turtlehead peak: red rock canyon / round 2

Long-time readers may recall the first – and only other – time I hiked Turtlehead Peak back in March 2013.

This hike is generally thought of as the most difficult at Red Rock Canyon due to both the terrain and the elevation gain. I vaguely remembered how challenging the hike was, but couldn’t really recall the specifics.

I knew for sure that there would be little in the way of signage, no clear trail for 3/4 of the route to the top, and that summiting would entail a lot of scrambles. Okay, so it would be tough. Still, I felt ready.

The interesting thing about the route is that it doesn’t take a straight shot up toward the clearly visible summit. Counterintuitively, it travels far to the left of the summit, towards an area known as the saddle, at which point you tuck in behind Turtlehead and mount her from the rear.

I just realized that description sounds mildly sexual. Trust me, it is nothing of the sort.

Below is a gallery of pictures I sourced from Bird and Hike which depicts the route, to give you a better sense of what I’m describing.

It was quite overcast on Tuesday, which provided some fun colours in the landscape and skies due to the extra atmospheric stuff going on.

I snapped this one from the highway.


And managed some clearer images once we were driving more slowly on the side road leading into the park.

Gazing up at my target I thought, Turtlehead, I will own you!

Famous last words…

We parked the car and set out at 1:40 pm. This was my first mistake.

This hike is estimated to take 3-4 hours to complete. Sunset is around 5pm here in Vegas. I’ll let you do the math.

This is what my target looked like from the start of the trail.


And then approximately a half mile later it looked like this.


If you’re thinking, hey Nancy, that’s not a lot of change… DING, DING, DING!!! You’d be right!

For this serious hike, I opted for my serious hiking boots. Unfortunately it seems that my serious hiking boots now give me blisters. Inconvenient, that.

I felt the skin at the back of my right foot rubbing up and down with each step, and could envision the area becoming pink and tender, and eventually ballooning into a water-filled blister. My options were few. I had no bandages with me. Nor did I have any gauze, tape or Polysporin. This was mistake # 2.

I plodded ahead.

To take my mind off the nonsense with my foot, I stopped to snap some pictures. It felt like I’d come a really long way on this trail.

Mr. Enthusiasm had been lagging from the outset. I waited several times for him to catch up [giving myself nice little rests in the process], but during our last rendezvous he handed me some snacks from our shared provisions, and told me to go on ahead without him.

“If you make it to the top, don’t wait for me to get there, just turn around and head back.”, he said.

IF I make it to the top?

Oh, those are fightin’ words, my friend.

I momentarily worried about attempting the unmarked/unsigned area ahead, given I completely lack a sense of direction, but ultimately dismissed my [valid] concern.

After a particularly steep climb, I turned back to see how he was doing (and also to check if I could still see him).

Next I hit the gully, and the official trail disappeared amid a pile of rocks.

And thus began the endless guessing games: Which route would be the safest and fastest? Is this the right way? Can I climb those rocks and not break my neck?

I was acutely aware of how much lower the sun was, as compared to when I had started. And I was, for all intents and purposes, alone up there, having lost sight of Mr. Enthusiasm a while back.

Behind the “two huge boulders” is where things got dicey. The scrambles all seemed difficult, and I wasn’t sure, being all turned around like that, if I was even heading in the right direction anymore.

I made a series of decisions that seemed to take me pretty far to the left, even though Turtlehead was to my right. I was sure this couldn’t be right.

A mild panic started bubbling just below the surface. Until I saw this…


I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a trail marker in my life.

This lovely little sign was my Wilson. If I had a Sharpie handy, I would have drawn a face and some hair on that puppy.

With a renewed confidence I marched on, made a sharp turn to the right and saw this:


One final push and I would make it to summit. The end was in sight!

So I pushed. The pain of the growing blister faded as I willed my lungs to open up wider for those final few steps.

When I arrived at the top, there was one lone hiker up there, enjoying a peaceful late afternoon 360-view of the valley.

We exchanged quick hellos and then I got busy snapping pictures in the low sun.

