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Mojave-Sonoran Trail Thru Hike 2021 – Section 5: Searchlight to Bullhead City

Mojave-Sonoran Trail Thru Hike 2021 – Section 5: Searchlight to Bullhead City

hikers view of spirit mountain from desert valley nevada

Spirit Mountain, high point of the Mojave-Sonoran Trail

Mojave-Sonoran Trail Section 5 Map

mojave sonoran trail thru hike map of section 5

Mojave Sonoran Trail Thru-Hike Section 5 – Searchlight to Bullhead City, 58 Miles

The above map only represents represents section 5 of 9 on the MST. For a more detailed map and general route info, see the Mojave-Sonoran Trail Guide page.

Mojave-Sonoran Trail Section 5 Journal

Day 18 – November 20th

Miles: 22.9
No animals seen

Ate breakfast at McDonald’s, along with some fresh fruit… Blackberries and banana. Took care of a few more chores and left Searchlight at 7:30. It felt good to be walking out of this town. If I never come back here that would be great.

hiking eldorado valley south of searchlight nevada hiking eldorado valley south of searchlight nevada

I walked the paved road east, leading to cottonwood cove, for about 2 miles before taking a dirt road South. The scenery here was rather bland. Low rolling hills, and just not that much to see. Easy to cover miles, though.

The first few hours were spent going up and over a small set of hills, and following a wash that leads out to the Nellis wash Wilderness. I won’t quite enter the Nellis wash wilderness though. Instead, my route parallels its western boundary.

hiking through nellis wash wilderness to newberry mountains nevada

View across Nellis Wash Wilderness to Spirit Mountain, Newberry Mountain Range

view of lake mojave and colorado river from nellis wash

View east to the Colorado River and Lake Mojave

When I reached the lower end of the wash, I went up over a hilla nd got my first distant view over the Nellis Wash Wilderness, towards the Newberry Mountain Range and Spirit Mountain. There was a distant view of Lake Mojave too. But in between all that, where I found myself, it was cross country travel perpendicular to the direction of all of the washes leading to the Colorado River. Just open desert hiking.

Open desert trek across Nellis Wash

I find the best way to deal with boring sections like this one is to put on some good tunes and jam out. I’m a metal head, liking stuff that’s heavy and high energy. Instead of trudging through the desert, I felt like I was flying across it with ease. With metal, anything is possible 🙂 Ha. But seriously, it’s true.

hikers view of spirit mountain from desert valley nevada hikers view of spirit mountain from desert valley nevada

I made short work of this open desert walk, and once again I found myself in some washes me entering through some small and unremarkable hills. It was incredible how and brown and boring this area looked. It was now noon and time for lunch. I was quite happy with my progress, having covered 13 miles so far.

hiking through nellis wash wilderness to newberry mountains nevada

Not much to see here

hiking through nellis wash wilderness to newberry mountains nevada

Spirit Mountain in the distance

hiking through nellis wash wilderness to newberry mountains nevada

After lunch, more boring walking. Every now and then I would get a good view of spirit mountain though, as well as some distant landmarks. Spirit Mountain is a massive granite mountain; jagged and imposing. At some point tomorrow I will attempt to summit it. But for now, I find myself walking off trail again across a huge, empty valley. I mean really, really huge! Not the prettiest place, but wow, what a place to find yourself.

hikers view of spirit mountain from desert valley nevada

hikers view of spirit mountain from desert valley nevada

Spirit Mountain

I eventually hit a dirt road that I would follow east towards spirit mountain. It’s getting closer now, bigger and badder looking. The road bends to the south and now walks parallel to the northern Foothills of Spirit Mountain, through the Newberry mountain range. I passed a few guzzlers, but didn’t want to stop and take the time to collect water from them, with my experience from two days ago fresh in my mind. I anticipated this, and tried to hydrate as much as possible before leaving town this morning, in addition to carrying five liters with me.

