Home of Nevada's Rock Glacier
Trip to Great Basin National Park
On August 13, 2010 we packed our camping gear and headed up Hwy 93 from Vegas toward Ely, NV, turning onto hwy 50 (The loneliest road in America) east about 20 miles south of Ely. According to Wikipedia… “The name originates from large desolate areas traversed by the route, with few or no signs of civilization. The highway crosses several large desert valleys separated by numerous mountain ranges towering over the valley floors, in what is known as the Basin and Range province of the Great Basin.” About 5 hours after leaving home, we were in Baker, NV (pop. ~385) where the visitor center is located for Great Basin National Park. After getting advice on hiking, climbing and camping options, we headed up to the Wheeler Peak campground which is located on the flanks of Wheeler Peak at nearly 10,000’ elevation. This campground is ideally located near the trailheads for Wheeler Peak, the Alpine Lakes Loop, and the Glacier and Bristlecone trails.
Wheeler Peak campground
The campground has vault toilets and water faucets, but no sinks or electricity. The campsites were very nice with tent pads, campfire grills and good picnic tables set on concrete slabs and abundant trees and wildlife…deer, chipmunks and birds. Campsites are first-come basis and you are supposed to vacate them by noon when departing. There is a small stream running by some of the campsites, but no mosquitos were in evidence. At this elevation and with no natural light, the stars are really outstanding with the milky way clearly seen.
After setting up camp and paying our half-price $6 daily fee (Golden Age Pass), we decided to hike up to see the only glacier in Nevada. The Glacier trail is about 4.6 miles and gains ~1,100’ from the 9,800’ starting point. The “glacier” is billed as a “rock” glacier and appears to be boulders beneath a small permanent snow? field at the base of the north side of Wheeler Peak
. It is located in a nice cirque beneath and between Wheeler and Jeff Davis Peaks.
The hike was a good opportunity to start getting acclimatized to the high elevation and we both were feeling lethargic and experiencing slight headaches.
That night we enjoyed chicken fettuccine before heading up to the nightly ranger talk about the bighorn mountain sheep that had been reintroduced into the park. After it got dark we looked at the stars briefly before diving into our warm sleeping bags. As soon as the sun was down, it quickly became cool with temps dropping into the 40s.
Early the next morning, I set out to attempt Wheeler Peak (13,063’) which towers some 8,000’ above the valley floor. There is a much used trail to the top which I connected with from the campground via the Alpine Lakes Loop trail. The weather was ideal and the only wind encountered was out of the west about 20 – 25 mph for a short span some 800’ beneath the summit which was only experiencing light breezes. The Wheeler Peak trail from the normal trailhead is 8.2 miles roundtrip and about 2,900’ elevation gain. I started about 400’ lower, but had a slightly shorter route.
Jeff Davis Peak
After reaching the summit, I looked over toward Jeff Davis Peak
to the east and decided the saddle connecting the two peaks looked fine for hiking across. (Several rangers had acted like this was a very daring trip with much potential exposure)
Saddle to Jeff Davis Peak
Perhaps if you did it with ice coating the rock, that might be the case? At any rate, I scrambled off Wheeler down to the saddle an estimated 700’ and then climbed about 400’ back up to the summit of Jeff Davis. From there, I could see our campground north of the peak and I began a difficult descent through thousands of feet of steep scree and talus. I was glad to have scrapped my initial plan to ascend that slope and then climb Wheeler hooking up with Pat near there to return via the trail! It would be really difficult to climb up all that loose rock. The loop that I did took about 5 hours at a steady, though moderate pace.
Pat decided to do the Alpine Lakes Loop while I was bagging my peaks. She had a great time enjoying the fresh mountain air and scenery. Where the trail connects briefly with the Wheeler Peak trail, she took a detour to experience part of that trail as well. We were both back at the campsite for lunch of homemade tuna salad sandwichs.
That night, we enjoyed chili before heading to the ranger talk about mountain lions which have a strong presence in the park. They estimate about 1 adult male for every 25 square miles. The ranger had a pelt and a skull which he passed around while telling a yarn about how this lion might have lived its life. They can leap an estimated 40’ and jump some 20’ high according to the ranger. He was interested in my account of encountering one in Glacier National park back in the day.
Day three, Pat and I headed up toward the Wheeler Peak trail once again and after a couple of miles we headed in opposite directions with she continuing up the Wheeler Peak trail above treeline while I headed back and cross country to climb Bald Mountain
which is nearby.
After reaching the summit and taking several pictures, I descended and spotted Pat near Stella Lake on the loop trail which we hiked back to the camp passing Teresa Lake along the way.
By this time we were both tired, but getting used to the altitude. For supper, we heated up some homemade beef stew which was really great loaded with potatoes, onions, mushrooms, peas and carrots. The ranger talk was about survival of some of the park animals such as the kangaroo rat, pronghorn antelope, mountain lion, badger and ermine. We learned some interesting facts about what these animals eat and how they survive their various challenges.
On day four, we packed up and drove down to the Lehman caves to take the “grand” tour which was only $10 for both of us golden agers. It was quite amazing with formations that are only rarely seen in other caves. The ranger that led it was knowledgeable about the cave history and formations we were seeing.
The year around temperature is 50 degrees and we wore our fleece jackets to stay comfortable during the approximately ½ mile tour of various portions of the cave. After the 1 ½ hour tour, we jumped in the car and headed back to Vegas opting to drive through Utah to I15 at Cedar City which is a bit further that our route to the park. We saw quite a bit of the range and basin features of that part of the country before hitting the interstate and cruising into Vegas where we stopped at the Palace Station to check what the buffet is like these days. We gave it two strong thumbs up. The price has gone up a couple of dollars, but is still $8.99 with a boarding pass. Pat had a generously filled glass of cabernet for $3 and everything we sampled was well done.
Stream into Teresa Lake
In summary, it was a great trip to an unusual place that is not heavily visited. The campsites were pretty much filled up during the weekend, but there seemed to be lots to choose from Sunday night.
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