Falling into Winter in Nevada

Falling into Winter in Nevada

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Dec 9, 2012
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Fall

Mackin' on McAfee - September 30th, 2012

1 PM EST NFL games are a pain in the ass when you’re out west, especially Nevada, which meant a 10 AM kickoff. A day after getting Hole-In-The-Mountain Peak I wanted to snag McAfee Peak in the Independence Range before making it back to Elko to catch kickoff of the Pats/Bills game, but the timing was not meant to be. The distance from Elko to the Jacks Creek CR turnoff was more than stated, and the dirt road was rougher and took my Camry longer that I had hoped to negotiate. That along with a few presses of the snooze button meant I was going to miss at least a quarter or so of the game.

I parked at the 2WD spot at the dirt track intersection and headed up the initial 1.5 miles of steep rutted road. It ascended up a plateau just as the sun was rising up from the other side of the range, providing the silhouettes of Porter and Wilson with some great alpenglow. Behind the long ridges of the McAfee and its neighbors I stayed and would stay in the shadows for awhile.

The road seemed to be meandering too much to the east, so I cut southeast through sagebrush towards the summit. I soon stumbled across a north-south road. Not sure of its relation to the other road I followed it a little before cutting southeast again and starting up the slope, which was at first a pleasant mix of pines, rocks, and grass. There were bands of talus further up, cool, crunchy, and fresh, and more talus as I gained the summit ridge of what I knew to be a false summit. The recently risen sun colored the entire eastern half of the horizon orange, and I pondered how close I was to the real summit, and how long would it take for me to make it there and back.

I glimpsed a summit directly on the ridge ahead. I figured it would be the top and started traversing through the pleasant, open bristlecone groves. The traverse was fine until I reached the top. To my dismay a much higher double-summited peak loomed further down the ridge. A quick descent, and though I had travelled fairly quickly to this point, a rough last few hundred feet brought me to top of the Independence Range.

It was still early morning, the chilly air just starting to receive from the sun its first waves of warmth. It was a clearer day than Saturday and, with Hole in the Mountain climbed Ruby Dome teased me to its right as the last monarch of the Elko area I had yet to ascend, while in the other direction the haze gave way just enough for the peaks of the Jarbidge Range to pop up in view. I would have liked to stay longer and see the sights under the lighting of a fully mature sky, but there was football to watch.

I realized that I could possibly straight shot it down, contouring northwest down the initial slopes then aim for a saddle above some aspen groves to hit the 4WD track in its initial upclimb. The descent was smooth, mixing grass and talus, and I basked in the warmth of the prairies further down. The trickiest part was navigating blind through the woods and the aspen grove; I was never lost, but the brush was bad at times, and it took longer than I expected, time and distance wise, to emerge onto the other side of the drainage. Then it was bulldozing my way through some of the thickest sagebrush with the 4WD road in sight.

The game was about to kick off as I got to my car 3 hours after I started. I reached Elko just at the end of the first half, after a frustrating two quarters of mistakes and turnovers for the Pats. Fortunately, I didn’t have to watch this debacle, and the second half saw my team explode for some forty odd points. Satisfied that we’d now evened our record to 2-2, I started the long drive back to SLC.

Return to Cherry Creek - October 6th, 2012

It’s an odd coincidence that two weeks after two consecutive Vegas trips and the weekend before two consecutive (three actually, counting another weekend not included in this TR) trips back home to Massachusetts found me going for peaks in Nevada. The first instance was the Cherry Creek/Toano weekend mentioned earlier in this TR. Almost five months later I was returning to the Cherry Creek Range, this time to go after the unnamed Pt. 10,459 in the range, notable for being possibly the coolest looking bare summited peak in the range and a soft-ranked P2K as well (I figure for nomenclature purposes Snow Creek Peak seems like a better name than 10,459).

Greg and myself both mapped out a vague mental picture of a straightforward ascent up the peak’s direct West Ridge. We met up in Wendover and drove down past the town of Cherry Creek into the barren, unpopulated Butte Valley on the western side of the Range. My Camry had no problems going up the broad gravel road until we reached the intersection with the dirt road leading into the Snow Creek Drainage.

I hopped into Greg and Kadee’s jeep for the remainder of the ride a few miles into the canyon. Though it was light in the mid morning now, shadows still dominated the landscape immediately below the range’s western slopes. We parked near the terminus of the overgrown track and began our ascent. It was steep at first to gain the ridge, then very pleasant going up the gentle, unmarked slope so typical of the Great Basin Ranges. We made steady progress up through the mid morning chill. To our left, the long bare ridge coming north from the summit of Snow Creek Peak loomed moderately high above us.