hikers view of spirit mountain from desert valley nevada hikers view of spirit mountain from desert valley nevada

It was late afternoon when I reached camp Thurman, as it’s marked on the map. The map also says “potential mine”, which I have never seen before. There was nothing here resembling a camp, but there are some old mine shafts and plenty of tailings. It was 4pm now and I had covered Nearly 23 miles, and had only drank two of my five liters of water. I thought maybe I could make this last until I get to a spring tomorrow, and avoid filtering from the small game guzzlers. Have one more guzzler to walk by tomorrow before I summit spirit mountain, So I will make that call then. Still, I felt pretty damn good covering 23 miles on two liters of water.

View of the Newberry Mountains from camp

tarptent notch li campsite on nevada thru hike

Camp at “Camp Thurman: A Potential Mine”

I set up my tent and used the remaining 20 minutes of daylight to poke through the tailings of the old mine. My notes say this was a lead and silver mine, but I also found some green colors, meaning malachite. This indicates the presence of copper, which is a common companion mineral to lead, or galena. This was the most interesting thing I found.

Today was my biggest mile day so far hiking this route, beating my previous highest mile day by about five miles. My progress today almost ensures in early arrival in bullhead city the day after tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to a zero day here for some R&R. My ankles have been a little sore and the top of my left foot is sore as well, from smacking it on a rock a few days ago. Time for 11+ hours of sleep, thanks to the long nights this time of year.

Day 19 – November 21st

Miles: 22.8
Animals Seen: 3 Jack rabbits

The wind picked up around 9pm, then subsided. It picked up again, then was still as can be till morning. It was cold this morning, and with the rising sun came increased winds, making it feel even colder.

I had about two and a quarter liters of water at my disposal this morning, and drank about a quarter liter with breakfast. I’m shooting for a small game guzzler about two miles away, but if that doesn’t work out I have a solid 15 miles to my next water source, and a mountain to climb on the way.

hiking the newberry mountains nevada to spirit mountain summit

Spirit Mountain from Roman Mine

a small game guzzler in the newberry mountain range nevada

Small game guzzler near Roman Mine. This one looks much more difficult to collect water from

Not long after leaving camp I passed another mine, the Roman mine. This is where I would have camped last night if I didn’t stop at Camp Thurman. There is a small game guzzler just up the hill, but I was disappointed to see that the roof of the guzzler was only 15 inches or so above the ground. This would make it very hard to crawl under there and draw water from it. I passed, not feeling that desperate. The mine was rather boring as well, with little rocks of interest to my untrained eye.

dilapidated cabin in nevada mountains

Old mining cabin in the Newberry Mountains

dilapidated cabin in nevada mountains

There was an old cabin farther up the road, pretty dilapidated and not much to see or do here. These cabins generally do not offer much to explore. There is no backstory to learn about what went on here, and nothing of value or interest is left.

hiking the newberry mountains nevada to spirit mountain summit

I kept walking up hill until it was time to leave the road and begin the climb up spirit mountain. The mountain looks imposing from afar, and up close. It looks like a steep climb on the map. To be honest, I’m dreading this climb. I’m already thirsty, and I know it will be a lot of hard work. But this is what I came here for. I’m not skipping Spirit Mountain.

hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada

A look at the climb ahead…

hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada

Good views so far

hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada

I began the climb up the gully, acutely aware of the wide array of cactus that littered the landscape here. It wasn’t on before I stumbled on the climber’s trail, complete with frequently placed cairns. Awesome, this will really help.

hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada

hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada

Pillars of awesomeness

The climb up was less dreadful than I made it out to be, even with the water rationing. Still, it was physically demanding and often slow. It was class 2 all the way though, with only an occasional class 3 move, mostly near the top. Still, the terrain was steep and loose, often loose scree over hard packed dirt or rock. Perfect for slipping.

hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada

Jagged ridgeline

hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada

The landscape was extremely impressive. Not just in one or two spots either, pretty much the whole way up. The entire mountain consisted of tall, jagged rock spires, and the entire climb was beautiful.

hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada

hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada

Nothing but jagged rock and spires

hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada

An incredible hike the entire route up Spirit Mountain!

