Mount Jefferson • Highpoint: Nye County
• Range Highpoint: Toquima Mountains

Date Climbed
August 9, 2000

11,941 feet

8 miles

5 hours

3,100 feet

Nice, but very
windy at the top

5,861 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version

The south summit as seen
from my camp site

My camp site

Nevada PageMain Page


Summit Panoramas

Computer generated pan- oramas from the summit, as created by Jonathan de Ferranti, a map-wizard based in Scotland. His highly-detailed images describe the distant horizons, ranges and peaks, with compass bearings and distances provided. They are remarkable and, in my opinion, beautiful works of artPlease check them out!

Mt. Jefferson, North Panorama
Mt. Jefferson, South Panorama
Viewfinder Panoramas
(Jonathan de Ferranti's site)

Mount Jefferson is the highest point of the Toquima Mountains in central Nevada. It is also one of just a handful of peaks in the country with over 5,000 feet of prominence, and is the Nye County highpoint (barely edging Arc Dome for this honor). Actually, this peak was not in my original plans. Instead, I was planning to hike Wheeler Peak in the Great Basin National Park, but a huge forest fire had that peak closed for awhile, so I altered my plans to include Jefferson instead.

Nye County is a gigantic county: at 18,000 square miles in area, it's second in size only to California's San Bernardino County. It's mostly Great Basin desert, with valleys at about 5,000 feet, and summits over 10,000 and 11,000 feet. It's a lot of Federal land, some big ranches, and most notably, home to the Nellis Air Force Range and the infamous "Area 51", where nothing happens apparently, nothing that we need to worry our pretty little heads about. Most people who live in Nye County live in the awful "suburb" called Pahrump, about 30 miles from Las Vegas. The only other notable town of any size in the whole county is the seat, Tonopah, a fascinating high-desert town built into a mountainside, the town borne as a result of a huge silver lode. Aside from a few tiny outposts and ghost towns, the whole county is glorious empty desert and mountains.

I left my home in Arizona, stayed a night in Henderson with my folks, then the next day, drove up US-95 to Tonopah to get supplies, then from there followed other state routes and dirt roads through Monitor Valley and the old town of Belmont. Belmont was a much bigger city in its hey-day, and the original county seat of Nye County. It's tucked into the southern foothills of the Toquima Mountains, in a very pretty high desert and lightly forested area. The town is officially a ghost-town, but many of the buildings still stand, and there is a small full-time population of about 20 or 30 people. Past Belmont I followed more dirt roads, entering into the Toquimas from the east via Meadow Canyon. I was able to drive into the open camping area below "Jefferson Summit", the low saddle south of the actual highpoint. I got my truck up the last mile of poor road, then north a little on a lesser road, camping in a small glade of trees, the whole place to myself. I spent the remainder of the afternoon walking around, exploring my digs. The weather was fantastic, and there was no one else around.

At 6 a.m. the next morning, I was on my way to the top, walking up the remainder of the jeep tracks. These split and ran parallel for awhile, separated by a north-south fence that was in bad shape and mostly on its side. The tracks finally petered out after about a mile and roughly 600 feet of uphill gain to come to the base of a short rocky section. A good path ran through this section. Shortly, the path descended to a saddle (meeting the trail coming up from the lower camping area here), then gained up a moderate grade to come onto a broad sage-covered shelf at about 9,500 feet elevation at the head of Horsethief Canyon. The path essentially ends here. My options were to stay the course and meet the headwall of Horsethief Canyon up the way, or charge up the steep slopes to my right and gain the elevation faster, which I chose to do. This tired me, but the going was easy and in short order I had gained about 500 feet to come upon another broad shelf. I could spy large cairns up here, as well as the summit once again, growing ever so tantalizingly closer. Even without the cairns, the route finding was logical: just head toward the peak and hope something happens.

I walked this shelf toward a prominent "pointy" peak, following the cairns as I saw them and often just using dead reckoning. Eventually I regained a well-defined footpath that trended onto the west-facing sides of the ridge. Here, things got a bit steeper. The trail switchbacked a few times and eventually dropped me off onto a saddle just below the pointy peak. Mount Jefferson's South summit was plainly visible, a broad, flat peak ringed by some impressive cliffs. I was close enough to make out some electronic gear placed atop the peak. I continued on my way, following the trail as it hugged the range high above the canyons below. One stretch traversed a section of slightly loose scree that presented the only real dangerous section of the hike: one slip here could have meant a long ride down hill.

I walked gently past this exposed section and up-climbed shortly to the last saddle below the summit, notable for a jumble of dark-colored rocks. I missed a couple cairns and went pretty much up these rocks where convenient, but quickly I found the proper path and followed it as it curled along the south and east faces of the summit. And, for the first time, I felt the full force of the wind! I stayed the course and at some point, where I was clearly just a few dozen feet below the top, I made my own way up the final piles of rock and achieved the summit at about 8:30 a.m., where I took refuge out of the wind behind the small buildings. I found the benchmark, signed in the register, looked out over everything and took a nice long break. The best views were to the west, where Arc Dome was visible in the Toiyabe Range. Not a cloud in the sky, and I felt like I was the only person on earth.

The summit is as big as a football field, rocky, flat and completely treeless, as was the entire hike. I peered north to the other summits of the Jefferson summit complex, but these were spread out a ways and I had no desire to visit them. I looked back south and could make out my camp area but my truck was small enough to completely blend in. The hike down went quick and mostly uneventfully, other than busting the strap that kept my hat on. But the wind abated as I descended and I basically retraced my steps, arriving back to my truck at 11 a.m., an overall five-hour hike covering 8 miles and 3,100 feet of gain. A beautiful day on the range!

I drove back through Belmont but instead of going all the way back to Tonopah I took a dirt road west through the community of Manhattan, which is an old mining town that still has a few people living there. This put me on highway NV-376. I drove north through the Round Mountain mine and company town complex. Otherwise this was lonely, vacant Nevada interior. After a long drive north, passing Bunker Hill along the way, I worked my way west into Virginia City, where I had enough time late in the day to make short work of Mount Davidson, the Storey County highpoint.

(c) 2000, 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.