Wheeler Peak • Highpoint: White Pine County
• Highpoint: Great Basin National Park
• Range Highpoint: Snake Mountains

My dad at Theresa Lake

Another shot of my pop,
in the rain at our camp

Summit at 5 a.m.

And at 10 a.m.

Me at the top

Wheeler Peak as seen
from Major's Place

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Date: August 10, 2001 • Elevation: 13,063 feet • Prominence: 7,563 feet • Distance: 8 miles • Time: 5 hours • Gain: 3,100 feet • Conditions: Window of nice weather, developing storms later • Teammates: Joe Surgent (base camp manager)

Wheeler Peak is the superlative mountain of eastern Nevada. It rises to 13,063 feet elevation, just eighty feet lower than the state's highpoint, Boundary Peak. It is the highest peak in the Snake Mountains and of the Great Basin National Park, and it has over 7,000 feet of prominence. It is a magnificent mountain and a very interesting, relatively easy mountain to climb.

I intended to hike this peak in 2000, but a forest fire kept me away from the range. This year, my father and I were touring Nevada. We started from Las Vegas and went northwest to Hawthorne, where we both explored (and I climbed) Mount Grant a few days ago. We then travelled east and north, staying a night in Jackpot, the small town on the Idaho border, just to say we've been there. Now we were headed south toward Great Basin National Park. The weather was unsettled with periods of rain.

We arrived to the National Park, paid our fee, and drove to the upper campground, elevation 9,800 feet, arriving at 3 in the afternoon. We sat out a thunderstorm in my dad's big army tent, big enough to set up lawnchairs. By 4 p.m., the storms had moved on, the sun broke through, and it got lovely all of a sudden. My dad and I hiked to a couple of the glacial lakes located in a hanging valley below Wheeler Peak's east face, and below the lone glacier still to exist in all of Nevada. By 5 p.m., we were back at camp, eating dinner and drinking beer. The weather was a concern, given the rain we'd experienced today. I crashed in the tent and slept reasonably well.

I was up at 4:30 a.m. the next morning, and moving before 5, just as the sun was rising. I walked up the trail, the initial portion being the same as yesterday's glacial lake hike. At a junction, I went right and up a mix of light forest and meadow, emerging into an open meadow and slope where I had unobstructed views of the magnificent profile of Wheeler Peak. The trail then bends south again and makes a gentle gain toward a saddle north of Wheeler Peak, roughly at tree-line. The saddle is at 10,800 feet and I was here within an hour of starting.

At this elevation, the vegetation was sparse limber pine and gnarled krumholz. The trail is nicely hewn into the rock, so that route finding is easy. I made good time here as the trail steepened. For awhile, the immediate objective is a ridge bump at 11,500 feet, obscuring Wheeler Peak's summit from view. I reached this bump after another half-hour.

The weather was holding steady, but given the activity of yesterday, some cloudy build-up was already evident even though it was not yet 7 a.m. At this point, I was passed by a family of four, all making excellent time. I even hiked with them for awhile. At this 11,500-foot bump, Wheeler Peak's summit comes into view once again, still about 1,600 feet higher.

The route reaches another bump at 12,000 feet before making its final thousand-foot push to the top. From below it looks like one big rock-hop, but the trail does go all the way up, although it is steep in places. I was on the summit at 7:15 a.m., a 2.5-hour one-way hike with about 3,100 feet of gain. This was quick for me, the fine trail aiding my ascent time. The weather was holding well and the family of four was already up top. The views are outstanding: sharp abrupt peaks and cliffs forged by glaciers, moraine fields, and thousands of square miles of Great Basin scenery into Nevada and Utah.

I ambled along the elongated summit ridge to the east end to peer down the east slopes and the campground below. The actual highest point is the windbreak on the west end of the ridge. I stayed for about 40 minutes, having it to myself after the family started their descent. However, down below there was this big crowd of boy scouts working their way up, so I decided to get moving so as to avoid the crowd when they arrived.

I caught up to the family again, hiked with them for a ways, then parted ways at the saddle at 10,800, where I took an extended break to rest and eat, and change into drier clothes. The subsequent hike down went quickly, and I was back to our campsite just before 10 a.m., surprising my dad who figured I'd be gone for another two hours. He was happy, though, as he was starting to feel discombobulated from the elevation, and it was just as well to get going and down off the mountain as soon as possible.

We stopped at the visitor's center and got lunch. Driving back to Ely, we stopped at a peculiar "town" called Major's Place, at the junctions of US-93 and US-6/50 in the middle of nowhere, west of Wheeler Peak. It's a bar that sells gas, with a minimum purchase required and at a very high price. By this time (noonish), the storm clouds were amassing again, shrouding Wheeler in a mantle of white and grey. I was glad to be off the mountain.

After a day and night in Ely, we went back to Las Vegas via US-6 and NV-375, the so-called "Extraterrestrial Highway". NV-375 skirts Nellis Air Force Range and the famous Area-51, and the little town of Rachel makes good money by promoting aliens and UFOs. The "A-Le-Inn" in Rachel has excellent burgers for such an out of the way locale.

The walls are covered in photographs that purport to be UFOs. Most (to me) are clearly not UFOs. A lot are clouds, tricks of the light or too fuzzy or suspect to be taken seriously. Some people even confuse their own foggy breath with UFOs. A few others are interesting, we'll say. I imagine this place gets a few of the believers, but most people who show up here come for the grub, the isolation and the experience. I recommend it.

(c) 2001, 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.