Mary Jane Falls & Cathedral Rock Trail Report: Running Hypoxic

[singlepic id=1373 w=320 h=240 float=left]An airplane cabin, at altitude, is only pressurized to an altitude of 8,000 feet. Being a pilot, I experience that altitude all the time and I feel comfortable with it.

It’s a whole different world trying to trail run at that altitude, however, particularly when the top of the hike is at almost 9,000 feet. That’s what happens when you go trail running or hiking in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area near Las Vegas, NV.

Bird and Hike has some excellent descriptions of the area in addition the National Forest Service information. In fact, he talks about the Mary Jane Falls trail and the Cathedral Rock trail in great detail, including GPS coordinates for the trailheads. You can see my runs from Garmin Connect below, and following that is a description of the trails from  Bird and Hike.

Due to delays arriving in San Francisco, the night before the trail run I had only two hours of sleep, coupled with the high altitude, and my hiking/trail running times were rather atrocious. That said, it was great training under an intense fatigue, something I that is probably good training for Comrades (At least, that’s what I’m telling myself).

[singlepic id=1368 w=320 h=240 float=center]The Mary Jane Falls Trail is fairly strenuous, climbing about 1,000 feet in only 2 miles from the trailhead to the base of the falls. The canyon is deep, heavily forested, and surrounded by beautiful gray limestone cliffs. The falls are seasonal; the best flows occur during spring when the snow is melting. A cave beyond the falls adds interest to the hike.

As of June 2011, the trail is reported to be heavily damaged by irresponsible hikers cutting the switchbacks, making the actual trail difficult to follow and somewhat dangerous in places. Please, stay on the trail to protect it and the environment.


[singlepic id=1372 w=320 h=240 float=right] Note: Access through the Picnic Area is closed; use the Lower Cathedral Rock Trailhead. Hikers should ignore the sign on the entrance gate to the picnic area stating that an entrance farther east is open. It is not.


This is a moderately strenuous, 1.5-mile hike to the top of Cathedral Rock, a rocky promontory with great views overlooking Kyle Canyon. The trail can be started from inside the Cathedral Rock Picnic Area (parking fee) or outside the picnic area (free parking). The trail follows an old road up an avalanche chute along the east side of Cathedral Rock to a saddle behind the summit. From there, the trail climbs a few short switchbacks to the summit overlook. Views from the overlook are spectacular: you can see straight down to the lower trailhead and the lodge, and you can see off to the other peaks in the area, including Mt. CharlestonMummy Mountain, and theSheep Range way off to the east.

Link to map.

Although these trails are described as “strenous”, as a trail runner I didn’t find them strenuous except for the altitude. The trail traction is excellent, the paths are well marked, and running along the mountains is a great thrill. Once my body adapts to that altitude, I’m sure I’ll be able to run these routes more easily. But, for now, they are indeed strenuous, and anyone not used to the altitude needs to be wary. My Sweetheart got a severe headache from the altitude.

This is the desert, however, and preparation is always the key. My Nathan’s Endurance vest allows me to carry the 10 Essentials (never go into the desert without them!) and still feel light on my feet.

Which isn’t to say I didn’t feel it at the end. I did. Which is where, finally, after a day of being hypoxic, I decided to finish with an appropriate recovery meal. Or, at least, what I was hungry to eat!

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