As you’ll see in the video on this page, this adventure began with the intent of doing the Mud Springs Loop trail from the Sawmill Trailhead in Lee Canyon, Spring Mountains, Nevada. Somewhere I went off course and ended up on a 9,235ft bluff near the base of the 10,036ft Macks Peak! The trail that took me to that point was a very well traveled trail with a great surface that appeared to parallel the Bonanza Trail on the far side of the ridge above. It looked as though that trail would go all the way to Cold Creek and potentially make an incredible ultra marathon out and back running course.
To compound my errors on this day in this entirely new area for me, I mistook Macks Peak for McFarland Peak! The video on this page reflects this mistaken identity. Oh well, just substitute the name Macks Peak for every time you hear me say “McFarland Peak”! Sorry! Embarrassing, but as I said, on this day the entire area was new to me, all the trails were unmarked. Getting lost is how I eventually gain a deep understanding of the wilderness. In future adventures in this area I will continue to develop a deeper, “whole wilderness” understanding of the trails originating from the Sawmill Trailhead area.
The only reason I ended up at the North base of Macks Peak from the Sawmill Trailhead is that I was originally intending to do the Mud Springs Loop. On the other hand, for those wanting to summit Macks Peak the better approach would be to continue up Lee Canyon Road beyond the Sawmill Trailhead area. Just before the intersection with Deer Creek Road, there is a righthand turnoff to Macks Canyon. Take that turnoff and travel 4 miles on an unpaved road to the end of that road where you will find the shortest trailhead to Macks Peak.
The views along the trail from the Sawmill Trailhead to the North side of Macks Peak are spectacular including Mummy Mountain’s Head, the East side of McFarland Peak and the ridge system all the way to Bonanza Peak, then down to Cold Creek. To the East Gass Peak, the entire Sheep Mountain Range and the massive, beautiful desert valley on the Hwy 95 corridor North of Las Vegas spread out in an incredible panorama lit in a thousand changing variations with the advance of the Sun.
What an amazing ultra run this would make on a trail with such a perfect runner’s surface except for a brief 1/2 mile stretch up a canyon wash! In fact, a couple years later on the very day I was again exploring the trails and roads around the Sawmill Trailhead area, there was an ultra-marathon in progress with various loop runs giving runners a choice of distances from 10K to 56 miles! Such is the great network of mostly unmarked trails originating from the Sawmill Trailhead area. In fact, on the ultra runners day, a number of the runners were lost in that network!
Take Hwy 95 North from Las Vegas and take a left at the Lee Canyon Road exit (Hwy 156). Travel up Lee Canyon Road about 13 miles. Take a right onto the Sawmill Trailhead Access Road and proceed to the trailhead. Stay left to reach the upper trailhead parking area (the equestrian trailhead is to the right). You’ll begin on the Sawmill Trail Loop which is at the very upper end of the parking area.
There are a few places I could have gone off the Mud Springs Loop. I’ll make a note of each, and then in a future adventure complete and document the loop.
You’ll begin on the Sawmill Loop. Stay to your left. Soon you will come to a split where a yellow trail branches off the the right and a red trail to the left. Take the red trail to the left. This much I know for certain. The red trail will rise up to a ridge opening a view of Angel Peak and Mummy Mountain’s Head. Continue to the high point on the ridge. This is where things become uncertain. At the high point, and where there is a saddle between two rises to your left, there is a very good, but unmarked trail that branches off to the left. I took this trail. I believe taking this branch puts one on the 15-mile Mud Springs Loop in a clockwise direction. On the other hand, if you continue straight you’ll be taking the loop in a counterclockwise direction. See the map on this page. I went left this day, next time I’ll try going straight.
The very excellent trail that branches off to the left continues along a ridge above and to the left of a shallow canyon wash. Again, the more I look at the maps it appears this may have been the Mud Springs Loop. Continuing along this ridge views of the beautiful desert valley around the Cold Creek and Indian Springs area begin to open up to the Northeast. The trail eventually descends into Macks Canyon Wash. There is a cairn at the base of the trail in the wash.
A few branches someone has placed in the wash seem to indicate that you need to take a left turn and head up the wash. I did this, continuing up the wash for about a half mile. This is one potential place where I may have gotten off trail. Perhaps the thing was to take a right and head down the wash. Heading up the wash, the surface appeared to be well traveled with a lot of foot prints and good deviations around barriers in the wash.
Eventually, the regular trail resumed rising out of the wash to the right. This trail rolled along ascending and descending as it crossed a few more washes. Then, there was a plastic brown marker in a wash with the words “Red Trail” etched on it. The “e” of red looked like a backwards 3. “R3d” trail. Funny! The marker indicated one should continue along across that wash, and the trail did indeed resume on the other side of the wash. The trail marker is another decision point. Perhaps the thing was to take a right there. Further reflection points to the right turn as the likely route to continue around the Mud Springs Loop Trail. Why? Continuing straight resulted in altitude gain beyond that of the Mud Springs Loop Trail and also approached and passed the Northern base of Macks Peak.
Continuing straight across the wash at the “r3d” marker (instead of turning right), there was more up and down, but gradually ascending overall and always heading toward Macks Peak. Again, great views of the desert valley to the East, along with emerging views of the Sheep Range across the valley.
After winding around the ridgeline a few more times, the trail briefly dipped into a wash with a “Wilderness Area” marker, crossed the wash and then ascended again along the ridge, continuing to show closer views of Macks Peak every time the trail circled the ridge opening a large view. The trail ascended to a high point just beyond Macks Peak. I estimate that point was around 8,700ft, which was higher in altitude than any point along the Mud Springs trail. By this time, it appeared I was off track.
At the highest point in the trail the town of Cold Creek appeared in the distance just before the trail began to descend sharply. Macks Peak and the entire ridgeline all the way to Bonanza Peak was now in view along with the town of Cold Creek. Feeling I was off track, I decided to ascend a ridgeline above that high point on the trail and continued upward for about 500ft to a bluff that on area maps was 9,235ft. Bristlecone Pines began to appear at this elevation. I was just below and a little beyond Macks Peak. Awesome view of Macks Peak, the entire ridgeline all the way to Bonanza Peak and on down to Cold Creek. Across the valley below a full view of the Sheep Range with Gass Peak at the Southern most point.
The question for today: Before going off trail and ascending the 500ft ridge to the bluff, had I still been on the Mud Springs trail? Unlikely. Too close to the base of Macks Peak and too high in elevation. I likely missed the Mud Springs Loop earlier at the “R3d” Trail marker.
However, in the process, I believe I discovered a trail that does not appear on any map (Google, Mytopo…etc – see the video of this page) and seems to head parallel to the Bonanza Peak Trail but on the North side of the main ridge upon which McFarland Peak and Bonanza Peak sit. This trail looks as though it would continue all the way to the town of Cold Creek. In addition this looks like a potential approach to the North side of Macks Peak. However, this side of Macks Peak looks rather imposing and vertical!
In all, it’s a very beautiful trail and potentially an alternate route from the Lee Canyon area to Cold Creek with spectacular panoramic views to the East.