Eventually I gained the Ridgeline, and was only 200ft below the summit. Here, on top of the ridge line, on the east side was a bit of a depression that was mostly flat and somewhat protected. There is an excellent campsite here, So I guess I wasn’t the only one that has summited this mountain with a full pack. Not tonight though, and definitely not with these winds.

hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada

Numerous routes exist between the various pillars and rock formations

hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada

Looking ahead to the final ridgeline leading to the summit of Spirit Mountain

hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada

What I thought was the summit…

The true summit is not initially obvious. There are several outcrops of rocks close together that are nearly the same height. After reaching what I thought was the high point, I noticed another spot along the ridgeline that looked slightly higher. So I headed down and worked my way over to that.

hikers view form the summit of spirit mountain, newberry range, nevada

Summit view over Lake Mojave

hikers view form the summit of spirit mountain, newberry range, nevada

Spirit Mountain summit view

hikers view form the summit of spirit mountain, newberry range, nevada

Spirit Mountain summit view northwest

hikers view form the summit of spirit mountain, newberry range, nevada

Spirit Mountain summit view southwest

Of course, the true summit had and ammo box used as a summit register. Spirit Mountain, at 5639′, is the highest point along the Mojave-Sonoran Trail. The views are excellent, overlooking many miles of the Colorado River, lake Mojave, vast expanses of desert, countless distant mountains, and Bullhead City, my next town stop.

spirit mountain nevada summit hike views of jagged rock spires and pillars

A damn fine lunch spot

I snapped a few pictures, signed the register, and headed down. It was very windy and quite cold. I stopped for lunch just below the summit, in a spot protected from the wind. I am now on my last liter of water.

spirit mountain nevada summit hike views of jagged rock spires and pillars

Picking my route down Spirit Mountain

The route down was a little tricky just below the ridge line. I missed the cairns a few times and head to backtrack to find them. I also slipped and fell a couple of times, due to the steep and loose terrain Coupled with the lack of tread on my shoes. At this point I’m just being stubborn, Since I have a new pair in my backpack. But with only about 250 miles on these shoes, I’d really like to make it into bullhead city. I just hope it doesn’t cost me an injury, or worse.

hiking to the summit of spirit mountain newberry range nevada

Looking back up at Spirit Mountain

The rest of the climb down was tedious and slow, but still faster than the route up. I made pretty good time going down, and before I knew it I was looking back at Summit Mountain from the valley below.

Next I crested a small pass that dropped me down to Grapevine Valley. There was a road here, and I was looking forward to the easy walk. I saw 2 vehicles go by on my way down to the road, which was a bit surprising. So far, I’ve barely seen any humans outside of a few spots like Valley of Fire and gold strike hot springs, let alone vehicle traffic.

hiking the bridge canyon wilderness lake mead national rec area nevada

Scenic road walk. That’s the back side of Spirit Mountain ahead

hiking the bridge canyon wilderness lake mead national rec area nevada

Bridge Canyon Wilderness

After walking the road a short ways, I was presented with a choice. I could take grapevine canyon, which is home to Moss Spring (a maybe), and would be all off trail. My other option is to follow the road I am on, with no spring. Both are the same distance, and both take me to Sacatone spring, which I am pretty sure has water. I chose the road, to make sure I get there as fast as possible.

hiking the bridge canyon wilderness lake mead national rec area nevada

View into the Bridge Canyon Wilderness

hiking the bridge canyon wilderness lake mead national rec area nevada

Bridge Canyon Wilderness

The road ended up being a pretty solid choice. That only was it fast and free of thick vegetation, unlike the off-trail option, but the scenery was excellent along the first half of the walk. Here, I overlooked The Bridge Canyon Wilderness, as well as the back side of Spirit Mountain. Although the Colorado River is out of sight, it’s pretty clear that the landscape here is dropping down to it.

