Virginia City Walker Lake
Our first trip to Nevada was in May 2005 and was still too cold to consider Boundary - moving to Texas turned us into cold weather sissies. On that particular trip we spent very little time in Nevada. We flew into Reno and headed to Sacramento, wine country & Sonoma Coast and did the back roads to the Sierra Nevada, staying overnight in Jackson, CA.
This time, while the purpose of the trip was to summit Boundary, we wanted to see more of what Nevada had beyond the casinos so after we arrived in Reno, we headed to Carson City for the night via Nevada Route 341 - a cool twist & turn scenic route going through Virginia City, an historic mining town that’s still the same as it was a century ago only now it’s crowded with tourists. Carson City’s older part of town is real nice with old homes and big established trees - who’d guess you’re in dry barren Nevada. Two years ago we did the obligatory trip to CC to check out the State Capitol and there were no leaves out yet. The greenery really transforms the grounds.
Waking up the next morning we headed to Boundary. Being we had all day to get there we took US50 to Fallon where we picked up some lunch to go. Then we headed south on US 95. We stopped at Walker Lake - a beautiful inland lake and had our lunch. We stopped one last time in Hawthorne to fill up on gas - just in case there was nowhere else before Boundary.
On to Boundary
We turned off US95 onto Nevada 360, a shortcut through the mountain over to US6. You can see Boundary to the left and soon enough you go over Montgomery Pass and come to the scenic overlook for Boundary. If this is where the misspelled sign for Boundary was, it’s not there now. We then saw the defunct JR’s so we made the turn onto Queen Mine Road. This is where the climb begins with your vehicle going up. The road gets rough at times and turns into a one lane and you hope no vehicles comes from the other direction because there is nowhere to give room to a passing car. The scenery on this road was beautiful with the state flower sagebrush being in full yellow blossom. Despite the condition of the road, you can get up to the mines without a problem. We got out at the mines and walked up the road to get an idea of whether or not to continue up with our SUV rental. After a few hairpin turns and seeing quite a bit of road ahead - we decided to go back to the mine and drive up to the Kennedy Saddle. The distance from US6 to the mines was about 6.2 miles and maybe an additional mile to mile and a half to the Kennedy Saddle.
Camping at Saddle View from Tent
We got up to the saddle around 2-2:30pm. There was a truck/camper parked up by the trailhead so we set up on the saddle. It was windy when we arrived up there and it was a trial setting up our tent. There were plenty of heavy rocks to put inside our tent to stabilize it and parked the SUV to work as a wind breaker. Ironically, the wind calmed right down after we were done setting up. Once we got everything set up, all we had to do was just kick back and take it easy until morning. Around 5 o’clock, I walked up to the trailhead and walked the trail a little bit to get an idea of what to anticipate in the morning since we hoped to get an early predawn start and we did not want surprises. There’s quite a few switchbacks before you get up to the ridge but once I no longer could see our tent at the saddle I headed back. We ate some fruit & snacks for dinner since we didn’t have a stove to cook with. As it approached 7pm, the sun was rapidly heading down. We saw the other camper, Bob from California up on the hill taking pictures of the sunset. Another vehicle arrives, they set up on the other side of the saddle just before the sun goes below the horizon. They say hello and commend us on the perfect spot we found. Once it got dark, we decided to just call it a night and go to sleep. Got up a couple times in the night when nature called. The night skies were clear, there was a crescent moon and all the stars were out. What a spectacular sight - haven’t seen the Milky Way so visible in many years.
Morning at Boundary
We woke up around 4:30am but just didn’t want to get out of our sleeping bags. But 5:15 came about and we said let’s get it done. You could see the morning sky coming on and a couple planets shining bright near the moon. We had our breakfast, put on our boots & headlamps and got on the trail at 5:59am. We were halfway up to the ridge when the morning sun peeked out over the mountains. Looking further up the trail, there were a group of mule deer, they seem to see us so they picked up the pace to the nearby trees. All along the trail to the main saddle there were piles of horse droppings but we did not see any horses. An hour into our hike we made it to the ridge and we got our first glimpse of Boundary Peak from the trail.
