I had wanted to climb Currant Mountain for some time, but I basically had zero information on it. A check of the internet in the Year 2004 revealed essentially nothing. I contacted the Ely Ranger District to see if they had any information, but they had none. I had driven by Currant on the highway a few times, and it looked imposing with no easy routes. I did have a book by John Hart about climbing Great Basin mountains. It mentioned climbing up to the Currant-Duckwater saddle, then heading south to the summit. That was as detailed as it got. Judging from the topo map, with its 80' contours, that route looked easy enough. So in September 2004, we set out for Nevada.
After climbing Mount Jefferson and Bunker Hill on the previous two days, we arrived in Ely. My friend looked at the topo map that night, and suggested we climb up a drainage just to the southeast of Currant Mountain. Since I basically knew nothing about Currant, I didn’t know what kind of problems we might encounter coming up that route. Since Hart’s book said the Currant-Duckwater saddle route worked, I thought we should stick to our original plan. Unfortunately, I won that argument.
We set out for Currant Mountain on a sunny, early fall day. I was a little uneasy because the weather forecast called for high winds. It turned out to be accurate. We arrived at the primitive road, which was rough. We had to park only a short distance in. Thus began our ascent of Currant Mountain.
We started walking up the road. It switchbacked up the mountain, then started heading north. We walked north for about one mile until the road made a sharp right turn and headed east away from the mountain. We decided to leave the road here and started heading up the mountain. We immediately encountered heavy brush in certain areas, which slowed our progress. Our plan was to aim for the saddle between Currant Mountain and Duckwater Peak. The saddle was about 2,000' above us. There is no trail or obvious route. We basically headed southwest up one of two existing gullies to reach the saddle. The gullies aren't very obvious, and we had to rely on the topo map to plan our route. At times, I wasn't sure where we were, but we kept climbing up and angling to the left. The going was slow and steep, but there weren’t any real obstacles. After about 1,200' of climbing, the gullies kind of converged into a bowl and the terrain moderated. The bowl is directly below the saddle, but the terrain above the bowl steepened significantly. It was a steep climb up to the saddle from here. We climbed directly up the steep slope to the saddle. We had to use our hands in some areas for balance. At last, we reached the saddle. The saddle is about 10,600' high. It had been pretty tough going to this point. At the time, I thought that we were most of the way there. The summit of Currant is about a mile and a half south of the saddle. After looking at the topo map, I had been expecting a fairly easy traverse south to the summit from here, but I was wrong. This turned out to be the first of many wrong assumptions I had on this day. The topo map made the traverse appear deceptively easy, but that wasn't the case. It also didn't help matters any that the wind was picking up.
At the saddle, we climbed south up the ridge towards Point 11,154'. The route quickly became more difficult than I had been expecting. We traversed around Point 11,154' to the right. The west wind began to hit us full force at this point. The gusts were probably around 40 mph or so. Soon after we passed this point, we encountered a narrow, exposed "catwalk" about 20' long or so. We didn't have any problems crossing it, but it was exposed, and it wasn't easy. A fall here would probably result in a serious injury, or even death. Some people may want a rope here. It's possible to climb 50' down to the right (west), then back up to avoid the catwalk, but that would result in extra effort. After crossing the catwalk, we descended slightly and continued traversing over to Point 11,225'. You can skirt around this point to the left, but it was a steep side slope. My friend decided to climb up and over the point to avoid the traverse. I took the side slope. It was steep, but I made it without any trouble. We continued south, and reached a broad saddle just south of Point 11,225'. At this point, I thought we were getting close, but I was wrong again.
From the saddle, we climbed south up towards Point 11,413'. We ended up traversing around the right (west) side of the point. Once we reached a small saddle here on the west side of the point, we discovered that we had to descend to traverse beneath it. I looked up, and saw a cairn on the far highpoint. I immediately thought that was the summit, and that we were almost there. But I was wrong again. The Currant Mountain topo map has 80' contours, not the usual 40' contours. Therefore, it wasn't as detailed as a normal topo map. The topo map was also somewhat vague. It showed the summit as being a single point located south of Point 11,413'. Since the cairn we were looking at was south of Point 11,413', I thought that must be the summit. However, the terrain over there looked steep, and I wasn't sure how we were going to get to the top. It was already getting late in the day, and this was certainly not a place where I wanted to get into a jam. We briefly considered turning back, but I felt we were getting close to the top. We decided to press on.
