The Mountains of Nevada •

Mount Jefferson from
the saddle where
I car-camped

My truck at the saddle

Mount Davidson

Nevada County Highpoints

Mount Jefferson • Mount Davidson

I climbed these two mountains on the same day as part of a longer trip where I also climbed a handful of peaks near Lake Tahoe, then met up with my father in Tonopah where we explored the Kawich and Reveille ranges (where he likes to hunt) plus some peeking over the fences into the Nevada Test Range, where nothing officially happens.

Mount Jefferson
• Highpoint: Nye County
• Highpoint: Toquima Mountains
• Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest

Date: August 9, 2000 • Elevation: 11,941 feet • Prominence: 5,861 feet • Distance: 8 miles • Time: 5 hours • Gain: 3,100 feet • Conditions: Cool and clear with strong winds at 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. 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 Nevada Test Range and famous Area 51, which takes up a huge chunk of the county.

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 good 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 just 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 a bit steeper. The trail switchbacked a few times and eventually dropped me off 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 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 hiked uphill to the 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 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 uneventful, 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.

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, I worked my way west into Virginia City, where I had enough time late in the day to make short work of Mount Davidson.

Mount Davidson
• Highpoint: Storey County
• Highpoint: Virginia Mountains

Date: August 9, 2000 • Elevation: 7,864 feet • Prominence: 2,704 feet • Distance: 1 mile • Time: 40 minutes • Gain: 100 feet • Conditions: Clear and lovely


Continuing the narrative from above, I arrived into Virginia City around 5 in the afternoon, the weather still cloudless and blue, if a little warm. Virginia City is essentially the only town in Storey County, and my goal was Mount Davidson, which rises directly west of the old city.

Like any self-respecting mining town in Nevada, Virginia City is built directly into the steep hillsides, the east-facing slopes of the Virginia Mountains. The main roads are mostly level and run parallel to the range, while the secondary roads are steep and run up and down with the lay of the land. Most of the buildings along its main street are authentic and date from its founding in the 1800s. Tourism is the big industry these days.

Mount Davidson is close to town, but a couple thousand feet higher in elevation. Climbing it from town directly looked to be a steep and lengthy affair. Plus, I was not entirely sure of the legality of this possible route. Instead, I decided to approach the peak from its "back side", following a rough dirt road out of town that circles around to the peak's west side. If successful, I could cut of significant mileage and elevation from the hike.

The road I wanted is the Ophir Grade Road, which is not that easy to find, as most of the side roads in town are not signed. It is accessed from the main highway on the south end of town, near a Nevada DOT yard. I found the road and followed it south then west as it contoured up and around the range. It was in poor condition, with ruts and rocks sticking up from where they blasted the road out of the mountainside.

After about 4 miles, the road came to an intersection. I made a hard right and went up a steeper road, then up and down the ridge about another three miles until it topped out on a knob not far from the summit itself. I parked here. I was happy to get this far.

The hike was quick, following a ridge spine up and down over three intermediate bumps. The final segment was up a trail through the rocks to a rocky summit and a few towers. It was windy when I arrived, plus late in the day. I did not stay long, but the views were nice: Virginia City to the east, some wild horses on the hills to the west ... and a grave along the trail to the top.

The hike out took just a few minutes. I drove back the way I came and drove a few more miles into Carson City, where I stayed the night. Tomorrow, I would hike two more peaks in the Lake Tahoe area.

(c) 2002, 2019 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. WHA