Our original mid-Thanksgiving week plans called for Bridge Mountain, a peak that has been on my bucket list for quite some time. Unfortunately, the weekend storms had left a dusting of snow on the rainbow escarpment that was just deep enough to concern us. First, the nasty 4×4 road to get to the trailhead was already a challenge, and snowy and/or wet conditions would make it worse. Second, there is some exposed class 3 scrambling on the way to the peak, and although that can be really fun on the good sandstone, when it is wet it can get slippery and much more dangerous. So, plans scrapped. Boo.
Luckily, Robin had been in contact with Harlan Stockman, and he offered an alternate: he’d guide us to another impressive peak in the area, the informally named “Sentinel” in Lake Mead National Recreation Area. I had never met Harlan but was more than familiar with his prolific collection of trip reports over at his website and had used his beta on more than one occasion. I was excited to get to climb with a local peak-bagging star and get some good beta first-hand.
We haven’t spent a lot of time climbing peaks in LMNRA, having only done two. One of those peaks, Anniversary, was a wonderful climb and I really enjoyed it. The other, East Redstone, was mostly a miserable slog and I didn’t enjoy the terrain at all. Harlan promised a fun scramble on Sentinel, but as we pulled off to park I noticed how close we were to East Redstone and was a bit nervous.
Fortunately, we took off cross-country in a direction different than East Redstone and very quickly caught an old road that wiggled through some low mud hills. We crested a small hill and saw our target ahead: The Sentinel. From this perspective it mostly looked like a red and black lumpy peak, and I tried to guess our route through the red rocks making up the lower 3/4 of the mountain.
The view up Pinto Valley was gorgeous. Several isolated red rock piles dotted the valley. As we crossed the valley we would stop at a couple of these small outcroppings.
Eventually we got to the base of Sentinel and started working our way through the red rock up some rampy canyons to the east of the summit.
Towards the top of the canyons we took a hard right into an open wash and headed for an obvious saddle/low point to the west.
At the saddle we had our first non-lumpy view of The Sentinel. It does look much more interesting from here!
The rest of our route follows a narrow sheep trail across the ridge. Unfortunately, said sheep trail is like walking on ball bearings so we carefully picked our way along. At one point we climbed over an outcropping with a large dropoff to the north. Much butt-scooching ensued.
Once across the uncomfortable loose stuff, we were below the summit. Above us, a steep limestone wall loomed, but the many breaks in the rock made some nice ramps and steps for ascent. The sticky velcro rock provided solid footing and before we knew it we were on the upper ridge. The summit was just a few more easy steps to the south.
Summit celebrations happened, as they do.
For the descent we had the option of returning the way we came, or descending via a steeper canyon with some climby bits. None of us were eager to scramble along that annoying sheep trail again, so we opted for the canyon. It started off in a rather unpleasant steep chute, but once we got back to the red rock layer things got much more fun.
Hopping the rocks down the canyon was fun, and every once in a while we’d come across a more challenging move. The wet sandstone was slicker than dry, so Harlan set up a handline in a couple of steeper spots. I never felt uncomfortable, but it was nice to have the extra security on the rock that was slicker than what we were used to in that kind of terrain.
The biggest obstacle is at the bottom of the canyon: a ~20 ft rappel. Alternatively, one can climb up the side of the canyon, descend a steep chute on the other side, and then friction-traverse some steep red rock. The friction-traverse initially did not sound too appealing if the rock were still wet, but upon seeing the rappel, we decided to choose the lesser of two evils.
It turns out the traverse was dry and easy. Harlan described taking some people through there who were really bothered by the exposure, so I see why he was offering the rappel first. Fortunately we all easily scurried through the red rock slabs and were soon back on the valley floor.
We connected again with the old road and followed it back to our cars. It was a super fun day in the desert with a great guide. I wouldn’t have wanted to figure this one out on my own! Thanks, Harlan!