Background"In the desert you can remember your name
'Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain"
Granite Peak is a prominent mountain in Northwest Nevada that I had had my eye on for a number of years. 9 years to be exact. I first saw the peak when I was 10 years old, when we were driving to Burning Man for my first burn. I'm not sure why, but it was one of those peaks that never left my mind after I saw it; I had to climb it. And finally, during a car camping trip in late Spring of 2009, we did.
It was day two of our trip, and Rad, Al, Ben, and myself had just woken up on the shores of Pyramid Lake, some 50 miles south of the peak. Al and Rad were content on hanging out at the lake while Ben and I went on our hike, so after a quick breakfast, Ben and I set out. Our trip was briefly delayed while we tried to drive the Volvo out of the sandy beach. The car was no match for the thick sand. Luckily, a guy with a huge F-350 was parked a little ways down the beach, and he was able to pull us out of the sand. Within minutes Ben and I were on the road heading south to Nixon, where we would turn north onto Highway 447 towards the Granite Range.
Highway 447 and Granite Peak.
Nevada Highway 447 is a special road for me. Almost every year I traveled it en-route to Burning Man. This was the first time I'd been on the road without my destination being Black Rock City. The speed limit sign says 70, yet Ben and I hauled northward at around 90 or so, feeling like kings of the desert. Something about that wide open, bleak, dusty, yellow-brown landscape strikes a chord with me. Highway 447 stretches for about 60 uninteruppted miles between Pyramid Lake and the town of Gerlach, passing Winnemucca Dry Lake on the way. As we came over a large rise, we caught a glimpse of our objective in the distance, a huge glob of a mountain rising ominously over the tiny clump of trees that is Gerlach. In due time, we were passing through Gerlach-Empire, two towns a few miles apart which I believe to be the most isolated settlements in the lower 48 (ie, settlement furthest from any other inhabited settlement). After passing through town, we followed the road, winding around the south and west sides of the Granite Range, and soon enough we spotted our turn off from the highway. A bumpy dirt road led us east, towards the bottom of the massive slope that was looming in front of us. When the road got too rough for the Volvo, we parked, chugged some water, and set out. It was 9:15 AM.
| |At the Start | |It's Important to Stay Hydrated in the Desert!
The beauty of these Nevada peaks is that route finding is almost never an issue; if you go up, you'll eventually arrive at the summit. Above us was an intimidating, steep looking slope, and from the car, we were easily able to kind of see where we could head up. There was 5000 vertical feet standing between us and the summit.
| |Ascending Slabs | |...And more slabs
The hike started out easy, following the deteriorating road to the base of the slope. Before Ben and I could start heading up, we had to cross over a large wash that formed a surprisingly large canyon higher up on the slope. After we crossed the wash, the real climb began. The terrain varied from very enjoyable smooth slabs to sandy stretches of scree. One wouldn't know it from looking at the slope from the valley floor, yet the mountainside was teeming with natural flora and fauna. Ben and I saw lizards, birds, and bugs, as we worked our way up through groves of Juniper. I got quite a startle as I was ascending a slab. I put my hand in a crack for a hold, only to look into the crack afterward and see a baby rattlesnake a few inches from my hand. A bite from that guy wouldn't have gone over to well, seeing how remote we were.
I unknowingly put my hand right next to this guy.
The ascent actually went faster than we had previously thought. The steepness of the slope combined with our brisk pace made the elevation go by quickly. I was very surprised by how many rock formations we kept on happening upon. Many of the rocks had a huge potential for multiple routes to be climbed on them, yet I don't think I would have ever wanted to haul gear up this slope. Ben and I chatted the morning away whilst suffering up the hot slope. The day's temperatures had started out nice enough, yet as high noon approached, it was getting hotter. As we came to surmount a broad ridge, we could finally see the summit, not too far, yet still not all that close to us. We were running low on water at this point as well. With more perseverance, we hiked into a hanging valley that was hidden from view from below. Luckily there was a snow patch here, and Ben and I stuffed some snow into our CamelBaks and were good to go. We were 500 feet from the summit. I had summit fever pretty bad, so I motored up the final slopes in about 15 minutes to what I found to be a false summit, with Ben trailing about 5 minutes behind.
| |Charging up the final slopes | |Me below the false summit
The false summit was decorated with a 30 foot tall radio tower, which I promptly climbed for fun. The actual summit was still a little bit further along the ridge. "Do we really have to go over there?" Ben asked. "Yep", I replied. We took the 5 minutes to walk over to the real summit and climbed the interesting summit block. It was 12:15 PM, meaning that we had covered the 3 miles and 5000 feet in 3 solid hours.
| |The summit in sight. | |Ben on the summit.
The views were amazing. The Smoke Creek desert presented itself nicely to us to our south. The gigantic Black Rock Desert melded with the horizon to the Northeast. To the west we could make out some snow covered peaks around Lassen. It was grand. The temperature was pleasant and some clouds had developed that kept the sun off of us. Ben and I ate some snacks, took some pictures, signed the register, and started the descent.
| |The Smoke Creek Desert from the top. | |Me contemplating life on the summit.
Neither of us were looking forward to the descent. The nature of the ascent had us thinking that the descent would be slow going, since the steep slope consisted of mostly small to medium sized boulders that seemed too large to boot ski down, yet too small to boulder hop. To our pleasant surprise, going down wasn't bad at all. The upper sage brush-laden slopes we were able to go down by surfing on top of the thick brush, barely even touching the ground. 1000 feet descended just like that, piece of cake. As the rocks started to come, we were able to find some thin scree chutes that would take us down sometimes a couple hundred feet at a time. When the scree chutes would end, there was usually another one around that we could ski down further. This was very easy going, and Ben and I flew down the slope, yet not without stopping a few times to check out some cool looking pinnacles.
| |Ben on a Pinnacle. | |Both of us on the pinnacle.