Danger On The Trail

Monique Rider

© Copyright 2002 by Monique Rider

Photo of Monique on the mountain trail.

This eventful mountain hike began on the Griffith Trail of Mt. Charleston just forty minutes west of Las Vegas. I chose Mt. Charleston because in the summer it tends to be thirty degrees cooler than in the city. Being July, the lower temperature was a refreshing change compared to the hundred and ten degree sweltering heat of Las Vegas. Since my husband and I had gotten much better at this hiking thing, I felt we were also ready for the challenging incline and elevation of this trail. Little did I know that our training and careful planning would still not prepare us for what awaited us at the summit.

After driving about a half hour and following the signs to Mt. Charleston, we then followed arrows to Griffith Trail. In order to arrive at the trailhead to begin the hike, we first had to drive up to 7,850 feet. The road was narrow and treacherous with loose gravel and steep cliffs. I had my eyes closed most of the time. However, when I peaked between my fingers I noticed just how beautiful the view was.

The road ended at a small dirt parking area. One look around the deserted lot told us that we were the only ones hiking that day. It was already 11:30 a.m. so there was a good chance no one else would be starting to hike that late. The summit of this particular climb was at 10,500 feet and boasted a panoramic view of Las Vegas, Lake Mead, and other mountain ranges. It was a ten-mile round trip hike at elevations higher than we had ever been. Anxious to summit and descend by 4:30 we set off at a quick pace.

The ecosystem was very unique for Nevada. The mountainous, sharp cliffs of rock were laced with bushes, evergreens, and even some trees with leaves! Trees shaded us for the first hour of the climb. Then things got tough. We came upon a series of switchbacks that led us straight up the face of the mountain. No more meandering through the evergreens. Now there were gorges, cliffs, and massive overlooks.

Due to our late start, we planned to forgo the rest breaks until we reached the summit. We figured at that point we would eat, reapply sunscreen, and doctor up our feet. We only stopped for pictures. The closer we got to the summit the more excited we became, knowing the view that awaited us. After two and a half hours of steady climbing we reached 10,000 feet. We were once again in a forested area that was rich in vegetation. Another ten minutes and we would be able to photograph a rare, spectacular view of Las Vegas. And boy, did we ever need a break!

That's when we heard the angry growl of a mountain lion. Somewhere between our current position and that gorgeous summit was a cat that was claiming the view all for himself. We had obviously disturbed him and he wasn't happy. Armed with only a knife and pepper spray, we felt pretty vulnerable. Remember, we were the only ones on a rugged, isolated, treacherous trail.

It took about two seconds to decide that we needed to turn back. They say you can scare a mountain lion off by simply making a lot of noise. Needless to say, we were more comfortable just turning back. Mountain lions are known to track their prey sometimes for hours before attacking. So although we were anxious to descend quickly, we stopped often to look, listen, and observe our surroundings. We were in desperate need of a break to eat and tend to our feet. However, it was more important to get out of the tree line and to a safer location.

After descending for about an hour, we emerged from the forested area and stopped along an open ridge of rocks. It was at that point we took a much needed fifteen minute break, staying ever watchful. It's the worst feeling to have your boots off, lancing blisters, knowing there may be a big cat close by licking his chops.

We felt a bit safer descending the rocky portion of the mountain. With fewer trees it was easier to see in the distance. About a mile from the trailhead we passed two other hikers who were just beginning their climb way too late in the day. One of the hikers wore a pistol and mentioned that it is a necessity for rugged, isolated trails in Nevada.

As we made our way back to the truck, I felt discouraged that we were  within 500 feet of the summit and had to turn back. However, I was grateful that we were safe and in one piece. We plan to make that climb again with the intent to finish it. I'll let you know how it goes!

Monique Rider is a life coach who works via telephone with individuals in transition. She guides them gracefully through major life challenges, helping them to obtain balance, peace of mind, and personal growth. Monique is also a contributing author to Ophelia's Mom and Strong Winds Make Strong Trees. Monique can be visited on the web at: http://www.personaljoy.com.

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