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In the week prior we had been told by several sources that no ordinary vehicle could possibly hope to reach Columbine Campground for the hike to Arc Dome. Our SUVs were pooh-pooh'd, deemed about as effective as regular passenger cars. Deep water crossings and snow across the road were sure to foil our attempts. And so we had given up the effort earlier in the week with Bill and Laura. With time to contemplate things, and four more days' experience driving Nevada roads, Adam and I came to suspect we'd been misled. That our advice came from imbibing patrons of bars in Belmont and Kingston had something to do with our mistrust.
Arc Dome has a lot going for it. It is the highest summit in Central Nevada, has more than 5,000ft of prominence, is a county highpoint, and appears on the DPS peak list. For all of these reasons combined I was very interested in reaching the peak, and wasn't keen on requiring another trip in the future to do so. Adam was of the same mind, so together we decided to give it a go, despite the advice to the contrary. We were not disappointed.
We did not follow the driving route given in the DPS guide, though surely would have had we been approaching from the south or west. Or location near Austin to the north gave us another option, the 35-mile dirt road (SR21) south through the Reese River Valley. The road was excellently graded, and in Adam's Ford Escape we were able to make the drive to the reservation in about an hour. From the junction at the small town we followed the DPS guide to get us to Columbine CG. The stream crossings were not trivial, but not difficult either (about six inches deep), and the snow had all melted off from the road. Even had the snow still been present, it would only have meant another 200yds or so that we wouldn't have been able to drive to the CG. No big deal.
We found the campground deserted. The ground was still wet in most places, indicating it had not been more than a few weeks since it was under the snow. We had no trouble finding the trail to start, and shortly after 6a we were heading out. From the start we were dodging lingering winter snows. The skies were overcast, the ground damp everywhere, the aspens looked as dead as December, a rather dreary-looking scene for Nevada in June. In a mile and a half the trail led to upper Stewart Creek and the fence described in the guide. But there were no signs, no cows, no indication of private property requiring us to circumnavigate the fenceline, so we simply walked through the gate and across the meadow to the trail on the other side.
Our trail/road led over a broad saddle, across a first snow field, and continued on the west side of the slope as we followed the "Route A" from the DPS guide. Before 7:30a we had landed atop the main crest. There was a good deal more snow here than we had seen elsewhere in Nevada, not very deep or difficult, but we stopped to put on gaiters in an effort to keep our boots drier. Parts of the ridgeline and most of Arc Dome's North Ridge had been swept clear of snow by winds, and here we found and followed the trail where we could. It grew cold and blustery and by 9a we had dug into our packs for jackets and other warm accoutrements. This we had not come to expect from Nevada, but probably shouldn't have been surprised. There were switchbacks up the final slope, but again snow kept us from following the trail directly.
We got to the summit around 9:45a where Adam made a fruitless effort to find the register buried somewhere under the snow. We shared a bag of Summit Snax, this one a vegetable-enriched package of goldfish crackers. They had a funky taste and odd packaging (Adam seemed particularly disturbed by the "Hey, I'm riding the PEA train!" comment). Our views were decent but marred by the overcast, the cold doing little to entice us to linger for very long.
On our return we decided to visit the north summit (Peak 11,406ft), almost two miles distance. Though more than 300ft lower, it is the second highest summit in the range and has almost 700ft of prominence. Its summit was not covered in snow and we found a white plastic bottle in which Andy Martin had tucked a single sheet of paper in 2006. Bob Sumner's name was also found on the sheet.
From Peak 11,406ft we continued north along the main ridgeline, turning left to follow a subsidiary ridgeline down towards the campground. Our route went east of the three DPS routes and went class 2 with a combination of snow slopes, some easy scrambling, and the use of animal trails through some of the brushier parts on the west slopes of the ridge. We eventually dropped down to Stewart Creek and found the trail on the other side shortly before 1p. Twenty minutes later we were back at the campground.
Though it was relatively early in the day, we had a long drive north for our hike to Ruby Dome the following day. We drove several hours north to Battle Mountain on Interstate 80, then east to Elko and the Ruby Mountains. It was near sunset before we settled down for the night, just outside the private campground at the TH described in the DPS guide.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Arc Dome
This page last updated: Sun May 4 18:03:28 2014
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