From the small saddle beneath Point 11,413', we descended and start traversing south on the west side of Point 11,413'. This descending traverse wasn't easy. The side slope was steep, and the rock was loose in many areas. The wind was also hitting us hard. You won't really fall here, but I slipped quite a few times. I then spotted what appeared to be a gully that lead to a notch immediately north of the summit. I thought this must be the way to the top, and that we had it made now for sure. At this point, we had to make a level traverse to get over to the base of the gully. The terrain was steep here, but I spotted a narrow ledge a few feet above me. We climbed up to the ledge, then across it to the base of the gully. This traverse wasn't easy. It was somewhat exposed and had loose rock, but we made it across without any trouble. Finally, we were at the base of the gully just below the “summit”. We started climbing up the gully towards the notch. The gully was steep but easy. Suddenly, I spotted some cairns, so I thought we must be on the right track. I figured once we got to the notch, there must be an easy route to the top on the other side of it. But I was wrong again. I got to the notch on the ridge crest, only to see a sheer dropoff on the other (east) side of it. I looked up and to the right, and saw a narrow, knife-edged ridge leading to the “summit”. I starting climbing south up this ridge, certain the summit was just above. The ridge quickly narrowed into a true knife-edge. We didn’t have a rope with us. However, the rock had a rough surface and it was solid, so it was good climbing rock, and had lots of friction. The climbing was exposed, but not really difficult. However, the wind was really blowing hard at this point. Had it been a calm day, things would have been much easier. I continued climbing up the ridge, when I suddenly encountered a very narrow and exposed section about 5' long. I stopped briefly, contemplating my options. One wrong move here, and I was dead for sure. But I knew I was close to the top, and I didn't want to turn back now. I decided to go on. I made it past the section without any real problems. It wasn't that tough, but very exposed. My friend then got to this section, but decided to call it quits. I was on my own for the last stretch. I kept climbing up the ridge, which wasn't that difficult, but I was worried that the wind might knock me off balance. Suddenly, I saw the cairn on a level spot. I was finally on the summit! But I was wrong again. I soon realized in disbelief that there were two other highpoints further south. The topo map never showed any multiple highpoints. They seemed to be about 20' higher than the one I was on, and a few hundred feet away. I tried to convince myself that I was on the one true summit, but I knew I wasn’t. It soon became obvious to me that I had topped out on some sort of north sub-summit. Since I had no climbing information about Currant Mountain available to me, I wasn't sure what to think. I decided to walk south past the cairn to investigate the situation. I thought that I might be able to walk over to the other highpoints. I walked south, only to get cliffed out by a forbidding notch. The wind was blowing hard through this notch. I leaned over the edge to see if I could downclimb it, but all I saw was a cliff. I suddenly realized that I couldn’t reach the true summit from here. I had come all this way only to be stopped a few feet short of the top. There was nowhere else for me to go but down. I knew I had to retreat. I walked back to the cairn, then scrambled back down the ridge to the notch, crossing the narrow section in the process. I told my friend what I saw, and we descended the gully below the notch. My friend then decided that he wanted to traverse below the highpoint I was just on to see if we could get over to the other highpoints. It looked like a dangerous proposition to me, but he insisted on trying. He never made it very far before being cliffed out.
By this time, it was late in the afternoon, and we still had a long and difficult descent in front of us. We started traversing north across the narrow ledge, then starting climbing up to the small saddle below Point 11,413'. It was tough going, but we made it without any real trouble. We then descended to the broad saddle between Points 11,413' and 11,225', where we rested briefly. We continued traversing north, bypassing Point 11,225' until we reached the "catwalk". I crossed the catwalk without any trouble, but it seemed tougher this time. My friend then tried it, but decided to turn back after encountering one particularly narrow spot. He then downclimbed to the west, bypassing the catwalk in the process, then climbed back up to me. We skirted Point 11,154', then descended down the ridge to the saddle between Currant and Duckwater. Once we started descending the saddle to the east, we would finally be out of the wind. The descent off the saddle was steep. It seemed steeper going down than coming up. I was constantly using my hands for balance. Finally, we reached the bowl and the ground moderated. We then headed down the bowl. There was lots of brush and loose rock to contend with, so it wasn't an easy descent. We kept descending down the slope, then made a final push through the thick brush to get to the road. The sun was setting at this point, so it was getting dark. We then walked back along the road to our car in the wash.
I know today that that Currant Mountain has three distinct highpoints of essentially equal elevation - the North, South, and Middle Highpoints. The South Highpoint is the true summit, and can be accessed from the southeast. The highpoint I climbed appears to be about 20' lower than the true summit.