We were never completely sure where and which one was our summit, though we were pretty sure it was immediately above us and hidden behind the West Ridge as it got quite steep the last 500 feet.

As we had expected we crested directly atop the summit after that last steep section. The open views atop its narrow rocky summit, combined with the last vestiges of the haze cloud which had haunted the Intermountain West the last two plus months still trapped low in the valleys by the late-morning chill combined make for a special summit atop a special range.

We enjoyed the view, waited for Greg’s dog Oquirrh to finish running laps up and down the mountain, then headed down. Other than accidentally veering a little too northwest at times, the trip down was fairly uneventful.

We descended and parted ways for now. Greg and Kadee would head further down some dirt roads to do some cold weather camping and go after the Butte Range HP the next day while I headed into Ely to catch the second half of the Florida LSU game, the spree of high profile primetime games including Georgia/South Carolina, Notre Dame Miami, and a peak the next day to be determined.

Riding White Horse - October 7th, 2012

I caught up on sleep (or slept off a few drinks, either or) Sunday morning and departed Ely maybe a little later than I had planned. I was on a somewhat tight schedule, hoping for enough time to get a peak before needing to arrive in Wendover at 2:25 MST for the kickoff for the Pats Broncos game. As always, plans in Nevada don’t always seem to work out in a linear fashion for me. My primary target was North Lovell Peak, another soft ranked P2K in the Schell Creek Range. There are other, surer, and easier ways up the peak, but I aimed a broad road visible from the satellites coming in directly from US-93 from the Northwest because this seemed like the surest way involving the least amount of dirt road driving for my Camry, now pretty banged up after a summer of hard work. I drove down this road to end up at the gates of a private ranch. Not wanting to risk the possibility of arrest, especially with the Pats kicking off hours from now, I took stock of my remaining options between here and Wendover: Becky, White Horse, and Dolly Varden. Becky seemed to involve too much dirt road driving for comfort, both for my Camry and my schedule. Dolly Varden seemed to be the easiest bet, but in the end I settled for the middle ground: White Horse Mountain, which, following Dean’s route instructions on SP, seemed to be the best compromise of time and still a decent amount of required effort to gain the summit.

My Camry grunted through yet more rough rocky sections as the road got bumpy as it rounded the southwestern side of the mountain. I made it to the 2WD though, and walked the dirt track up towards the nondescript bumps before me, not 100% sure which one was actually White Horse.

It was not a long walk, but tenseness due to my tight schedule made it seem longer. I crossed a few drainages as the road ended atop a hill and eventually found myself ascending the mountain proper, first to gain a ridge, then some easy walking until a steady, pleasant climb through seemingly manicured gravel as I reached the southern summit of the peak. The summit to the north looked higher, and the lack of a cairn here at the local highpoint compelled me to continue north through the gentle rock and bristleconed ridge to the final grunt a few hundred feet to the top.

I stood atop the serene, mostly open summit of White Horse, thinking of the impending kickoff, my impending flight back to Boston, and the summer I somehow knew whose chapter was about to now close.

It had been a good summer, I had climbed to my heart’s content peaks I couldn’t even have imagined myself climbing a few years before. Seasons and events would change within a week upon my return from my quick weekend trip back home, but for now there was only the summit, the hurried (and occasionally muddled) descent, and the frenzied drive to Wendover, and the pleasure of sitting in the Sports Book surrounded by TV’s, watching my Pats finally find their way back to a winning record.

Nabbing Nannies - October 27th, 2012

Then home for the first time since May. The weekend was a blur, with poker tournaments at the Revere Yacht Clubs and a good old fashioned time trying to see as many friends as I could within a short three day weekend. I flew back to Utah exhausted, but sat out another weekend after a rough week personally and professionally. It was late October when I returned to seek some peaks. The plan was for Nevada. Greg was looking at Porter and Wilson north of Elko for Saturday, and maybe McCann Creek Sunday. I figured I could do at least one, probably Porter, before heading back to Elko for some more prime college football games. I left early and got to around Wells when I got a call from Greg, apologizing profusely as he had overslept by quite a few hours and was just leaving SLC now. No worries. Shit happens. I considered my options. My goal was to still get a peak each day, done as early as possible so I could watch football. I decided a rental car would best help me accomplish this, as they would get me closer to the peak for a quicker outing. Last minute, I rented a shitty Dodge SUV from the Enterprise at the Elko Airport and, ad libbing, decided to go for Nannies just north of town. It’s a remarkable looking mountain and I got to the base of it quite easily with the rental, despite some spotty snow along the road.

