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Black Butte Peak
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Gold Butte National Monument
Black Butte Peak
Black Butte PeakBlack Butte Road at Sand Wash Road (view SE)

Overview

Black Butte Peak is a striking, isolated limestone peak located on the desert flats west of Whitney Pocket. The peak is not tall (only 500 feet above the surrounding desert flats), but the summit is well defended by rocky outcrops that provide a challenging exercise in route finding and a sincere feeling of accomplishment when overcome.

Black Butte Peak is a good example of a Class-4 route: the scrambling is easy with plenty of hand- and foot-holds, and most hikers would not want a rope, but those who fall will die. Suffice to say, this in not a route for the faint of heart.

For a relatively low peak, the summit views are grand, and when ready to descend, the "challenging exercise in route finding" resumes because everything looks different on the way down.

Link to hiking map. See photos of the descent or scenery photos from the summit.

Black Butte Peak
Black Butte Trailhead (view E)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ... this route is Class-4, so be extra careful when scrambling in the cliffs. It is unlikely that experienced hikers would fall, but it would be easy to trip while walking along the arete. Trekking poles might be nice for the arete. The rock is very rough limestone, so some hikers might want gloves, although this has the benefit of making boots stick like glue on high-angle slopes.

This is a wild and remote area without services of any kind (no restrooms, no water, no gas, no food). Bring what you need to survive. Be prepared and be self-reliant. Someone will find you eventually if you stay on a main road, but be prepared to survive alone for a day or two. Cell phones only work along parts of the paved road.

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

Black Butte Peak
Route runs up gully just past rock outcrops (view NE)

Getting to the Trailhead

Black Butte Peak is located out in Gold Butte National Monument at the northeast end of Lake Mead, about 2.5 hours northeast of Las Vegas in a wild, remote, and scenic area.

From town, drive out to Gold Butte National Monument. From Whitney Pocket, turn around and drive back north for 1.4 miles to Black Butte Road, an unmarked dirt road to the west. This is just past a large sandstone crag with campsites around the base. Turn left and drive west on Black Butte Road.

Black Butte Road stays left at a fork, passes through the Falling Man Trailhead area, runs through washes and up over low ridges until dropping into Sand Wash, 3.5 miles from the pavement. Black Butte Peak trailhead is the wide spot on the left, upstream, side of the intersection with Sand Wash Road. Park here; this is the trailhead.

Black Butte Peak
Ridgeline (view E up the route)

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 1, Waypoint 01), the route runs up Sand Wash about 100 yards to just past rock outcrops on the ridge. Following the first gully (Wpt. 02) up the side of the ridge, hikers quickly arrive atop the ridgeline (Wpt. 03). To reduce unsightly erosion tracks on the hillside, hikers should try to stay in the bottom of the gully until it disappears onto the hillside near the ridgeline.

Atop the ridge, nice views are had north and south, as this point already stands high above the surrounding desert.

The route turns east and runs up the ridgeline towards the peak. The three largest rocky outcrops are more easily passed on the left (north) side of the ridge. The fourth large rocky outcrop, a steep headwall, is not passable on the north because of high cliffs, and the route is forced onto the south side of the ridge.

Black Butte Peak
Ridgeline (view NE towards Virgin Peak)

Traversing right beneath the headwall, the south side of the ridge is found to be a broad slab of steeply sloping limestone. Passing the headwall, the route runs up and right. Staying along the base of the headwall, the route climbs onto sloping ledges (Wpt. 05) that form a bit of a walkway across the base of the sloping slab.

At this point, the route forks. The main route climbs a steeply sloping ramp that runs up and left (west), angling bac onto the top of the previous headwall. Alternatively, a route runs across the walkway to the far side of the steeply sloping slab.

Scrambling up and left, the main route arrives atop the headwall, which now is the base of the arete (Wpt. 06). Scrambling up the arete, the north side falls away vertically for what seems like forever, and the south side falls away almost vertically for again, what feels like forever. Traversing the knife-edge ridge, White-throated Swifts whistle by at hypersonic speeds while Violet-green Swallows merely zoom by, both of which serve to distract hikers from the task at hand and foot.

Black Butte Peak
Ridgeline (view SE along Sand Wash)

Near the top of the arete (near to Wpt. 07), the route drops off the north side of the ridge by downclimbing a 10-ft wall to a broad, sloping scree-covered ledge. From there, the route follows safe and easy terrain uphill to the summit (Wpt. 08).

Back on the broad slab of steeply sloping limestone (Wpt. 05), the alternate route uses the sloping ledges as a walkway to cross the sloping slab. Near the far side, a steeply sloping ramp runs up and left; this is a possible route. A few yards farther (Wpt. 06a), a groove leads straight up the steeply sloping slab (north) to a chimney that can be used to gain the ridgeline (Wpt. 07) just beyond the arete. Dropping over the north side of the ridge, broken rock leads down to the broad, sloping scree ledge, and from there easy terrain leads to the summit (Wpt. 08).

After resting and regaining composure, return to the trailhead over the same route.

Black Butte Peak
Rocky ridgeline (view E)
Black Butte Peak
Paleozoic fossils in limestone rock
Black Butte Peak
Paleozoic fossils in limestone rock
Black Butte Peak
Rocky ridgeline (view E)
Black Butte Peak
Rocky outcrop; pass on the left (view E)
Black Butte Peak
Rocky outcrop; pass on the left (view E)
Black Butte Peak
Base of the headwall (view E)
Black Butte Peak
Base of the headwall (view E)
Black Butte Peak
Route and alternate (view N from desert flats)
Black Butte Peak
Climbing towards sloping ledges (view N)
Black Butte Peak
Ramp leads up and left to ridgeline (view SW)
Black Butte Peak
Base of arete (view E up the route)
Black Butte Peak
Base of arete (view N, down the cliff)
Black Butte Peak
Along the arete (view E up the route)
Black Butte Peak
Along the arete (view N, down the cliff)
Black Butte Peak
Along the arete (view E up the route)
Black Butte Peak
Along the arete (view E up the route)
Black Butte Peak
Broad, sloping scree ledge (view E)
Black Butte Peak
Broad, sloping scree ledge, nearing summit (view E)
Black Butte Peak
Arriving on the summit (view E)
Black Butte Peak
Summit (view NE)
Black Butte Peak
Summit cairn with register (view N)
Black Butte Peak
First page of summit register
Black Butte Peak
Brittlebush on the summit

Alternate Route on South Face

Black Butte Peak
Base of ramp on regular route (view E)
Black Butte Peak
Steep limestone slab
Black Butte Peak
Possible alternate ramp (view up and left)
Black Butte Peak
Approaching far side of bowl (view E)
Black Butte Peak
Route turns up slope (view E)
Black Butte Peak
Route ascends class-4 gully (view E)

Table 1. 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 Black Butte Trailhead 750463 4042605 2,222 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 Base of Ridge 750545 4042606 2,223 0.05 0.05 GPS
03 Ridgeline 750559 4042655 2,289 0.05 0.10 GPS
04 Base of Headwalls 750850 4042647 2,565 0.25 0.35 GPS
05 Ledges 750869 4042633 2,597 0.01 0.36 GPS
06 Base of Arete 750864 4042652 2,616 0.02 0.38 GPS
06a Bottom of Bowl (Alternate) 750922 4042603 2,633 . . GPS
07 Top of Arete 750921 4042631 2,678 0.05 0.43 GPS
08 Black Butte Summit 751013 4042626 2,735 0.06 0.49 GPS
01 Black Butte Trailhead 750463 4042605 2,222 0.49 0.98 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 151030

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