I realized I had no idea what time it was as I hadn’t worn a watch or brought my cell phone. This was Mistake #3.

Once I was satisfied with my shots, I made my way back over to where he was seated and asked what time it was.

3:30, he said.

I removed my pack, sat, and munched on my snacks, so happy to be off my feet. I was really freaking tired. Rest felt good!

Feeling a chill in the air, I pulled the fleece jacket, previously tied around my waist, over my head, and knew this was yet another sign it was late in the day. Too late in the day. And I needed to start coming down off that mountain.

I threw my pack back on and told him I was headed down as I didn’t want to be caught on the trail in the dark.

He told me he’d likely be right behind me.

I was happy to hear that as I really didn’t want to hike down alone. I knew, at this point, I was already in trouble due to the late hour.

As it turns out, my directional skills were even worse going down.

I was halfway down the steep initial descent from the summit when I saw his red shirt about 30 ft to my right.

I called over, “Oh no, did I mess up already?”

He responded, “Did you go left? That’s the really steep side. Be careful not to twist your ankle.”

I told him it was probably a good idea for me to make my way over to the ‘trail’ he was on.

He didn’t wait for me to get there.

The sky was getting darker, and I started to move faster, concerned that I was now the last one on the mountain.

Moving fast, at dusk, on a steep decline, with loose gravel was Mistake #4.

A loose rock gave way under my right foot. I went air-born for a moment, and then slammed down on my right hip/butt cheek/outer thigh. Thankfully I have some padding there.

It hurt, but there was literally no time to cry about it. I had to keep moving.

And I could no longer see my red-shirted friend. How fast did this guy move??

I slipped again, on another loose rock. My ankle rolled and my knee locked uncomfortably. I winced in pain.

If you’re keeping score, so far everything is happening to the right side of my body. Blister on right foot. Fall on right hip. Roll right ankle. Lock right knee. When it rains it pours.

I tried to shake it off, but my legs were trembling. My steps became unsure. My pace slowed as I grew more tentative with each step.

Finally I saw a figure about 50 feet away. It turned out to be Mr. Enthusiasm.

I was happy for a brief moment, but, like the red-shirted guy, he was way over to my right. He told me to make my way to his trail.

But I couldn’t see a way to do that.

I was so tired. And scared.

It actually made things worse that I could see him but couldn’t get to where he was.

I kept hiking down, parallel to him, legs shaking the entire time.

What felt like a million minutes later, I was able to safely cut across to join him.

The sun had long set, and this is what the trail looked like:


Note, I adjusted the contrast and light in this photo so you could make out the image. It was even darker than this. And we still had approximately 1/4 mile to go at this point.

I was moving slowly, too slowly, considering the conditions. But I was physically and mentally exhausted.

I couldn’t will my shaky legs to go any faster. And, to his credit he didn’t push me to.

By the time we made it to the car, it was total darkness.

I consider myself very lucky for having made it out of this hike with only one slight injury. While the bruising on my hip is pretty ugly – and the area is still very sore – things could have turned out much worse.

I made some really stupid decisions on Tuesday, all in an effort to rebound from the scared stiff hiking experience the previous Friday.

Let’s call a spade a spade.

I wanted to prove I was brave, so I attempted to hike Turtlehead Peak in late afternoon, alone. Once again my ego was almost my undoing.

I am now re-prioritizing my foray into meditation. I am determined to address this ego issue once and for all, and I’m hoping deep meditation will assist me with that.

Keep moving,

xoxo nancy

58 thoughts on “turtlehead peak: red rock canyon / round 2

  1. OMG! OMG! OMG! I am waaaaaay too cautious to even consider this kind of hike as an option. I was stressed just reading about it!!
    So glad you made it out ok!! I would have quit at the my-feet-are-starting-to-blister stage 🙂

  2. I’m giving you a standing ovation right now.

    Yes, you were a bit foolish in giving in to that challenge. But in the end, you nailed it, up and down.
    And I bet when you hike now, you do good planning first.

