Day 1 (The Lehman Caves)After years of listening to the rumors, old wise tales, and many exaggerations about how great The Great Basin National Park truly is, we decided that the only way to find out was to actually go there. Early Friday morning we drove the 260 miles of barren desert, through the small towns and dust storms. From the highway our first view of the Snake Range was seen and right away we knew we made the right decision on spending Memorial Weekend in Great Basin National Park. Shortly after our first view of the park we found ourselves driving a short distance up the Wheeler Peak Scenic Highway where we got a beautiful view of Jeff Davis Peak and the other terrain we would be skiing over the next 3 days.
We knew that the campgrounds in Great Basin National Park are first come first serve, so we made finding a campsite our number one agenda. The upper two campgrounds (Wheeler and Upper Lehman) were closed when we got there, leaving only The Lower Lehman Campground open. With only 11 campsites available at this campground, we got the 8th (and best) campsite and were relieved that we would not have to poach a spot in the desert with the rattle snakes and vast forests of cactus.
Still wondering why this part of the Snake Range is considered a National Park we went to see the supposedly world famous Lehman Caves. While paying our $10 each we wondered just how good this cave would be. As we entered the cave I was able to see right away why this cave is so famous. The reddish, tan and even purple lighting, combined with the natural features of the cave gave the feeling that we were in a different world unlike that of earth. Through the twists, turns and dark downhills, the 20 of us "cavers" saw rooms over 60 feet high, an angles ear, the infamous Parachute Shield, and even some cave bacon. Walking through that cave was the most beautiful 90 minutes of the whole trip. As one SP'er said here on Summit Post, "The Lehman Cave is a real life hallucination".
While heading back to camp and away from the cave we saw a family of baby foxes cross the scenic highway near our camp. It was right then and there when we both realized how this section of the Snake Range became a U.S. National Park. Our friends from Park City strolled into camp later that night and we spent a cold night full of anticipation about the skiing over the next several days.
Day 2 (Bald Mountain)The next morning we woke up around 7am and started the short 8 mile drive up The Wheeler Peak Scenic Highway. Wondering just why cars over 24 feet are not allowed, we found out in less than a mile. Not only was the road narrow, but it had drop offs that were so steep that if you drove off, you would never stop until you reached the desert floor. Funny how Nevada's version of a guard rail is a speed bump and a wood post with a reflector on it. We stopped at the Mather Overlook and took a seat at the bench to observe the terrain around us. We decided that because of the high winds from the previous day that an attempt at Jeff Davis was still somewhat dangerous avalanche wise so we aimed our sights at Bald Mountain.
As the 4 of us set up at the Wheeler Peak Summit Trailhead we knew that if the skiing the was not outstanding, the views definitely would be. We started to skin up the thick forest with a vague idea on what we were getting into. Soon the forest broke and we got a view at our summit as well as the surrounding terrain. After a short break we made it made it to the not so bald summit of Bald Mountain.
Seeing that we had plenty of daylight left we went searching for where we would make our first lap. As we approached the North Headwall we could not see over it but we could see thousands of downed trees from where huge avalanches came ripping through. Knowing it would be good, we (except for MJ who was not feeling so well) dropped into the steep North Headwall. After 3,500 vertical feet worth of turns that felt like butter on toast, we set up for the climb back up and out.
After an uneventful climb back up we met up with MJ at the summit. From the top we discussed where we were going to ski next. After much debate it was decided that we would ski the mellow but extremely scenic South Bowl of Bald Mountain back to the Wheeler Campground (1 mile away from the cars). As we made our way down the South Bowl the skiing went from amazing to epic as we traveled down through roll overs, open faces, chutes and thin forests back to the highway. While skiing into the campground an old couple saw me skiing and offered me a ride back to the cars...thus eliminating the hike back. That night the rangers put a notice about where our tents were and later asked if we would move to a different campground to accommodate 1 RV'er. As the ranger explained about how great the the Upper Lehman Campground is for tent campers, he then slipped and told us that the upper 4 sites were closed because of a cougar had killed a deer right in the campsite, just the other night. With that in mind we told the ranger that we would consider moving and stayed in place at our campsite for the remainder of the trip.
Day 3 (Jeff Davis Peak)We woke up with the sun on day 3 so we could get an early start for an attempt at Jeff Davis Peak. The black ice in the Wheeler Campground Parking lot was proof enough that a refreeze occurred. We made our way across the thick woods passing some of the oldest living species on the planet....Bristle Cone Pines. When the North Ramp finally came into sight we made our way up the steep slope. Near the top we had to switch from skinning to boot packing. Just before the ridge the snow, 6 inches underneath, turned icy and dangerous avalanche wise. It was here that I informed my partners that we would be skiing from this point. The skiing on the North Ramp of Jeff Davis Peak was incredible. There is nothing quite like skiing a massive snow ramp thats supported by a 1,500 foot vertical cliff, that eventually and oh so slowly makes its way into a grove of old Bristle Cone Pines.
Liam was starting to show the signs of altitude sickness (either that or atitude sickness) so we made our way back to the car at the Wheeler Campground, drove a mile up the road and parked at the Wheeler Summit Trailhead, where we then ditched him. With more than enough daylight left, Troy and I made our way up from the Wheeler Peak Summit Trailhead to a short bowl off of Bald Mountain that feeds its way back into the same trailhead/parking lot. We skinned along side the afternoon light, catching a glimpse or two of our lap on Jeff Davis Peak every now and then. Also from the ridge we could make out a small wind slab avalanche in The Ditch (a steep couloir right next to the ramp we skied) thus confirming my avalanche worries. When we finally reached the top of the bowl we skied down to the car via a series of open faces and called it just another day at church. That night at camp bats flew over our heads for several hours and it was amazing to see how big they can get in the flickering light of a warm campfire.
Day 4 (Wheeler Peak)In no rush we slept in until the sun forced us out of our tents. Liam and MJ bailed back to Park City, leaving just Troy and I to ski for the last day. We decided that due to the avalanche activity seen the previous day, to go for Wheeler Peak insted of skiing the steep couloirs of the Taresa Lake Cirque. In for torture we took the long and scenic route. After almost getting blown off of the ridge by a couple 50+mph gusts, we decided that the summit of Wheeler Peak would have to wait for another trip. Making the best of it we skied the Stella Lake Ramp and ran into some other skiers that were from Utah as well.
After saying our goodbyes to the mountains of the Snake Range, we skied back to the Wheeler Campground, hiked the mile back up the scenic highway and drove back to our camp. We broke down camp in record time and packed up the car in not so record time. As we made our way out of Great Basin National Park back to Salt Lake City, we stopped for a flower picture and possibly the best roadside attraction that Great Basin National Park has to offer........The horse with NO name.