sacatone wash along the mojave sonoran trail nevada

Sacatone Wash. I thought this spring would have water, but its dry

When I reached Sacatone wash, I could see a ton of really thick vegetation here, and it looked like this wash get some larger flash flood action. All of the signs looked good, but in the back of my mind I had a bad feeling about this one. I continued to walk the wash, which had copious amounts of vegetation ranging from Cottonwood trees to thorn bushes, but never saw a drop of water. Damn!!

hiking sacatone wash spirit mountain wilderness nevada

Hiking Sacatone Wash

hiking sacatone wash spirit mountain wilderness nevada

One of many such pour offs to clime in Sacatone Wash

So now I found myself in a bit of tough spot. I have about 5 ounces of water now. My options were to backtrack to the road and try to flag a motorist down for water, or continue down the wash towards Lake Mead, which would likely be seven or eight miles of unknown canyoneering work. The map shows a very deep and narrow canyon ahead for several miles. It was 3:30 PM now, so I had just over an hour of daylight.

hiking sacatone wash spirit mountain wilderness nevada

A look down Sacatone Wash

hiking sacatone wash spirit mountain wilderness nevada

 

I decided to take my chances and continue walking this wash down towards Lake Mead. I knew I wouldn’t reach the lake tonight, but thought there was a good possibility of finding potholes of water along the way. There were also quite a few risks to this plan. I’ve already walked several Canyons just like this one, and I’m fully aware of the challenges that likely lie ahead. Namely, pour offs. Still, I figure I’m feeling pretty good despite my lack of water intake over the last two days. I’m out on one of the biggest adventures of my life, so I might as well make a good story out of it. No water? No problem!

hiking sacatone wash spirit mountain wilderness nevada

Sacatone Wash widens out and becomes flat, for now…

hiking sacatone wash spirit mountain wilderness nevada

Upper Sacatone wash was very thick with vegetation, not quickly thinned out downstream. There were a couple of small pour offs to climb down, and some pretty cool scenery. Then, the canyon really widened out. I was walking as fast as I could without running, trying to cover as much ground as possible.

hiking grapevine canyon spirit mountain wilderness nevada

Somewhere near here, Sacatone Wash merges with Grapevine Canyon, which I continue to follow down towards Lake Mojave

hiking grapevine canyon spirit mountain wilderness nevada

Great scenery in Grapevine Canyon

hiking grapevine canyon spirit mountain wilderness nevada

Eventually, grapevine canyon dumps into Sacatone wash, and the Canyon is now marked on the map as grapevine. This is where the canyon narrows and becomes deeper and steeper. There are some pretty impressive rock formations here. It was a shame to be moving so quickly through such a cool Canyon, but necessity beckons.

hiking grapevine canyon spirit mountain wilderness nevada

An awkward downclimb climb

With about a half hour of daylight left, I came across a challenging pour off. It looked to be about 20 feet down, but no easy way to down climb. With little time to Think about it, I lowered my pack down with a string and carabiner and began to down climb this tricky section myself. It was too wide to use my legs to span the distance of the choke point, instead I had to hug a part of the rock that stuck out farther than everything else. This required some movements on faith, and with very little to work with for handhold. Eventually I made it work and made it down safely. Whew! This one was sketchy.

I turned the corner in the canyon and found two potholes of water. Although I was expecting to find them somewhere, I was extremely lucky to find them here, moments before sundown. I dropped my pack and quickly loaded up with three liters of water; two liters in platypus bag and one leader in my dirty water bottle. Water had an extremely strong yellow tint to it.

