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Camped out in our vehicles at Angel Lake in the East Humboldt Range of Nevada, Adam, Matthew and I had wrestled with a snarky logistical problem on what to climb today. Matthew had only a half day to devote to the effort since he had to drive back to San Jose for work the next day. All of us were interested in climbing Hole-in-the-Mountain Peak, while I was hoping to additionally reach Grey peak, about five miles to the north. We had three vehicles, one of which was only 2WD, with which to set up a car shuttle where one approach required 4WD and Matthew needed to get his Suburu back to San Jose. The plan we devised was to leave my van at Angel Lake, and drive two vehicles to the turnoff for Hole-in-the-Mountain. Because we were unsure that the Suburu would be able to drive up the rough road, we left it at the pavement and took Adam's Escape to the TH. Matthew would then return, drive Adam's car back to the pavement, leaving it there and taking his own car back to San Jose. Adam and I would meanwhile traverse to Greys Peak and back to Angel Lake, pick up the van and then return to pick up Adam's car where Matthew left it. Whew. And that took us about three hours to sort out after the end of much discussion on what to climb, working within our constraints. Who knew going for a hike could be so complicated?
Though were up early by 6a, anglers already at their posts along the dam at Angel Lake, we did not get an early start due to the additional driving involved. It was nearly an hour before we reached the pavement turnoff, and then another 40 minutes or so to drive some miles up a fairly rough road to where we could drive no more. We were still a mile or so from the Wilderness boundary, but even Adam's SUV had met its match in the steep, loose and rocky jeep trail that stopped us in our tracks. We backed up to a small flat area off the road and started hoofing it from there starting around 7:45a.
Hole-in-the-Mountain Peak is the highpoint of the East Humboldt Range and a Nevada P2K. As the name suggests, there is a feature near the peak with a hole large enough to be seen from the valley below, which led to its naming more than a century ago. The actual Hole in the Mountain is not located at the peak but along the crest about a quarter mile south of the summit. It becomes more obvious as one gets closer to it while traveling through Lizzies Basin. Unfortunately it is along a very difficult ridge traverse and we'd have to be content to admire it from a distance. We hiked up the road about a mile and a half to its end where we picked up a use trail through the brush as described in our beta. The route was periodically ducked, but apparently not enough as we lost it in less than 15 minutes. The proper route would have had us going uphill further until cliffs are encountered, then following down a grassy ramp at the base to get us to the easier ground in the upper reaches of Lizzies Basin. Instead, I led us on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride through a nasty aspen grove the others weren't too impressed with. Down we went, dodging and tunneling our way through the stuff, ending with a dicey stream crossing before emerging on the easier ground.
The change to an alpine zone was abrupt and most welcome. Suddenly we were in delightfully open country, flowers abounding in yellow, purple and white, hemmed in by towering mountains and cliffs of gray rock and snow that surrounded the basin. We spent much of an hour crossing the basin to the northwest and climbing steep snow-free slopes on the far side up towards Hole-in-the-Mountain. There was a short class 3 section near the bottom, but the remainder of this slope was class 2. As we neared the East Ridge, we spied two mountain goats atop a cornice at the top of a snow field behind us. One was standing on, the other sitting upon the snow and they didn't change their position for more than an hour that we saw them on our way up and down from the summit. They didn't seem at all bothered by our presence, or perhaps just too thoroughly lazy to do anything about it. The East Ridge was blocky for much of the distance, the last part becoming easier over sandy talus with light vegetation.
It was 10:20a when we reached the flattish summit. Thanks to the large prominence enjoyed by Hole-in-the-Mountain, the views of the surrounding desert are sweeping in all directions, much more so than on the peaks in the heart of the Ruby Mtns we'd been climbing the last few days. The view north showed nearly the entire five miles of the crest leading to Greys Peak at the far end. It was a daunting amount of cross-country distance, but the terrain did not look too bad at all and it appeared would make for an enjoyable traverse. I found myself looking forward to that part of the outing even more. The register we found had been placed by MacLeod/Lilley in 1986. They not only seemed to be the source for most of the obscure CA registers, but for many across the rest of the West as well.
