The purposeEver since Bob Bolton introduced me to the concept of Ultra Prominence peaks, a couple years back, I have been getting more and more interested in doing as many as I can. I had accomplished 26 after hiking up Humphries Peak in Arizona and so I can began to think of what would be fun to do over the 4th of July week. Nevada came to mind with 8 ultra peaks, two of which I had done (Wheeler and Charleston Peaks) but 6 were still waiting. Arc Dome, So. Jefferson, No. Schell, Star, Hayford and Pilot Peaks. I got in touch with SP'er Dennis Poulin and began to plan a trip to Nevada. We hoped to do at least three together,
Arc Dome, Pilot and No. Schell. We planned to meet at the Columbine Campground on friday evening of June 30th.
Just getting there - whew (the isolation)All packed and ready to go, I pulled out of the driveway at 5 a.m. It was going to be an all day drive and I kind of looked forward to it. Its 4 hours from my place to Ontario Oregon and another 4 hours from there via the Jordan Valley (a town) route to Winnemucca Nevada. At a little after 1 pm, I pulled into Winnemucca and gassed up and had lunch at the Mickey D's there. From Winnemucca it was another 60 miles to Battle Mountain where I hit road construction that slowed me down a bit. From Battle Mountain to Austin, its another 88 miles and other than two highway patrolmen chatting in their vehicles at the rest area about halfway there, I saw very few other vehicles. At 4:30 I pulled into the ranger station at Austin and got some updates from the ranger there about the road to the Columbine Campground. She assured me the road was open all the way to the campground and that the two creek fords were no problem. She made sure I realized that most of the 42 miles of road were dirt and gravel. She was also very ready to go home but I appreciated her information.
Two miles or so from the ranger station, I found the road that I needed and
was happy to find that the first 8 miles or so was paved. After that, it was a good gravel/dirt road that I was able to do a good speed on with minimal washboarding encountered. After close to 36 miles, I found the intersection that I was looking for. A short section of paved road indicates real civilization and several buildings are present. The sign indicating Stewart Creek/Columbine Campground is nestled up against a chain link fence of what appears to be some type of maintainence facility. A sign indicating that you can purchase gas is also nearby but no prices are listed. I would imagine you'd be happy to pay whatever they asked for if you had the need.
Yes, it is a good idea to gas up in Austin or the closest town before venturing out to this area. There were lots of ranches and alfalfa farms along the Reese river road that I had just traveled but these must be hardy folks who don't need to visit Costco or Wal Mart very often. Austin sure doesn't have much in the way of stores. I was told in Austin that they go to Fallon for most of their needs, a mere 110 miles to the west.
I turned left (east) at that junction (to go further would take me towards Ione) and crossed a bridge. The road was paved for this part and following the signs, I easily found FS 117 and the Stewart Creek/Columbine CG sign.
I've placed a TOPOZONE coordinate which will allow you to follow my progress on the road. I had GPS'd the road junctions but the road was pretty obvious. There is a ford within the first half mile but that was easy with a solid bottom. I then passed a ranch with horses on the left side of the road as the road continued upward. This
was my next GPS coordinate followed by my next one at this point. My last coordinate was HERE, just before the campground itself. The drive up, about 6 miles from the junction from the Reese road, was relatively all on good road. The campground was set in a pretty grove of aspen trees which would be quite beautiful come fall. A sign announcing the rules of the campground greeted me after I drove across a cattle guard and I drove around the campground, wondering if Dennis had already arrived. My watch said 6 pm, 12 hours if one takes into consideration the hour of stops I had along the way.
Two other campers were present in the campground, an older fellow who was by himself and a family of four who had towed a trailer up here. No Dennis so I found a spot that would be big enough to get his truck fairly flat and close to where I was. A nice stream was nearby and the sound it made was very soothing to listen to. I made dinner (spaghetti) and visited with the family in the trailer. Two young boys and a big friendly dog. Matt and his wife Melissa were from Reno and Matt was also planning to climb Arc Dome the next day. It was about 8 pm when Dennis drove in. He had this huge grin on his face which made me realize that he had already climbed something else on this same day. It turned out to be Hayford, down towards Las Vegas, a 16 mile day with over 4000 feet of elevation gain. It turns out he just beat a thunderstorm off the summit but perhaps Dennis will write a trip report on his experience so I'll let him tell the full story when he gets around to it.
Dennis had had a full day and tomorrow promised to be just as full.
Arc Dome, a great dayhike.5 a.m. came awfully early but awakening before the alarm seems to be my specialty. Soon Dennis and I were cooking up breakfasts of oatmeal (oh yeah, yummy) and making sure our daypacks were ready to go. The trail we wanted took off right at the campground and we were greeted by a wilderness sign a few feet past the gate. The trail split within the first mile, with the trail to Stewart Creek dropping a bit downhill to the left and the "jeep" trail we wanted continuing on to the right. We had decided on the jeep trail since it had no ups and downs on it as it ascended to the plateau at 11000 feet. The Stewart Creek trail did have some elevation loss and we were concerned about a reported snowfield that the trail went across higher up. Not wanting the weight of crampons or ice axes, we elected for the more boring jeep trail. It turned out that Matt went via the Stewart trail up and had a few anxious moments in crossing the snow slope without an ice axe. He returned via the jeep trail but I am getting ahead of my story here.