First Glimpse of the Peak
Wow - it’s a sight. After a bit, you start to see the saddle and you get excited that you seem to be making good time. But as time goes on, the saddle keeps seeming to elude you. We finally arrived at the saddle one hour & 52 minutes into the hike (bought a new altimeter for the hike that also had a timer). Took a 10 minute snack & water break and pressed on.
Leaving the saddle, you see an obvious trail and we continued on following it off the saddle. Somehow it fades and it brings you into a steep section and you get your first taste of the dreaded scree that Boundary is renowned for. It was a struggle finding solid footing and figuring out where to go. We just kept heading up to the ridge figuring you can’t go wrong. Many times during this section we both contemplated calling it quits because we did not want to endure this kind of struggle for a whole mile we still had to do. Miraculously, we came upon a trail!! We saw where it goes up and looked behind us and how it goes back down. We were so thrilled to be on a trail and we continued on with our renewal of hope to summit. Ahead there’s a small false summit you have your eye on and it seems to take yet another eternity to get there. The relief of getting to it is short lived as you then see Boundary again and the long way you STILL have to go. It was shortly before arriving here though that we saw the couple that also camped at the Kennedy Saddle struggling in the same scree section that we struggled with. Back when we were struggling in that section, we were able to hear them in the distance and they were about to approach the main saddle.
The first half of this last segment goes very smoothly as the trail is well traveled and sure footed. You hear a lot about the scree on this mountain but what you don’t hear a lot about is how rocky & steep it is for the last 500’ or so of elevation gain. This was another section where the trail is not always obvious. There are times you got to use your hands to climb up and scramble up the rocks. Yet again a part of us wanted to just call it quits but the Magellan says we’re over 13,000’ but yet the summit still looks so high up there and steep. You just got to go slow and be patient--the summit is in sight. Soon enough I was there.
I got to the summit about 3.5 hours after leaving the saddle; 5hours 36minutes & 30 seconds after leaving our tent. We set the second timer when leaving the summit.
The descent went remarkably better - though almost immediately John lost his footing and had quite a fall. His hand and butt got roughed up but he didn’t feel any of it in a few minutes. We lost the trail only once before the first false summit It was in this section of the rocks that we met up with the couple. They were John Paul & Nicole (if you guys see this, we saw you summit - congrats). It was here too that we saw a group of hikers in one of the canyons coming up--not the Trail Canyon though. We did not see where they went either.
It’s amazing how you can see the trail much better coming down than going up. However it fades once again right before getting back to the saddle. At this point we just slowly went over to the left where the well established trail was and got to the saddle again in one piece. It took only Two hours and 25 minutes to get back the saddle. Once again another snack & water break and back on the trail. Visions of a hot shower and a hot meal in town were dancing in our heads. Walking along the ridge here, you can’t help but look over at Boundary and get feelings of nausea that you actually made it up there just a few hours ago. Just like coming up, this section of the trail is gradual until you leave the ridge and the descent part starts. I think because the trail terrain is different, you use your leg muscles differently too and both of us were saying our legs really tightened up on this segment coming down. Guess our pace was up as well. Soon enough we could see our tent & SUV. Woo-hoo!! An hour & 20 minutes later, we were back at our tent. From trailhead back to the trailhead took a little over nine and a half hours for us. We took down our tent and packed our stuff in record time and hit the road at 4:05pm. It took us a half hour to get off Queen Mine Road. It was real sweet being back on the main road again. You can see this road quite a bit when you are on the hike. It's used a lot by the 18 wheelers. We stayed at Motel 6 in Bishop. We were surprised the shops were still open past 7pm on a Sunday evening. Pleasantly surprised to find some Boundary Peak postcards. Bought a few to send to highpointer buddies.
We highly recommend using the Queen Mine Route and start at the saddle rather than the mines if you can. You’ll enjoy camping here too. The quiet and serenity is like nowhere else. The terrain here is really beautiful--though I don’t think I’d want to hike it in the summer heat.
V for Victory