Hiking vignettes: Frenchman Mountain, Las Vegas

This was my first time I did a real hike alone. A bit more on that topic later, but I can say for sure that picking a reasonably well traveled and not too long of a route was a big plus. I got to the trailhead via an Uber and after stepping over a low fence I began the hike at approximately 10:15 AM PST.

Now, in general the Frenchman mountain hike trail can be split into four key areas: the first hill, the “false” peak, the saddle, and finally the summit. Getting to the top of the first hill didn’t take me that long, but in terms of the combined cardio stress (breathing and heartbeat) this was the most gruesome part of the hike. I suspect that this was more of a result of not being warm enough when starting, combined with a rather fast pace I picked up. Funny enough a group of about 6 teenagers was getting off of the hill in the meantime, and two of them managed to go down, back up, and back down in the time I made it to the top. Once at the top of the hill I had another fun encounter this time spotting an older man with two chihuahuas by his side on their way down form the hike. As I’ve learned later they made it all the way to the summit.

The hill is a nice spot to watch planes from a nearby US Air Force base do their training maneuvers. I was lucky during my hike and managed to see a good amount of action, and even snap a few shots of the planes.

After the hill the real hike began. Shortly after starting my trek up to the “false” peak, I met a local hiker A, who briefly explained to me the overall layout of the trail. He mentioned that a lot of people give up after reaching the first peak, since all they see ahead is a descent followed by an even longer ascent to the summit. From there onwards we essentially hiked in parallel with me being first to the “false” peak, and him being first to the real summit. I am almost certain that hiking with A in sight made this a way more fun and easier experience that if I was doing it completely alone. Additionally, I think it helped me maintain a relatively steady pace, not going too fast or too slow through any of the points.

From the “false” peak you get a nice panoramic view towards the north, and as one previous hiker put it “soul crushing” view of the way up about to come towards the south.

As expected the way down from the “false” peak was not much easier than the way up. In general, this is the pattern that held for most of the hike. The way up is strenuous, but the way down is where you are much more likely to fall. Which is not that surprising given that it is way easier to fall down, than to fall up.

Next up on the list was the saddle, a relatively flat area between the two peaks. Since saddle is still elevated compared to the ground level of Las Vegas, there is a nice little window from which you can catch a glimpse of the Strip, as well as mount Charleston’s peaks.

Finally both A and I made it to the summit of the Frenchman mountain. The views from the top were quite amazing, albeit it wasn’t the clearest day, so the city and mountains behind it looked a tad blurry. According to A, who lived in Las Vegas for more than 10 years, and hiked up and down Frenchman mountain at least 7 or 8 times, one of the best views from the summit is at night, when the Strip is lit up with all the neon lights. I wish I was able to see that, but my stay in Las Vegas is short, and I do not have appropriate flashlight gear to trek up a mountain at night.

While we were taking a bit of a break at the top, A explained that if you walk along the fence of the AT&T tower at the top and then do some basic scrambling, you get to see the eastward view from the mountain including lake Mead. We decided to get to that side as well, so we proceeded forward. Surprisingly the narrow passage around the fence is not particularly scary, but the scramble, especially as you get to the top of it, can make your knees feel a bit weak, especially if like me you have a moderate fear of heights. However, the views from that point are absolutely worth a slight tremble in the knees.

At that point A and I parted ways, as I began my journey back, and A decided to chill at the top for some amount of time. The road back was reasonably hard, as the loose rock and gravel did not make for the sturdiest surfaces to walk down a slope on, and the sun was picking up. I was lucky that this march turned out to be colder than usual, but according to A being on the mountain after 11 AM towards the end of the March would not be the smartest move. On my way back, I had solid noon to 1 PM sun blasting, so I had to make sure to reapply the sunscreen or else I’d end up being a fine shade of lobster red by the time I’d be back.

While the planes, the views, and the weather were on my side this time, the local fauna was timid. I only managed to spot a few tiny birds (barely above the size of a hummingbird), but decided not to snap any pictures of them, since they essentially blended with the rocks. The vegetation on the mountain was desert-like as expected.

There were also some cool rocks on the way which seemed to burst from within the other rock formations. They were deep amber in color and a few small fragments I picked up felt almost glass like: relatively light, fragile feeling, yet sharp around thinner edges.

However, since my knowledge of geology and mineralogy is nil, I had no way to identify what those veins were. I probably can Google it, but will rather wait until my parents see the pictures and do the mineralogy Google research for me.

At the end of the hike I felt tired, but accomplished. The solo mission was a complete success, and I enjoyed the views and the challenge. On the way back there were a few moments when as far as I could see I was the only person on the trail. Despite part of my mind thinking about how it is not the best idea to chill in the middle of a desert at noon, I still found it quite meditative to stop in more windy places and take in the vast scale of the nature surrounding me.

I would like to claim that due to my amazing balancing skills and a good choice of hiking boots I managed to stay on my feet for the whole hike. However, such a claim would be false. Towards the end of the hike, as I was descending from the “false” peak, I managed to slip and slide on a bunch of gravel and made full contact with ground. It was a minor and rather graceful fall, so I am not expecting more than a minor bruise on my hip and moderate sized bruise on my ego.

Now, after I made it back to the AirBnB, and am enjoying a nice cold beer, I start feeling my legs and feet drafting a complaint about today’s adventure. Hopefully, I will be mostly recovered by tomorrow as ahead lies an approximately 3 hour drive towards the Zion National Park.

In conclusion, I would recommend the Frenchman mountain trail to anyone who enjoys desert mountain hiking and looks for a moderate hike. Main difficulties of this hike are the steep inclines and loose gravel. However, the overall short length of the trail compensates for it making a round trip in 3.5-4 hours more that achievable, even if you stop frequently for pictures.

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