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

The south summit as seen
from my camp site

My camp site

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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)


Date: August 9, 2000 • Elevation: 11,941 feet • Prominence: 5,861 feet • Distance: 8 miles • Time: 5 hours • Gain: 3,100 feet • Conditions: Clear, but windy at the top

Mount Jefferson is the highest point of the Toquima Mountains in central Nevada. It is one of a handful of peaks in the country with over 5,000 feet of prominence, and is the highest point in Nye County. I was here because a fire over at the Great Basin National Park chased me away from my primary objective for this trip, Wheeler Peak.

Nye County takes up most of central Nevada, and at over 18,000 square miles, is the second-largest county (in area) in the United States. It is high-elevation Great Basin desert, with many parallel mountain ranges reaching upwards of 11,000 feet. Very few people live in Nye County. Most live in the horrible Las Vegas "suburb" of Pahrump, and the rest in the fascinating old-time mining town of Tonopah. The county's size and vacantness leaves a lot of elbow room for the Nellis Test Range and famous Area 51, where nothing interesting happens.

I left my home in Arizona, stayed a night in Henderson with my parents, then the next day, drove 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 used to be a bigger city and was the original county seat of Nye County (The seat is now in Tonopah). These days, Belmont has about 20 people, but the old buildings still stand. It's a nice place to visit.

Past Belmont, I followed more dirt roads, entering into the Toquima Mountains 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 peak. 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 walking up the remainder of the jeep tracks. These split and ran parallel for awhile, separated by a fence that was in bad shape and mostly on its side. The tracks petered out after a mile and roughly 600 feet of uphill, coming to the base of a short rocky section. I followed a path through this section. Shortly, the path descended to a saddle (meeting the trail coming up from the lower camping area here), then gained a moderate grade to emerge 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 shelf. I could spy large cairns up here, as well as the summit once again, growing ever so tantalizingly closer.

I walked this shelf toward a prominent "pointy" peak, following the cairns as I saw them and often using my own common sense. Eventually, I regained a well-defined footpath that trended onto the west-facing side of the ridge. Here, things got steeper. The trail switchbacked a few times and eventually dropped me onto a saddle just below the pointed peak. Mount Jefferson's South summit was plainly visible, a broad, flat peak ringed by cliffs. I was close enough to make out 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 hiked uphill to the last saddle below the summit. I missed a couple cairns and went up these rocks directly, 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 over the rocks 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 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.

I drove back through Belmont, but instead of going all the way back to Tonopah, I followed 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. 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 visit Mount Davidson, the Storey County highpoint.

(c) 2000, 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.