| Wheeler Peak, NV
Summit Elevation: 13,063 feet
Trailhead / Route: Standard Northwest Ridge, easy Class 2
Date Climbed: July 3, 2011
Round-trip Distance: 9.6 miles
Total Elevation Gain: about 3,000 feet
It was the best five hours of sleep I have had in a long time.
On the previous day, we got up at 3 a.m., drove a couple hours to Charleston Peak’s trailhead, spent eight hours hiking almost 15 miles and 4,000 feet, and then we embarked on a five-hour drive to Great Basin National Park, which actually took more than 12 hours because we had to deal with a broken-down rental car, and then we helped some guy who had just hit an elk on the highway.
By the time we got to bed in our hotel in Baker, Nevada, we had been up for almost 23 exhausting hours.
A full report on that day is here, if you’re interested.
But it was a new day. And things were looking brighter.
Our objective … from the Border Inn:
… and from the road:
Jeff Davis Peak is in front; Wheeler Peak’s summit is barely discernible behind Jeff Davis’s right/north ridge:
Other shots from the drive to the trailhead:
Jeff Davis on the left; Wheeler on the right:
Years ago we climbed Nevada’s highest mountain, Boundary Peak. But after learning about the significance of the state’s second-highest mountain, Wheeler Peak, we added it to our ever-growing list of mountains to climb. As a bonus, it’s in a National Park.
Great Basin National Park is small (it’s almost a fourth the size of Rocky Mountain National Park), it’s isolated (the small town of Ely, NV is more than 60 miles away, and it’s a four-hour-drive away from either Salt Lake City or Las Vegas), it’s one of America’s least-visited National Parks (in 2009 it only saw 60,000 visitors, compared to Yosemite’s 3 to 4 million visitors per year) and at night it’s one of the darkest and least light-polluted places in the country.
Wheeler Peak (not to be confused with New Mexico’s Wheeler Peak) is a beautiful mountain in the heart of Great Basin National Park. It’s also the highpoint of Great Basin and it’s the 12th-most-prominent mountain in the Lower 48.
Unlike Nevada’s highest mountain, Boundary Peak (13,140’), Wheeler Peak is the state’s highest independent mountain, as Boundary Peak is considered a subsidiary summit of California’s Montgomery Peak. Additionally, Boundary’s prominence is only 253 feet, which falls short of the accepted 300 feet for it to be considered an independent peak.
The entire mountain massif in the middle of Great Basin N.P. used to be called Jeff Davis Peak, but the highest summit was eventually named Wheeler, after a USGS surveyor. The lower peak nearby retains the name Jeff Davis Peak (12,771’), and it’s Nevada’s third-highest mountain.
Because we started up the trail at the late hour of 8:30 a.m., we didn’t think we would have time to do the Class 3 traverse to Jeff Davis as originally planned. But we were more than happy to just climb Wheeler, because after our rental car broke down on the previous day, we didn’t know if we’d have the chance to climb anything.
The trail was quite pleasant and easy to follow up to the ridge.
Earlier in the season, and with a little more snow, this gully from Stella Lake looks like it would be a good snow climb:
Once on the ridge, we encountered some sections of snow here and there, but none of it was an issue and some of it was completely avoidable.
The talus on the ridge reminded me of Colorado’s mountains. In fact, if you hypothetically plucked this mountain from Nevada and plopped it in Colorado, no one would ever question it being there.
Halfway up the ridge, the wind intensified, but it was nothing like the wind we dealt with on Humphreys Peak in Arizona just a few days earlier. Still, it was enough to turn one couple back.
A shot of the mountain’s upper reaches and the desert valley to the west:
Climbers on the summit:
Looking to the north:
Stella Lake, thousands of feet below:
In less than a few hours of hiking, we finally gained the summit. It was the highest Jen and I have climbed since moving to Washington from Colorado.
Summit view to the south:
A closer view to the south with Mt. Baker:
Playing around on top:
I tried to walk to the edge of the summit ridge to get a better view of Jeff Davis Peak, but I kept postholing up to my waist (and the snow was very wet), so I scrapped that idea.
After enjoying the serene views and saying hello to the other climber we met on top, we headed back down.
Made a couple short glissades on the descent:
Overall, Wheeler Peak was a fun climb and it’s a beautiful mountain. I highly recommend it. Had we had more time (like RenoBob suggested), it would’ve been fun to do some other mountains in the area.
I leave you with some more photos I took …
Jeff Davis and Wheeler:
On the drive home, I took this pic of Wheeler’s northwest side (rainstorm in full effect):
Driving back to Las Vegas:
Image #28 (not yet uploaded)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):