With only a few minutes of daylight left now, I found myself in a wash that was just wide enough to set up my tent. Fortunately, the ground in this wash was fairly solid, because the high winds are still a problem and They seem to be blowing straight down this canyon, like a funnel.

thru hiker's platypus water bladder with dirty yellow water

Dirty water I collected from a pothole in Grapevine Canyon

After setting up my tent, I began to filter water. I have filtered water that was a very strong green color before, and that made it out clear using my Sawyer filter. However, I was disappointed to see that the water I had just filtered was only a shade of yellow lighter than the dirty stuff. Really Sawyer? Really? I did a very quick taste test and it seemed okay, but clearly something in this water is not being filtered out. I keep some chlorine tablets in my kit, and this is the perfect time to use them. I dropped two tablets into one liter and let that sit for a while. I still haven’t drank it, debating whether or not it’s worth risking it. The water in those pot holes is some pretty nasty stuff. I’m sure I could mask the taste with some drink mix, but I really don’t know what’s causing that yellow tint. It’s not light either, it’s a fairly strong tint.

Day 20 – November 22nd

Miles: 12.2 (half day)
No animals seen

mojave sonran trail thru hike tarptent notch li campsite in canyon

Camp in Grapevine Canyon, just below Sacatone Wash

There were strong gusts of wind every five or 10 minutes throughout the night, with dead silence in between. I ate a flat, smooshed bagel for breakfast, and washed it down with my last two ounces of water. Of course, I had the water that I took from the potholes last night, but since I’m only a few miles from Lake Mohave now, I think I’ll just wait until I get there and avoid dealing with this yellow water. I’m thirsty, but honestly not doing that bad.

hiking grapevine canyon spirit mountain wilderness nevada

The hike continues down Grapevine Canyon

The walk through the middle section of Grapevine Canyon this morning was excellent. There were surprisingly few pour offs to deal with, apparently having tackled the Crux of the entire Canyon just before I reached Camp last night. I can’t say it enough; these Canyon walls were impressive. It’s a deep Canyon, narrow and at times, very interesting rock formations. For example, veins of Darker colored Rock several feet thick could be seen in the host Rock, typically angled up at a 30 or 45 degree angle.

hiking grapevine canyon spirit mountain wilderness nevada

Excellent hike through Grapevine Canyon

hiking grapevine canyon spirit mountain wilderness nevada hiking grapevine canyon spirit mountain wilderness nevada

As the middle part of the canyon gave way to the lower part, which was much wider now, there was one final pour off to climb. I was surprised to see a rope in place here, and so I knew pretty much everything below this would be fairly easy going. The Climb I did last night, right before camp, was much more difficult and there was no rope in place there.

hiking grapevine canyon spirit mountain wilderness nevada

Climbing obstacles

hiking grapevine canyon spirit mountain wilderness nevada

hiking grapevine canyon spirit mountain wilderness nevada

Lower Grapevine Canyon

The lower part of the had a completely different feel to it. It was obvious it got a lot more traffic, as people had etched their name into the banks of dirt that were cut away by flash floods. Lake Mohave could be seen in the distance now, just a few miles away.

hiking grapevine canyon spirit mountain wilderness nevada

Final stretch to Lake Mojave. Water!!

hiking grapevine canyon spirit mountain wilderness nevada

Looking back at Grapevine Canyon

As I left the canyon there was a short one-mile section of open desert to cover before reaching the lake. As I approached it, I could see several Camper vans parked along the shore. Apparently, it’s some sort of Campground. I hadn’t planned on coming down here and actually, so this area was a bit of a surprise to me.

hiking the beaches of lake mojave colorado river

Beautiful beach along Lake Mojave

hiking the beaches of lake mojave colorado river

Lake Mojave shoreline. It STINKS!!!

When I reached the lake, I saw several pit toilet bathrooms along the shoreline. I searched for a water spigot, but couldn’t find one. I went down to the lake, where the wind was absolutely whipping, ready to filter some water. I was surprised at how disgusting the shoreline and the water actually was. It smelled like a sewer. There was tons of seaweed and algae that had washed up on the shore, and had decomposed. The water itself was turbid, from the high winds stirring everything up. I decided to walk down the shoreline a little bit before filtering my water, holding out hope for a water spigot or something.

