Expect the Unexpected: Damsel Peak
February 26, 2005
Report by Raoul Kennedy, Photos by Bob Grozenski
This is probably one of the most bizarre hikes I’ve ever been on–a seemingly uneventful hike turns into a frightful experience within a matter of minutes. Joel Brewster led this hike up Damsel Peak (elev 7,000) on Saturday, February 26 with Bob Grozenski and myself participating. The view of Red Rock Canyon as we drove on Charleston Blvd. was fantastic: the lush green canyon floor, the mixture of red and beige of the mountains of Red Rock, and their snow-capped peaks below blue skies.
We reached the trailhead facing La Madre Mountain (elev. 4,850) at 8:15 after a grueling 4WD drive. The hike started out warm and sunny and my immediate concern was not having enough water because of the anticipated heat. After a 30-minute detour unsuccessfully searching for petroglyphs, we got to the wash that heads in a northerly direction towards the peak. By then, some ominous clouds had begun to form in the vicinity of La Madre, but we figured they’d just blow off. As we ascended the wash, they began to thicken and expand over Damsel Peak as well.
Once we reached the top of the wash at about 6,000 feet, we cut right and headed eastward toward the peak. The quantity of snow on the ground was unexpected, and reached knee-deep by 6,300 feet, slowing us down. The landscape made us feel we had been transported to the Mount Charleston area. I followed the footprints of a bighorn sheep that had preceded us in the snow but found out that they tended to lead toward the cliff edge, so I had to be careful not to follow too closely! Interestingly, the sheep had left a faint trail of blood alongside its tracks.
As we reached the summit at 11:15, the clouds hung low at our level, and looked heavier, darker and more menacing than ever. Still we got some great views of Las Vegas to the northeast. The fickle weather of the day was clearly visible from here: concentrated rainshowers passing over the valley floor were mixed with sunny patches. We never found the registry which was buried somewhere under our feet. Then the snow started to fall and before long we were in the middle of a snowstorm, prompting us to hightail it and follow our tracks back down the mountain. Within minutes, a thunderstorm decided to join the snowstorm, and lightning surrounded us, motivating us to achieve record speeds on the descent. Below 5,800 feet the snow turned into light rain, partially soaking us. Unbelievably, as we approached the parking lot at 1:15 we turned around to find Damsel Peak once again surrounded by blue sky. It was as if the weather gods were playing tricks on us!