ApproachSee main page.
Route DescriptionFrom the signed Bristlecone Trail trailhead, follow the well-maintained trail for 2 miles (approx.) to where it intersects the Bonanza Trail (also signed). Along the way, you will pass through an aspen grove with a stream running through it (nice!), and as you climb higher, through a nice bristlecone grove on a sort of plateau atop a ridge. Watch out for mountain bikers along the Bristlecone Trail, as it is not contained within the wilderness area and bicycles are allowed.
note: A hundred yards or so into the Bristlecone Trail from the trailhead, the trail will split. Don't be confused - although they meet up again in another 100 yards, take the left fork.
At the intersection of the two trails you will notice that the Bristlecone Trail continues to the right and the Bonanza Trail starts with a hard left. Hang a left onto the Bonanza Trail. You are now within the wilderness area and about 5 1/2 miles from McFarland Peak's summit.
Follow the well-maintained trail as it travels north for a bit and then starts to wind its way up onto a ridge to the southwest.
After awhile, the trail reaches the ridge crest at about 9,800 feet and is semi-level as it starts northward. From this point forward, expect to be passing through consistently beautiful stands of ancient bristlecones for the remainder of the route.
Continue on the trail as it goes up and down on or near the crest of the ridge while it travels north toward McFarland Peak, which should just now be coming into view in the distance.
About 1 1/2-2 miles after reaching the crest of the ridge, you will come to a sort of shallow bowl on the crest. Although McFarland Peak is typically done as a dayhike, if doing an overnighter, this would make a fine camping spot. Past parties have used fallen bristlecone wood to construct very impressive "huts" - not just the usual windbreak walled structures you typically find - these low-walled structures come complete with a roof as well!
Continuing on - Keep following the trail, remembering to look down and to the left (west) frequently. I don't remember exactly where, but it's somewhere along this section of the route that, looking carefully, you can spot Clark Pond 1000 feet below you and in a small valley below the trail. Clark Pond is privately owned and very much out of the way, so don't bother.
Eventually the trail will reach the base of McFarland Peak.
This is where the route gets a little tricky - but not much. From here, you are looking for a particular large gully that leaves the trail and heads north/northeast. Don't be fooled, as I was, into thinking that the first or the second minor gully you come to is "the" gully. It's not. I found myself scrambling up the wrong gully and surmounting 5th class cliffs at the top before I somehow found myself in the correct gully. It wasn't until my return from the summit that I found the correct way to access the gully from the trail.
So anyway, continue following the trail as it contours along the base of the mountain in a northwesterly direction. Just before the trail starts to switchback down for a bit, look for a large, odd-looking boulder standing near the entrance to a prominent gully ahead. This is the gully. Hopefully, by now someone has cairned the gully entrance.
Well, you know how things have a way of working themselves out. Assuming you leave the trail at the correct gully, the occasional cairn and faint use trail will likely guide you the rest of the way. If not, it's not too hard. Follow the 1000-ft gully up, staying to the left to avoid 4th and 5th class terrain. If one looks carefully, it's not hard to stay in the 2nd & 3rd class realm.
Once the top of the gully is reached, the rest is a ... easy. Hang a right and follow a gentle ridge all the way to the summit. It's not too far.
Essential GearSummer / Fall - The usual hiking stuff. Temperatures in the higher elevations can be considerably cooler than in the Vegas valley below. Bring plenty of water.
Winter / Spring - Never done it then, but snowshoes for the approach and crampons / axe for the pre-summit gully.