*Though Some Would Argue Whether It's A "Real" Glacier
My son, Curtis, and I were on the return leg of our latest, annual camping trip to visit the U.S. national parks. This time we’d traveled to Yosemite, Lassen Volcanic, Redwoods, and Crater Lake. Looking at the map (we never plan the route in detail until we’re actually on the trip, then we plan it day-by-day), we saw that we could drive U.S. Highway 50 from Reno into Utah (often called "The Loneliest Road in America"), then take I-70 and work our way down to Moab. That routing would not only take us through some of the prettiest highway scenery in the west, but it would also take us very close to Great Basin National Park. We decided that an overnight stop there would be a good idea. And, since we like to get off the roads in the parks we visit, we decided that we’d spend a half-day hiking to the rock glacier on the cirque between Wheeler Peak and Jeff Davis Peak.
Above the clouds are Jeff Davis Peak (to the left) and Wheeler Peak (to the right). The glacier we were hiking to is slightly right of center.
The morning of the hike we arise early, eat a little breakfast, and then pack the gear into the Jeep. We took the dramatic drive from our campsite at Upper Lehman Creek Campground to the trailhead at Wheeler Peak Campground.
Not too far from the trailhead.
Although the road should normally provide great views of the summit of Wheeler Peak, this day the mountain is shrouded in low-hanging clouds.
Gathering our gear, we headed up the trail at about 8 a.m. Starting at 9800 feet, the initial 1.4-miles of the trail is actually the Bristlecone Pine Trail. It isn't too long before we are hiking through the bristlecone pine forest. We enjoy the quiet brought on both by the fact that no one else is on the trail, and by the very damp weather. As we traversed the bristlecone pine forest, we wondered if there was a tree older than Prometheus. It was the oldest non-clonal organism ever discovered and once grew nearby the trail we were hiking.
The craggy face of Jeff Davis Peak.
Then, in 1964 and at over 5000 years of age, a hapless research student sadly cut down this marvelous specimen.
After reaching the end of the Bristlecone Pine Trail, we took the Glacier and Bristlecone Trail another 2.3 miles. At this point the trail became more of a depression in the talus slope than a hiking trail, making it a class 2 endeavor. It was about this time that the only other person we’d see during the ascent passed us: A trail runner who was making remarkably good time, considering he looked to be quite a bit older than me (57)! As we hiked higher the trees gave way to just the talus and an occasional rocky outcropping.
Soon we reached the part of the glacier that is almost completely covered by talus (hence it's called a rock glacier).
The rock glacier.
When we’d stop and listen we could hear both the occasional crack of the ice as it made its slow journey down the mountainside, and the gentle sound of water flowing beneath its frozen surface. The glacier is in a large bowl below the summit of Wheeler Peak. We had been warned to not expect a traditional glacier with large crevasses. But, who would have guessed that Nevada had any glaciers at all (much less a 13er peak)?
After about 1-1/2 hours total hiking time we reached the end of the trail at elevation 10,900 feet. We turned around and, during the descent, passed several groups of hikers on their way up. It took us about an hour to complete the descent. After our return, we loaded up the Jeep and headed on to Moab!