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Monday morning dawned cool and overcast. Clouds swirled about the highest peaks in the area and there was doubt that we'd get a clear view from the summit. Bunker Hill is the highpoint of Lander County, NV as well as a P2K and WSC-listed peak. All of us were in general agreement that this one should be climbed. From our campsite near Groves Lake, we piled into Bill's Suburu for the drive up Kingston Creek for the 3 miles or so to the trailhead. Aside from one large water hole, the driving was fairly tame, in contrast to the difficulties the locals had told us to expect the previous day. Either they were just trying to scare us, or they aren't all that familiar with really bad backroads.
It was just after 5:30a when we started out at the junction of Kingston Rd and Forest Rd 494. We had driven past the junction, easily missing the small marker off to the side of the road. This was not the start described in Bob Sumner's NV CoHP peak guide, but one we'd gleaned from SummitPost. It appeared to be a more straightforward way to the summit and it did not disappoint. I left the others right from the start, choosing to head up the ridgeline north of Basin Canyon rather than follow the road for the first mile up the canyon. It afforded better views and the cross-country was not hard at all, aside from the intial steepness of the slope. Once up that first gradient, the slope eased and I picked up a use trail heading along the ridge. I followed this through a small forested section, then met up with Adam about 40 minutes after starting out. The two of us continued up together, Bill and Laura about 10 minutes further back.
The route to the summit was straightforward as advertised - follow this initial ridge east to the main crest, then follow that south towards the summit. Despite the abundance of snow in the range, our route required us to cross very little snow, thanks to the windswept nature of the ridges. That snow that we did cross was fairly thin. None of the snow was well-consolidated as the cloud layer kept temperatures from reaching to freezing during the night. The clouds never did dissipate during the morning, but at least they lifted above the cloud layer to give us some semblence of a view.
It was 8a when I reached the north summit, marked by a small antenna bent to the ground in disuse. A beer bottle held a small note from 2001, but it was clearly not the highpoint. Another ten minutes south found me at the south summit, the true highpoint. We did not find a benchmark, but found one of the reference markers placed in 1955. In perusing the register, we found that Mike Zacharias was the last to climb it the previous August. He happened to be the owner of the bar we had visited the previous day and had climbed the peak in celebration of the bar's opening. He had told us to look for the free drink tokens he'd left in the jar. I took one of these to leave on his doorstep on our way out - we'd be passing through Kingston some hours before the bar opened and would be unable to take advantage of the drink offer, but I wanted to let him know we were thinking of him.
Adam and I had been at the summit some 20 minutes before Laura and then Bill arrived. We were getting chilled by this time, but we stuck around another 15 minutes while the stragglers rested and took in the views as well. After returning to the north summit, I decided to try the snowy ridgeline south of Basin Canyon. Bill chose to join me on this effort while the others opted for the ascent route. In contrast to the mostly snow-free ascent ridge, this one had snow fairly continuously from the top to about half way down. One upper slope was just steep enough and icy in a few places to warrant crampons. Bill fell way behind in this section as he was just a small dot starting the descent as I was already on the next upslope. I watched him long enough to see him down the sketchiest part, then continued down. I postholed anywhere from three to six inches down most of the slopes, a somewhat sloppy affair that had my boots and socks wet by the time I reached the bottom even though I sported gaiters.
Around 10a, while hiking along a drier portion of the ridge lower down, I heard a whooping shout from across the canyon. Though almost half a mile distant, it was unmistakeably Laura. I looked north and was able to spot her and Adam atop the other ridgeline. They were taking the same route I had during the ascent, evidently proving faster than the one I was on - mostly due to the time it took to put crampons on and off. I was back to the car by 10:30a, about ten minutes behind the other two and fifteen minutes ahead of Bill. We found Bill coming down the slope on the north side of Basin Canyon, puzzling us. Bill explained he had found a fun glissade all the way down to Basin Creek and had then traversed out onto the ascent ridge before descending down via the same line.
After retrieving our other cars, we all drove north to Austin about 35 miles away. We refueled, had lunch in one of the two diners in town, and made plans for the afternoon. Originally we had scheduled North Shoshone, but eventually came around to doing Desatoya Twins, another county highpoint. Laura had to leave for home, so we bid her adieu after our enjoyable lunch. Three of us drove east over Railroad Pass and left two vehicles alongside the highway after dropping down into Smith Valley. Once again we piled into Bill's Suburu for the long approach to Desatoya from the east.