I walked by one camper van and startled their dogs. This also prompted a brief conversation, where I asked if there was a water spigot in the campground. The woman said no, but asked if I needed water. Why yes, I could use some. She was surprised to hear that I had just walked from Searchlight, through the mountains no less. She directed me to their freshwater holding tank where I was able to fill up with 4L of water. Of course, I immediately chugged one. It’s amazing how you can just feel the energy flowing back through your body. A truly incredible feeling. I had walked 52 miles on just 5L of water over 2.5 days.

lake mojave roadwalk

After leaving the campground behind, I followed a road a short ways before heading into a side Canyon, out of the Wind, to take a break. Now that I had water to drink, I could also eat food. I had been trying to eat light in order to avoid using too much water in order to digest food, but now, it’s a free-for-all.

lake mojave area hiking ruins at old mine

Ruins at an old mine

lake mojave wash hiking

This wash will lead me to the Davis Dam

With a belly full of food and a bladder partially full of water, I set out to walk the final two to three hours into town. I followed a series of dirt roads and 4×4 trails, walking past a few old mines. Nothing incredibly interesting, and so I walked quickly, ready to reach civilization. Rest is not far away.

hiking across the davis dam on foot, crossing into arizona from nevada

Approaching the Davis Dam along the Colorado River

hiking across the davis dam on foot, crossing into arizona from nevada

Don’t step over there.

I could see Davis Dam in the distance as I walked my final wash of the day. This Dam holds back the Colorado River and forms Lake Mohave. It’s closed to vehicle traffic, but apparently, pedestrians are allowed to cross it.

hiking across the davis dam on foot, crossing into arizona from nevada

Crossing the Davis Dam on foot

hiking across the davis dam on foot, crossing into arizona from nevada

View of Lake Mojave from the Davis Dam

hiking across the davis dam on foot, crossing into arizona from nevada

View downstream along the Colorado River from the Davis Dam

Still, I was apprehensive approaching it, feeling like I was breaching some sort of National Security measures by walking across the dam. I knew I was being watched, with security cameras hanging from the street lights. But of course, I was doing nothing wrong. Still, I didn’t stop for more than a few seconds to take photos and film Lake Mohave, or the Colorado River downstream.

davis dam sign colorado river nevada arizona border

Davis Dam, the Nevada-Arizona Border

Having crossed the Davis Dam, I left Nevada behind and entered Arizona. Although the boundaries are not definite by any means, for all intents and purposes, the Mojave section is done with, and I’m now entering the Sonoran Desert environment. Indeed, a new chapter this hike has begun.

davis dam sign colorado river nevada arizona border

Lake Mojave, the impoundment formed by Davis Dam

After crossing the dam, I tried hitchhiking into Bullhead City, but there wasn’t much traffic. What few cars that did pass wanted nothing to do with me. I was fortunate that Bullhead City has Uber, and so I utilized that option for a ride into town.

I got a hotel, shower and got started on town chores. I know I will be be staying for at least one zero day, I could really use the rest.

Day 21 – November 23rd

Zero day

Didn’t do much today except go through photos, catch up on my journal entries, etc. I also took the time to go over my map and plans for the next section. This is an essential part of hiking a new route, especially in parts of the country I am not familiar with. Oftentimes the route I plan at home is far too ambitious for reality, and needs adjustments based on my experiences on the ground in previous sections.

Day 22 – November 24th

Zero day

Did my grocery shopping today at Safeway. Bullhead City is very spread out, not a very good hiker town. All of the good places to eat are in one area, hotels are in another area, grocery stores are in another part of town. There is a bus system, but the bus only comes by once an hour, so the timing pretty much never works out how you like it too. Thankfully, there is Uber in this town, and I have been utilizing that for most of my stay. After two full zero days here, I’m feeling quite rested and ready to go tomorrow.

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