Trail Report: Summiting Bridge Mountain
I first hiked Bridge Mountain in April 2010 and failed to complete the hike. You can read about that attempt here. I was out of shape, no experience with Class 3 climbing techniques, and fully exhausted after the initial 150 ft climb. This attempt would be different.
The hike to the summit of Bridge Mountain is really three hikes in one. The initial section is a straight forward hike on a very well maintained trail. To get to the trailhead you must drive nearly 4.5 miles on the Gap Road which requires a high clearance vehicle. On my first hike we were able to drive all the way back to the trailhead located at the Summit of the Gap Road. This attempt started with a curve ball. The road was severely affected by rain and we decided to park at the 2 mile mark extending our hike by nearly 5 miles.
We made it to the trailhead with no issues and the extra mileage served as a great warm up. John Roan, of Mountain Ultralight, and Jarrod Schechla joined me on this hike. John is one of our Contributors on TS and Jarrod works with my wife. We made our way up the initial section of trail as it rose nearly 800 ft to the Top of the Escarpment. The Top of the Escarpment is a well defined intersection of the limestone and sandstone that dramatically shapes the area. Standing here you can see Bridge Mountain for the first time and in the distance the Las Vegas valley. The views are fantastic!
The second section of the hike is the complete opposite of the initial section. Route finding becomes more difficult, there is no trail, and only occasional blazes suggest the most direct route. What makes this section so challenging is the continuous scrambles up and down what seems like an endless string of ridges, chutes, cracks, and ravines. We climbed up a 20 ft crack, down 40 ft on the other side exposed to a 1200 ft drop into Pine Creek Canyon. We scrambled up to a point, down to a wash with the perfect camping spot, and up again to a perch that once again framed Bridge Mountain. This process repeated over and over. It’s the impact of this section that I felt in my lats and triceps for days after the hike.
The second section ended with a short scamper across a series of ripples and ribs in the sandstone that proved difficult to walk across but much less trying than the scrambles we had just completed. The canyons below on either side close in and the natural stone bridge narrows to about 30 feet with an 800 ft drop to the north into Icebox Canyon and a 1200 ft drop to the south into Pine Creek Canyon. The bridge slants to the North and made me very aware of exactly what I was doing. The bridge widened as we approached the base of the final ascent and the crack that marked the beginning of the final section became very evident.
The final section of the Bridge Mountain hike is the most challenging. It started with a 150 ft climb up a crack that required careful consideration for each hand and foot hold. As we approached this crack it wasn’t until we stood right at the base of it that it appeared to be doable without ropes. The angle is really much less severe than it appears from a distance but having done the initial part of the final climb before I knew what to expect.
We methodically made our way up the 150 feet challenged only by one move where we had to move out of the crack and onto the spine of the south wall. This move left us very exposed but the holds were strong and plentiful. We made deliberate moves and quickly found our way back into the crack.
At the top of the initial 150 ft climb, we had to exit to the left onto a slab that was about 4 feet wide and overlooked a 800 ft drop into Icebox Canyon. This was not the place to hang out!
Another crack led up the north side of the face another 40 feet then onto a similar slab and then onto the natural arch by way of a steep ramp. The arch was created when a wall of the tenaja apparently gave way suddenly or eroded over time. Either way it is one of my favorite places on the hike. We entered the tenaja and circled to the left. This is the only way out of the bowl and it is in my opinion the hardest section of climbing. The holds are limited and the angle steep. We reached the top of the tenaja and veered to the right walking past the amphitheater and onto the base of the final ascent.
This is where I stopped (or wussed out) last time. The rush of adrenaline from the climb moments before left my legs weak and shaky. I felt gassed.
This time it was different. I felt great but still questioned the final climb as Jarrod and I worked out our strategy. There is really only one way. You have to scale another ledge, fully exposed on your left side, as you ascend the rock above the Hidden Forest. The slabby rock is really more like a ramp and the overhangs made it difficult for me to stay in a low stance as we moved forward. The danger here is more from a misstep leading to a slide than from a fall.
We made it to the summit in about 20 minutes.
The views are extraordinary from the summit of Bridge Mountain. We signed the summit register, slapped a high five, and took some pictures. There were hundreds of lady bugs literally on the highest point of the mountain. Puzzling still as I write this, but I guess they were enjoying the view as well.
We refueled and began our descent knowing that most accidents happen on the way down. We took our time and made it back safely. I’m glad I attempted Bridge Mountain a second time. It feels good to conquer something that defeated me before. That said, I don’t have any plans to do it again.
This is the video from the hike. I edited it down significantly but I think it gives a pretty good overview of the hike, the terrain, and the scale of this summit bid.
One of the hardest things about hiking Bridge Mountain is the drive to the trailhead. The Gap Road is very rough and requires a high clearance vehicle. The road twists and turns for 4.25 miles from the Willow Spring picnic area to the trailhead. The first time I did this hike we were able to get all the way back but this time we stopped about half way deciding that it was smarter to hike the rest of the way.
There is also a significant level of exposure once you reach the actual climb up Bridge Mountain. Be sure to watch the weather and don't attempt to summit if there is any significant wind.
Route finding and Class 3 climbing skills are essential. A fear of heights will keep you from attempting this hike. The hike is comprised of three distinct sections: the initial trail portion, the scrambling section across the sandstone, and the final ascent requiring the Class 3 climbing skills.