On Wednesday morning, one of the last nice, clear days here in the Las Vegas valley before a winter rainstorm threatened to roll in, I gathered my gear: camelback, trekking poles, double-layer socks, hiking boots and cell phone and headed to the mountains.
Yes, I had all the equipment I needed, but was I ready, mentally? I had been hiking the various trails of Red Rock Canyon for nearly 3 years, but had never even considered tackling this beast. I shook my head silently as I gazed [straight] up at the daunting task ahead… Turtlehead Peak!
The trail to the peak starts out nice and flat and very well marked, lulling you into a false sense of hope that this might not be as hard as everyone says it is. See, it’s a nice wide trail here; how hard could it be? But then reality sets in as I notice the sign, “Turtlehead Peak: 2.5 miles [each way], Difficult”.
Clearly climbing 2,000 ft in just under 2.5 miles would be pretty steep and definitely challenging, but I was most nervous about the really hard part: climbing 800 vertical-feet in only 0.4 miles when I get to the gully & chute system leading to the summit ridge.
I can do this, I told myself. Kind of believing it. Sort of. But not really.
Who was I kidding?
And so we set off, Mr. Enthusiasm and I. He asked, one time (early in the hike), where we were headed. Oh bless his naivety! I vaguely waved my hand in the general direction of the peak. His response, “You’re nuts. We’re not going all the way up there.” Heh. Little did he know.
I found, throughout the 2.5 hours it took to make summit, I had to focus only on the goal at hand, and ignore those little voices [of reason] in my head, plus the voice behind me (Mr. Reluctant had returned with a vengeance!), telling me that this was crazy/impossible/[insert your adjective here].
The first stop on the trail is an area known as Sandstone Quarry (an area that seriously looks like the characters from The Flintstones could appear and look completely at home).
From here the path continues north through the rocky Brownstone wash, then up along a little ridge. Turtlehead Peak looms overhead, but that’s just it, it’s still STRAIGHT UP at this point. And it feels like I’ve made zero progress.
This is a feeling that will manifest over and over again throughout the 2.5 hour climb to the summit.
Clearly I still have work to do in my journey to conquer my self-imposed limitations.
About 45 minutes in, I also noticed that those helpful little trail signs had disappeared. Of course this really didn’t matter all that much seeing as the only way to go was up. I didn’t need a sign to tell me that. The ravine I found myself in during this part of the trail [and I use the term trail loosely] was basically just an obstacle course of boulders and loose gravel. Conservatively speaking, I asked “Are we going the right way? or “Is this the trail?” about every 2 minutes. Mr. Reluctant would grumble in response, “It doesn’t matter; just pick one. They’re all the same…they’re all shit.”.
I plodded along, making decisions that I thought were driving me towards the ridgeline at the top of the ravine. The ravine is a clear gateway to the summit, but in between me and it lay this giant obstacle course trying to deny my entry.Motoring forward I came across areas that I wouldn’t even consider tackling, cursing out loud as I was forced to back-track towards a [hopefully] better option.
Along the way up I passed people descending, who offered scary warnings: “It’s worse coming down than going up!”. WHAT??? I can’t even think about coming down right now. I have a summit to reach. What is with all these Negative Nelly’s all around me? Don’t they realize I’m already doubting myself. I don’t need them to add to that.
In an effort to neutralize the naysayers, I tried telling myself how much good I was doing for my body! “Hey, at least I’m getting one hell of an aerobic workout!”. But then I made the mistake of checking the display for my BodyMedia armband.
What the what???
Apparently not a single minute of my climb thus far was considered “Vigorous Activity”. Huh??? Do I need to go into full cardiac arrest to qualify for Vigorous? Who are these people at Body Media to tell me I wasn’t getting a vigorous workout? The heart pounding out of my chest begged to differ.
The ascent took forever, due in large part to the need to take frequent stops. In fact I was stopping and sipping water so often I actually worried if I would have enough for the full hike. Throwing caution to the wind, I gulped away, believing that the descent would be a piece of cake compared to this hairy, vertical climb [and despite what those descending hikers had warned me about].
After I made it to the ridgeline, I felt great that I was no longer scrambling boulders, but, as I took a minute to catch my breath, I couldn’t help but notice that the peak was still high above, and oh so vertical.
The little voices in my head became a cacophony of screams. Seriously, what was I thinking? This is truly impossible.
Right around this time, Mr. Reluctant suggested, “Oh, I think this is Turtlehead Peak.”, referring to a slight rise in the landscape. [Note: He had previously pointed out a little mound of rocks, a small boulder, and even a pile of petrified animal poo, as being “Turtlehead Peak”.]
Exasperated, I responded (yet again), “No honey, that is not Turtlehead Peak. That [gesturing upwards] is.”
I looked over at him, then up at the peak, then back at him and said, “We have come THIS FAR. We are not turning back now. FINAL PUSH. LET’S DO THIS!”
We pushed ahead (or I should say up…) in the general direction of the peak, pleasantly surprised to find the remaining climb up the north side of Turtlehead Peak was a lot easier than the slog we had just gone through in the ravine. The path was accessible, soft and easy to follow all the way up to the rocky summit.
As we finally took the last steps to summit the 6,323’ limestone peak, a friendly voice greeted us with “Hey there! You made it!”. I’m not sure if it was my accelerated heart rate, my oxygen-deprived brain, or just overall jitters at finally making summit on wobbly legs, but that voice scared the bejeezus out of me.
No, literally. I jumped about a foot in the air and let out a shriek. And then immediately felt like an idiot. What did I think it was? A rapist [one who would climb 2 hours to get to their prey]? A mountain lion [one who speaks English and is all friendly and welcoming]?. Clearly I was
a bit very loopy at this point folks. Poor guy… my overreaction startled him too. 🙂
Once I settled back into my skin following my [overly] dramatic reaction to his warm greeting, I finally noticed what was right in front of me.
The most beautiful panorama unfolded all around me. And all I could do was to keep repeating, “wow”, over and over and over again. I had (and still have) no words to describe how breathtaking the scenery was.
The feeling of accomplishment was amazing! I felt like I had just conquered the world, and in a sense I had. I not only made the summit of one of the toughest peaks in Southern Nevada, but I had also overcome my own mental blockers that were working so hard to stand in my way.
I considered doing the whole Titanic /I’m-The-King-Of-The-World schtick, but then thought better of it, given I had just launched out of my hiking boots after hearing a friendly hello from a fellow hiker.
Instead, I just walked the summit, checking out the sweeping views on all sides: the Red Rock escarpment, the Calicos, Brownstone Canyon, the entire Las Vegas valley (including The Strip) and the snow capped La Madre Mountains. I felt so alive. So strong. So capable. In that moment, I felt like I could accomplish anything.
After taking the obligatory pictures of the awesomeness all around us, Mr. Reluctant [quickly transforming back to Mr. Enthusiasm] and I sat down and had a mini picnic of granola, apples, walnuts and protein bars.
I then made sure to take time to sign the guest/log book, housed charmingly in a green ammo can. There I told the world “I feel so ALIVE!”, and then I shared my blog with them, in the off-chance a fellow hiker might have interest in following my journey, connected as we were in our conquering of this beast called Turtlehead!
Turtlehead Peak was a seriously challenging hike, and one that fully lived up to it’s official billing as “Difficult”. But despite the fact that it took a full day to recover from the jelly-leg syndrome, the fact that I’m still smiling ear to ear four days later [and feeling like a total bad-ass] made it oh so worth it!