turtlehead peak: red rock canyon

It’s been a few weeks since I published a Throwback Thursday post. Since I’m really missing the mountains, I chose this one from Mar 2013: my first summit of Turtlehead Peak, a true breakthrough hike for me. Yes, I can.

Originally posted Mar 9, 2013 – edited

Winter rainstorms were threatening to roll in, so I decided to take advantage of a clear day to get my hike on. I gathered my gear: camelbak, trekking poles, hiking boots and cell phone and headed to the mountains to take on the beast, that one hike I’d been avoiding.

Was I ready?…

Equipment? Check.

Mentally prepared? Not so much.

I had been hiking various trails at Red Rock Canyon for nearly 3 years, but had never even considered tackling this one. I shook my head silently as I gazed [straight] up at the daunting task ahead… Turtlehead Peak.


Maybe it’s not as bad as everyone says it is, I speculated as I willed the nerves away.

But then I recalled the specifics from the guidebook: 2,000’+ elevation gain in just under 2.5 miles; 800′ of which climb near vertically in just under 0.4 miles.

I can do this, I told myself. But not really believing it.

And off we went, Mr. Enthusiasm and I. He asked, just as we left the trailhead, 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.

See, even he knew it was crazy.

I fought, throughout the 2.5 hours it took to make summit, to quiet those thoughts. Everything inside me was telling me I couldn’t do this. Mr. Enthusiasm had transformed back to his previous persona, Mr. Reluctant, telling me that this was crazy/impossible/stupid. And this only added to my neuroses.

The first stop on the trail is an area known as Sandstone Quarry.


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 you’ve made zero progress. Because you pretty much haven’t. Not any vertical progress, anyway.

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.

Still, I second guess myself a lot. I must’ve asked “Are we going the right way?” or “Is THIS the trail?” about 3,000 times. Mr. Reluctant grumbled 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 while traversing an obstacle course of boulders.

Hikers making their descent from summit passed by and offered their two cents, “It’s worse coming down than it was going up!”. WHAT???  You’ve got to be freaking kidding me.

In an effort to neutralize the negative chatter, 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!“. And then I made the mistake of checking the display for my BodyMedia armband.

What in the actual fuck???

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 Activity? Who designed this device, and what kind of crack were they smoking? My heart was pounding out of my chest. THIS WAS FUCKING VIGOROUS. Trust me.

After I made it to the ridgeline, I felt great that I was no longer scrambling over 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 was truly impossible.

Right around this time, Mr. Reluctant began trying to convince me that we were done, and should just turn around and head back.

Oh, I think THIS is Turtlehead Peak.“, referring to a slight rise in the landscape about 3 feet ahead of us.

Note: He had previously pointed out each of the following as potentially being Turtlehead Peak:

  • a little mound of rocks
  • a small boulder
  • a  pile of petrified animal poo

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 (up) in the general direction of the peak.

As we took the last few 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 that had an excellent command of the English language]?.  Clearly I was a bit very loopy at this point. Poor guy… my jump and scream startled him too.

Once I settled back into my skin following my overly dramatic reaction to his warm greeting, I finally noticed my surroundings.

Brownstone Basin seen from Turtlehead Peak wit...

Brownstone Basin seen from Turtlehead Peak


The most beautiful panorama unfolded all around me. And all I could do was repeat “wow“, over and over again.

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 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 (incl. The Strip) and the snow capped La Madre Mountains. I felt so strong. So capable. In that moment, I felt like I could accomplish anything.

View of Bridge Mountain from the summit of Tur...

photo: My Year of Sweat

After taking the obligatory pictures of the awesomeness around us, Mr. Reluctant [who had miraculously transformed back to Mr. Enthusiasm] and I sat down for a mini picnic of granola, apples, walnuts and protein bars.


I then made sure to sign the guest/log book.

In it I wrote four words: “I feel so ALIVE!“.


Turtlehead Peak was a seriously challenging hike, and one that fully lived up to it’s official ranking 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 made it worth every step.


Keep moving!

xoxo nancy

p.s. Want to read about how I nearly killed myself climbing Turtlehead 10 months later in January 2014? Just click here. And remember, friends, don’t get to cocky on those mountains.

63 thoughts on “turtlehead peak: red rock canyon

  1. Looks like a great time. When I was looking at Turtlehead, I wondered if climbing gear was necessary to accomplish the ascent. No ropes or hooks?

    • Nope. The only technical aspects of the climb are the scrambles through that gully and chute system up to the saddle. Lots of climbing up boulders, and then inevitably some backtracking to find a safer route once you hit a no-go spot. I’ve done it once more since that first time, wrote about it here if you’re interested. https://myyearofsweat.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/turtlehead-revisted/
      This time I was STUPID and tried it too late in the day. Ended up descending, alone, in the dark. Not fun.

