lee Peak and almost directly above the Lee Canyon Ski Area. Your destination will be the left (East) side of this plateau, so it’s a good idea to keep your eye on this goal point as you ascend the ridge.

From Upper Lee Canyon Meadow to the Water Reservoir

Park on the East side of Lee Canyon Road across from Upper Lee Meadow and head straight up the brief steep slope that rises above the parking area. Once you top that 50-100ft slope everything levels out and you’re in a very open lightly forested area easy to navigate. Turn right (South) and angle through the forest keeping your high elevation goal point in mind. You will quickly come across an unused road (probably blocked off below). Follow this road about a half mile to a large green water reservoir. This reservoir marks the beginning of the gradual mid ridge that will take you all the way to the upper rim of Kyle Canyon where you will meet up with the Mt. Charleston North Loop Trail.

Basic Strategy for Navigation the Gradual Mid Ridge

Your basic strategy is to stay as close to the middle of the ridge all the way up. Along the way you’ll need to navigate around a number of rock bluffs and cliffs. At first you will navigate to the right (West) of the bluffs and cliffs. You’ll locate a gully passage up through a long cliff back to the summit of the ridge. Then, after about a half mile or so along the center of the wide open forested ridge you’ll encounter another series of rock bluffs and cliffs. This time navigate along the East (left) side of the cliffs until you reach the Charleston Loop Trail on the summit of the ridge.

As you’re descending a bit to navigate around bluffs and cliffs, hug the lower base of the cliffs. If you descend further to give the cliffs a wider berth, you will find yourself navigating steep avalanche slopes. So hug the base of the rocks and cliffs, finding most of the time a narrow level passage way there. And where ever possible, rise again to the center of the ridge.

Views of Kyle Canyon’s North Ridge

Watch for awesome views as you ascend the ridge. If you look closely you can even see the cave opening of Foxtail Canyon Springs along with a number of approach gullies rising up the Eastern wall of Lee Canyon all the way up to Kyle Canyon’s Northern rim where one could turn left (North) toward Mummy Mountain or right (East) toward Lee Peak. You can see where I navigated that entire upper ridge wilderness during the 4-Peak Circuit adventure.

From the Water Reservoir to the Gully Opening

It’s possible to break the approach ridge down into two equal parts. During the first part you begin by heading up the center of the ridge where it begins above the green water reservoir. It’s pretty wide open and easy going with a few small rocky areas to easily navigate. At some point larger rocky bluffs will appear to block easy progress up the center of the ridge. Navigate around the right (West) side of these barriers always heading back up to the center of the ridge where possible. The left (East) side of the ridge is a sheer cliff!

Rocky Bluffs Become Cliffs

The rocky bluffs will become larger and eventually you’ll be confronted by cliff faces. Navigate around them to the right but stay as high on the ridge as you can.

At some point you will be confronted with a very long (quarter-mile) cliff. Descending to the right again, hug the lower edge of that cliff above the avalanche slope on your right. At times, you’ll actually be brushing against the lower cliff face. You’re that close! It looks more difficult than it is. As narrow as that long cliff base passage is, it is wide enough to easily navigate. If you fell on the avalanche slope to your right, it would be pretty easy to quickly stop your fall and scramble back up to the cliff base passage. There is no real exposure, though it seems there should be.

The Gully Opening Through the Cliffs

After about a quarter mile along the cliff base you’ll notice an opening to your left (East) up and through the solid cliff line and back to the center of the approach ridge. I did place a couple cairns at the top of that opening so that on the return trip I would not miss it. I believe it is the only passage way through the cliffs to the lower part of the ridge. On the return trip I noticed a couple other cairns in the gully to guide people on their descent. Don’t miss the gully during the ascent or the descent! It’s the main route through the cliffs. Fortunately the gully is pretty obvious and the cairns give additional guidance.

Larger, More Open, Gradual Central Ridge

Once you rise through the gully and up to the center of the approach ridge, you’ll notice that the forest is suddenly 100% Bristlecone Pine indicating you’re past 9,000ft (where Bristlecones begin) and closing in on 10,000ft (where Bristlecones become the only trees). The summit of the ridge is about 11,000ft so the gully is your half-way point. Notice that I do not navigate by instruments, but mainly by feel and observation. I do have a somewhat inaccurate altimeter on my watch with gives me a basic or – 200ft idea of altitude. The ascent is very gradual, the ridge is wide and the forest is open. This is a great resting place! I even found a perfect log bench. The only down side was the carpenter ants in that bench, a few of whom thought I was a piece of wood to bite! Not a big problem. Just annoying.

Rocks, Bluffs and Cliffs Reappear – Navigate to Your Left This Time

Continue up the center of this nice open ridge until you reach another series of rocky bluffs and cliffs. This time navigate the left (East) base of the rocks and cliffs. This stretch is a little different in that there is a very faint trail along the avalanche slope, so you might do well to stick to the trail rather than trying to hug the rocks and cliffs above is you did before the gully passage.

The trail will continue to angle up the East side of the ridge, disappearing and reappearing at times. There were no foot prints or fresh marks of human passage. It looked as though no one had been on this trail for years.

Don’t descend to your left (East). Where the trail disappears, angle upward back closer toward the ridge top and the trail will reappear.

Rocks Disappear and the Terrain Begins to Level Off

Eventually the rocky section above you and to your right will disappear and this is the time to head back upward more toward the center of the ridge. Things begin to level out a bit here and the going is easy.

Arrival at the Mt. Charleston North Loop Trail!

At this point I was surprised to see a couple hikers! Turns out they were hiking the Mt. Charleston North Loop Trail and I had successfully arrived at that trail and was looking directly across at Charleston Peak! Where had I met up with that trail? About 2 miles below Lee Peak (a right turn) and about a half mile above the large overlook viewpoint where the North Loop Trail begins to sharply descend toward the Mummy Mountain Avalanche Slope. In addition, I was probably within a couple hundred feet of the point where I leave the North Loop Trail to continue along the upper ridge toward Mummy Mountain. See the 4 Peak Circuit Adventure.

Begin Descent to Lee Canyon

It was tempting to continue on the North Loop Trail. But I was too tired for Lee Peak and Charleston Peak and my car was down in Lee Canyon, not Kyle Canyon! So, the obvious thing to do was retrace my way back down the ridge to the Upper Lee Canyon Meadow. Though I ventured out on the rocky bluffs a bit to further scope out the ridge during the descent, for the most part I found myself returning again and again to my exact footsteps made during the approach. I easily identified the gully passage through the cliffs (thanks to mine and other’s cairns). But even without the cairns it would have been fairly easy to stay on track. About 95% of the time I was enjoying the view as opposed to wondering if I was on track.

Timing for The Lee Canyon Gradual Mid-Ridge Adventure

Speaking of time, the timing from Upper Lee Canyon Meadow to the summit of the approach ridge was about 6 hours. I had taken that ascent very slowly to determine the best course and stop frequently for videos, pictures and one longer lunch break. The ascent time could easily be shortened to 3 hours or less. The descent took 4 hours, again with a few videos and side excursions. The descent could be shortened to 2 hours.