Moapa Peak

Several years ago on my very first visit to Las Vegas, Nevada, I was struck by the sight of a prominent mountain on the north side of the I-15 after driving across the state line from Arizona.  I would later learn that this was Moapa Peak, and though it is not the highest mountain in the region, it is immensely popular with local peak-baggers.  Besides its visibility from the highway, Moapa Peak garners much attention because of its infamous summit ridge which is narrow and exposed in places.  Admittedly, this was part of the appeal for me when I set out to climb the mountain on 18 October 2013.

Armed with an excellent route description from, I left my hotel in Las Vegas before dawn and drove east along the I-15.  I left the I-15 at exit 100, and after driving through a narrow tunnel under the highway, I turned onto a dirt road heading north toward Moapa Peak.  Although the road was fairly easy to follow, one particular fork a couple of kilometres before the trailhead caused some confusion (stay right).  The road became significantly rougher the closer I approached the trailhead, and even though I tried to drive more carefully, I still scraped the bottom of my rented Chevy Equinox a couple of times.

Starting from a large sign at the trailhead, I hiked up the continuation of the road through a low pass to Jacks Pockets, an unexpectedly green oasis of desert vegetation.  A couple of large washes emanate from the south slopes of Moapa Peak and converge at Jacks Pockets.  I was initially unsure about which wash to hike up, but a quick consultation of the route description pointed me in the right direction (take the wash to climber's left).  The wash eventually turns westward and narrows to a short canyon which dead-ends at a pour-over.  Fortunately, I found a cairn marking a by-pass route on climber's left which allowed me to circumvent the pour-over.  Easy terrain beyond allowed me to grind my way up to a low saddle.  From this saddle, I worked my way northward up to some Class 3 ledges which are what I would consider the crux of the trip.  The route up these ledges is not entirely obvious, and after a bit of searching about, I eventually ascended a rather sketchy gully on climber's right.  A wide ramp above the ledges ultimately led me to another saddle on the west ridge of the mountain.  From this second saddle, I headed up the ridge to a large wall stretching across the south face of the upper mountain.  A long traverse eastward across the base of this wall was followed by another steep grind before I finally gained the crest of the east ridge.  The final scramble along the exposed summit ridge was exhilarating but not overly difficult.

After spending about 45 minutes at the summit, I retraced my steps back down the mountain.  At the Class 3 ledges, I followed cairns down a slightly different route that was further west of where I originally ascended.  There is one slightly tricky step here, but overall, this is probably the correct route and is easier than my route of ascent.  The rest of my descent went without a hitch except when I snapped one of my hiking poles that I bought earlier in the week from a Wal-Mart in Las Vegas.  The pole lasted all of four trips!

Overall, Moapa Peak lived up to its hype as a classic scramble.  While the knife-edge of the summit ridge was a highlight of the trip, the real appeal for me was the overall elegance of the route--easy approach, moderately steep hiking, and enough route-finding and Class 3 scrambling to keep things interesting.  Climbing Moapa Peak was a great way to cap off a fantastic week for me in Las Vegas, and I am already looking forward to my next trip to Sin City.
The sign describes a trail that doesn't really exist! This interpretive sign seems a little out of place at this remote trailhead.  Moapa Peak is directly ahead.
Any water that drains from the mountain likely collects here--hence the unusually green vegetation. Jacks Pockets is an unexpectedly green oasis below the south face of Moapa Peak.  The route follows the wash to the left.
There's a bit of a trail here, but it's very short-lived. The wash narrows to a short canyon.  The cairn marks the spot to by-pass the canyon on climber's left.
Still another 600 metres of elevation gain from here. This is looking back down the access gully from the first saddle.
Keep on sloggin'! The route continues up more Class 2 terrain above the first saddle.
Tougher than the exposed summit ridge in my opinion. This is the right side of the crux.  A little route-finding and Class 3 scrambling is required to ascend here.
It would be a good idea to take a waypoint here or build a small cairn for the descent. This is looking back at the crux (bottom centre) from the top of the ramp.
It looks as if you could scramble all the way to the summit from here, but the view is deceptive. Above the second saddle is more easy Class 2 terrain.
And this is why you can't scramble all the way up to the summit from the west ridge! A surprising cliff face presents itself further up.
There is a second wall to traverse beyond the ridge at far right. The route continues eastward along the base of this wall.
Most of the hard work is done. This is where it gets fun! It is easiest to gain the summit ridge by dropping down slightly to the north (shadowy area to the right) and climbing up a Class 3 crack (not visible here) in behind.
Good place to find some shrubbery. Ni! This is looking up the Class 3 crack on the north side of the summit ridge.
And it's no better on the south side too! The exposure on the north side of the summit ridge is unforgiving.


Sonny walks carefully along the summit ridge.

The overhang is entirely avoidable; just stick to climber's left from this point! There are some overhanging sections of rock just before the summit.
You can still get cel phone coverage up here. Maybe I should order a pizza... Sonny stands on the summit of Moapa Peak (1966 metres).
Although Mormon Peak is higher than Moapa Peak, it doesn't quite have the same appeal. Mormon Peak (far right on horizon) is visible to the north.

The summit ridge doesn't look so bad from this angle.

To the east, Davidson Peak is barely visible behind the eastern outlier of Moapa Peak.

The town of Mesquite, NV should also be somewhere down there in front of Mount Bangs. Mount Bangs (left) and Virgin Peak (far right) are visible on the southeast horizon.
Looks like a golf green down there. Pull out your driver! Sonny's rental car is visible at the trailhead loop.  The bright patch of green marks the entrance to Jacks Pockets.
Seeing a body of water from up here made my day! Here is a more comprehensive view of the trailhead and Jacks Pockets at bottom left.  Lake Mead is barely visible in the distance at left.
A lot of people probably traverse this part au cheval although it's probably easiest to grab the crest with your hands and step on the mini-footholds on the left. This is the narrowest part of the summit ridge.
And prickly too! This barrel cactus is looking rather erect.
It's probably easier to ascend and descend here than where I went up on the right side of the crux. This is the left side of the crux.  The trickiest spot is behind the two agave plants at centre, but the ledges above are pretty straightforward (there are cairns).
I chased a snake around here! The open wash of Jacks Pockets is a welcome sight at the end of the day.  At left in the distance is Virgin Peak.
The end of a most enjoyable week in Las Vegas! Desert marigolds are in full bloom.
Lives up to its billing as a classic scramble! Total Distance:  ~8.8 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  7 hours 38 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  1009 metres