  2. I know zilch about hiking –wait I take that back. I’ve done it twice in my lifetime. Once at camp in 5th grade and once as an adult in Santa Monica, CA. Neither ended with a spectacular view like the ones you shared! I may just have to take up a new hobby…

    • Hiking is as close to deep meditation as I’ve ever gotten. That is, when I’m not on a treacherous trail and feeling like I’m about to die. 🙂

      I highly recommend it! For me there is no feeling in the world like summiting a mountain and feeling, literally, on top of the world. The higher the peak, the better it feels (after you’ve caught you breath!).

      Thank you so much for stopping by, and especially for taking the time to comment. It means the world!

      • That is a good plan! Definitely start on trails rated as beginner to intermediate. And depending what part of the country you’re in, and the time of year, please ensure you have enough water, and that you hydrate often. Dehydration can sneak up on you – and once it’s too late, well..it’s too late. The effects are really horrific (flu-like) and will put you down for a day or two. Be safe and have fun!

  3. Enjoyed your tale the first time and more the second. I love those hikes that make me feel ‘alive’. Our recent trip to RMNP had us doing two such hikes and can’t wait for more.

    • I didn’t realize you’ve been reading since March 2013, Ingrid! Wow! (Or maybe you read the return hike to Turtlehead earlier this year, when I mis-timed it and wound up descending, alone (Ed hadn’t gone all the way up) and in the dark… That was a special kind of stupid, that time. 🙂

  4. I remembered your revisited post and it’s nice to read the beginning of the story today, Nancy. Several parts of this hike remind me of our trip up Hurricane Ridge a few weeks ago – especially the elevation gain, worrisome comments by fellow hikers about the trail being harder on the way down and fantastic views from the top. 🙂

    • This first summit of Turtlehead was way smarter than that revisit earlier this year! Nothing like that sense of accomplishment once you get to summit, right? I hope you’ll post more of your pics from you vacation/hikes. The views look amazing!

      • Your revisit post had me worried even though I knew you had to have made it down safely since you finished the recap! I have so many photos from our trip to share over the next few weeks I’ve decided to go in rough chronological order. If everyone is still interested we’ll go through the Olympic mountains, see an amazing lake, rivers, water falls, the rain forest and a few beaches. A lot of hiking miles!

  5. I’ve been to Vegas once and haven’t felt the urge to go back, but your posts make me want to return just so I can see some of that gorgeous Red Rock Canyon. Of course, I won’t be nearly as adventurous as you, but I’m sure my sons and hubby would love it.

  6. Wow, good stuff out of you! I’m exhausted just reading about it! I probably would have given in to Mr Reluctant half-way up! I like his ‘that’s the peak’ though – 10 points for effort 🙂

    • I’m convinced that if people just moved more all the nonsense with crash diets, juice cleanses, pills and potions might have a chance at going away for good.

      Thanks do much for stopping by and especially for taking the time to comment. It means a great deal!

    • It was my first “difficult” hike. Believing I was capable of doing a difficult/expert hike was a huge obstacle. Definitely a breakthrough moment for me, this one was.

  7. I hadn’t read about this first climb…confirms again your relentless persistence when you want to achieve something. And this was a ‘great feather in your hat’! Loved the post and the pictures from a up there are amazing!

  8. You are so frickin’ amazing that you can ignore your internal fears as well as Mr. E’s outwardly expressions of doubt! I would have turned to mush and said, “Yea, you are probably right, I will never make it up.” Although usually, the word NO means, “watch me try”. And that you did it again this year. Mujer Loca!! 🙂

  9. Great story, beautiful post. Suggestion here:How about making the words:”Hey there! You made it.” your push words. You know, when you hit the top mark for number of reps you usually do on a particular piece of equipment or free weights and you get down to the last one and everything hurts and you push for one more rep you scream inside your head (or verbally) something to cause that last bullet to fire. That word is your push word. Some people curse, some laugh, groan, grunt, expel stuff. You know. Just a suggestion.

    • It’s a real shame that most visitors never bother to look up and around. Nevada is the most mountainous state in the contiguous United State; there are literally mountains in all four directions (unlike Denver, say, where you see mountains in only one or two directions, depending on where you are). I’ll bet very people realize this. 🙂

      Besides the mountains though, there is a ton of great things to do, see, eat in Vegas; none of which involve being on the Strip. Unfortunately most tourists don’t bother to investigate (which is fine by the locals, I think. 😉

  10. Wonderful post and how lovely photos, which I enjoyed very much. I have never hiked abroad, but only in Finland. Usually we hike far beyond the Arctic Circle on the area called Lapland. Hiking there is great fun, because man can meet everywhere roaming reindeers.

    Happy blogging!

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