    Red shirt guy is kind of a jerk for taking off.

    • Thank you Guap. I haven’t been hiking since Tuesday so I haven’t yet tested my good planning. 🙂 That said, Mr. Enthusiasm went out and bought headlamps for us both yesterday, so at the very least I’ll have light if I’m ever out there after sunset again!

      In fairness to red-shirt guy, I didn’t ask him to wait. But still, you’re right. Chivalry is pretty much dead…

    • The views were spectacular, Jhanis — and the cloudy skies just added to the beauty when the low sun created those gorgeous colours!
      But, yeah, it was very scary. And I’m lucky I got down safely, apart from minor little injuries.

  3. Yikes….hikes like that I would only attempt by starting in the morning. I hurt just reading your tale. Perhaps a little extra meditation is in order 😆 Kudos for completing that hike.

    • Yeah, the last time we did it we set out at 10:00 am. Definitely a better call. I don’t know why I pushed the envelope, knowingly, by setting out so late. I guess I felt I had something to prove after last Friday. Stupid. Lesson learned.

  4. Wow, those are some amazing views at the summit! I’d be freaked about the sun setting on the way back. You serve yourself in that you push yourself toward what you want, but bordering into cocky is where we get in trouble. Admittedly, I have had the same experiences in a yoga class. Then remind myself that deepening the poses is not what truly leads to an advanced yogi, it is so much more than the pose. Glad you have only minor injuries and learned a lesson too.

    • Yeah, it’s a trail that is difficult enough to navigate in broad daylight, let alone in the dark! I was set on doing a hard hike Tuesday, but failed to plan properly, from a departure time perspective. (Not to mention the lack of phone, watch, bandages, etc..)

      There is a fine line between challenging yourself and taking too much risk. I definitely crossed that line in the spirit of overcompensating for the previous hike. Definitely a lesson learned.

  5. Maybe you should consider pilates or something a little life-threatening! 🙂 My heart is in my mouth reading your posts but as there ARE posts, at least I know you survived it from the beginning – spoiler 😉

  6. Oh dear (w/ British accent) you did it again! In a way you remind me of my younger self …once almost spent a night on a deserted hill in a national park in Africa among the big five. That was one of the many times I wanted to show off my skills as safari driver…and yes, meditation helps 🙂

    • Holy shitballs!! Your on a deserted hill with the big 5 in Africa trumps any peril I’ve faced thus far! 🙂 Glad you got safely out of that one!

      I’m planning to hit a guided meditation class on Monday evening. Hoping that learning it in a structured group environment might help me focus better. Fingers crossed.

      • That was a close call, my Mister thought he’ll never see me again. After that little incident he always insisted to come along. I learned to meditate in a class too…after leaving Africa many moons ago. You’ll do it, you always do 🙂 Ps. I still keep moving every day and it’s almost February!

  7. Omg Nancy, I’m so relieved this story ended well. At least with you safe and sound if not feeling great… Keep you headlamp ready and maybe wear one of those locating beacons that skiers wear in case of an avalanche!

    • Sage advice Lisa! I’ve def got the headlamp in the pack now. I am also giving thought to buying a Garmin watch with the GPS because a lot of times there are write ups with gps coordinates for these crazy hikes to help you navigate. Or maybe just a compass, even. Of course that would mean needing to learn how to use one… 🙂

      • I’m hopeless with a compass. 😦 I think it would be safer for someone to be able to find me rather than trust I could navigate my way out with a dial spinning in a circle… A Garmin would be good though!

      • I hear ya on that! I am seriously the worst with direction. If there’s a 50/50 chance, I always pick the wrong way. Always.
        Maybe I should just do the opposite if what I think I should do…

  8. Oh Nancy! How scarey 😦 It sounds like a hideous experience. I hate scrambles when there are people to help let alone solo. You know anothet way to viee this experience is that you were getting back on the horse and not letting fear keep you down. I think that is really brave and also what you should have done. Just the timing was a little off with the late start and all. I love some of those pics btw. The late afternoon sun was glorious out there x

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