McAfee Peak is located in the Independence Mountains of remote northern Elko County, Nevada 48 miles north of Elko and 22 miles south of Mountain City. There are several reasons that make McAfee Peak a worthy summit objective. Its prominence alone commands attention. With 4,168 feet of prominence, McAfee ranks #21 of Nevada’s 172 prominent peaks and a respectable #116 on the list of prominent peaks in the contiguous United States. McAfee, at 10,438 feet elevation, is also the high point of the Independence Mountains, a major range trending north-south for about 60 miles. The Independence Range, along with other nearby ranges such as the Rubies, East Humboldts, and the Jarbidge Mountains, offer a unique and scenic environment in an arid high desert region that many would consider to be barren.
The Independence Mountains were aptly named after allegedly being discovered by a U.S. Army scouting party on Independence Day (not sure what year). McAfee Peak itself takes its name from the early McAfee family that settled in this area, probably in the late 1860s. A search on the internet failed to yield any tangible results regarding the naming of the peak, other than the fact that Archibaldt(sic) M. McAfee, a Confederate army veteran who served from 1861-1863, was residing in the North Fork area of Elko County in 1890, which is on the east side of the Independence Range.
Much of the Independence Mountains, along with the higher altitude northern section of the range where McAfee Peak sits, are located on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Unfortunately, the eastern foothills of the range fall under private ownership, making access on that side difficult. There is a radio facility on the crest 1.2 miles southwest of McAfee with a maintenance road leading to it. If you can access this, gaining the summit would be a short hike along the ridgeline. Otherwise, the most reliable, and therefore the best access, would be from the west, through USFS lands.
The views from the summit are every bit what you would expect from a peak with this kind of prominence. Even the hike along the ridgeline – to the north of McAfee if you come in on the west side – is very scenic. There was a register on the summit, placed there in 1990, that was in disrepair. Looked like some moisture got in the jar at some point. I didn’t go through every page of the register, but there were only 23 entries from 1999 to 2009 prior to this summit – not nearly enough for a mountain of this stature.
Getting ThereAlthough the route described on this page involved access from the west side of the Independence Mountains, I will also cover access on the east side of the range for folks who might be interested in that approach. I have not tested the east side access, so I can’t personally vouch for the accuracy of the info.
ACCESSING THE INDEPENDENCE MOUNTAINS FROM THE WEST:
From NV-226 48 miles north of Elko and 25 miles south of Mountain City, turn onto County Highway 732 and head in a northeast general direction for 7.6 miles. Turn right onto the 4WD trail and head southeast for about 1.5 miles and find a small open area to pull your vehicle off to the side.
CH-732 is a good graded road where 4WD or high clearance is not required. On the 4WD road though, there are areas with larger rocks that make high clearance necessary. There is also a stretch with deep washouts, about 18” deep in some places. You can skirt the washouts to the side, but there is also a section where it drifts toward the center of the road where you’ll have to straddle the washout. Because of the width of erosion damage in one particular area, I was only barely able to straddle it in my Jeep Wrangler. Take it slow and easy through here and you should be fine.
ACCESSING THE INDEPENDENCE MOUNTAINS FROM THE EAST:
As I mentioned in the Overview section, access on the east side might be difficult because of the privately owned lands that dominate the foothills. I did not use this access, but I’ll pass along what I’ve been told by others. From NV-225 (Mountain City Highway) 46 miles north of Elko, turn left onto NFD 006 road (41.50695, -115.83120). NFD 006 will take you west, then it will curve northwest, taking you past the P-X Ranch. This is the same P-X Ranch that was owned by Bing Crosby, who in 1947 had bought at least five ranches and combined them to form a single large ranch -- the P-X -- which he sold in 1958. You will travel about 4.5 miles on this leg before making a left turn (41.53212, -115.8974) followed closely by another left turn (41.53212, -115.89877), where you’ll proceed south about another 4.5 miles. You’ll cross a wooden bridge over Walker Creek during this stretch, which is an indicator that you’re on track. Turn right onto NFD 216 road and head west for 2.5 miles. On this leg, NFD 216 becomes a 4WD road after about 1.5 miles, with the road leading up the east slope of the Independence Mountains to the radio facility on the crest south of McAfee Peak. I would surmise that the final stretch up the east slope is steep, loose, and rocky, making both high clearance and 4WD a must.
RouteFrom the starting point, the most direct route to McAfee is almost due south, diagonally up the slope to gain the ridge. I did not take this route on the ascent because the tree cover prevented me from being able to evaluate the terrain beyond. Instead, I trekked southeast up the slope, through the area to the left of the dense forested section, and to the top of the ridge. This is the largest section of gain on the route, about 950 feet over 0.63 miles. After reaching the top of the slope, simply work your way southwest and then south along the ridgeline. McAfee is in view for much of the route, which will take you over several large sections of loose rocks and outcroppings. With the ups and downs, rock hopping, and varying terrain along the ridgeline and through the forested areas on the western slope, this is a fun Class 1/2 route with great scenery. There is no trail, but the route is pretty straightforward. Just a matter of how you want to reach and negotiate the ridgeline. On the route map (3 of 3) above in the Getting There section, I’ve included GPS tracks for both the ascent and descent. The descent track shows the shortcut diagonally down the slope.
Ascent – 2.3 miles; elevation gain 1535 ft. (net), 2005 ft. (gross).
Descent – 1.9 miles; elevation gain 100 ft. (gross).
Round-trip – 4.2 miles; 2,105 ft. gross elevation gain.