It was an uneventful slog up sagebrush slopes to the ridge crest, where things got a little confusing. There were lots of thick and heavy brush and boulders atop the ridge, and not only that, some bouldery looking summits to the south looked just as tall as the summit I stood below now. Having looked up the peak at the last minute my beta was sketchy, and I loaded the SP a few pages, trying to make sure the pics on the mountain page matched up to what I was looking at now.

Finally confident I was on the right ridge, I traversed south through some snow, then some damn thick and heavy brush to gain the boulders south of the true summit. It turned out to be a false summit. It had been relatively mild hiking the east slopes, but the moment I hit the ridge a bone-chilling west wind slammed me back. I hastily scrambled down some rocks and headed north, finally making it up the blocky boulders to the true summit.

It was freezing, so I didn’t linger, barely peeking to the vast hinterland west of me. Beaver Peak looked particularly interesting, socked with more snow than all the surrounding peaks.

I made it back to town and enjoyed a night out in Elko. It was a surprisingly delightful town, with on the street drinking and no last calls. It was Halloween weekend too, and I was pretty much the only person in the bar not wearing a costume. People were friendly, and I staggered back to bed hoping not to oversleep the next day.

Adobe and a Hell of a Morning - October 28th, 2012

Once again, a 10 AM Pacific Time kickoff for the Pats. I figured the best way for me to manage this was to hit up the Adobe Range Highpoint northeast of town, then race back, return the rental, and watch the Pats take on the Rams in London at a casino. That was the plan, and I crawled up onto the Adobe Range as the sun rose. Alas I missed the 4WD trail turnoff for the short route to the summit, and ended up following the broader road around and to the north/northwest side of the peak. The area wasn't really matching up with the SP description, so I wandered around in the rental before finally settling on a parking spot and setting off.

This screwed up my Pats kickoff timing, as I ended up traversing more mileage and gaining more elevation than I had planned, probably an extra 2 or so miles for the round trip and an additional 1,000 feet of gain. It dawned on me amid the hike, as the summit never seemed to get any closer, that I was not on route. I headed up the hill and found it discouragingly to be a false summit.

Tiresomely I traversed to the top, took my pictures, and raced down through the sagebrush as fast as I could.

It was admittedly a perfect morning, crisp and fresh with the smell of sage the only way a Nevada fall can smell. I trucked it down the road, likely too fast, as soon the onboard computer was informing me that one of the rear tires was losing air fast. I made it to the main gravel road as it flattened, only to find the road blocked by a scary looking bearded drifter type fellow. He was looking for a ride, but I really didn’t feel like obliging, with the Pats, running late, the popped tire, and all. He didn’t oblige either, and refused to get out of the way. I finally opened a window to explain my tire was flat and I was running late to return the rental (and was dreading the prospect of having to pay a late return fee or worse, a full extra day’s fee if that happened to be their policy). The guy insisted he was harmless and even offered to leave his belongings in the desert. Fuck it. I let him in, and we cruised down about 14 miles of a good gravel road on a flat tire.

The guy was a semi-local drifter who had been living out in Elko and had been just on a job cleaning out an abandoned trailer/meth lab out in the desert in the last few days. We shot the shit on the way back and he was actually pretty chill, with some good drifting war stories (and apparently a good amount of love for the working girls of Elko…). We got to the highway and the dude helped me change the flat, and we chugged it back to town slowly on the spare. Fortunately I had called the rental agency ahead to tell them I was running late, and they were nice enough to not charge me any extra. Add to that my purchase of the damage waiver (always a good decision in my experience) saved me the expense of having to pay for four new tires on the rental (apparently some models you change one tire you have to change them all).

I dropped off the drifter fellow near downtown Elko and got to the casino around 11 AM, already having had one hell of a day. I found my way to the sports book, sat back, watching the Pats pad their already impressive lead over poor Sam Bradford and the Rams and sipping a few amaretto sours to unwind. Holy hell. What a day, and I still had the rest of the day ahead of me. (And for the record, Greg and Kadee ended up having a much less eventful weekend, getting Tabor BM and Knoll near Wells).

Then it was an even longer pause between peaks. I was thwarted by two more trips to Mass; first, a delightful fall romp back to Mass and the town of my alma matter, Amherst Mass (I went to ZooMass) for my friend’s wedding the weekend after Adobe. It was my first time in Amherst in probably five years, and I had a great weekend enjoying great company, friends, and some delicious food and local cider (google Antonio’s Pizza Amherst. Amazing).

The next few weekends I was thwarted by stormy winter weather in Utah and nearby, and before long it was Thankgiving Weekend and my third trip back to Mass in less than two months. Another great trip, with my 10 year high school reunion, and more quality time spent with friends and family, more drinking, and an odd foreboding feeling of not wanting to return west. I had looked forward to these three trips through late summer and fall, and now with nothing but the insanity of Utah beckoning me for a long winter, and no planned trips back to home and the civilized world for likely a year or more...the thought of peaks seemed distant in memory and in aspirations.

