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Red Cap Mountain, West Peak Route
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Red Cap Mountain, West Peak Route
Red Cap Peak
Sandstone Quarry Trailhead (view N)


Red Cap (aka "Little Turtlehead Peak" or "Turtlehead Junior") is the highest point in the Calico Hills. The summit is two peaks separated by a chasm. Views from the two are identical, and although the west peak is a few feet higher, the east peak is easier and safer to climb, so there is little value in risking the true summit.

For bragging rights and a 1.25-mile hike, the West Peak Route follows the East Peak Route to near the summit, then diverts to the north side of the mountain and uses short, minimally 5th-class cracks to connect broad slickrock ramps.

Most of Red Cap Mountain is composed of white sandstone, but the summit bears a cap of red sandstone, hence the name: Red Cap.

Link to map.

Red Cap Peak
Main wash bends left; route goes straight (view E)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a steep and strenuous hike requiring scrambling over and around boulders and up 3rd-class chutes and slickrock, plus a bit of easy 5th-class climbing in cracks. The route also requires some route-finding skills. Be extra careful when high enough to fall and hurt yourself.

Despite the Class-5 rating, a rope is not necessary on the ascent, but some people might feel more comfortable with a rope for the descent. About 30 feet of webbing probably would be sufficient.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and please try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, even though this is a short hike, be sure to bring what you need of the 10 Essentials.

Red Cap
Route through chute and gap (view SE)

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located along the Scenic Loop Road in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, about 45 minutes west of Las Vegas. Drive out to Red Rocks, pay the entrance fee, and drive up the Scenic Loop Road for about 3 miles to the Sandstone Quarry Trailhead. Park here; this is the trailhead.

Red Cap
Route beyond ramps leading to the crest (view E)

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 1, Waypoint 01), the hike follows the Calico Tanks Trail through the historic quarry area (Wpt. 03) to the right at the Turtlehead Peak trail junction (Wpt. 04), and to the left in the main wash when the Calico Tanks Trail turns right into Calico Tanks Canyon (Wpt. 05).

Now following the Red Cap East Peak Route, the route departs the wash (Wpt. 06), climbs the 3rd-class chute (Wpt. 07), and scrambles past a series of relatively large singleleaf pinyon pine trees to reach the crest of the Calico Hills (Wpt. 11).

Turning north, the route zig-zags up and past a small pine, then angles to the left onto a broad, sandy ledge area (Wpt. 12). In this sandy area, the West Peak and East Peak routes split.

Red Cap
Route leading north from crest of the Calico Hills

The East Peak Route turns right to climb a chute back onto the crest, while the West Peak Route continues straight (north). The route runs out on narrowing ledges to a corner, then turns the corner to find more broad ledges.

Descending to the north across these broad ledges and beneath a high cliff, there are two route choices: climb the ramp on the right capped by a crag with three cracks, or continue a little farther north to a gully capped by steep slickrock.

The shorter route starts up the obvious ramp and enters an awkward, off-width crack that can be ascended using chimney techniques (really skinny people might squeeze through) that probably qualify as 4th-class scrambling: easy enough, but fall and get hurt.

Red Cap
Broad sandy ledge (view N towards corner)

Atop the off-width crack, three cracks lead upward. All are minimal 5th-class scrambling: easy enough but with no comforting handholds or footholds, but fall and get really hurt. The left crack might be easiest, the middle looks scary, and the right is another off-width crack that requires chimney techniques and is even more awkward than the lower section.

After picking your poison, the route follows the slickrock summit ridge up and to the south. Just below the top, a large solution pocket is looked over by what appears to be three large boulders piled up to form the summit. The route uses the crack between the right and center "boulders."

The crack requires minimally 5th-class scrambling where the footholds are pretty good but the handholds are a bit skimpy and the rock is slightly overhanging. Fortunately, facing outward, the crack is easier to downclimb than it is to climb up.

Red Cap
Ledges narrowing towards the corner (view N)

An alternative route bypasses the ramp, off-width crack, and choice of three 5th-class cracks, but it is not necessarily better. While descending across the broad ledges beneath the high cliff, continue a little farther north to a gully. Climb down into the gully, then turn right and scramble up the gully to the crest of the range. At the crest, a shrub live oak clogs the gully. Turning back to the south, the route climbs through the shrub and onto the slickrock above, which probably is minimally 5th-class friction climbing. Heading uphill, this alternative rejoins the "regular" route in only a few yards.

A number of routes lead back to the trailhead, but the easiest is to follow your footprints back down the slickrock, taking extra care when downclimbing the more difficult parts.

Red Cap
Broad ledges looking north to the ramp and three cracks (view N)
Red Cap
Above the off-width crack, pick your poison (view N)
Red Cap
Off-width crack (1) and three 5th-class cracks (2-4)
Red Cap
Slickrock leading to the summit (view S)
Red Cap
Slickrock leading to the summit (view S)
Red Cap
Water pocket just below the summit (view E)
red cap
Water pocket below the summit
Red Cap
Minimally 5th-class, slightly overhanging crack (view S)
Red Cap
Hiker climbing up the final crack (view N)
Red Cap
Final friction slab guarding the summit (view E)
Red Cap
Hiker on summit (view E)
Red Cap
Summit (view SE towards Calico Basin and Las Vegas)
Red Cap
Summit (view NW towards Red Rock Cliffs)
Red Cap
Summit (view E across East Peak to Gray Cap Mountain)

Alternate Route to bypass the off-width slot and 3 cracks

Red Cap
Alternative route to bypass the 3 cracks
Red Cap
Alternative route to bypass the 3 cracks: rocks piled on branch

The Descent

Red Cap
Hiker descending the final crack below the summit (view NW)
Red Cap
Hikers passing the solution pocket
Red Cap
Hikers past the solution pocket
Red Cap
Descending the East Peak Route, remember the big ledge

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Sandstone Quarry Trailhead 639468 4002876 4,367 0.00 0.00 Yes
02 Grand Circle Trail Junction 639483 4002979 4,305 0.07 0.07 GPS
03 Calico Tanks Trail Junction 639461 4003002 4,311 0.02 0.09 GPS
04 Turtlehead Peak Trail Junction 639419 4003159 4,379 0.11 0.20 GPS
05 Calico Tanks Canyon 639636 4003359 4,405 0.20 0.40 GPS
06 Wide Spot in Wash 639797 4003422 4,385 0.12 0.52 GPS
07 Base of Cleft 639894 4003334 4,436 0.10 0.62 GPS
08 Top of Cleft 639904 4003331 4,466 0.02 0.64 GPS
09 Broad Sandstone Ramps 639928 4003300 4,499 0.02 0.66 GPS
10 Small Pine Tree 639995 4003239 4,580 0.07 0.73 GPS
11 Crest of Calico Hills 640244 4003198 4,785 0.19 0.92 GPS
12 Sandy Area 640186 4003238 4,808 0.06 0.98 GPS
15 Corner 640075 4003267 4,835 0.09 1.07 GPS
16 Base of Cracks 640063 4003323 4,807 0.04 1.11 GPS
17 Top of Cracks 640047 4003346 4,859 0.03 1.14 GPS
18 Summit Crack 640141 4003294 4,943 0.10 1.24 GPS
19 Summit, West Peak 640152 4003296 4,964 0.01 1.25 GPS
01 Sandstone Quarry Trailhead 639468 4002876 4,367 1.25 2.50 Yes
. . . . . . . .
20 Alternate Gully, Base 640032 4003341 4,818 . . GPS
21 Alternate Gully, Top 640039 4003378 4,854 . . GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 121220

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