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North Schell is a P5K located in East Central Nevada, the highpoint of the Schell Creek Range east of Ely. On my way across the Great Basin from Colorado to the Eastern Sierra, I found myself with an extra day and decided to pay this one a visit. I had managed to drive the van some 5mi in from the pavement along a mostly good gravel/dirt road. The last section past the Timber Creek Campground was a bit rough and steep, but at the very end where the trailhead is located I found a small picnic area with a flat spot to camp for the night. At 9,000ft, it made for a very cool place to spend the night above the baking summer heat in the surrounding desert. There were a number of other 11,000-foot summits that I wanted to visit the next day in a large loop that would occupy me for some 7hrs.
I still had a lot of driving to do across Nevada today, so I got an early start on the hike around 5:45a, heading north from the trailhead along an old 4WD road that follows Timber Creek in that direction. Cattle could be found violating the temple up and down the creek in the early morning. The Jeep road becomes a trail which eventually ends less than two miles from the TH, petering out in a drainage on the NW side of North Schell. Having gained about 1,500ft to this point, there is another 1,200ft of cross-country travel up open, easy slopes towards the summit. I spooked a small herd of deer as I neared the crest of the range below the summit on the north side. They ran off to different pastures as I made my way up the last few hundred feet of rocky terrain to reach the summit by 7:15a. There is a mispelled benchmark and a recent register found at the summit. A Las Vegas Mountaineers Club party had left it only 11 days earlier (the summit is on their peak list). As one might expect with so much prominence, there are fine views in all directions. The view I was most interested in was to the south, along the spine of the crest I hoped to travel. Though there are significant ups and down, there is nothing at all technical about the route and it looked to make for an enjoyable stroll.
I spent the next three hours walking the ridge south for almost five miles, going over Middle Schell, Uinta Peak and finally Taft Peak at the far end. Each of these points had a new register left by the same LVMC party whose route I was apparently recreating. South Schell, another LVMC peak lies little more than a mile further south of Taft, but I was running out of time. I suspect the LVMC party had continued to there, having set up a shuttle to make things easier (I later confirmed on peakbagger.com that this was indeed what they did). If that were the only peak of interest left I'm sure I would have continued, but I noted there were two other 11,000-foot summits further yet that would bring me back anyway, so South Schell would be left for a future visit.
I turned back to the northwest and Uinta Peak, making a descending traverse across Uinta's West Slopes to reach a saddle at the far southern end of the Timber Creek drainage from which I'd started. I wanted to follow the ridge around the west side of the drainage on the way back in order to tag another summit, Ptarmigan Peak. The ridgeline leading to it was a bit rougher than the main crest, with some forest and rocky scrambling. It was 11:45a before I finally reached Ptarmigan's summit, finding no register, just a small rock cairn. From Ptarmigan's summit, I continued north along the ridge where some modest scrambling is found before it becomes more forested. The last 1/3mi off the ridge is a steep 1,000-foot drop, though again, nothing technical. I found my way to a trail on the south side of Timber Creek that I was able to follow all the way back to the TH by 12:45p, barely an hour after leaving Ptarmigan's summit.
After showering at the Picnic site, I drove back out to the pavement and found my way back to Ely, NV where I picked up some supplies before continuing my drive across Nevada. I got all the way to the Mono Basin in California by evening, spending the night near Sagehen Summit on SR120 between Benton and Lee Vining. The elevation here is over 8,000ft, so once again I would be able to sleep comfortably...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: North Schell Peak
This page last updated: Wed Sep 21 09:28:18 2016
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