Bunker Hill • Highpoint: Lander County
• Toiyabe Mountains

Date Climbed
May 15, 2002

11,474 feet

8 miles

8 hours

3,800 feet (Gross gain)

Clear weather,
snow and ice up high

2,793 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version

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

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My plans for this weekend were to visit two highly prominent county highpoints in the center of Nevada, Bunker Hill here in Lander County, and Diamond Peak in neighboring Eureka County. Together, these two counties comprise the dead-center of the state, a beautiful land of high-elevation sage-covered valleys, and gorgeous isolated mountaintops, many reaching above 10,000 and 11,000 feet. Not many people live out here, maybe 7,000 total, and most of them congregated in the awful town of Battle Mountain, the Lander County seat up on Interstate-80. Fortunately, my route would take me nowhere near Battle Mountain. Instead, I would be truly in the middle of nowhere.

I left Phoenix and flew into Reno with no problems, then got my rental truck, a Ford Ranger with a small engine but 4-wheel drive in case I needed it. I drove east along US-50, the so-called “Loneliest Road”, through the towns of Fernley, Fallon and Austin, covering about 180 miles. I stocked up a little in Fallon and also visited the Ranger Station in Austin. Austin sits tucked into a small nook on the west-facing slopes of the mighty Toiyabe Mountains, home to Bunker Hill about 15 miles to the south. The town is small (maybe 300 people) and very scenic in a run-down, old-timey Nevada sort of way. From Austin I crested the range crest, then took a lesser highway (NV-376) south to the community of Kingston. I passed through Kingston and aimed westward into a canyon, following a pretty good dirt road quite a ways in, now tucked into a broad canyon in such a way that now Bunker Hill was slightly east of me again. It was nearing nightfall when I arrived. I had a little time to explore, but when it got dark, I found a nice secluded thicket to back my truck into and camp for the night.

Early the next morning I got moving, again driving this road a little bit to scout the ridges up to the summit. There was still a lot of snow on the higher slopes, but also large cleared areas, too. I ended up driving north up a couple steep switchbacks to a pass at 8,660 feet elevation, and started my hike at 6:15 a.m. in cold, clear conditions. The first leg was up a lesser side road that could have been driven were it not for the huge snowbank still lying across it. I hiked up this road to top out on a small hilltop, elevation 9,355 feet. Mighty Bunker Hill stood grandly before me to the south, as did almost all my route. Other than the snow, it all looked very straight-forward.

From the hilltop I angled left and descended onto a small saddle, then started hiking upward on the far slopes. Had there been no snow, I probably would have side-hilled in a bee-line toward the principal saddle north of Bunker Hill’s summit massif—the saddle being about 10,100 feet elevation. However, the snow started to get thick and deep in spots, and minorly treacherous. I tended to hike higher to get onto the more substantial snow, instead of the spotty stuff lower down. This meant steeper slopes, and in a few spots, some icy conditions, too. I had the foresight to bring my instep crampons so I dug them out and put them on. I had maybe 300 horizontal feet to cross to get past one dicey traverse. The snow was very crusty and very hard—and icy—at this early hour still. I went slow and just made damn sure each step was solid. There were spots where a slip could have been tragic. Otherwise, it was easy, if slow-going.

I ended up hiking to almost 10,800 feet elevation where I was able to follow some open channels through the snow among the rockier higher slopes. I made good time, then descended the 700 feet down into the saddle north of Bunker. I was doing well, but a little behind schedule. Above me to the south I had about another 1,300 vertical feet to go, much of it a patchwork of open slopes and snowy slopes. I tried to avoid the snow as much as possible, but ultimately came upon one section where I had no choice but to trudge through the softening goop. This wasn’t as bad as the traverse earlier in the morning, but still steep and needing more attention than usual. Once above the worst of the snowy slopes, the gradient lessened and the open ground resumed, and from here to the top I was able to make excellent time, mainly hopping among the talus blocks comprising much of the summit ridge. The actual highpoint is situated at the far (south) end of the ridge, a simple mound of rock and a couple small antennae. It had taken me about 4 hours to cover the ascent with about 3,500 feet of gain, including some extra ups I needed to do after some of the descents along the way.

The views from the top are astounding. The snow-covered Toiyabe Range continued north and south, with higher peaks way off to the south (e.g. 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. East and west was the wonderful isolated country of interior Nevada. The log-book showed just a handful of visitors per year, but with county highpointing growing in popularity, it might see a handful more every year. I didn’t stay very long up top, though. I kind of wanted down below the snow slopes above the principal saddle, so I left after maybe 10 minutes, got down past the snowy slopes and back down to the 10,100-foot saddle, where I took an extended lunch break for about 40 minutes.

I finally got moving downward, angling generally northwest down the patchy snow and open sage slopes. The forest is essentially non-existent up high, so I hiked line-of-sight, aiming for the snow-traverse slopes I had battled with 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. I really wanted no part of that snow-traverse, so I ended up going down more than over, eventually coming down onto a sub-ridge, then from there down into a small canyon, which I followed for about a mile west until I finally emerged from the brush onto the Kingston Canyon Road.

However, I emerged about a mile south and 800 vertical feet lower than where I’d parked my truck earlier that morning. I took a long break back at the road, hoping someone might come by and give me a lift, but no one ever did. I was by myself, really and truly. So I started the walk back to the truck, which went well, if very boring and lacking in fun. It was close to 2 p.m. when I arrived back to the truck, where I changed, loaded up my stuff, and started the drive east toward the town of Eureka for tomorrow’s fling with Diamond Peak.

Overall, my hike up Bunker Hill had been a success, and I had no troubles other than the remnant snow. There was just enough to slow me down and force me to alter my tack on the egress. These various alterations added probably a good 1,200 extra vertical feet of gain for me overall, and maybe an extra hour or so of time, but I had fun and enjoyed the whole journey immensely. Bunker Hill, in the books!

(c) 2002-2011 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.