Bunker Hill • Highpoint: Lander County
• Toiyabe Mountains

The main drag of Austin, Nevada

Bunker Hill in early
morning snow and ice

The summit from the last saddle

Looking south from the summit

Bunker Hill from Kingston

Nevada PageMain Page



Date: May 15, 2002 • Elevation: 11,474 feet • Prominence: 2,793 feet • Distance: 8 miles • Time: 8 hours • Gain: 3,800 feet • Conditions: Clear weather, snow and ice up high

I had a weekend open, so I flew into Reno planning to hike the highest points of Lander County and neighboring Eureka County. These two counties are situated in the center of the state and feature few people and thousands of square miles of high desert and gorgeous mountain ranges. Bunker Hill is the highest peak in Lander County. Despite its name, it is a mountain, elevation 11,474 feet, one of the major summits of the Toiyabe Range.

The flight went well, and I picked up my rental, a Ford Ranger pickup truck with 4-wheel drive, which could prove crucial to my success. I was taking a small gamble by coming here in May, when snowmelt usually makes approach roads muddy. But it had been a dry winter, so I hoped the peaks and routes would be less snowed in than usual.

I drove through Fallon and the little mountain town of Austin, then down the east slopes and south to the tinier community of Kingston, following a good road south and west into a canyon, putting me directly below Bunker Hill's summit. I arrived at dusk and was able to score a secluded spot, backing the truck into a thicket of trees and reeds. I slept in the truck's bed, the night being cool but mild.

I woke early the next morning and drove farther in along the main road, now going northbound. Way high above, I could see the main range crest and plenty of snow, but open areas as well. I was debating my options, whether to start low and barge up a canyon and catch a ridge that way, or drive to a saddle farther up and spend more time traversing from that direction. I chose the latter.

I parked in a clearing at a pass, elevation 8,660 feet, and started hiking at 6:15 a.m. An even scanter road leaves the pass and goes uphill toward Bunker Hill, and in dry conditions it is drivable, but a big snowbank spread across this secondary road. Instead, I walked it, soon surmounted a small hill, then started down the other side and the long trudge south toward Bunker Hill.

I was aiming for a saddle below the hulk of Bunker Hill's summit, elevation 10,100 feet, about two miles away. In dry conditions, it would have been an easy bee-line through sage slopes with sparse pine to get there, but the snow was abundant here, so I had to amend my approach accordingly.

I actually started to climb higher, following a gully upward, eyeballing a safe section of the snow slope where I could traverse across it. I eventually got higher into the trees, and found what I felt was a good spot to start the traverse. I had wisely brought along instep crampons, and they were absoluetly vital. The traverse was short and mostly safe, but there were segments, perhaps 30-40 feet in length, where I had steep slopes below me, few trees around me, and no way to stop a slide should I slip (I had not brought my axe). I carefully stepped my way across and in time, had passed these most exposed sections.

I ended up hiking to almost 10,800 feet elevation to gain the safe, less-steep slopes. This put me well above the 10,100-foot saddle. I found open routes in the rock to descend to the saddle, then looked up at the remaining 1,300 vertical feet I needed to ascend to Bunker Hill's summit. Now on the range crest, I had a mix of snow fields and open paths in the rock. I stuck to the rock whenever possible, but I had to work up one section of soft, steep, gooey snow-mud. Finally, I was on the last summit ridge from which it was an easy walk to the summit, at the south end of this ridge.

The views from the top are astounding. The snow-covered Toiyabe Range continued north and south, with higher peaks way off to the south such as Arc Dome. Bunker Hill sits like a prow on a ship, anchoring the south end of one section of the Toiyabes, so its south-facing slopes dropped many thousands of feet into the Kingston Canyon below. The log book showed just a handful of visitors in the previous many years. It had taken me 4 hours to gain the top, with 3,000 feet of elevation gain, including the extra ups and downs I had taken.

I didnít stay very long up top, though. I wanted to get back down to the saddle and away from the snowy slopes. This I did with no trouble, and at this saddle, I took an extended lunch break. I finally started moving downward, angling northwest down the patchy snow and open slopes. The forest is non-existent up high, so I hiked line-of-sight, aiming for the snowy slopes I had traversed coming up. The hiking through the sage was great: I just took big steps and plowed my way through the knee-high scrub, kicking up the lovely scent the whole way.

Shortly, I was back to the margin of the snowfield that I had traversed coming up. If I could bypass it again, I could then bee-line back to my vehicle, but truthfully, I wanted no part of it, so instead, I continued downward into a side canyon and from there, back out onto the main road. The hike out had been easy and pleasant, if a little brushy within the canyon.

The problem was, I was now 800 vertical feet below my vehicle and about a mile away. I started walking back toward it, hoping someone might drive by and give me a lift. But no one did. I may have been the only person in this part of the range today. I reached my vehicle at 2 p.m., tired but pleased. The hike had been a success. After changing clothes and resting, I started my drive out and east toward tomorrow's objective, Diamond Peak.

My hike up Bunker Hill had been a success, and I had no troubles other than the snow. There was just enough to slow me down and force me to alter my tack both ways. These various alterations added about 1,200 extra vertical feet of gain, and an extra hour of time, but I had fun and enjoyed the whole journey immensely. I actually drove back into Austin and met with the Forest Service people there before driving east to Eureka.

(c) 2002, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.