The trail we were on ascended up through nice forest land and eventually we came to a fenced in meadow that had a stream flowing through it. The proper route here is to stay left at the fenceline but we didn't see the trail so wasted some time by exploring the meadow area. After crossing the stream a couple times, we eventually found the proper trail again at the far end of the meadow. From this point on, the trail went up up and up. The trail (or jeep track which is actually is) continued to gain elevation and at the 10300 foot level encountered another jeep track coming from another direction. We took the left hand fork as that continued up and was heading where we wanted to go. By this time I was starting to overcome a bit of nausea that I had experienced earlier on the trail that might have been due to the oatmeal or to the elevation. Normally I have no problems at elevation but there is always a first time and my acclimatization time had been minimal. Dennis kept telling me I was setting the "perfect" pace but he is a kind person and his gentle encouragement kept my resolve up to do this hike.
By the time I got my "legs" back, Dennis was a couple hundred yards ahead of me and about 300 feet in elevation higher. Dennis is a very strong hiker and once he gets going he can really make the distance disappear.
When I crested the top of the hill I had been plodding upward on, I found Dennis waiting for me at a nice resting spot HERE.
We decided to leave one of our water bottles at this point and retrieve them on the way down. We had our first really good view of Arc Dome from this area but the plateau itself was mainly small scrub bushes, the trees had been left behind for a long time.
Soon our little rest was over and we headed HERE where the two trails came together. At this point we were over 11000 feet in elevation and we still had some work ahead of us. We followed the trail to a point where it topped out at 11300 feet and the magnificient view of Arc Dome that awaited us was worth the effort to this point. However, I noticed that the trail dropped 600 feet to a saddle before starting the upward grind to the summit of Arc Dome and also realized that not only would I have to regain that 600 feet in climbing up Arc Dome, but I would have to regain it to get back to the point I was standing at. Where was the ski lift when I needed it?
Heading down the hill was easy work until we got to the saddle. Well, it was still easy for Dennis, he doesn't mind uphill as much as I do. See, I don't really mind going uphill but I really begrudge losing elevation only to have to regain it again but mountains weren't designed for my likes and dislikes. Of course, this explains (or should explain) why I like downhill skiing. You know, ride the lift up, ski down, ride the lift up, ski down.
Yup, it seems to carry over a bit in my hiking / climbing efforts. Just beyond the saddle, we noticed Matt coming down. He had left a bit before us and we stopped and chatted about the routes. As mentioned before, he
had gone up the Stewart Creek trail but had no desire to go back down it due to that one nasty snow slope. He querried us about the "jeep" road and
decided that he would go back that way.
Dennis was soon ahead of me once again (tortoise and the hare story) but that is because I'm slower than he is. The trail up Arc Dome is really a great trail, no real crap of any kind to contend with and for me it was pretty much taking one step at a time with my head watching my footwork.
When I finally got to the top of the peak, there was Dennis, boots off and chomping away at his traditional apple. "Welcome to my mountain Dean" as I sat down next to him and began to take in the view. Wow. What a view. The problems with words is that they fail to describe accurately what we see from the tops of these peaks. Seas of mountains in all direction including the one I would end up doing the next day, S. Jefferson, although I didn't know it at the time.
Checking the register, signing the register, taking lots of pictures, making a couple of phone calls, a few snacks and taking my boots off (think fresh air)and relaxing a bit occupied most of the half hour that I spent on the summit with Dennis. All too soon it was time to go back down. It seems unfair to spend all the time we do getting to a mountain like this, the hike up and then only have a half hour or so to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Still, I love this stuff and would do it again without complaint.
The trip back down was uneventful but regaining that 600 feet was part of the return effort. Almost back at the campground, a huge black lab came bounding up the trail. Since I didn't expect it, I jumped as for a brief second I thought I was being charged by a bear. Duh. I was informed by its owner that they don't have bears in the Nevada mountains. Everyone had a good laugh at my expense but I deserved it.
Back to the campground, the full day hit me. We had spent 8 hours hiking and totalled 15 miles with elevation gain of 4400 feet. I had done harder hikes many times but for some reason, maybe the altitude or maybe the lack of a good nights rest, I was beat. Dennis went on to do Pilot Peak north of Wendover the next day, a 330 mile drive and I elected to spend some time resting in the campground and changing my agenda to do So. Jefferson the next day rather than Pilot. Dennis and I were to meet up again on No. Schell.
PostscriptI have been using pictures from the Arc Dome SP page posted by Scottys and others as I somehow "misplaced" my camera on So. Jefferson (meaning I lost the darn thing) So all the pics I took on Arc Dome (sorry Dennis) and So. Jefferson are sitting somewhere on So. Jefferson. If anyone ever does that peak and finds a small Canon camera, please send me the CF card. Sigh....
BTW, click here to see a link to Fedak's great panoramic shot