A Return to Prominence - December 8th, 2012

I was kinda in a down mood returning, and that was compounded by the fact that I had let more than a month, in fact all of November, slip without a peak. I heard various rumblings from Dean about a Nevada trip as well as Brett, whom I had hiked Lewis and Ibapah with in Utah and who, now mostly finished with the Utah prominence peaks, was starting to look at Nevada despite his distaste for desert peaks. There were rumors too that the legendary Dennis Poulin would be joining Dean too. With iffy weather in flux for the weekend, we all drove out separately and congregated at the McDonald’s in Wells. Dean and Dennis had already been in the state for a few days, and with a late start we decided upon Independence Benchmark south of town. With both me and Brett lacking high clearance, I hopped into Dean’s truck and him into Dennis’s, and we headed up the rough roads. Dean had already gotten Independence, so he decided to wait it out as the three of us huffed it up the gentle slopes to the saddle overlooking the summit.

It was a basic hike and fun to exchange P2K war stories with Dennis who, if you don’t already know by now, ranks as one of the most prolific peakbaggers of that sort in the country. We hit the higher reaches of the range and enjoyed the broad views of the pasture-like peaks. The summit of Independence was quite a ways away though, and required a little bit of downclimbing. Finally we reached the top and enjoyed the views.

Daylight was in short supply, so we scuttled down and re-congregated at the McDonald’s once more, where Brett’s and my car were parked.

Brett would head back to SLC, and the three of us remaining checked the weather. There was some talk of Beaver, or Pequop, but both had some snow and ice, and the weather down south looked better. So it was a long drive to Ely down US-93, a drive I had made many times. It’s a pretty drive, with Great Basin ranges to gawk at the entire way, but this was the first time I made the drive in the dark, and damn is it monotonous. Dean and Dennis car camped in town while I checked in at my favorite spot, the Hotel Nevada. We agreed to meet at the diner in the hotel early morning next day, but that didn’t stop me from loading up on some football and $1 margaritas. I stopped at the bar across the street too and shot the shit with a British dude halfway between Reno and Vegas before finally crashing.

Dutch John with Dean and Dennis - December 9th, 2012

I sauntered in a few minutes late to breakfast head pounding a little. Dean and Dennis were still eating, so no harm no foul. I ordered and ate quickly as we pondered our options. What looked especially intriguing was Dutch John Mountain to the south, a really sharp looking peak with not a lot of info on it. What little info we had in online trip reports and email beta from Greg we decided was enough to go on, so the three of us loaded up for even more driving as we headed south of Ely.

I had to pack up my belongings and get gas, so I eventually caught up with Dean and Dennis on the turn off from US-93. We drove the dirt roads down around to the western side of Dutch John, then I hopped into Dean’s truck as the dynamic duo plowed through the thickly brushed jeep tracks that eventually faded to nothingness amid the sage and junipers. Dean decided to sit this one out so Dennis and myself found our way through the brush and into the obvious gully lining the western aspect of the peak. Wild horses stared as us from above as we made our way up. The terrain was pleasant, the gully made for a good ascent, and at times there were horse trails along the sides.

The obvious obstacles between us were the several cliff bands between us and the cliffy summit ridge. Step by step we made it around a major one near a natural cave, crossing left (north) across the gully and aiming through an obvious break in the cliff here. We had some more options here…to contour south for open, if steep, ridges all the way near the southern end of the mountain, or to keep contouring northeast and try to gain the summit ridge near where we were. We opted for the latter. The terrain here got steep, but that just made for a quicker ascent. It got a little more interesting at the ridge crest; even though there might have been easier territory further left to the north, it had the possibility of being cliffy as well, so we opted to ascent straight through some loose scree chutes to gain the top.

From there, the views opened up, and it was a quick hop and an easy scramble over some small rock bands to reach the true summit. I congratulated Dennis on this, his 100th Nevada P2K, and we enjoyed the views before heading down the way we came.

Down low both of us were thankful for Dennis’s GPS; otherwise it might have taken us awhile to find the trucks hidden amid the brush. We greeted Dean then I parted ways with the two.

They would head further south for Highland the next day, while I still had a long drive back to SLC. Though the daylight was at a premium this time of year, we were lucky to find some peaks still left alone by the snow, and it had been a great weekend on some great peaks with great company. Overall it had been a great year for peakbagging…but good things would soon come to an end. Within a few days I would throw out my back, the first out of many times in a long winter, and it would be a harbinger of things to come.


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