In leaving the summit we headed down a moderate snow field just north of the East Ridge, Matthew and I doing the standing glissade, Adam going down on his butt - or at least trying to. The snow was a bit too thick by 11a and did more to soak his pants than to provide any sort of cheap thrills he might have been looking for. Noting the two goats in the same position we'd left them earlier, we bade goodbye to Matthew who continued descending down to Lizzies Basin while Adam and I took up the traverse along the crest. We ducked down a bit on the north side initially to stay out of view and leave the two goats in peace.
The beginning of the traverse did not go well. We spent more than an hour sidehilling our way around the first intermediate highpoint that had the roughest terrain along the crest. There was brush and downed trees and other inconveniences that did not match the delightful stroll along the crest we had imagined. Around 12:15p we got past the last of this and stood atop the crest where things got easier. It was no surprise that our enjoyment increased in a similar fashion. The next hour was spent pleasantly hiking along the ridge, reaching a highpoint along the crest at Peak 10,745ft. Though not as high as Hole-in-the-Mountain, it was the highest point in the range north of it and had 825ft of prominence. It was roughly the halfway point on the traverse to Greys, and we were making good time to finish with sufficient daylight.
The highpoint of Peak 10,745ft is at the south end of a summit ridge several hundred yards long. As we continued north we dropped down off this ridge where we could view the remaining route to Greys several miles off still. A herd of 8-9 bighorns were seen in the foreground at the top of a snow field clinging to the east side of the crest. As we neared them they moved off towards the north and over to the west side of the crest and out of view. Sneaking up quietly, I found them very close by, just over the crest as part of a larger herd of more than a dozen ewes and lambs. The more skittish ones took off immediately, while the others moved off in turn, the matriarchs keeping an eye on us from the rear before joining the others. They had moved downrange to a saddle very quickly, eventually choosing to drop down the east side of the crest where we lost sight of them for good.
It was another hour and a quarter along the ridge before we reached Greys Peak. Most of this was fairly easy, the tedious part being the 500-foot climb to Pt. 10,446ft involving steep, sandy talus. It was nearly 3p when we reached the summit, marked by an old wooden stake, a cairn, a USGS benchmark, and a small plastic tub holding a fairly recent register. There is a fine view looking east down to Angel Lake, so close that we could make out my van in the parking lot, little more than a mile away.
It seemed like the descent would go smoothly and quickly, and we were encouraged by the SummitPost description that described the ascent as taking "little more than an hour." That seems to have been somewhat of an exaggeration as the descent took us an hour and a quarter. The route was not as easy as we had supposed, even after viewing most of the route from Greys' summit. To get around cliffs immediately below the summit we descended to the south off the ridge the way we'd come up, then dropped down into a cirque where easier ground was found. We used sandy talus slopes and snow fields where possible to make the descent easier, but there were plenty of challenges in finding our way through moderate cliffs and some brushy areas. I was well ahead of Adam as I made my way through the last cliff face near the bottom where the creek cascades down in a picturesque manner. A use trail has developed over the years from the lake to the base of these cascades (noted from above), but I was unable to make use of this on the way down since it was on the other side of the creek and I couldn't find an easy way across. I ended up wandering through the marshy basin found at the bottom, loaded with brush well over head level. I eventually found my way to other use trails on the south side of Angel Lake and followed these back to the popular beachfront on the east side of the lake where the parking lots could be found. There was a surprisingly large number of folks at the lake, the large day use lot practically full.
It was nearly 4:30p by the time I got back, Adam only about 15 minutes behind me. This had given me just enough time to find a more secluded corner of the lot in which to take a refreshing warm water rinse before Adam showed up. Though we still had plenty of daylight, we would use all of it up and more, retrieving his SUV and then driving back through Wells and Elko on our return to Lamoille Canyon where we decided to spend the next day hiking. It would be nearly 10p before we were bedded down in the back of our vehicles, but the long day had been a good one and I slept quite soundly in the chilled mountain air...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Hole in the Mountain Peak - Peak 10,745ft - Greys Peak
This page last updated: Sun Apr 10 13:49:40 2016
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