The only beta I had on Desatoya was Sumner's approach directions from the west. Bill had picked up some additional beta, albeit sketchy, on the eastern approach which would make this a tame hike instead of a hard one. We initially drove west along the Old Overland Rd (the Pony Express route) into Smith Creek Ranch. We stopped in the center of the ranch when a man came over to us from one of the nearby buildings. Could we drive through the ranch? No, we could not. But at least he told us there was a public road that skirts south of the ranch. So we drove back four or five miles to a junction and with the aid of Bill's GPS we managed to find this public access road through the Desatoya Mountains. It was just awful. We were regretting it almost from the start and we still had almost two hours of driving to the trailhead. There were few decent stretches of road. Most of it was full of rocks, rutted, and muddy in a few places. Where the public bypass meets up with the better ranch road, we had a very steep incline down to the junction, and it had Bill plenty nervous behind the wheel. I got out to offer visual assistance and watched as he slid and bumped his way down the slope. His brakes were engaged and the wheels locked for much of it, but gravity pulled it down the 30 yards or so through dust and rock. It would not have been possible to get back up the slope which meant we'd have to drive back through the ranch or find another way. Another section was filled with water, about 50 yards long, the far side not even visible through the encroaching brush. We probed the water in uncertainty, and still not sure if we'd make it or not, trusted to providence and bulled through it. We eventually found our way to Basque Summit and then about a mile past that to almost 7,800ft. The driving had exhausted us and we needed to get out and hike to loosen up and relax again.
The weather had degraded since we'd left Bunker Hill. By the time we started off on our afternoon hike, an intermitent mist was falling. Our views would be weak, but hopefully any rain would hold off. Our starting point wasn't ideal. There had been a fork just down the hill where we had trouble taking the more advantageous right fork, but we would make this one work. We headed cross-country around Pt. 8,043ft in a clockwise direction, staying high on northeast side of Billie Canyon. In this fashion, it took us only about 20 minutes to reach a dirt road along the county boundary not shown on the topo map. It had been visible on Google satellite view, so it did not come as a surprise. There were cattle on the north side of a fence here, mostly not caring about our presence. It appears their range extended all the way to the summit of Desatoya Twins.
The road soon connected with the high Jeep Trail shown on the topo and we followed this westward up to a saddle just north of Pt. 9,130ft. It was windy and cold at this point, so we all paused to put on a jacket. North Desatoya Twin was now in view, though still more than an hour away. The higher south summit would not be visible until we had reached the north summit. We followed the road up higher as it turns northwest and climbs towards Pt. 9,531ft, a small mistake as we found. There is a fine use trail heading west from where the road turns right that leads nicely to a saddle north of the north summit, but we missed this on the ascent. After climbing several hundred feet further than we should have, the mistake was realized and we left the road to make a descending traverse down to the use trail that was now visible from above.
We spied horses half a mile south on the northern flanks of Desatoya. They saw us almost as quickly and began migrating up and over the northeast ridge of the north summit. We never saw the group of a dozen or saw once they went over the ridge. It was 5p when we reached the saddle north of the north summit. There was some snow on the flanks, but it was soft and not deep enough to cause us any difficulties. 20 minutes later I had reached the north summit where I found a modest cairn, no register, and drab views of gray skies and hazy ranges in the distance. I continued over the top and down the south side, along the easy connecting ridgeline to the south summit. Adam was a few minutes behind me in reaching the north summit, Bill perhaps five minutes behind Adam.
It was just after 5:30p when I reached the highpoint on the south summit. The register consisted of a sheet of paper with the National Geodetic Survey info printed on it, along with a few scrawls of the last few visitors since the previous year. The only other scrap was the cover page of a classic MacLeod/Lilley register left in 1992. There was a benchmark labeled "TWIN" nearby as well. The others joined me in time and we hung around only long enough for Bill to get pictures of the surrounding views. I didn't find them at all noteworthy and didn't bother snapping photos myself.
The return went quicker thanks to the trail traverse that the horses had nicely worn into the hillside for us to use. We skirmished with drizzle and wind, wondering all the time if it would suddenly unleash on us. The wind seemed to dry our clothes at about the same rate that the drizzle would soak in, so we kept in a fine balance between wet and dry, somewhere around "damp" on a wetness scale.
It was not long after 7p when we finally returned to the car. It had not been a great outing, probably the least enjoyable of the trip. But we figured it was hikes like this one that make the others look all the better. We drove back down to Basque Summit, then took the fork heading north. This bumpy road followed Edwards Creek all the way out to US50 after almost an hour's drive. It was definitely better than the roads we had taken in from the east, and despite the detour required to drive US50 back around the range to where we'd left our other vehicles, we were happy not to be driving the bad eastern roads in the dark.
We drove all the vehicles south on SR722 to Petersen Junction where we planned to spend the night. In looking for the dirt road to the North Shoshone TH, we awakened one of the handful of residents in this tiny township complete with barking dogs and a shotgun in his hand. After talking with Bill he seemed much less irate, directing us to the proper dirt road about a quarter mile further down the road. We drove in about a mile to where the road grew rougher and found a place to pull over and park the cars. It would be home for the night. Nearly 10p by this time, I was plum tuckered out and ready for bed, with or without dinner. Some soup warmed up on the stove in the van would tide me over, the others finding similar meager rations before bed. It had been a long day. Perhaps North Shoshone would have been the better choice after all...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Bunker Hill - Desatoya North Twin - Desatoya Peak
This page last updated: Mon Jul 26 11:41:54 2010
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